galatians 2.11-14

This Sunday I am preaching from Galatians 2.11-14, the oft discussed collision between Paul and Peter in Antioch.  It is a fascinating scene that understandably flows out of the previous sections even as it captures the magnitude of the theme of Galatians as a book (what it means to have an identity rooted in Jesus and his righteousness, adding nothing else that restricts our freedom).

11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Here are a few thoughts that will likely not be a major part of my sermon, or mentioned at all.

If you desire to listen to our series in Galatians, visit http://www.westvalleypres.org.

For your consideration:

The flow up to this text could be summarized like this…

In 1.11-24 – A GOSPEL NOT FROM MAN.  Paul is adamant that his gospel did not come from man, but from God by revelation of Christ.

In 2.1-10  – A GOSPEL CONFIRMED BY MAN.  Paul expands his declaration to include an acknowledgment that, while his gospel did not come from any man, he went up to Jerusalem after more than a decade of fruitful ministry (again by revelation) and received confirmation by man that indeed his gospel was from God!   He was affirmed in that the apostles added nothing to his gospel, and he was privileged to preserve it in their midst (2.4-5).

Now, in 2.11-14 – A GOSPEL WORTHY OF CONFRONTATION WITH MAN. Paul recounts a story in which Paul confronted his fellow Christian man (Peter of all people!) in defense of the truth of the gospel and the necessity that one walk in it, adding nothing to it.

Two questions that are worthy of thought…

First, was Peter acting with good intentions in his breaking table fellowship with the Gentiles upon the arrival of the “certain men from James” (which I take to be a delegation of Jerusalem Christian leaders)?

Some cannot fathom that Peter could so boldly deny his revelation in Acts 10, that he is not to call unclean that which God has made clean.  Thus, they propose that Peter was trying to do the right thing by way of the Jewish Christians of Jerusalem, who may have been dealing with factions of zealots who were opposed to the unrestricted table fellowship happening in places like Antioch, where the gospel of Jesus had taken root among Gentile and Jewish “Christians.”  See Acts 11 for clarification on how Gentile/Jew followers of Jesus were first called Christians.

Richard Longenecker, in his brilliantly technical commentary, makes the case that: It was simply a misguided tactical maneuver made under pressure, he became confused under pressure, could not bring himself to express his true convictions, and so found himself retreating from what he knew to be right.

Maybe.  To me, that sounds a bit minimizing.  Paul does not mince words in Galatians 2.11 when he says that he opposed Peter to his face, because he stood condemned (assumedly before God, in Paul’s view).  Even more, Paul describes Peter’s withdrawal from table fellowship as “separating” himself, a theological description of what happened (v.12).  And again, twice in v.13 Paul labels the behavior of Peter, Barnabas and others as hypocrisy.  This all was not in step with the truth of the  gospel (v.14).  There is hardly a minimization, dismissal, qualification by Paul for Peter’s actions!   Rather he uses the strongest semantics possible (condemnation, separation, hypocrisy, non-gospel) to make his case for the gravity of Peter’s actions.

Thus, I will be preaching and applying this from the vantage point that – IN THE MOMENT – something else ruled Peter’s heart/actions other than the magnificent gospel of Jesus that had also been revealed to him.  In the moment, Peter caved to an alternative passion.  This is not unlike our testimony of passionate Peter in other stages of his journey (consider Matthew 16 and his standing toe-to-toe to obstruct Jesus on the way to the cross; also Matthew 26 in his denial of Jesus at the cross).  I am all too like Peter.  In spite of what I believe to be true, confess to be true, long to be true … at unguarded moments I live my life guided by sabotaging “ruling passions” that are not in step with the truth of the gospel.  I need the body of Christ in relationship to show me my blindness.  My guess is that my congregation is no different. We need to weigh this text vis-a-vis our ruling passions as well.  God give us relationships under the umbrella of the truth of the gospel to uncover our deception and blindness for Jesus sake!

