Ministry, Laptop Style

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (2)

Gentle Reader,

There’s always this battle going on inside me. One part wants silence and simplicity, the unadorned and straightforward nature of Quaker, Amish and Mennonite worship services. The other wants full-on Anglicanism, liturgy and stained glass and choirs. My understanding of Scripture leads me to believe that these parts will not be fully fused and satisfied until Eternity, when, somehow, being with God will be simultaneously simple and full of awe-inspiring grandeur.

Because He’s cool like that.

I didn’t grow up in a denomination and the idea of joining one took some time for me to wrap my head around. That part of me that likes the simple doesn’t always understand the need for things like creeds and manuals and ordination processes. The Apostles didn’t need any of that to do the work Christ gave them. That other part, though, the formal side, is pretty into structure and order and sacred tradition.

The Church of the Nazarene (my denomination) requires men and women who want to serve in full-time ministry to go through a rigorous, years-long process. There’s schooling and licensure and meetings and mentoring. Some parts of it make sense, some parts of it make me roll my eyes. In the end I’d rather caution than foolishness; anyone who dares take on the mantle of leadership should know exactly what they’re getting into and take that very seriously. It’s no light thing to stand before a congregation and preach the Word of God.

When all the hoops are jumped through and all the tests passed, then the ordination ceremony. A solemn occasion. All the candidates stand in front of the church members gathered for district assembly (basically all the churches in a certain area get together for a several-days-long business meeting, but with worship and cool workshops). There’s a whole lot of prayer. No rushing through allowed. It’s pretty awesome to watch.

I have zero desire to be a pastor. Oh, preparing sermons each week would be super-fun, and I could probably muster up the courage to stand behind a pulpit and preach, but the other stuff…the having to listen to people complain about stupid things and keep from smacking them…yeah, I’m not so good at that. (Thank you to the men and women who are. Thank you for not smacking me when I complain about stupid things).

But I am in ministry.

Stupidly, I didn’t realize this until recently.

I’m not ordained.

I’m definitely not paid. (Starving artist status, for the win).

But every time I open my laptop and start typing, I am engaged in ministry. I am teaching. I am leading.

Yes, I have known for a long time that my spiritual gift is teaching. I can’t help but tell anyone who will listen (and some who won’t) about the things I’m learning. It just happens. I have known since I was a child that I have the ability to write. But ministry? That’s for the people “up there.” That’s not me.

I wonder how differently we might see ourselves and our work if we lived in the light of two words: holy priesthood (1 Peter 2:9).

What does it mean to be the elect of God? Quite simply, the elect of God identify with the vocation of Christ and are a holy people who manifest God’s glory in the world. As Christ bore the rejection of humanity, so will his followers. Yet as Christ fulfilled his calling as the Elect of God and was honored, so it will be for his followers. God’s elect people identify with God’s elect Son and assume his vocation in the world.

For this very reason, Peter concludes this section by ascribing to Christians the titles of honor enjoyed by Israel (2:9-10). Like the redeemed of old, those who have been redeemed through Christ are God’s chosen, holy people who make known the wonderful deeds of God in the world. As the elect people of God they are the unique people through whose Christlike conduct God reveals his mercy and power to the world.

Asbury Bible Commentary, emphasis mine

The purpose of ministry is to “make known the wonderful deeds of God in the world.” This can and should be done by those who have heeded the call of the Lord and given themselves over to this work in a formal, full-time way. This also can and should be done by those who have heeded the call of the Lord and given themselves over to this work in an informal, but no less full-time, way.

We’re all called. Anyone who belongs to Christ has been enabled to do whatever it is He has called her to do – from bringing truth and light to the corporate world, to patiently changing another diaper while singing “Jesus Loves Me,” to submitting to the process that results in a pastoral position. It’s all ministry.

And there it is, that blending of simplicity and formality. A glimpse into the mind of God, who brings the low and the high together in order to create something entirely unique, something that cannot be copied by mere human effort.

Minister wherever you are, however you can. Each day is filled with opportunities to make God known. There’s always someone who needs to hear His truth and feel His love. You and I are the vessels by and through which His presence and salvation are declared.

Let’s not forget or waste that knowledge. Let’s learn to see folding laundry and filing reports and sitting at bedsides and everything we do as holy work – chances to pray and speak and be the hands and feet of Christ. There is no sacred/secular split for us.

For if we are in Him, then this is all about Him.

Signature

Advertisements

Elitist Jerkface

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (1)

Gentle Reader,

The mind of the intelligent seeks knowledge, but the mouth of fools feeds on folly.

– Proverbs 15:14 (NASB)

Kesiyl: fool, stupid fellow, dullard, simpleton, arrogant one

Biyn: to discern, understand, consider; to perceive; to understand, know; to observe, mark, give heed to, distinguish, consider; to have discernment, insight, understanding; intelligent

Which do you want to be?

