My writer's creed:

My Writer's Creed:
Every writer’s work should be suitable to warm oneself by a fireplace on a cold day, either by the burning it produces in the heart and mind or by the blaze it stokes as its pages are cast on the coals! Both are useful. For those who are served in either sense, I resolve to write as much as I possibly can!

Saturday, July 16, 2022

Called to Ministry?

Many of us evangelicals today have learned to ask potentially misleading questions, and these emerge from the misguided, sometimes even unbiblical categories we have created for ourselves. One that struck me recently is this one: "Do you think you might be called into (the) ministry?" We fish with this question in altar calls, in revival meetings or conferences, in youth camps.

Now, I know that what we usually mean to ask is whether someone is sensing a calling to vocational ministry, which usually involves special training in a Bible college and or seminary. Mostly, we're asking, "Do you think God wants you to go into a career in church work or para-church work?" If anyone is ever voicing a stirring toward any kind of Christian ministry we need to be affirming. But let us also be careful to not imply categories and hard lines that are unbiblical.

Many of us have come to think that - or at least act as if - ministry (in the Bible, the common word for a minister is Gk. diakonos, meaning servant) is primarily a special calling for only a select few of God's people. This theological error sets us up for at least a couple of practical errors.

The layperson may conclude ministering is not their thing, or is only occasionally or rarely so. Serving is something they do once a month in a rotation in children's church or as an usher or on a music team, or maybe they serve occasionally in helping with a potluck fellowship dinner. For the Christian, ministry is not discretionary - there is not an opt-out position.

The vocational minister may also compartmentalize in a similar way. They may see their service only according to the specific responsibilities of a job description. They minister during office hours and on Sundays, perhaps going the extra mile on those urgent after-hours appointments when a church member is in crisis. Even vocational ministry is more than a job.

The Bible paints a different picture that this. Ministry is not for a select group of Christians, nor is it neatly compartmentalized into little snapshots of our calendar. Understanding ministry this way is much like thinking that giving offerings is only for some Christians, or that a Christian is obligated to give only a tithe of his income and then may do whatever he wants with the rest of his resources. These are not NT views (nor OT ones, for that matter).

Paul painted a picture of service in Rm 12:1 that is not qualified nor compartmentalized:

Romans 12:1 (CSB)

1 Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship.

This picture recalls the sacrifices prescribed in the law of Moses for God's people to enable them to live holy lives with God in the center of their community. Yes, it is true that those from a select tribe were appointed to minister as priests at the tabernacle (and later, temple), but all of God's people were supposed to be serving one another - and even the outsider - in lifestyles of compassion, justice and generosity. Paul brings that notion to the church, placing Christians in the mash-up role of both minister and sacrifice. This is a call to follow the pattern of Jesus, who is the unique heavenly High Priest that offered himself as the once-for-all sacrifice for sins (Hb 9:11-14). We are to give ourselves, our lives, completely to God, as servants.

So, the question, "Are you called to ministry?" can be misleading. If you are a Christian, the answer is always, "Yes!" Whether you believe God is directing you to a certain role or perhaps to a degree of financial support that enables a vocational focus in your service is a different question. Of course, many people are called to ministry roles (especially teaching and other leadership roles) that are greatly enhanced if they can be supported to the extent they can devote a "workweek" portion of their time to a focused preparation and execution of that service. There are unique roles for which the Holy Spirit and the church "set apart" certain people (e.g., Paul and Barnabus in Acts 13:2). We who are in those kinds of supported positions are extremely blessed, and I for one am profoundly thankful (and sometimes still amazed) that God provides these opportunities.

Still, like Paul, we must all be prepared to give ourselves completely to whatever ministry God has prepared for us (Eph 2:10), whether that is in a fully financially supported role, a bi-vocational situation, or as a lay-person. All of us are ministers, and we must remind one another of this. Perhaps we should change our question: "What kind of ministry is God calling you to?" "How is God ministering through you in this season of your life?" And remember that serving God by serving others takes many forms, whether those fit into our neat, "churchy," categories or not. If you are offering it as an act of worship to God, it is service. Offer it wholeheartedly like Paul commends:

Colossians 3:17,23-24 (CSB)

17 And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

23 Whatever you do, do it from the heart, as something done for the Lord and not for people, 24 knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord. You serve the Lord Christ.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

#Snapshotprayer

 Thank you, God, that today I can take stairs three at a time (upward). May I praise your goodness when I can't take one more step!

Thursday, May 13, 2021

The Other Great Exchange

We Christians talk a lot about the “great exchange” of substitutionary atonement, and rightfully so. No concept of the gospel is more core than to realize that Jesus took the wrath of God due us and in exchange gave us his own perfect righteousness.

 

But there is another great exchange that is key to one’s reception of the gospel. This exchange determines whether that other exchange ever happens for an individual. Paul talks about this other exchange in Rm 1. In fact, he talks about several exchanges that seem centered on one in particular: “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie” (v.25).

