Discussing Female Authority…

If it wasn’t for my mother, grandmother, and fifth grade teacher (Mrs. Gaffney), I would not be writing this blog post. When I was young, they were the prominent people in my life cultivating a deep love for the written word – both reading and writing it. In college, when it came time to choose a major, I recalled my constant practice of emulating my mother’s beautiful handwriting, my grandmother’s delight in my ability to read, and Mrs. Gaffney’s validation of my ability to write in front of the entire class. With all of them in mind, I chose a degree in English literature. I do not regret it for a second.

I bring all of this up because there has been a recent stir within the social media world, at least recent to me, about women in positions of teaching and authority. No, I’m not talking about teaching in school or even in Sunday school. I’m talking about female pastors and speakers at conventions. I’m talking about women having the same abilities as men to speak, teach, and lead congregations in the ways of God. Some might deem this discussion as heresy, but I think we should have been having this discussion a long time ago.

Nevertheless, I’m wading into it. When something becomes popular, especially if it has a rebellious flare to it, it is easy for me to hop on until the popularity fades. Not to say that feminism is the popular thing to do or that this recent rise of it within Christian circles is merely a fad. Ideas and beliefs amongst “Jesus feminists” (a label I’m considering) are not popular in the main streams of Christianity. Yet I have the tendency to treat things like these as if they were mere trends and nothing more. With the particular topic of equality between women and men, however, I don’t want to treat it as nothing more than a trend.

What this involves is finding something within the movement that will endure. If I am to be a part of a movement, it’s best if I find where the movement is a part of me. And this is why I began this post talking about my mother, grandmother, and fifth grade teacher. If I am going to take the stance that women do not belong in pastoral roles, then I may be attacking my own upbringing. No, my mother, grandmother, and fifth grade teachers were not pastors or elders in my church growing up (I didn’t even have a church until I was in the eighth grade). But by their teaching, guidance, nurturing, cultivation and validation, I fell in love with reading and writing. Imagine if they had been teaching me about Jesus.

I understand that there are verses in Scripture that seem rather explicit – like 1 Timothy 2:11-14, where Paul states that he would not permit a woman to have authority over men. But these verses have some issues revolving around them. First off, scholars question Paul’s authorship of 1 Timothy (and 2 Timothy, 2 Thessalonians, Ephesians, Colossians, and Titus). It’s believed that someone wrote under Paul’s name and maybe even under Paul’s school of thought, but that it wasn’t Paul. But perhaps that’s an issue for another time. Second, if it was Paul writing this, he apparently forgot what he said in 1 Corinthians 11 where he talks about women prophesying in church. The issue there isn’t women with leadership roles; it’s women without head coverings.

Discussing Paul’s letters and where they talk about women in leadership positions is only a small part of the Scriptures that either give or forbid female authority. We also see in the Gospels where Jesus was cared for by women. And when He rose from the grave, it was women who carried the message to the Apostles (and these stories were kept in Scripture in spite of patriarchal societies transcribing them). Reading through the Hebrew Bible we find plenty of women who rose up to accomplish God’s purpose rather than men. It’s a much more nuanced discussion than it appears.

What my mind keeps coming back to, though, is what Jesus says in Mark 10:42-45;

“And Jesus called them to him and said to them, ‘You know that those are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be our servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Emphasis mine)

I can’t say with absolute certainty that those who argue against women in leadership are attempting to lord their male authority over women, but it certainly feels that way. Micah J. Murray recently admitted in his blog that he used to define feminists as women with an authority problem. But if it is true that males are lording their authority over females, then, as Jesus points out, it isn’t the feminists who have an authority problem. (By the way, Micah, in the same blog post, also identified himself as a “Jesus feminist.”)

Although I don’t talk much about it, I am half Cherokee. One thing about the Cherokee people is that, before the arrival of Europeans, lineages were traced through the mother. To this day, women play a prominent role amongst Native tribes – particularly in leadership. Perhaps we could take a lesson from our Native sisters and brothers. Perhaps we could stop attempting to make cookie-cutter Christians and instead let Jesus create the kind of people he wants to. Perhaps we could let go of our “God-given” or “divine right” authority and let the one who is called lead the way, regardless of their gender.