No knee-jerk answers. Really think about it.

I spent 19 years of my life in a single-wide trailer. Just before I turned 22, I moved, with my new husband, into a 450-square foot apartment. (It came with bright orange counter tops and harvest gold appliances. Classy). Eleven years later, there are still times when we celebrate that we get to keep our house for one more month. My father’s roots run deep in the soil, in farming. My mother likes to joke that her family used to be “nothing but horse rustlers and cattle thieves.”

I also had the grades that would have gained me entrance into the Ivy League (had I wanted that much debt and not been completely terrified to live that far away from family). I have debated existentialism. I was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, a national honor society. I’ve written three books. I read encyclopedias for fun.

So who am I?

A woman of the people?

Or an elitist jerkface?

The Apostle Paul wrote a letter to the believes in Ephesus, a city on the western coast of Asia Minor (modern Turkey). In that letter he made this profound statement:

For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation…

– 2:14 (NKJV)

In its immediate context, this verse applied to the obliterating divisions between Jew and Gentile:

How could Gentiles ever forget that they stood outside the covenant made with Israel? Only on rare occasions could Gentiles participate in covenant observances. Had they wanted to join with Israel, the barriers were indeed great. In that condition, before the Gospel, they were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise. How desperate the Gentiles’ condition, according to the Jews. Gentiles were aliens, unable to apply for citizenship, excluded, and thus without spiritual rights. They were, therefore, without hope. Even worse, they were without God in the world, alone, bereft, drifting. Without access to the rituals of the Hebrew faith, what prospect for salvation did they have?

Surely the Gentiles needed a miracle if they were to be saved. Who could remove the obstacles to God for them? Who could offer them access to grace and salvation? Was there any possibility that they, too, might assume the throne, or were they always to be without hope?

In God’s plan and in God’s time, provision was made. Through the blood of Christ those who once were far away have been brought near. Access has been provided through Christ, the believer’s peace. The shalom of the ancient covenant finds its fulfillment in God’s designated Messiah, who has broken down the wall that separated them, a wall of hostility greater than the actual barrier in the Jerusalem temple that divided it into gentile and Jewish sections.

Asbury Bible Commentary 

Not only did Christ tear down the barrier between God and humanity (Matthew 27:51), He tore down the barrier between people. Everything about Jesus – His ministry, death and resurrection – was (and remains) centered on reconciliation. We couldn’t save ourselves. We pushed God away. We pushed each other away. And so He came to do the things that we couldn’t and enable us to live in peace with God and others.

Paul goes on:

…having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. 

– 2:15-18 (NKJV)

Every person who believes is part of His family, part of His Body.

If you’ve been in church for awhile, your eyes are probably glazed over. You’ve heard this before.

Why is it, then, if we’ve all heard it before, we persist in creating new barriers?

In doing the opposite of what Christ did?

I watch as churches dig in and become more stubbornly anti-intellectual. “Smart people” are just full of themselves. They’re the “elite.” They probably think that they’re better than everyone else. They’re intimidating. They don’t “get” the “regular people.”

Bizarrely, people who know more than we do, who might be smarter than we are, must be stupid, because they don’t quite fit the mold.

Sit with that for a second.

We would rather keisyl than biyn.

I’m all for blowing up the ivory towers and breaking down the complex words. Theology need not be the pursuit of a special class alone. Anyone and everyone ought to have access and be able to learn.

But to learn, you have to be willing to be taught. And to be taught, you must have a teacher.

We can’t shun the “smart people.” God has them scattered throughout our congregations for a reason. The spiritual gifts of knowledge and teaching are real and necessary to the proper functioning of the church. We have belittled these gifts in a age of sound bites and memes and feel-goodness. We don’t want to be challenged. We don’t want to grow.

But we need to.

We need the “smart people” and the “smart people” need the “regular people.” Everyone needs everyone else. That’s how God designed it. We need the person who can explain the Greek words and we need the person who finds joy in vacuuming the carpet. Nobody is better than anyone else.

It’s time we stop assuming that intelligence and arrogance go hand-in-hand. Time we stop believing that experience is all we need and there’s no value in study. Time to remove the bricks that make the wall between the “them” that sits right next to “us” every Sunday. To be humble enough to ask the “them” to teach “us.”

Because:

Our churches are filled with Christians who are idling in intellectual neutral. As Christians, their minds are going to waste. One result of this is an immature, superficial faith. People who simply ride the roller coaster of emotional experience are cheating themselves out of a deeper and richer Christian faith by neglecting the intellectual side of that faith. …

At root, evangelical anti-intellectualism is both a scandal and a sin. It is a scandal in the sense of being an offense and a stumbling block that needlessly hinders serious people from considering the Christian faith and coming to Christ. It is a sin because it is a refusal, contrary to Jesus’ two great commandments, to love the Lord our God with our minds. Anti-intellectualism is quite simply a sin. Evangelicals must address it as such, beyond all excuses, evasions, or rationalizations of false piety.

