Steve Macchia Blog

Work Matters: Tradesman or Gardener?

I recently framed two of my favorite photos of my father and my maternal grandfather at work, and placed them on a shelf in my office to enjoy. My dad worked for the US Air Force as a civilian, in the role of mechanical engineer. He helped architect and construct large satellite dishes for the government for over 30 years. My grandfather worked for over 50 years at the Baltimore Sun newspaper as a type-setter. Both men were very proud of their work and would tell us great stories about their daily routines. I have many fond memories, and have sought to emulate their respective work ethics. They were men of their word and filled with integrity, hard workers, faithful employees, and committed to excellence in all they accomplished.

Interestingly, both men were also very good gardeners. My dad always had a large garden in the backyard of our family home. He grew lots of vegetables and provided fresh goods for his family to consume during each harvest season. We also had large pear and apple trees which allowed my mother to learn how to bake and preserve them for family enjoyment. My grandfather was adept at pruning and growing beautiful rose bushes along the side of their home in Baltimore. In addition, he had a knack for growing enormous holly bushes on both sides of their detached garage. The front porch and perimeter garden were always full of both annual and perennial flowers, much to the delight of my grandmother and all of their neighbors.

Growing up as a young boy, I didn’t really distinguish between the work of gardening and the trades these two men were employed to fulfilled. They were almost one for me…and in many respects remain so even today. I’ve often wondered, were my father and grandfather destined to be tradesmen or gardeners? It’s an interesting question to ponder, and one that I’ve yet to adequately answer beyond the simple response, “Both!”

My father and grandfather were deeply devoted to their families, wanting to provide for them as best as possible. Each of these men grew up in very sub-standard economic settings; my grandfather on a small farm in rural Pennsylvania and my father in an Italian “ghetto” in Princeton, New Jersey. Both of them had to work hard for whatever material blessings they would enjoy. Both of them were willing to sacrifice, serve, and offer their loved ones a lifestyle that exceeded what they knew as children. I’m in awe of their generosity, diligence, faithfulness, and courage.

But, I still wonder, now aloud, if their primary “work” was in the trade they pursued, or more in the land they tilled for the sake of a garden either for vegetables or flowers. Which was their vocation and what one was their avocation? I suppose their vocation was the one that they invested the most time in per day all year long, and the one that brought home a paycheck at the end of a week of hard work. But, my memory of these two men is that their eyes lit up most when they shared the fruit of their labors in the gardens they were growing on their own personal properties.

Were my father and grandfather tradesman who also tilled soil? Or, were they gardeners who cleaned up well and gave time to their trades? I’m still intrigued by these questions!

How about for you? What is your vocation and avocation? What most excites you about the work you’ve been called to fulfill both on your “homestead” and in your “marketplace”? Your work matters, dear friend, and that work is what looks most like generous fruitfulness that arises from a life well lived. Consider today both your vocation and your avocation(s)…invite God to inform your heart and mind as it relates to that which most connotes your truest calling, passion, mission and vision.

Work Matters: The Finished Work of Christ

One of the first books I read on Christians in the workplace was entitled, “Your Work Matters to God.” Since then, many additional texts have been written and distributed by a plethora of notable authors. Over the next several weeks, I will be “musing” via this blog on the subject of work, since it occupies so much of our time and effort and compels us toward or away from love and good deeds. I see work as central to our life in Christ, and must be held in proper tension with our ongoing pursuit of spiritual vitality.

We have just come through the season of Lent, culminating with the final week of Jesus’ earthly life and the joyful celebration of Easter. His triumphal entry into Jerusalem leads to the Last Supper, the Garden, his arrest and crucifixion, and ultimately to his rising from the dead through the doorway of the empty tomb. The “finished work” of Jesus Christ was completed on the Cross. As believers, the gift of eternal life is no longer based on human works or animal sacrifice, but our salvation by grace has been fully accomplished by the Cross of Christ. For that amazing gift of love we bow before God with grateful humility and prayerful worship.

With the words “It is finished” (John 19:30), Jesus completed his work of redemption, reconciliation, and propitiation (I love that word, which means “a sacrifice sufficient in value in order that the wrath of another might be fully satisfied”) through his death on the cross. His substitutionary atonement is made perfect and complete on the cross. His work mattered then and it matters now…we are set free from the bondage of sin because of Christ’s work done in our behalf. Wow! Christ paid the ransom price in full through his shed blood on the cross. It is finished indeed! Alleluia!