Second, why did Paul wait so long to call Peter out in front of other Antiochan Gentile/Jew Christians?  How long did Paul let this un-gospel separation continue before he spoke up?

On one level, we simply do not know how long Paul observed Peter’s “separation” before he publicly spoke up.  We do know, however, that sufficient time elapsed such that Barnabas and “the rest of the Jews” could fall in line with the hypocrisy.  Perhaps Paul waited to watch matters unfold to discern whether he should go to Peter privately (Matthew 18.15-18) or to pursue things publicly due to the communal defection at play.  We do not know.  I simply point out to you that on first read, it appears this whole incident occurs in one lunchroom encounter.  Having examined the text and extant reading, I am now convinced that this situation went on for some while such that it had time to permeate Barnabas and others before Paul was compelled to speak up on behalf of the gospel.

May God work through his Word studied and preached and heard in his local church, such that we will walk in step with the gospel and not bow IN THE MOMENT to our own ruling passions that sabotage what we know to be true in Jesus!

Peace.

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galatians 1.1-10

1 Paul, an apostle— not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father,who raised him from the dead— and all the brothers who are with me,

To the churches of Galatia:

 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,  who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—  not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

 
The greeting of Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia stands out.  Simply stated, that’s what it does.  
 
It is different.  
 
Of all his thirteen letters, Galatians is unique in that it lacks many traditional elements while it includes additional.  For example, in virtually ever Pauline epistle, there is the naming of Paul, a greeting, a naming of the recipients, and an immediate thanksgiving.  In Galatians, however, we find that Paul names himself and then adds a defense of his apostolic credentials.  Similarly, he extends his greeting with a theological confession and doxology (in v.3-5 he says more than “grace and peace”), even as he replaces the traditional thanksgiving with a shocking word of rebuke.  
 
Perhaps the uniqueness of the Galatians intro could lie in the fact that this was Paul’s first letter and he would develop his “traditional” form in time.  Maybe but doubtful.  More than likely,  the reason for the differentness of Galatians was the provenance of his writing.  Paul had something to share with an attitude of urgency – so his greeting launched with a personal defense, theological underpinning and tenor of astonishing rebuke (why not just skip the thanksgiving when you have something like that to say!)
 
What did Paul have to say?  What is his point in the first 10 verses?
 
What is his point? His point is that anything different than the gospel is not good news!  No, its more than that.  Anything even slightly different than the gospel (as defined in v.4-5 about what Christ gave up for us, not about what we give up for him)… it is no good news at all.  Paul is amped up from the beginning of this letter.  In this section he gets to the point.  He curses (calls anathema twice) anyone who has preached to the Galatians anything other than the gospel of Christ and his righteousness.  He declares that to distort the gospel or to turn to something beyond Christ is to desert God in full (v.6-8).  And all this he says immediately after a bizarre greeting in which he does not thank the Galatians for their faith, but mainly defines the gospel (v.3-5) and defends his authority (v.1-2).
 
There is no fear of man in Paul… only fear of the God of the gospel.  What he says must be said, regardless what his detractors may say of him… not that it matters – for if I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. (v.10)
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current purpose of my blogging – please read.

Blog purpose…

Once upon a time, blogging was a way for me to discover and discuss and learn to articulate the gospel and how it looked in a world of brokenness and sin.  It was kind of fun. Then came church planting realities.  I simply quit.  Writing down my thoughts and musings and doing theological,  er… semantical gymnastics for people in never-land lost its luster.  For me, local ministry and the weaknesses in my pastoral life became central.  Discovering the gospel in relationship trumped the gospel in print.  

However, As God has grown West Valley Presbyterian Church (PCA), there is again a point to utilizing this forum.  Weekly, I meet with a handful of men on Wednesday mornings to do “Word Work.”  College guys and professionals and I meet together to study the sermon text.  We look at textual themes, macro ideas, words, authorial intent, applications… and we share an amazing time together.  That motley crew has suggested that as we launch our next series in the book of Galatians, that this old blog be reintroduced as a web locale to paste thoughts, receive comments, and share things that may or may not be good fodder for a sermon.  So, join in as you are led!

