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The Blessing, the Curse, the Calling

God wants all of your life to matter.


How many hours in a day? 24. Let's break a 24-hour day down. First off, the average human sleeps how many hours a night? Not counting college students or parents of young children. Eight hours. The average American works about eight hours a day, but then you have to get to and from work. The average commute in Portland is 23 minutes, but that's one way. Throw in a cup of coffee, gas, let's say an hour. Let's say you exercise on a regular basis, that's another hour. You also have the to-do's of everyday life. You have grocery shopping and cooking and washing the dishes and cleaning. If you have a yard, you have yard work. You have errands, you have bills, all of that. Let's call it, what, two hours a day, rounding down. That leaves how many hours a day? Four. Four hours left, and we all know where you spend the last four hours of your day, TV. The average American watches four hours of TV a day. My point here was let's call your job, exercise, your commute, the to-do list, let's call all of that work. By that definition, one-half of every single day is spent doing what? Working.

Sociologists break down life and over the course of a lifetime when you factor in weekends, retirement, and vacation, the average American spends one-third of his or her lifetime working, and that's rounding down. Work devours the lion's share of our lives. To some people, work is a curse. Am I right? I mean, you hate your job. You're dreading tomorrow morning at 8 a.m. All day long you look down at your watch. You are counting the hours until you get off work. To others, work is a god. Work is where you look for meaning and satisfaction for life. Work is where you get identity. Work is where you get self-worth, and you validate your existence. Work is where you worship, meaning where you make sacrifices. You sacrifice time, you sacrifice energy, you sacrifice health, you sacrifice children, marriages, relationships to worship, to sacrifice for your work. To some it's a curse, to others it's a god.

But the Bible tells a different story. In Genesis one, the story opens with, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." The first glimpse we get of God, he's doing what? He's working, he's creating, he's designing, he's engineering, he's inventing, he's sculpting, he's shaping the world. God is a worker. Opening line, God created. God is working. Now, look down at verse 26, "Then God said, 'Let us make mankind or human in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the see and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals and over all the creatures that move along the ground.'" The word rule in Hebrew is radah. It can be translated, "To rule or to reign or to have dominion." It's king language. Human is the king of the world, ruling, reigning over the creation.

Look at what verse 27 says, "So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them." Verse 27 is a poem in Hebrew. God created male, female, men and women as partners to work together as kings, as queens ruling over the earth. Next, God blessed them. Notice the first thing God does is blesses. Why? Because that's what God is like. The stereotype of an angry, grouchy mean-spirited God, nothing could be further from the truth. First story, first words, God blessed them. What is the blessing? "Be fruitful and increase in number," that's a whole other sermon, "fill the earth and subdue it." And he repeats, "Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over every living creature that moves on the ground." Subdue. The word subdue in Hebrew is kabash, and means, "to wrestle with the earth and ring profit from its hands." The blessing is human. Fill the earth, subdue, wrestle, bring profit from the creation, rule, reign, be kings and queens over the earth.

Turn the page, chapter two, look down at verse 15: "The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it." This is the first glimpse we have of humans, and they are doing what? Working. He is ruling, he is reigning over the creation, he is subduing, he is wrestling with the earth to create shalom. He is working in the garden, he is taking care of the garden, he is creating a space for humans to flourish in God's presence.

Why were humans created?

Notice two things right off the bat first off, why were humans created? Look back at chapter one. "Let us make mankind in our image so that they may rule." You were made to work. It's in your bones. It's in your DNA. It's central to your humanity. Guys, what's the first question a man asks another man: What do you do? Why is that? You know, there's a myth that floats around the church and it goes something like, who you are is what's important not what you do. Really? I beg to differ. I mean, who you are is important, absolutely, absolutely crucial.

What you do matters. What you do for work is central to your role as an image bearer of God. That's why unemployment is gut-wrenching. That's why people who hate their jobs or don't enjoy their work are miserable even if it makes a load of cash. That's why people who retire early are often unhappy. I know a bunch of people who retire early and are, grouchy. You know people like that? Because when you stop working, I don't mean at a job, but when you stop creating shalom, what's in your bones, you stop being fully human. You stop being fully awake and alive. You were made to work.