If being an advocate for equality amongst genders makes me a Jesus feminist, then I suppose I am one. Right now it sort of feels awkward, but it’s because I’m still defining what it looks like for me. I’m still figuring the parts of the movement that are already a part of me – the things that will endure when something like this stops being trendy. Not so strangely enough, those elements of this movement look a lot like Jesus.

May we all learn to serve our sisters and brothers equally.

God bless.

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Answer the Toy Phone…

Ever since I started working with the Ems, I’ve often thought of what my walk-out song would be. Walk-out songs are small snippets of songs for when players go out to bat, so basically you have to pick a cool part of the song – not a boring part of the intro. You see on one hand I’d want my song to be something intimidating to the other team, something that would let them know they should back up a couple steps, something that’d make them say, “He’s a hitter,” something from Eminem. But on the other hand – the hand that is more in tune with what my heart’s telling me – I want John Mark McMillan’s “I Dreamed There Was a Fountain.”

Last night after the Em’s game was the Fellowship Night. I’ve been to one of these before, but that was way back when I had just finished my freshman year at UO and games were still being played at Civic Stadium – an old ballpark here in Eugene. My ticket was like six bucks or something. Last night, however, I was working while Fellowship Night was happening. And as I swept away the old clay around home plate and packed in some new dirt, I couldn’t help but listen in to Eric, Maddie, Michael, and Casey all share tidbits about their faith and journey with the Lord.

Eric Dungy, Maddie Magee, Michael Miller, and Casey Martin have all been in unique opportunities to play a sport at the collegiate level or higher. Eric, son of Tony Dungy, plays football for Oregon; Maddie plays volleyball for Oregon; Michael plays for the Emeralds; and Casey is the men’s golf coach for Oregon. While each one had something encouraging, thought-provoking, or wise to say, Casey said something toward the very end that has really stuck with me.

When asked about what he does now since he’s no longer competing professionally, he replied saying that he still plays a lot. He said that he often teases his players, which means he has to back up his words by playing better than them. Why he does this, though, is to have fun. He said he likes to have fun with the opportunities and gifts that God has given him. All I could think of was 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

When we think of doing things to the glory of God, we often think of working harder, being more responsible, and finding ways to avoid sinning. Yet how often do we think of having fun? Jesus says that if we don’t “become like children,” we’ll be missing out on His kingdom (Matt. 18:3). And what do children do? They have fun.

On Saturday, I gathered with a couple dozen other people to send off two good friends; Jesse and Candice Coffee. They’re leaving Eugene (and the US) to teach English over in South Korea. They were a part of Calvary Fellowship all the way to the end and they were there at the beginning of Emmaus Life – so I’ve had the privilege of getting to enjoy life with them. But it is precisely that – joy – which I learned a lot more about from them. What I mean is, I learned how to have fun.

Sure, I’ve known how to have fun – anyone who has ever been a kid knows how to have fun. But what adulthood oftentimes does is dull down the fun with mortgages and car payments and jobs and this overarching thing called “responsibility.” It’s not long before you come across a five year-old imagining himself an airplane pilot calling out to you, his wingman, and you don’t know what to do because, as we often hear, “life happens.” We justify our lack of fun-having by hiding behind our responsibilities. Jesus never says responsibilities aren’t important; but He certainly doesn’t say they’re the only thing, either.

Life is starting to get crazy for me; I just bought a new car, I’m packing up to move to Portland, and I’m about to begin a Master’s program at George Fox Evangelical Seminary. Along with all of these things are a ton of responsibilities – usually dealing with finances – and I imagine they’ll feel overwhelming. Yet what I am guarding myself against is being so caught up with all these things I need to take care of that I’m not actually enjoying any of them. As Candice Coffee has often said, God wants to give us the desires of our hearts and then enjoy those things. But how can you enjoy something that you’ve simply made into another item on the to-do list?

Today is Monday – a day full of unforeseen contingencies usually in the work place, involving coffee spills, and “fun” is usually not the common F word of the day. But how much easier would it be to focus on enjoying the job, class, sport, or whatever that you’ve been given instead of the to-do list with all its responsibilities? No, they’re still important. But are they so important that you’d rather spend your time stressing over every little responsibility that doesn’t get done or isn’t done the right way instead of having fun with what you do?

There’s a Facebook meme with the caption: “It doesn’t matter how old you are, when a kid hands you a toy phone, you answer it.” Having fun with what we do – making ourselves like children – is enabling ourselves to answer that phone and enjoy our adult lives as little kids who just escaped with their parents’ secret stash of Oreos.