As followers of Christ, no matter our calling and profession, we must begin to understand our work in light of God’s work. And the apex of God’s work is fulfilled in his Son, Christ, who miraculously walked planet earth for a season, taught his disciples what it means to live for God in this world, and then suffered sacrificially in their (and our) behalf so that his work on earth could be brought to completion…therefore, our work can be seen redemptively in his behalf. His work always precedes our work. He works in and through us for His glory…our work is to know, embrace, and fulfill his will – throughout our lives, and humbly for Christ’s glory. This includes all the work of our head, hands, and heart.

I love my work. I hope you do too. I know that my work matters, and I know yours does too. Your work matters to God, to your co-workers, to your church, to your community, to your family, and to yourself. Your work matters to the wider world. Your work matters to this and future generations. The fruit of your labor, the work of your hands, has been given to you by God. Do you claim that today? Are you working today for God first and foremost? If so, then all who surround you will see that your work indeed matters…because it’s consecrated to God’s greater work in, through, and all around you today.

So, as we begin this brief season of reflection on OUR work here on earth, here are a few questions to ponder: Why are you placed where you are in your work today? What is your work teaching you about trusting God? What are you learning about yourself through your work? How are you being used of God in your workplace today, and how is your workplace teaching you to serve God with greater vigor and commitment? How are you giving thanks to God for your work and in what way(s) are you committed to honoring God in and through the work of your head, hands, and heart?

Lenten Choices: Sadness or Joy?

From Palm Sunday’s “Hosanna!” to Good Friday’s “Crucify him!” to Easter Sunday’s “Hallelujah!” this week is filled with powerful emotion. Holy Week takes us from the waving of our palm branches, to the washing of our feet, into the heavy forbearing of the betrayal, denial, arrest, flogging, mockery and crucifixion of Christ, and eventually to the amazement of standing by the open grave in absolute astonishment and wonder. He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!

The emotional ups and downs of Holy Week take us from joy to sadness and back to joy once more. The swing of reactions toward all that Jesus is experiencing has us tossed internally from one extreme to the other. What are we to feel when we go from the exuberance of Palm Sunday to the depth of frustration at his beating and crucifixion, all the while knowing “the rest of the story” when he will conquer the grave and rise victoriously back into eternal life?

I find sadness and joy co-residing in my heart on many occasions, but not as poignantly as in Holy Week. The season of Lent prepares us for this eventuality. And yet, year after year, our souls expand and contract with the powerful truths expressed in the final week of earthly life for our Lord Jesus. Like his first disciples, we too are engrossed in the reality of each segment of the journey to the cross, each dramatic moment toward the empty tomb and his post-resurrection appearances.

There are many figures who stand out among the crowd of followers who experience this full range of emotion. Judas: who betrays Jesus for 30 pieces of silver and then ends up hanging himself when it’s too late to return his fatal pocketful of change. Peter: who denies that he would be the one to deny and then denies Jesus three times before the cock crows and who eventually comes to Jesus’ aid with sword in hand. Mary: who is bewildered by the turn of events and follows her son lovingly to the foot of the cross. John: who is the beloved disciple, leaning on the breast of Christ at the Last Supper and who earns the right to care for Jesus’ mother as he dies. The crowd: who usher Jesus into Jerusalem as a celebrity and then kick him out of town to suffer a criminal’s death.

Like those who were there, we too share the same mix of emotions…joy and sadness. Both can co-exist side by side this week. Both are very real. Both are important for us to feel. Both are legitimate emotions for serious Christ followers. Give yourself permission to suffer the anguish of the crucifixion and the delight of the resurrection. To ignore one and ignite the other may in fact steal from your soul the deep work of the Spirit that God Himself invites you to experience fully this week. Let joy and sadness blend together in ways that will deepen your faith and renew your hunger for the Crucified and Resurrected Christ. And, may these emotions help accentuate the power of the Incarnate Word…

“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2: 6-11).

Lenten Choices: Fear or Love?

When I begin to imagine what it would have been like to travel with Jesus as one of his original disciples, I can hardly fathom what it must have felt like just before that first holy week. Did any of them have an inkling of a clue for what was just around the corner? I suspect not…

Each time I read the gospel accounts of the events that precede the arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ, I’m struck by how rich and vivid are the stories. Beginning with Mary’s anointing of Jesus with pure nard, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem must have been a beautiful and majestic sight to behold. His cursing of the fig tree and cleansing of the temple are dripping with meaning and metaphor. His offering of a few more parables – two sons, wicked tenants, king’s son, ten virgins, and ten talents – are indications of his sharp mind and kingdom focus.