The first blessing in the story is work

Secondly, notice the first blessing in the story is what? Work. What's the cliché, work is the curse. Is that true or false? False. Flat out, full-on false. Not only that but work is the first blessing in the story. There are a whole bunch of blessings God lays out down through the story of the Scriptures, but the first one God blessed them and said, "Get to work, subdue, wrestle, rule, reign, work, take care of the garden. I made you to work." Work is a blessing, not a curse.

Now, I know what a bunch of you are thinking right now: Easy for you to say, you work at a church, you get paid to read the Bible and drink coffee all week long. And you work with people who love Jesus; I work at Intel. I work for Waste Management, I'm a sanitation engineer. That means I drive a garbage truck. I hate my job. The elephant in the room is staggering numbers of modern American's are unhappy with their jobs. One recent study put the number at 43% of people are unhappy with their jobs. I found one study that put the number at 77% . Gosh, I hope that is wrong. Every year the number goes up, year after year, decade after decade, more—not less—Americans, are unhappy with their jobs.

At least part of the reason, comes from what happens next in the story in Genesis 3. Genesis 3, look down at 17. You know the story, Adam, Eve, in the Garden, sin, and watch what happens to Adam. God said, "Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, you must not eat from it." Meaning because of sin here is the by-product. "Cursed is the ground because of you. Through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you and you will eat the plants of the field, by the sweat of your brow you will eat your food, until you return to the ground. Since from it you were taken for dust you are and to dust you will return." God curses the ground. God curses human's relationship with the earth.

The blessing is that humans were made in the image of God to rule over the earth, to subdue the earth, to take the creation project forward, but the curse is now that role is hard. Now there is painful toil. Now there is thorns and thistles in the ground and sweat on your brow. Now there is blisters on your hands and sore backs and Icy Hot and Ibuprofen, and workers' comp and medical insurance, and I need a vacation. Or in the language of Genesis 3, "painful toil." Now the blessing is cursed and human needs to be saved. Human needs, and salvation, I mean that in the broad sense of the word. We need to widen out how we think about the word salvation. Adam needs to be put back into right relationship with the Creator, put back into the Garden. Back because now he is separated, he is outside in the Garden, outside of the place of flourishing and shalom in God's presence, and he needs to get back with God.

And that's not all. Don't stop there, that's a half-truth if that's what you mean by salvation. And he needs to get back right with the creation. Not only the Creator but with the earth, with the ground. He was made by God to rule, not to sit around. Adam was made, you were made to rule over the creation, but your relationship with the earth is now broken because of sin and we need to be saved. Or put bluntly, you need to be saved. I need to be saved. Put back right with God the Creator, and with the creation. Which is why Jesus comes. Which is why God steps in to the human story, and it's why Jesus comes as a what? Human. Not as a cloud, not as fire. He comes as a human. Why? To do what Adam was supposed to do. To do what humanity was supposed to do. To rule over the earth and to bring you and put you back in the spot God made you for.

Made for work

Turn over to Ephesians two. Ephesians was written by a man named Paul to a church in the city of Ephesus, and all over Ephesians and in particular in chapter two, Paul alludes back to the Genesis story we just read. Back to creation, fall, and sin. He talks about, in light of Jesus, the interplay between salvation and work. In Ephesians 2:8 he says. "For it is by grace you have been saved through faith. This is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God. Not by works so that no one can boast." The problem is we are hyper-focused on verses eight and nine, which often means we are scared to talk about work in the church. We are the church, we are about grace, salvation by grace through faith, not by works. That's why I have been around healthy, Jesus-centered churches for over three decades, and I don't remember one sermon on work. In over three decades. One-half of my days, one-third of my life. I don't remember one sermon on one-third of my life. Why? Is Paul talking here about work in the generic sense? Absolutely not. He is talking about how you are saved, how you are put back into right relationship with God. Paul says, "Listen, that is 110 percent grace." Or the word can be translated "gift." No merit, no earning, not because you go to church, not because you pay cash, not because you are moral. No, 110 percent grace, gift, by faith, not of works.