Get done what you need to get done, but have fun with it. After all, you only get to do it on this day, in this season, in this life. Our next life with Jesus is going to have all sorts of new things to enjoy, which we’ll only be able to do if we figure out how to enjoy what we’re doing now.

Believe it or not, having fun is glorifying God. So be ready to answer that toy phone.

God bless.

Meeting People at Their Well…

I’m relatively new to John Green. I think I knew of him for a while, but never actually listened to any of his vlogs or read any of his books. But when I moved in with my current roommate, I was practically forced to watch Green’s “Crash Course History” videos, which are pretty phenomenal and in no way do I regret watching any of them.

One video that I recently watched was Green’s commencement speech to the graduating class of 2013 at Butler University. If you have twenty minutes to spare, I highly recommend watching it. It is well worth the time. What I love about this particular speech, though, was how he described the college graduate life – or as he said, “the hero’s journey.”

“We are taught the hero’s journey is a journey from weakness to strength. [From having no money to having a lot of it, etc….] The real hero’s journey is a journey from strength to weakness.[…] You are about to be a rookie.”

The idea here is that the college graduates he was addressing are about to go from being the most informed at one of the best colleges in the country to being a nobody (to paraphrase his words) – someone who gets coffee for other people “if you’re lucky.” And even though he was talking to the 2013 Butler graduates, I couldn’t help but listen as a two-year graduate from Oregon. Much of what he said throughout that speech is still true to this day despite being out of school for two full years. But where he turns next, the advice that he bestowed upon the Butler grads, was where I listened as a follower of Christ.

“The gift and challenge of your … education is to see others as they see themselves.”

This morning at Emmaus Life we read from John 4:11-18, which is in the middle of the story of Jesus and the woman at the well. I’ve written about this story before, but it is worth re-visiting. As Scott told us, it wasn’t common for someone to be drawing water from the well in the middle of the day. Because of the heat, people typically drew their water either in the morning or at night when it was cooler. So it was particularly strange that she was there at midday.

As Jesus converses with her, talking about living water and becoming a spring of water that wells up to eternal life, we come to find out this woman had been with five husbands and was then seeing someone who was not her husband. The text isn’t explicit; we don’t know exactly why she had all these men in her life, but we do know that she had them in her life. And it isn’t going too far to suggest that perhaps her “well” that constantly made her thirsty was relationships; perhaps she thought that if she just found the right husband, she’d be okay. She’d be happy. As it turned out, though, her pursuit of the right husband led her into a life of avoiding public ridicule – hence why she arrived to the well when she thought no one else was there.

How do we find out about this, though? How do we come to know that she had had five husbands? Jesus tells it to her. Because he saw her as she saw herself, Jesus was enabled to tell her what she needed to hear – that the well she kept drawing from was never going to satisfy. But she was also enabled to listen to what he had to say.

Of course there are several lessons within this passage of Scripture (e.g. What well are you drinking from?), but what has stood out to me today was how Jesus shared Himself with others; how there was no contract to sign, no belief statement to make, no ritual or sacrament to conduct, no strings attached. All she had to do was ask for the water which Jesus freely and richly supplies.

“Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water,” 4:15

Scott pointed this out; that Jesus doesn’t require this woman to prove her faith in Him like we might in our modern day with baptism, communion, belief statement, tithe offering or whatever. He gives it out freely. “Isn’t it interesting that Jesus is more liberal with salvation than we are?” as Scott asked.

Why is that? Why is it that Jesus, who we say we’re following, often ends up being more freely loving of others than we are? Why do we demand that people come to our church to be saved rather than us going out to them? Jesus met this woman on her level, in her weakness, where she sought escape from the realities of this world. And that’s where He turned her around. If He hadn’t done that, then it’s quite possible that none of the people with whom she shared the gospel would have ever heard of Jesus. Instead of being the strong man and seeing people from the outside, He took the weak approach and saw them how they saw themselves.

“The weakness of God is stronger than men,” – 1 Corinthians 1:25

As John Green described the hero’s journey, Jesus exemplifies as the Christian’s journey; that we’re supposed to empathize more than everyone else, to utilize our revelation in Christ to see others as they see themselves, and to make that journey from strength to weakness. In so doing, as Paul says, we become strong in the Lord.