To the students of West Valley who will not be with us over the summer, use this… plus sermon audio at www.westvalleypres.org to keep traversing with us.

May we be a changed people with identities rooted in Christ who lives in us!

galatians – Christ who lives in me

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The book of Galatians is ALL about identity.

What is our identity when it is defined by God in the gospel?

What was the identity of the apostle Paul when he wrote these words?

What did he long to define the identity of the Galatian church, of our church?

Essentially, in the book of Galatians, Paul passionately reveals how finding our identity in Christ changes EVERYTHING for his church in the world.

Our identity IS Christ who lives in us.

It is only this.

The patristic fathers (the earliest Christians in the post-apostolic era) and reformational church (1600s to present) oft looked to the themes of freedom and righteousness within Galatians as being the definitive description of “essential Christianity.”   Duncan called Galatians “the Magna Carta of evangelical Christianity.”  Luther so loved Galatians that he called it “my own epistle, to which I have plighted my troth; my Katie von Bora” (the name of his wife!).  Richard Longenecker aptly put it: “Paul’s Galatians is like a lion turned loose in the arena of Christians.  It challenges, intimidates, encourages, and focuses our attention on what is really essential as little else can.  How we deal with the issues it raises and the teachings it presents will in large measure determine howe we think a Christians and how we live as Christ’s own.”

Likely the earliest of the apostle Paul’s letters, Galatians was written to churches within provincial Galatia within 15 years of the cross of Jesus (AD 49).  As such, the content of the letter reveals the earliest collisions and conversations amidst the church – what is our identity NOW, as Jews and Greeks, as a recipients of THIS “gospel”?

While not an easy read, Galatians yet contains the gospel in its purest and most unadulterated form.  The gospel (lit. “good news”) is the message of Christ who lives in us for our salvation and transformation, now and forever (2.20)!   This gospel is from God not man (1.6);  it is not to be merely believed, rather it MUST become us (4.19).

In clarifying the gospel, Paul posits many questions to the Galatians,which we must ask and answer.

He engages these questions by way of CONTRAST.

How does God’s saving work in Christ work? By faith, NOT works (2.15-16); by promise, NOT law (3.21-22).

Who do we become when our identity is rooted in the gospel?  We become sons/daughters of God, NOT slaves (4.6-9).

What does that mean for our daily life?  It means we are free, NOT enslaved (5.1)!  We are at liberty to love, NOT in bondage to legalism (5.1-13)!  It means we are playing host to an internal civil war – flesh versus Spirit.  While the flesh does not bend easily, it will NOT prevail over the Spirit of God in us (5.16-24)!

From the beginning of the letter, Paul writes with urgency and attitude.

Having recently delivered the simple gospel of Jesus to believers in Galatia, he was astonished that they could so quickly turn to a different gospel… a performance-rooted pursuit of God that was no gospel at all (1.6)!  O foolish Galatians, who bewitched you?  Did you receive the Sprit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?  Are you so foolish?  Having begun with the Spirit are you now being perfected by the flesh? (3.1-3)  Paul evidently knew the Galatian people.  Even more, he knew the content of the gospel he had delivered to them as being about CHRIST’S completed righteousness for our salvation.  However, it appears that Paul did not know the false teachers who emerged to push the Galatians past the simple truth of Jesus to a works-based identity (from the first act of circumcision to a worldview and system of self-defined external righteousness).  This piped Paul!!  5.10 – The one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is!  These infiltrators had one platform – to turn Christianity into “making a good showing in the flesh” (6.12), totally challenging the essential CORE of the upside-down truth – that we boast “only in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to us, and us to the world.”  Our selves and our works and our “showing” have nothing to do with it at all!  This led Luther to define Christian righteousness as “passive righteousness – a truth Galatians and Romans drive home with ruthless precision.