When Jesus repeats the great commandment, his reminder to love with all one’s heart, soul, strength and mind are pointed directly to those who might be fearful in the coming days. Therefore, by the time the Passover meal is served and the foot washing begins, the traitor Judas leans more into his fear than his love for Jesus. The Lord’s parting words to his disciples embody endearing love and affection, and are in direct opposition to the fear that grips the heart of his brittle betrayer Judas and his befuddled denier Peter.

Fear and love so closely linked, and yet so far apart from one another. As the story progresses toward the crucifixion, fear is what guides the high priest, the Sanhedrin, Pilate and Herod. Fear grips the hearts of Peter and Judas, the confused crowds, the mocking Jews, the flogging soldiers, and the angry bystanders. Fear is laced with frustration and confusion, irrational and unholy decisions, and unlimited, unmerited taunting.

As we review the accounts of Jesus’ final week of life and service, we too are drawn into the same basic choice: unholy fear or divine love? Will we be so wrapped up in the ways of the world that our ambitions and anxieties lead us instead to isolation and fear? Or, will we be so enveloped by the love of Jesus that our longings and desires lead us to worship and adoration?

The outstretched arms of love spread out for us on the cross are offered freely and generously so that we can know love that’s deeper than any ocean, higher than any sky, wider than any sunrise, and longer than any horizon known to this world. May the final legs of the journey toward the cross of Christ lead you to love like never before. Let the love of Jesus fill you up so that your deep reservoir is overflowing with gladness and joy. We love because he first loved…that’s the most compelling, life-transforming truth of all.

Lenten Choices: Doubt or Faith?

Lent is a season of the Church year where our Christian faith reaches its apex…moving from the events of Holy Week, toward the cross, the empty tomb, and to the resurrected Christ at Easter. During this season of the year our local churches are a bit more full, especially as family and friends gather on Easter Sunday. Faith in Jesus Christ is presented from pulpits with more robust vigor. Faith in the public square is a bit more appropriate to mention, if not to debate.

It’s also during this time of year that more faith-related questions are raised. And, where doubts are inevitably surfaced. How we handle such questions and address said doubts is a depiction of how stable we are in our faith and how willing we are to be confronted. How do you handle inquiries about your Christian faith? Can you resonate with the concept of doubt for yourself? Are you able to listen well to the doubts of others without the need to change their mind or fix their opinion, or even to offer a gracious and thoughtful reply?

Thomas the disciple is known more for his doubts than his faith…I’m not so sure that’s fair, but it seems to be his “reality.” He was certainly the one who expressed his doubts most specifically about and directly to Christ. “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it” (John 20: 25). A week later Jesus was in their midst, stood among them, and said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe” (John 20: 27).

I’m amazed each time I read that story. Thomas had specificity to his doubts. Jesus had particularity to his invitation to see, touch, reach, and believe – all in direct response to Thomas’ explicit doubts. As a result, Thomas received profound belief in Jesus with deep certainty, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20: 29) he exclaimed. Doubts removed. Faith restored. A disciple transformed from the inside out.

What I appreciate the most is that doubts exist. Nothing about our doubts is to be hidden or regretted. Doubts are real; we all have them, some more than others. Asking hard questions, verbalizing doubts, and seeking answers is all a part of the journey. Who are we to suppress them or shame them or suspend them? Sometimes our doubts can be answered immediately, other times they simply need to be surrendered and left in abeyance.

Elsewhere in the gospels, Jesus speaks directly into the doubts of his disciples. He asks Peter “Why did you doubt?” when he began to sink in the sea (Matt. 14:31). He addresses the disciples directly in the midst of the storm, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:40). And to the two on the way to Emmaus, “How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” (Luke 24:25). Always attuned to their doubts, Jesus speaks directly and forthrightly into each of them.

With certainty we know that doubts will in time be addressed by God. We may not receive immediate answers, but we can with faith hold fast to the belief that God will indeed reveal himself in the midst of and/or about our doubts. We need a willing spirit, an open heart, and eyes and ears of faith to anticipate his response. Faith is the antecedent to doubt. Trust is what strengthens our faith, and what equips us to handle all forms of doubt. Today, will you believe in Jesus enough to entrust your doubts into his loving care?

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.” Hebrews 11:1.