Now, here is the problem. Is that the end of Paul's flow of thought? Nope! There is a paragraph break in your English Bibles and in the Greek. "For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, not of works, nobody boast," is not the end of Paul's flow of thought. Look at what Paul says next, 10: "For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do." If you cut Paul off at verse nine, and you don't keep going, you cut off Paul's climax. You're not supposed to cut off Paul's flow of thought right before the climax. "For you have been saved by grace through faith" is climactic and central, absolutely, not to diminish in any way, shape or form. But it's not the climax. The climax is for you are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God set out in front of you way in advance for you to walk in.

Now, what is Paul doing in verse 10? Well, for starters, Paul is retelling the Genesis story, and the word handiwork in Greek is poema where we get the word poetry. Paul is clearly alluding back to Genesis chapter 1, verse 27, the creation poem. God made human, male and female. And saying, "Listen, Jesus saved you to put you back into right relationship with the Creator God, absolutely, and to put you back to work." And then he makes the stunning statement. There are good works "prepared in advance for us to do." That is one of my favorite lines in all of the Scriptures.

Good works

Let's talk about that line for a few minutes. Good works. What are good works? Here are a few definitions from thinkers I look up to. Gerry Breshears, who is the head of the theology department over at Western Seminary, writes, "Work is the gracious expression of Yahweh's creative energy in service of others to create shalom." John Stott writes, "The expenditure of energy, manual or mental or both, in the service of others, which brings fulfillment to the worker, benefit to the community and glory to God." Dorothy Sayers writes, "Work should in fact be thought of as a creative activity, undertaken for the love of the work itself. And that man made in God's image should make things as God makes them for the sake of doing well a thing that is well worth doing." Why should we engage in this "creative activity undertaken for the love of the work itself"? Because God works.

You are made in the image of God. Good work. Now, it stands to reason, if there is such a thing as good work, that means there is also such a thing as not good work. There is work that is flat out evil, there is work that leads people into sin, there is work that does not create shalom, that does not remake the world back into the Garden God intended. There is work that is flat out upside down. But there is good work in the world. And there, Paul says, speaking of good work, work in service of others, work to create shalom, "work to do well a thing well worth doing," Paul says there are good works God prepared in advance for you to walk in.


Now the word used by theologians for that kind of work and that kind of idea is vocation. It's a word we need to recapture. Down through church history theologians have talked about the difference between an occupation and a vocation. An occupation is what you do to make a living. It's your job, it's what you do to make ends meet. A vocation, on the other hand, is a calling from God. The word vocation comes from the Latin word vocare, which in Latin literally means "calling." Vocation and calling are synonyms. A vocation is work that fits you, helps others, and glorifies God. Meaning, it's work, it's the expenditure of energy, in John Stott's language. It's the service of others. The Bible's one of the only books that celebrates manual labor, or mental or both. Work that fits you. Meaning, you enjoy it. It's not heaven on earth, by any means, and there are thorns and thistles in the ground, but you enjoy it and it fits you. It makes sense with your personality, with your kind of DNA, with what you're good at, what you're lousy at, your talents, your upbringing, your background, your family history, your education, your training.

Secondly, work that helps others. In the service of others. Work that creates shalom, that creates a world where humans can thrive and where humans can live in God's presence. Notice how broad this is. You don't have to be a doctor or lawyer or judge, we're all for that. You can work at Les Schwab, and you're helping create a world where humans thrive. Think of what it takes for a human to go on a road trip to visit family. Think of how many manual jobs, menial tasks, the spectrum of civilization it takes. There are people working, serving and helping you travel from point A to point B. Work that serves other people, and work that glorifies God.

This does not mean if you're a dentist and you do a filling you etch John 3:16 into the tooth. Right? I'm guessing that's illegal anyway. It means you work to reshape the world in such a way people see God's presence and beauty. Because when the world functions like God intended—you know those moments when you're eating food or you see beauty, architecture, art or design, or you listen to music or you're with people, or society functions or technology— it saves lives. You have moments where you think, Yeah, the world is humming right now, that's what it's supposed to look like. That's beautiful, that tastes good, that sounds amazing, that works incredible. That's what it's supposed to work like. For people with eyes to see, who gets the glory in those moments? God. It's the world God made. It's the world God intended. Vocation, work that fits you, helps others and glorifies God.