When comparing Galatians to the narrative of Acts, we understand it to likely have been written some time around the end of Paul’s journeys in Acts 14, but before the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 (AD 50).  The Jerusalem Council dealt definitively with the circumcision/works/righteousness conversation as it related to Jews and Gentiles.  Had that council already taken place, Paul would have surely brought it into his letter to bolster his case!    Thus, the churches to whom Paul is writing are probably the churches in Acts 13-14 (in the towns of Lystra, Derbe, Iconium, etc) that were a part of the Roman province of Galatia through which Paul travelled early in his ministry.  Thus the term Galatians is provincial in nature, versus ethnic (the Galatian people derived from the Gauls who had settled further north, where we have no record of Paul traversing).

Thus, in an effort to place the book of Galatians within the narrative of Paul’s journeys in Acts, it is likely that the first Jerusalem visit Paul references in Galatians 1.18 corresponds with his journey in Acts 9.26; while his second visit (Galatians 2.1-10) corresponds with the briefly mentioned visit in Acts 11.30.   The Jerusalem Council was soon to happen which would BLOW these issues up for the glory of God and the IDENTITY of his church.

The outline we will use at wvpc.

1-2a the gospel – whose it is

2b-3 the gospel – how it works

4 the gospel – who it makes

5 the gospel – what it means

6 the gospel – where it works

There is no better time than now.

Your identity is always at stake, always being expressed,  always being formed.   Amidst all the competing influences in your life, both internal and external, what if your identity was sure?  Not at risk?  Not in question?  Not circumstantially derived?  THAT is the POINT of the book of Galatians.  Your identity must be, well, not yours…  It is Christ who lives in you.  It is not more or less than that.

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.

And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (2.20).

*for weekly thoughts on Galatians, continue to check back to: www.weakchristian.wordpress.com

 

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It is because it is.

It is.

What is?  Where? When?

Here, now, it is.

It is visible and obvious.

It is painful and present and powerful.

It is purposeful and poignant, and pauseworthy and praiseworthy.

It is a King and a kingdom conquering…

It is light exposing darkness…

That is all too austere.  Not clear enough.  Nothing to sink my teeth into.  Not unambiguous.  Not ambiguous.

What I mean is… there is something visibly present that I am experiencing as the planter/pastor of west valley pca, which is as invisible as it is concretely present.

I can see that we see it, and yet we all know that we haven’t even begun to see it all.

Yes.  I mean what I am saying and am unsure of what I don’t mean.

God is renewing people.  The King is kingdoming.  I mean that.  I depend on that.

In the past  48  hours I have experienced a window into the soul of wounded, addicted, scared, skeptical, converted, longing, ravaged, curious, afraid, thrilled and worshiping… people.

I have tasted and labeled and trusted in the efficacious call of God on impossible hearts.

In the past 48 hours I have experienced the Word of God by the Spirit of God draw people into the gospel of God.

I have listened to people recount that they want it… because they see that it is.  That is kingdoming.  It is.

I have watched  women who are longing… and men who are breaking… that is kingdoming.  It is.

I have enjoyed the thought of people resting in the freedom of righteousness and regretlessness and rescue of their past… suburban sinners sensing the impossible…. that is kingdoming.  It is.

It is here because it just is.

Kingdom.

King.

It is.

Come Lord Jesus Come.

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mumford & sons, awake my soul

I was intending just now to post something leadershipy… well, about gospel centered leadership and how God is renewing and re-engaging me through his servant Nehemiah.  More on that later.  I need to meditate and listen more first anyway.

But, have to pass on a song – lyrics – especially from an English band that has been ruminating in my head, my phone, my office, my computer, my bosedoc.  I am preaching this Sunday on Luke 12.34-48, which is all about WAKING UP, my sleepy, often stewardless soul!!!  And then while running yesterday, this new tune from Mumford & Sons 2010 Sigh No More album popped up on my Pandora station.  Crazy apropos.  Crazy calling to ME as I prepare to preach a text.

