Thursday, May 12, 2016

Eternal Craft

When I was early in my career at my family’s business, I was confronted with a transforming perspective on God’s purpose in business from a talk at a missions conference. Part of this purpose included to produce goods and services that will enable the community to flourish.[1]

This is more profound than simply sharing your faith with co-workers and not even referencing the nature of the work itself. A short time later, we adapted our company vision statement to take into account this larger purpose articulated at the conference. The heart of our company, where I have the privilege to be a 3rd generation owner, was already closely aligned with this, and so our adaptation was mainly a matter of articulation.

Our company name is Foamcraft. The craft has always been explained to highlight the “craftsmanship” of our work and our workers. “Hand-crafted” is ubiquitous in advertising these days, whether in bread, ice cream, soap, beer, cocktails, or coffee. I like to say “foam had the craft before the craze”, given Foamcraft was founded in 1952. Of course, the concept of craftsmanship is as old as time. God is the original and master craftsman. Jesus himself was a carpenter and spent a lifetime crafting things.[2]

God has called me to be pastoral in my workplace, witnessing to my faith in Jesus Christ and to his eternal value in daily work. As I’ve read Scripture, and listened to voices speaking into this topic, I’ve recognized that this concept of “enabling the community to flourish” is not simply referring to the community in this life. It is also in reference to the community and city in the life to come. In this way, I believe my craft is eternal.

The physical resurrection from the dead and the reality of an eternal heaven gives hope and meaning to everyday work. Our labor is not in vain.[3] I believe this means that what we craft – whether physical products like wooden toys or power tools, or through service like in an ice cream parlor, selling insurance, or preparing a meal - will last forever. It will be, as Andy Crouch says, the “furniture of heaven”[4]. What we contribute in work and culture will furnish heaven for eternity.   

This is inspiring for me because I contribute specifically to making furniture, by fabricating the foam cushions that are upholstered into the final form of what you have in your family room (or bedroom, office, pontoon boat, RV, etc.). When Jesus says he is preparing a place for us, specifically a room in his Father’s house, won’t this kind of place need furniture, which needs good quality foam? Will Jesus and I be sitting together on furniture that has Foamcraft foam?

Hold on. Am I saying that the foam cushion I sold last week for a finished chair that hopefully will soon be brought home by a lucky customer, will be in heaven? Well, no. I’ve seen that used recliner on the side of the road, and that is not the picture of the new earth that is in the bible. At the same time, is there not something about what my work contributes to the product that will last as part of redeemed creation? I believe from the Bible that there is.

Consider the following. Paul says in Colossians 1 that all things were created by, through, and for Jesus, and that he is before all things and in him all things hold together. And through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things. What things? All things. God is reconciling more than my body and soul to himself?

In Revelation 21, we see that kings will bring into the New Jerusalem the glory and honor of the nations. What is this glory and honor? There is mention of “jewels”. Jewels are minerals which require skilled eyes and hands to refine into their final form. Andy Crouch in his book Culture Making, highlights the fact that jewels, therefore, are minerals plus culture.[5] Crouch asks, “Will the cultural goods we devote our lives to – the food we cook and consume, the music we purchase and practice, the movies we watch and make, the enterprises we earn our paychecks from and invest our wealth in – be identified as the glory and honor of our cultural tradition?”[6]

Could the physical results of our work be redeemed and part of the physical new heavens and new earth? N.T Wright, in Surprised by Hope, explains it this way: “The transition from the present world to the new one would be a matter not of destruction of the present space-time universe but of its radical healing.”[7] This is a wonderful promise for us! Tom Nelson, in Work Matters, says, “If our daily work, done for the glory of God and the common good of others, in some way carries over to the new heavens and the new earth, then our present work itself is overflowing with immeasurable value and eternal significance.”[8]

To those who do not yet know Jesus personally, and perhaps doubt that there is a life to come, this is a show-stopper. Tim Keller in Every Good Endeavor says, “If this life is all there is, then everything will eventually burn up in the death of the sun and no one will even be around to remember anything that has ever happened. Everyone will be forgotten, nothing we do will make any difference, and all good endeavors, even the best, will come to naught.”

Pause for effect. What? Keller continues, “Unless there is God. If the God of the Bible exists, and there is true reality beneath and beyond this one, and this life is not the only life, then every good endeavor, even the simplest ones, pursued in response to God’s calling, can matter forever.”[9]

This the bible proclaims to us: not only is there God, but this God establishes the work of our hands (our craft), gives it value, and through his resurrection power shown forth in Jesus is redeeming our craft into eternity.

[1] Jeff Van Duzer, Urbana 2006
[2] Tom Nelson, Work Matters, p. 89-90
[3] 1 Corinthians 15:58
[4] Andy Crouch, Culture Making, p. 170
[5] Crouch, p. 175
[6] Crouch, p. 171
[7] N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, p. 122
[8] Tom Nelson, Work Matters, p. 73
[9] Tim Keller, Every Good Endeavor, p. 29

Originally posted at the College Park Blog