Now, your vocation is not always the exact same thing as your job. The hope and prayer is that your job includes your vocation, but it's not always the case. The obvious example is stay-at-home moms. I hate when people ask me, "Does your wife work?" Yes, she works her tail off all day long. It takes brains, courage, strength, energy, tenacity, wisdom, and creativity. All that, absolutely. Another obvious example is students. If you are in middle school or high school or college or graduate school, that is your vocation right now. That is your calling from God. That is your work. If you are an eighth grader you need to see eight grade biology as your vocation. Seriously. If you are a high schooler you need to see your junior year literature class as your calling from God. If you're in college you need to see Philosophy 103 as God's working in your life. You are called to work there. You need to see learning as your vocation, as your calling, as your work, and put your back into every class, every test, every book. Because you're not learning to get a degree, you're learning to create shalom in the world.

The second I lay that language out about calling your mind truncates and you think, Okay, calling, well, God calls people to spiritual stuff, whatever that means. God calls people to work at churches, but God doesn't call people to work at banks, does he? Absolutely, yes. God calls people to be pastors, absolutely. God calls people to all sorts of vocations and callings. And for the vast majority of you, your calling is not in here. The calling for 99 percent of you has nothing to do with this church, other than we are here to fuel you and help you and serve you, and kick you back out the door. For the majority of you, your calling happens outside the walls of the church.

You are called. Remember salt and light, remember the metaphors from the Sermon on the Mount? Salt is only good spread out, it's only good scattered all over the city and all over the world. Your saltiness, so to speak, for 99 percent of you does not have anything to do with the church. You are called as mechanics, baristas, grocery store clerks, lawyers, judges, doctors, politicians, designers, second grade teachers, preschool workers, etc. I have no clue what God's calling on your life is, but I know God calls people to all kinds of good works.

Now, when I hear good works, just like the word calling I think of church staff. Look down at your Bibles. Does Paul define good works? No. Does he say, "Good works, and by that I mean teaching the Bible and preaching the gospel and praying"? Could he mean architecture is a good work? Could he mean mowing lawns is a good work? Tim Middleton, my mechanic is in the back. He runs the best mechanic shop on the planet. I'm an idiot with cars, which means he could tell me, "Your thus and thus is broken and it costs 1800 bucks." I have no idea. All I know is it goes or it doesn't go. An honest mechanic is something to write home about, right? Could it be that I am called to teach the Bible and Tim is called to fix cars? Could it be my work is good? My work fits me, benefits others and glorifies God. And could it be running Middleton Motors fits Tim and he's really good at what he does, and helps others, thank God, and glorifies God?

Could it be we are both, a mechanic and a pastor in a vocation, in a calling doing good works. The majority of you will find God's calling on your life, find the good works God has waiting for you, God has laid out. I love that idea, that out in your day, minutes from now or decades from now, there are good works God has waiting for you. Oh wow, you have no idea what he has in store for you. You are clueless but it's epic. Oh, you have no idea. You're going to start a landscaping business and you're going to create shalom, and God is really into gardening. We all know how God feels about gardening. Am I right? You have no idea what God has waiting for you, and you need to learn to see your work, whatever you do—unless it's not good work. If your work fits you, benefits others, you need to learn to see your work as your calling from God.

Two lies

Now, there are two lies we need to expose in order to make that happen, in order to go forward and get into the nuts and bolts. Two lies we need to expose in order for you to wake up tomorrow morning as a mom, as a second grade teacher, as a landscaper, as a dentist, whatever, and see your work as vocation, see your work as calling from God to create shalom.

That work is a means to an end
The first lie comes from outside the church, and it is the lie that work is a means to an end. Lots of people think work is a means to an end. Meaning, you don't work to work. You work to make money, or you work to pay the bills or make ends meet, or you work to get stuff, or you work to get off work and go play and buy a boat and have fun on the river, or go on vacation to Hawaii. But work is a means to an end. The end is money, the end is fame, the end is success, the end is pleasure or hedonism, the house, the vacation.