John Green describes this whole process of becoming weaker as the college graduate’s journey (through a metaphorical use of “the hero,” of course). But Jesus shows us that if we wish to follow Him, this is the sort of thing we must do. We must cast aside our poster boards and signs telling others they’re going to hell and instead pick up our cross – willfully carrying that which makes us weak in the eyes of society – and share the living water, the abundant life of Jesus.

Maybe we’re not the judgmental type of follower. Maybe instead, we’re the ones continuing to come back to our particular well, despite never being satisfied by it. In that case, perhaps it’s time to step back, look around, and engage the people there with you – just like Jesus.

Meet people like Jesus did: At their well.

God bless.

God’s Newsfeed…

A strange thought came to me earlier today. I was sitting at Subway eating my usual foot-long Black Forest ham on Italian herbs and cheese when I happened to notice a lady sitting across the restaurant from me staring out the window. She had finished her sandwich and was munching on a cookie while sipping her soda. Every thing about her suggested that she wasn’t in a hurry; she chewed slowly, sipped sparingly, and sighed heavily, almost as if she was bored. By all appearances, she was lonely. I wondered, if God had a Facebook account, would she be in His newsfeed?

Obviously she would be – more so because God doesn’t need Facebook to see what’s going on in everyone’s lives, but even if He did need Facebook, she’d show up in His newsfeed. Heck, He might even have it set up to be notified every time she posted something (a feature I found kind of pointless due to the fact that everyone I received notifications about popped up in my newsfeed). But God sees the good and the bad; popular and unpopular; and the befriended and lonely. And careless of popularity points or approval ratings, He loves each and every one of them.

Loving others like God has loved us, to put it mildly, is exceedingly difficult. Not only is it within our nature to be around people who make us feel good or accepted or validated, but our selfish, “independent,” American culture has trained us to instinctively care for ourselves before we care for others. It has taught us “out with the bad and in with the good” so that we just might attain that level of happiness we desperately pursue. And as evidenced with Facebook’s newsfeed settings (as confusing as they are), we’re able to pick and choose the people we care about and the lives we affect.

I really wish I had acted against my selfish tendencies at lunch today. I really wish I had sat down next to her to eat my sandwich and make some empty comment about the weather or allergies or whatever just so that she’d know I at least saw her. Jesus says in Matthew 25 that He’ll welcome God’s people for having visited people who were sick, estranged, or in prison, something kind of like sitting with someone who looked lonely and commenting about the weather. No, I’m not beating myself up for a missed opportunity; I’m saying it was missed opportunity because I want to get it right next time and every time after. I want be effective at loving others as God has loved me.

Sometimes I feel like a third-grader reading a book together with the rest of the class when the teacher asks for a volunteer and I’m simply avoiding eye-contact so I won’t have to read. But instead of the teacher asking for a volunteer, I am asking for a volunteer. And instead of reading a book, we’re helping people. And instead of avoiding the teacher’s eyes, I’m avoiding God’s eyes because I am asking who’ll feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the lonely, heal the sick, and so on and I can feel Him looking right at me. I don’t want to turn around because I’m afraid it will be me having to help.

In Mark 6:30-44, Jesus’ disciples seem a little upset that their rest was being disrupted by the thousands of people eager to hear Jesus teach. They told Him to send the crowds away so they could eat, but Jesus flips it around on His disciples: You give them something to eat,” (6:37). His disciples are dumbfounded and tell him no one could afford that much bread. All the while they forgot the Apostles were empowered to cast out demons and heal sick people – literally the same chapter. But I guess feeding people is more challenging than casting out demons…

My point is that we have a tendency to sit around and wait for someone else to reach out to the socially unfavorable while God is looking us in the eye saying, You go and do it.” And then we have the audacity to say, “But God, there’s no way I could reach them; I’d have to hang out with them and learn what they like and maybe even root for a sports team I hate. Clearly, you got the wrong guy.” All the while we, just like the disciples, ignore the power God has given us – a power that compelled Paul to say, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me,” (Phil. 4:13).