 

It is important to realize this exchange happens in the heart. This word is used in two key statements by Paul, one in v.21 and one in v.24. It translates a Greek term that refers to a coalition of mind, will, and emotion. This means the exchange of the truth for a lie is more than mental. It is a blend of wrong thinking, wrong deciding, and wrong wanting. Naturally, this coalition leads to wrongdoing.

 

This reality is being not only expressed but held forth as the highest value in our culture today. Everyone is being encouraged to “live out your truth.” Pop culture is peddling this value. The universities are providing doctrinal frameworks to ensure it. You might be surprised at how strongly the administrative powers of public education are pushing it, even down to the preschool levels. Value systems have been replaced. The most important thing to teach a kindergartener now is not A-B-C or 1-2-3 but that everyone should be free to be their “authentic self.” Chaos and perversion are the logical outcomes, and we are seeing plenty of these!

 

When we attempt to proclaim the gospel to someone in word and deed, we do well to realize that they have already made this terrible exchange. They have exchanged the truth for a lie, the priceless for the worthless. Deep down, they probably realize their own “truth” is not working. Most will double down, moving farther away from God’s truth, trying desperately to tweak their own truth until it seems to work.

 

Paul paints a vivid picture of our own moment. This terrible exchange of the truth of God for a lie leads to others. Those who reject God’s truth also exchange “the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man” and other creatures (v.23). This is idolatry, or false worship, and it is everywhere in a culture expressing “my truth.” Because of this idolatry, God delivers people over to unnatural passions and behaviors – another terrible exchange (vv.26-27). Of course, this isn’t new to the world, but it is certainly playing out in a dramatic scale today. Because of idolatry people have been turned over to a corrupt heart, and their lifestyles follow suit (vv.28-32).

 

The point is that we Christians help nothing if we go on crusades to “reclaim” our culture and bring the pagans back in line. We, most of all, should understand that we are powerless to overturn darkened and corrupt hearts. After all, we couldn’t do it for ourselves. That was and is the Spirit’s work. All we did (and continue to do) is quit saying “no” to him and started saying “yes.” Only then was our thinking, deciding, and wanting transformed, as it continues to be so (Rm 12:2).

 

We speak the truth, sure. We call sin “sin.” But our mission is to proclaim the gospel. That is the only power that brings salvation (Rm 1:16). It saves by revealing God’s righteousness (v.17). We can’t convince people of the truth. We can’t ultimately compel them to believe or to live by it. We can only be bold in proclaiming it.

 

The cost of faithful gospel proclamation is going up. To not be ashamed of the gospel (v.16) is to refuse to back off proclaiming Christ. Gospel-oriented living will naturally cause us Christians to stand out in contrast to our culture. The pressures will increase, but we have one job: testify about Jesus. It is not to hammer the sinners, but to lovingly proclaim the gospel. It does the work. The Spirit brings to life. We testify, and we pray that the Spirit will win over the hearts of the lost to these two great exchanges. If they are willing to exchange their “own truth” for the truth of God, then God will exchange the righteousness of Jesus Christ for their own sin. 

Good News #zinger

The good news (read gospel) that most people want to hear is that everyone else (including God) will give them what they want.

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Counting Blessings #zinger

 God gave us eternal life so we have time to continue counting all our blessings in Christ.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

The Conquering Church and Avoiding Mission Drift

The term “conquered” occurs 53 times in the CSB translation of the Revelation given to John. The Greek root, νικη, transliterates to nike and means “victory.” Look familiar? (If not, watch a sporting event or two.) How about that? Our sports culture expresses a biblical theme! Jesus said his church will be victorious over earthly and even demonic powers (see Mt 16:18). In his Revelation, Jesus promises amazing rewards to the one who conquers, and the book envisions the playing out of that victory. Those promises are made in a corporate context of the local churches (chs.2-3), though they have implications for the individual as well.

 

Several entities conquer in Revelation: the demonic powers of this earth, the Christians/Churches, and Jesus. The conquering of the demonic earthly powers is temporary. The conquering of Jesus is ultimate, final, and eternal. The conquering of the Church is bound up in that of Christ, and it is conditional, resulting from faithful perseverance through persecution to final blessing. These conditions are important because they help us understand how the Church conquers. We must understand what this conquering means and what it looks like, so we stay focused on our true mission.

 

Revelation provides a contrast to understand real victory. The world’s recorded history has not offered victory in any lasting sense. Conquering is military, socio-political, and or cultural. It comes through movements characterized by shifts in power. All those who have conquered in these ways have themselves eventually been conquered. How will it be different for the Church?

 

The Church’s conquering will be enduring because it is a different kind of conquering. It is defined in Rv 12:11:

 

11 They conquered him 

by the blood of the Lamb 

and by the word of their testimony; 

for they did not love their lives 

to the point of death. 

 

The “him” in this verse is our ultimate adversary, the accuser and deceiver who is the spearhead behind all rebellion against God’s authority and rule. This conquering, then, is the Christian’s conquering over the collective force that opposes our Lord, and therefore, opposes us who serve him.

 

Our opponents are both human and demonic, both individual and corporate. We face them in the persons with whom we interact, but they are especially powerful as they are united in the cultural, religious, and socio-political systems of fallen humanity. We are beginning to feel those forces more strongly now in the current shift against Christianity in the U.S. We feel pressure from individuals, we feel it from our culture, and even from our governing authorities.