If a long-lost relative, God-forbid, died today and somebody handed you 10 million bucks, would you work tomorrow? The answer is probably no. You don't understand a theology of work. You buy into the lie. You think work is a means to an end to make money. It's not; money is a byproduct, and it's not always a byproduct. It's a byproduct of working well. Think of how the American dream has devolved over the years. It started out as anybody, whatever station in life, white, black, anything in between, rich, poor. If you work and if you work hard, you can make a life. Wow. I love that idea. Romantic. But it's devolved into I want to make as much money as I can as fast as I can and then go play golf in Florida. Who hijacked the American dream? I know men and women who made the dream happen, who were crazy successful, made a bunch of money, got out of work by 40, by 45, and are miserable. You're living the dream and you're unhappy?

I will never forget my first vacation. Over a decade ago now. My first legit job, I get married, we took a vacation and went to Disneyland because that's what you do when you live in Oregon. We went down to Disneyland, no kids—who needs kids for Disneyland, right, my wife and I—and we book a room at the Pinocchio hotel. Every morning there is a tram from the Pinocchio to the front gate. We are there in the off-season and it's like a Monday through a Thursday or something like that, and nobody is on the tram but us and the tram driver. We start talking with the tram driver, and he's funny and smart and witty, and he breaks all the stereotypes about tram drivers. Because you all know tram drivers, right? And it's driving me nuts all week long—what makes a man want to go into tram driving? What makes a man, when he's 18, 19, 20, making decisions about the next 40, 50 years of his life pick tram driving?

I have to ask. My wife said, "No, you can't, it's invasive, it's not okay in our culture." I have to know. The last morning we get on the tram and I ask, "Okay, I need back story. Have you always been a tram driver or were you like a bus driver before that or a train driver or what?" And true story, he said, "Well, I was a four star general in the United States Army, I was the number two in command for Operation Desert Storm under Norman Schwarzkopf, and after the war I made a bunch of money and with my military pension I retired early, moved to southern California because I love golf. I played golf for two years, I was unhappy and my wife said, 'If you don't get a job I'm getting a divorce.'" He said, "I thought, what should I do, and I thought it would be fun to work at Disneyland." True. And he was happy as a lark. After taking over the Middle East, he's driving you to the Goofy section. Why is that? I mean, here is a guy at the top of his game. Whatever you think about the work, he is successful. Money, fame, all of that. He quits early, lives the dream, lives in southern California in the sun with the golf, and he's unhappy. Why? Because the lie is you work to live. The truth is you live to work. The truth is you live, you were made by God to work, to create shalom, to make the world into a place for humans to thrive in God's presence. And that's the first lie.

Sacred/secular divide
The second lie comes from inside the church, and it's what lots of people call the sacred secular divide. It's the idea, the myth that certain kinds of work, for example, are spiritual and matter to God, and are important in eternity, but other kinds of work, well, don't. Some stuff is spiritual, sacred, matters, and other stuff, it's secular. For example, what I'm doing right now, my job, I'm teaching the Bible and it's spiritual. But barista-ing, well, that's secular. Are you really doing anything in the scheme of the world, making lattes? Really? Yeah, preaching the gospel with people, that is spiritual work. Wow, people like Billy Graham, God is really into that. Me, I'm a dentist, I'm a grocery store clerk at New Seasons, I'm a graphic designer, I'm a mom, I'm an elementary school teacher, I'm a … you fill in the blank. I mean, my work doesn't really matter, I don't think, in the scheme of things. And that myth, that lie, that flat out demonic lie, is deeply embedded in Western European consciousness. I hope you get that. It's the air you breathe. It's what you were brought up to believe by a worldview that spans continents, that goes back to before the time of Christ, back to the teachings of Plato, that divides the world apart, rips it into spiritual and non-spiritual, and it's flat out not true.

For example, did you know there is no word for "spiritual" in the Hebrew language? Look up the word "spiritual" in the Old Testament or the Hebrew Bible. Genesis to Malachi, three-quarters of the Bible in your lap. The Bible used by Jesus. Look up the word "spiritual." It's not there. What? It's not. Well, why is the word spiritual not in the Hebrew Bible? Well, for starters because to the Hebrew all of life is spiritual. I mean, every scrap.