If it sounds like I’m a little frustrated with myself, I kind of am. I’ve been at this Christian thing for eleven years and I’m still making rookie mistakes. But like I said above, I’m not writing about my failures to beat myself up; I’m trying to get them right. Of all the things in the world that I could be good at, loving as God has loved me is the most important. As Paul says:

If I speak in tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing,” – 1 Cor. 13:1-3

It’s all for nothing if you don’t love. And I don’t mean loving those who love you back or the popular, rich, and powerful. I’m talking about the ones no one else sees. We – those among us who proclaim Jesus as their everything – are the light of the world; therefore, we see everyone, not just the people we want to see.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it,” – John 1:5

May we take a lesson from Mark 6; that our lives are not about ourselves, but rather the people around us. And it need not be more complicated than asking someone how things are going or talking about the weather. Love ’em, for the love of God.

God bless.

Prosperity Through Pain…

“We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us,” – Romans 5:3-5

American Christianity, for the most part, does not know suffering the way Paul knew suffering. We have freedom of speech and laws to protect it. So when we publicly declare that we believe in Jesus, we might get a few people here and there who criticize us for believing a Bible full of scientific inaccuracies (as if it was written as a scientific text) or who simply believe something else entirely. Maybe we lose a friend or two on Facebook. What is unlikely to happen, though, is us seeing jail time for declaring Jesus as Lord.

I’m certain there are the few exceptions in America who’ve received physical violence due to their beliefs in Jesus. I haven’t heard of them, but perhaps they’re out there. And even though their stories might stand as evidence that American Christians suffer at times, their testimonies do not speak for the overwhelming majority of Christians in America. For the most part, American Christians do not suffer much physical violence – if any at all.

However, this does not mean we do not experience different forms of suffering. Paul was imprisoned and eventually executed. I don’t believe that will happen to me, but what has happened to me is depression. What has happened to others is financial insufficiency. And plenty others have suffered bouts with cancer and various life-long diseases that have no known cures. In these ways, we do suffer, but it isn’t due to our Christian convictions.

And I don’t think Paul predicated this passage from Romans on that belief; that suffering only happens because we’re followers of Christ. I think Paul would be one of the first to say that suffering happens whether you believe in Christ or not. It is with this fact in mind that I move on to what kind of irks me about American Christianity.

I am sorry if others are offended by this, but I have never been a fan of Joel Osteen. I can’t say if he’s a false prophet (not even sure if we mean that terminology as the early Christians did, really), but I can say that his style makes me feel really awkward. He often talks as though he’s constantly holding bunnies or kittens (or both). But what truly nullifies me as a fan is his support of an idea called the “Prosperity Gospel.”

It’s a common idea amongst many American Christians – an idea that once you believe in Jesus, God will bless you with social, financial, emotional, material success and prosperity. It’s the belief that once you hand things over to God, you’ll be forever happy from that moment onward. What isn’t addressed is that no matter what, we’re going to experience some form of suffering – and Christ even promises us so.

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few,” – Matthew 7:13-14

If we choose to follow Jesus, it isn’t going to be easy. We’d be gravely mistaken if we thought our lives were going to instantly improve once we accepted Christ. Why then should we follow Jesus? If things aren’t guaranteed to improve, but most likely get worse, why should we want that for our lives? If that’s true, then, as Paul says, “We are of all people most to be pitied,” (1 Cor. 15:19).

And yet, that’s far from the full story.

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world,” – John 16:33

Oddly enough, things are guaranteed to improve, but it won’t be comfortable. There will be pain, there will be emotional turmoil, and there will be unrest, but the end result will be worth more than all the suffering we experience. It is something that cannot be snatched away from us: suffering to endurance, endurance to character, and character to hope. As C.S. Lewis says, it’s like having a cavity-filled tooth removed rather than capped or filled; though the process is painful, the end result is pain-free.

Not only is my life not as I would like it to be, it’s not as it should be. None of our lives are; Christ hasn’t restored all things yet. Therefore we’re still prone to doubt, stumble, and wander – all of which have painful consequences. And we must suffer them. Even if we didn’t doubt, stumble, or wander, we’d still suffer. But Paul says that if we believe in Christ Jesus, then our suffering is cause for rejoicing because of what that suffering produces in the long run.

Following Jesus is more than an endurance race; it’s an eternal race. At some point, because of how deeply Jesus heals, we’ll outrun our spiritual aches, pains, and injuries. We’ll run unhindered. We’ll run free in Christ.