 

If the Church is to conquer, how do we prevail upon this opposition? What are we supposed to do as Christians and as local congregations? Do we need to “take back” our country through political activism? Is our mission to radicalize our culture by flooding social media with Christian rhetoric or by flooding the streets with an imposing movement of social activists?

 

Scripture is clear about how Christians conquer every kind of evil. We stand in the reality of our own salvation by the Lamb, and we faithfully give testimony about that work until our death. Our witnessing is our conquering. To conquer, we must faithfully proclaim the true gospel and live it out for as long as we live. This means we must not corrupt the gospel message or confuse our gospel mission with any other agenda, passion, or movement. This is why Jesus called every one of the seven churches of Rv 2-3 to conquer, but he speaks only of perseverance in pure doctrine and faithful living.

 

Does the Christian care about social justice? Absolutely! Should the Christian speak truth in the political arena or on social media? With discernment, provided our focus is on lovingly promoting the gospel and no lesser agenda. We must not be deceived into throwing our energy into every inferior and short-lived earthly form of conquering. Our conquering is not through social reform or politics or cultural revolution, though we may rightfully hope it impacts those arenas. Our conquering is by the finished work of the cross and by our testimony of who Jesus is and what he has done for us.

 

The Church does not conquer by revolution. She conquers by revelation. We conquer the dark forces of this world by going on record about the great Lamb. We proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Cor 11:26), because his death for sins is our victory.

 

These are frustrating times for us, but we know we are conquerors. Let us be careful to remember why and in what way this is true. We are only victorious in Christ, and that victory is through suffering as faithful witnesses for his sake. Hear the words of Paul, who gave up everything for Christ:

 

Romans 8:31–39 (CSB)

31 What, then, are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He did not even spare his own Son but gave him up for us all. How will he not also with him grant us everything? 33 Who can bring an accusation against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies. 34 Who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is the one who died, but even more, has been raised; he also is at the right hand of God and intercedes for us. 35 Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Can affliction or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: 

Because of you

we are being put to death all day long;

we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered.

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Friday, January 1, 2021

Pulls and Proclamation #Analogy

First, happy new year! May 2021 resemble 2020 in no significant ways. Yeesh!

Next, one important thing WILL be the same: the Christian's role as a proclaimer of the gospel. Our opportunities to carry out Christ's mandate (Mt 28:18-20) will likely (please please please) LOOK different this year. Still, the command and calling are the same whatever our situation dictates in terms of expression and form.

So, as we consider those possibilities, I offer another analogy that points to the very personal and individual nature gospel proclamation. I present to you the dresser, the desk, the buffet or secretary, and probably most appropriately, the file cabinet. More to the point, let me draw your attention to the PULL.

Inside all the aforementioned pieces of furniture - if things are the way they ought to be - we can find some really good stuff, some important stuff, things helpful, informative perhaps and, especially, valuable. But no matter how great the contents, we will struggle to access them unless the drawers and or doors have pulls.

If you are a regenerate Christian - a person who has been born again into an eternal life in Christ - then you are the furniture (tweaking a fusion of Paul's analogy of temple and body). You are a real, live container for the life of Christ expressed by gospel. You hold something that is critically needed by those with whom you interact and especially by those with whom you have influence.

                     
But how can they access the gospel if there are no pulls? It is one thing for people to see Christ in you. It is another thing for them to find a handle for it, some way to grasp it for themselves. Now, we understand conversion is God's work. His Spirit causes the gospel truth to resonate in a mind and heart when, and only when, he begins to awaken and enliven them to it. But HOW does he bring that resonance?

Your proclamation is the pull. You will speak the gospel truths in a way that God has appointed to be exactly the way someone needs to hear them. Your pastor could talk to them for a thousand years and it still not click. A seminary prof could explain it a thousand ways and they'd still not get it. But you might make one statement of testimony to them, and then see their eyes light up with understanding. Something about the way YOU say it will explode in epiphone for someone.

That's God's beautiful creativity. Gospel evangelism is not some biblical expression of the Clone Wars. You and every other Christ-follower is uniquely equipped to deliver the gospel as a firsthand witness. Do the work to be obedient to Peter's command to be prepared to give an explanation for the hope that is in you (1 Pt 3:15). Yes, always dive deeper in your own gospel exploration so that you are a better and better spokesperson. Then understand that your delivery will be - and should be - unique. The message is one, but the messengers are diverse.

There are a bazillion different styles of pulls out there. The many people you run into are a little like DYI home reno shoppers. They are surveying all the options, listening to a lot of worldviews and suggestions regarding the big questions of life. Somebody will run into you, and - if you are ready for the opportunity - they will find the pull they've been looking for. They've surely run into others with the life of Christ inside, but something about the way YOU talk about it will suddenly give them a hold on it.

Your proclamation of the gospel - your specific proclamation - is a pull for someone. That means you must be prepared for the moment, be obedient in the moment and be yourself. Praise God for his generosity to allow you the chance to be a unique collaborator in his life-giving work!