All of life is spiritual. Go read the Torah. Go read Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, the Law. It is insane, the breadth of topics it covers. There are laws about priests, sacrifices, and idols in worship, and there are laws about what kind of seeds you plant your field with, in case you are wondering. There are laws about what kind of material you make your clothes with. Civic laws about government, taxes, boundary alignments, slaves and compensation, justice, and how to handle court cases. There are laws about mold on your house, which is nice when you live in Oregon. Go read Leviticus 17, it helps. The bad news is you need to tear your house down, but that's a whole other story. There are laws about pots and pans, laws about how to take the hide off an animal. Laws about everything. Well, what does that mean? Well, for starters it means all of life matters to God. Every scrap. What happens in here matters. What I'm doing right now matters. When you read the Bible and pray matters. And how you mow your lawn matters.

The problem is we want to compartmentalize life, we want to put spiritual life over here. I don't know what we really mean by that. Prayer, Bible study, Jesus, gospel stuff on one side. And then we want to put work over here. Your job over here. Your marriage over here. Your children over here. Your money over here. Your time—what you do on the weekends or your night off—over here. Your entertainment over here. Your sexuality. We want to break life apart, but it doesn't work like that. Life is wholistic.

I think if you were to ask Jesus, "How is your spiritual life?" I think he would look at you really confused. My what? That's a phrase, by the way, never used one time anywhere in the Bible. Nowhere. My spiritual life? You mean my life? I'm doing well, thank you. You mean the Spirit of God? I have the Spirit of God in me, yes, absolutely. I mean, how is the Spirit of God working through my life? Well, let's talk about that. I'm a carpenter, I make stuff. All of your life matters. The problem is when you think there is a spiritual life as opposed to everyday life. You eject God from the vast majority of your schedule. Am I right? You push Jesus out. Because he's over here, he's the church, he's in the Bible, he's in prayer, he's not in software designing, whatever you Intel guys do. I don't understand, but it works, thank you. He's not in that, he's at church. When you're pulling weeds because you're starting a landscaping company, he's not there. He's with you when you go on your lunch break and pray, but he's not there, he's not in the dirt with you, he's not into gardening.

But what if that's wrong? What if God wants to be involved in every minute of your day? What if God is with you not in the one percent we call spirituality but in the 100 percent we call life? What if God is with you in the everyday, ordinary Monday moments when you're grocery shopping, when you're picking up the kids from school, when you're in the shower, when you're on a run, when you're going to bed at night, when you're watching TV, when you're washing the dishes, when you're putting your kids down for bed, etc.. What if God is with you there in those moments, and what if what you are doing matters?


You know, I'm a pastor and I absolutely love my job. It's not perfect by any means, but I love my job. One of the things I love is I get front row seats to watch people come alive in Jesus. But to be honest, one thing that drives me nuts is all the time I see people come alive in Jesus and start to follow Jesus and God's Spirit starts to work in people's hearts and minds, and men and women say, "You know what, I want my life to matter. I want to make a difference in the world, I want to make my life matter in eternity. And I really want to serve Jesus." I'm all for that. Beautiful.

But here's what breaks my heart. They default to, well, one plus one, that means I need to go to seminary. That means I need to become a pastor. That means I need to work at a church, or at least a nonprofit. Right? Because Jesus would never work for money, we all know his carpentry shop was pro bono. Duh. It's not like he would charge for a table, he's Jesus. I mean, I'm serious about Jesus, I don't want to be a banker like kind of semi-serious followers of Jesus. I want to become a pastor. God's calling on your life is not to be a pastor, it's to be a banker, it's to be a mom, it's to be a teacher. Put your career in there. It's that. That's God's calling on your life. That matters. Serve Jesus there. Jesus doesn't want you to work, he wants you to work out there. He wants to go with you every minute of every day and walk with you into the world, and he wants to freight your work with meaning. He wants to open up your eyes, and he wants all of your life to matter, because all of life is spiritual. All of life matters to God, and Jesus walks with you every minute of the day.

John Mark Comer is the pastor for teaching and vision at Bridgetown: A Jesus Church in Portland, Oregon. He’s also the author of a new book called Garden City: Work, Rest, and the Art of Being Human.

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Sermon Outline:


I. Why were humans created?

II. The first blessing in the story is work

III. Made for work

IV. Good works

V. Vocation

VI. Two lies