Prosperity in this life might come our way, but it won’t be because of some promise from God. Pain will come our way because of part of a promise from God. Prosperity in God’s Kingdom is the other part of the promise. It’s simply prosperity of a different kind in a world of a different kind. And it’s far worth the pain.

God bless.

Training for Godliness, Training for Eternity…

At Cross Training tonight we had a guest speaker. I’ve heard him speak several times before and honestly hearing him never gets old. His name is Clint McKinnis and he’s from Indiana. He came over here to Oregon several years ago (the first time he spoke at Cross Training was at the house I used to live in on 12th and Mill Alley) because he and his wife felt the call to come plant a church here. His message tonight was, as per usual, powerful.

Clint talked about training for a purpose. In a group of current and former athletes, this kind of message resonates sharply. You don’t show up to practice five days a week just to show up to practice five days a week. You show up to train and you train for when you compete. Oregon’s football team has had the now-infamous motto of “Win the Day,” which, for them, extends well beyond Saturday. It means you’re training to win long before it comes time to compete. Clint took this whole idea of training to perform well and applied it spiritually.

Why do we pray? Why do we read Scripture? Why do we meet up with fellow church goers on Sunday or during the week (or both)? What’s the point of doing all the Christian stuff? One of the verses Clint referenced tonight gives the answer:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified,” – 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

As Clint put it, we’re training for eternity. It’s not as though worldly ambitions do not matter (i.e. being a good writer or teacher or athlete, etc.), but rather that eternal ambitions matter more. As I listened to his message a question formed in my mind: Do you then keep the secular life and the spiritual life separate? Is it like showing up to a part-time job at a coffee shop in the morning and then going to train for the Olympics in the afternoon? Are the two lifestyles completely irrelevant to each other? Another verse Clint quoted tonight indicates that this isn’t so:

“Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come,” – 1 Timothy 4:7-8

Our training for eternity permeates every bit of our lives. It isn’t as though God wants us to do the Christian thing on Sunday or Tuesday or whatever day we gather with Christian brothers and sisters; but rather, He wants us to follow Him even when no one is around. In fact, I’d say that He wants us to follow His commands especially when we’re alone.

Seeing this Christian life through the eyes of Paul (author of both 1 Corinthians and, according to tradition, 1 Timothy) we then see that when we take up the cross of Christ, we take up an entirely different identity. We’re no longer writers, teachers, sprinters, cross country runners, Republicans, wide receivers, swimmers, gymnasts, Democrats, students, retail associates, or whatever else we might put on a résumé. We’re Jesus’ disciples first and then everything else thereafter. We’re first defined by the King whose Kingdom is not of this world. We’re defined by someone whom we didn’t vote for, but rather someone who voted for us – who voted to sacrifice Himself on our behalf.

As an athlete trains every day to perform when it matters most, we train ourselves in Godliness for when it matters most. The tricky part, though, is that those moments aren’t scheduled. There’s no set time to put on the Christian uniform; we’re to carry our crosses every moment of every day. Realizing this then makes even the mundane secular tasks like showing up to work, doing our homework, or exercising when we’d rather stay in bed all the more important. Paul, then, isn’t saying that eternal ambitions are the most important and secular ones don’t matter at all; he’s saying that secular ambitions matter more in light of eternal ambitions.

To end, I’ll ask the question that Clint asked us tonight: What are some things you can do to train for godliness? Write about it, talk about it, or pray about it, but whatever you do, commit to it. Your life depends on it.

God bless.

Being Ministry Minded…

When my grandpa called tonight to catch up on how my life has been going, I didn’t really have much to say. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to tell him anything; it was because I didn’t really have anything to say. I’ve gone to work, hung out with friends from time to time, and then gone to bed. Given my day-to-day routine, my life really is boring.

And yet, after hanging up, I realized there are a couple things going on in my life. For one, I’m finally doing the necessary stuff to land a professional-type job (and striking out miserably). For another, I’ve once again felt the tug toward pastoral ministry. In case you’re wondering, pastoral ministry is a profession of sorts, but it doesn’t pay very well… if at all.

Thinking back to what I was doing at Calvary, I actually do miss the Sunday mornings in kid’s ministry – either with the 3rd graders who have a ton of energy or the high school kids who couldn’t stay awake. I loved cracking open my Bible every week and preparing some sort of lesson or message – even if it wasn’t very well put together. It forced me to be more intentional in my every day life. And heck, it was a far better alternative to working 50-hour weeks… Oh wait, I did that, too 😦

A question that is wrapped up with the spiritual tug toward ministry, though, is where do I start? Right now I don’t have a church home – haven’t even been to church in over a month. And even if I had found a new church to plug into, who’s to say they’d need someone to step into a leadership role? And given my views on Scripture, who’s to say they’d want me to lead a ministry even if they needed someone?