5 Theses on Anti-Intellecualism

Signature

For more, please read 8 Ways That Anti-Intellecualism is Harming the Church.

Faith, Not Fear

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

I know what it is to be tormented by fear.

I may be what some term a “high functioning” anxious person, but there’s a reason I take medication every night and have done two rounds of therapy. My own brain is the enemy. If I did not choose to engage in battle with it each day, I could easily succumb to agoraphobia. (In no way am I belittling people who do suffer with this condition). There are days, more than I’d care to count or admit to, when I have to speak thusly to myself:

Okay, it’s time to get out of bed. You can do that.

Make the bed. You’ll feel better if the bedroom is tidy.

What kind of exercise can you handle today? A nice walk?

Make sure to drink your protein shake.

It would be so easy to stay hidden under a pile of blankets. But that’s no kind of life. Though I am a peace-loving person, I have learned that I am a fighter. I’m not going to let a broken brain and negative thinking destroy me. That’s not who God made me to be. By the power of His Spirit living within, I get up. I keep going.

Yesterday nearly half the congregation at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas was murdered. The youngest victim was just 18 months old. The people had gathered together, as they have every week, to worship and learn. It was an ordinary Sunday. I doubt that any of the imagined that their time on this earth had come to an end. The 20 wounded, 10 of whom remain in critical condition, are left to grapple with forever life-altering trauma.

Because an angry man with some guns decided to take vengeance.

There are no words for this, but people speak anyway. The loudest voices say that things like this wouldn’t happen if everyone knew that everyone was “packing heat.”

Bringing a gun to church is like hiding under a pile of blankets.

Fear is of the Devil. He delights when we are suspicious. He laughs when we shy away from strangers and cast them as “the other.” He gets a whole lot of mileage out of us believing that we have any control over the hour and manner of our death. He wants us to build walls of self-protection that keep us from engaging the wider world.

He wants us to be spiritually agoraphobic.

We mustn’t give in.

Men and women of God all around the world sit in jail cells, submitted to tortures we cannot even begin to dream up. Their families shun them. Merchants won’t sell to them. Still, they keep going. They preach the Gospel to their persecutors. They risk everything just to own one page of the Scriptures we dismiss as boring and irrelevant. They gather together in war-torn towns and sing praises to His Name. Some pay the ultimate price for their faith.

They must be our example.

Buildings where the church comes together don’t need to be surrounded by barbed wire and guarded by big men with rifles. Nor should members of the Body give way to fear and bring weapons into houses of worship. Our mission is not to counter violence with violence. It’s not to believe the lie that we’re safe only if certain conditions are met. Our mission is to share the Gospel. That means leaving the doors unlocked and opening our arms to whoever comes inside.

That means faith, not fear.

…the fruit of the Spirit is…peace…

…blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world…

Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord…

For we walk by faith, not by sight.

– Galatians 5:22; Philippians 2:15; Hebrews 12:14; 2 Corinthians 5:7 (NKJV)

Signature

Photo Credit: Daniel Tseng

Sola What?: Conclusion

14603_19015_5

This post was edited September 26, 2014. Edits appear in red italics.

Gentle Reader,

We have barely scratched the surface of the history and theology surrounding the solae and the various issues associated with each. Scores of books have been written on these subjects; it is an impossible thing indeed to do them justice on a blog.

So, how to conclude? I quote Jonathan Edwards:

He that has doctrinal knowledge and speculation only, without affection, never is engaged in the business of religion.

As there is one theology but many who examine it, there are bound to be disagreements. There are bound to be differences in view and opinion. Does this mean that we Christians cannot live in love? Must I breathe hate toward my Calvinist brother or sister? Must sweeping and ignorant judgments be passed by Protestants upon the Catholic Church? I say no.

I also say that we must not sugar-coat truth in order to make it more palatable. Extra-Biblical doctrines have no place in the life of a Christian. We must cling to that which is found in Scripture, that which is spelled out clearly for us. In this clinging, we must pursue unity. Not uniformity, but unity.  

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message,  that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You. May they also be in Us so that the world may believe that You have sent Me.  I have given them the glory that You gave me, that they may be one as We are one — I in them and You in Me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that You sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me.

“Father, I want those you have given Me to be with Me where I am, and to see My glory, the glory You have given Me because You loved Me before the creation of the world.

“Righteous Father, though the world does not know You, I know You, and they know that You have sent Me. I have made You known to them, and will continue to make You known in order that the love You have for Me may be in them and that I Myself may be in them.” – John 17:20-25 (NKJV)

My journey to faith. (15)

For all posts in the Sola What? series, go here.