Two years ago on Cross Training’s summer retreat, Darrin Ratcliff shared a message out of Luke 9:10-17; an account of when Jesus fed five thousand men. It was a busy day of Him preaching to a ton of people and probably posing for a few pictures and giving a few autographs – you know the usual antiquity stuff. But then His disciples started getting hungry so they asked Jesus to send everyone on lunch so they could eat. Jesus’ words to them, I think, are His words to us all: “You give them something to eat.”

Darrin’s whole message was wrapped around this one verse solely to say that Jesus gives us the power to do great things like feeding thousands of people if we only do two things: Believe and act. Feeding the crowds and even themselves didn’t need to be delegated to another ministry within the church; they were more than capable of doing it themselves. I think it’s the same for ministry.

Actually, I think it’s the same for any particular profession or career or dream or whatever it is you feel your heart tugging you towards. God wants us to know that if He wills it and we believe and then act upon it, then great things are going to happen. Ministry – not just for me, but for everyone serving the Lord – begins with us. It goes with us as we head off to work or school. It’s right there with us when we’re tired and don’t want to do anything. It’s staring at us as we complain about whatever, saying, “Really?” Ministry isn’t just some profession that those Bible-thumpers do to keep themselves occupied; it’s an essential part to the individual’s Christian identity.

Essentially, in my case, the kind of man I wish to preach to others is the kind of man I need to be – that is, the Christ-like man. If I’m going to talk about the poison of lust or coveting or greed or arrogance or anything else that hinders a walk with Christ, I had better be backing it up with a corresponding lifestyle. I can’t be caught up in watching porn when I’m lonely, stealing money from the tithe box because I think I’ve earned it, or thinking myself a better man than most because of a pastoral platform. Ministry, as I see it, is proactively living the repentant lifestyle on a day-by-day, hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute basis. No exceptions.

What this does not mean is that as Christians we’re supposed to be perfect in every way, wherever, whenever. We might frequently try to live such a life, but the truth of Christianity is really stating the obvious: Man is flawed. What Jesus promises, though, is something that is rarely found anywhere else: Grace.

Sure, your boss may forgive you for a few small mistakes here and there, but there’s always a limit to that kind of grace. And society may forgive the married celebrity or the married athlete for the occasional drunken night, but when you have a sex scandal involving many women over a long period of time society does not let you go – no matter how hard you work to redeem your reputation. And yet Jesus’ outstretched arms remain… no matter how many times you mess up.

“If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinkin’,” – John Mark McMillan, “How He Loves”

If grace is an ocean, as the song says, then we really are sinking. We’re not treading water at the surface trying to go it alone, be independent, and prove that we don’t need God. We’re sinking. We’re drowning. Spiritually speaking, we’re dying to ourselves – the selves that feed off of lust, pride, greed, or any sin you might think of. It involves humility, allowing ourselves to be corrected, and enduring – no matter how many things trip us up.

No, I’m not suggesting we take a plunge into the ocean, a river, or even our bathtubs and drown ourselves. I’m saying that in order to enact the Christian life and thereby bring into being God’s kingdom “as it is in heaven,” then we must start with ourselves. We must call ourselves out before anyone else does – regardless of whether or not we’re pastors or congregants. We must be well practiced with admitting our own faults and failures – not with the tone of guilt and shame, but with sincere honesty. And every time we make these admissions of ourselves, we must immediately allow Him – God, Hope Eternal – to speak into our own hearts and revive our souls.

I’ve said all of this to simply say that while I am again feeling the tug toward pastoral ministry, I can start living out that lifestyle right now. I can start training myself spiritually as an athlete training for a race. I can start disciplining myself to remain humble and self-controlled, lest whatever I might preach or write become void (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

As I said earlier, this is not limited to pastoral ministry. Whatever you’ve felt within your heart that you’re called to do, whatever your tug may be, that will be your ministry. And as Jesus implies to us in Luke 9, He’s given us all that we need to do great things: Himself.

God bless.