So, enjoy.  Below I quote the Word of God first.  Luke 12.34-48.  Then you have the lyrics of “Awake, my Soul”  Search for it online.  Use www.grooveshark.com or something free and easy.  Worth your time and your earergy.

35 “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, 36 like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. 37 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. 38 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak. 39 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

41 Peter asked, “Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?”

42 The Lord answered, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? 43 It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. 44 Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.45 But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk. 46 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.

47 “The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. 48 But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

Mumford & Sons, “Awake, My Soul”

album: Sigh No More, 2010 (Glass Note)

Awake, my soul

Awake, my soul

 

How fickle my heart and how woozy my eyes

I struggle to find any truth in your lies

And now my heart stumbles on things I don’t know

My weakness I feel I must finally show

 

In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die

Where you invest your love, you invest your life

In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die

Where you invest your love, you invest your life

 

Awake my soul, awake my soul

Awake my soul

You were made to meet your maker

Awake my soul, awake my soul

Awake my soul

You were made to meet your maker

You were made to meet your maker


 

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listening well

I am sitting in a hotel in Philadelphia, ruminating on the calling of God to be a preacher.  Annually, I attend the Workshop on Biblical Exposition, put on by the Charles Simeon Trust.

This is a come-and-wrestle-and-do-the-hard-work-of-text-preparation workshop  more than it is a come-and-see conference.  There is nothing like it… for my soul, for my sanity, for my sense of purpose.  To declare the immeasurable riches of God from his Word – what does THAT necessitate in my prayer life, in my preparations, in my pastoring a growing churchplant?

I delight to know that God is working through his Word at West Valley PCA, more than through our creativity, our ministries, our vision.  His Word, clearly given, communally received.  And yet, OOOHHH to be a more faithful, more intentional handler of the Word of God!

O, to be a man who “stands in the council of the Lord to see and hear his word, who has paid attention to his word and LISTENED”(Jeremiah 23.18).

Simon Manchester, the primary speaker of the workshop and senior pastor of St. Thomas’Anglican Church in North Sydney Australia – has met me in my spiritual exhaustion and struggle.  Thank you God.  His handling and humble care of the hard task of preaching has encouraged and exhorted me in a much needed way.  I have simply been too busy.  Too spent.  Too scattered.  And today,  I saw the beauty of the Word again.  The joy of plumbings its depths and pondering its questions, and prying its parts.   I pass on to you some notes scribbled in my journal:

A dissatisfied preacher (wrestling and churning and grappling with questions and textual understanding) makes for satisfied people.  A satisfied preacher (that was simple and easy and I know what to say) makes for dissatisfied people.

I beg you: SHUT UP and LISTEN to the Word.  An expository sermon is a “listening sermon” – which is quite different from a non-listening sermon (the preacher has not stopped, struggled and listened before speaking).

I must not be confused at WHAT I am to be doing.  I am preaching the kingdom!

An expository preacher and an equipped congregation “spiral upward” together in a glorious, healthy way.  In other words, the preacher studies hard and delivers a healthy feast from the Word… thus the people of God are equipped to live and sacrifice and to BE the church of God for the glory of God… so they protect and ask their preacher to continue to work hard and study and deliver healthy feasts from the Word (as opposed to pulling him in every direction)… so he does, and they are fed and fulfill the ministry… and so he prepares and preaches all the more… and so they are more equipped and expanding their ministry, through the Word… and so it SPIRALS UPWARD!

Thank you Simon Manchester.  Thank you God for this respite.  Thank you West Valley for caring with me about expository preaching.  May we spiral upward together.

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the sound of renewal

What is the sound of renewal?

What should we be listening for when God’s people gather as a collection of individuals all uniquely exposed to the renewal of the gospel in their lives? Or, what should I be listening for when I sit across a table at Starbucks, or Perk on Main (our local coffee shop), talking to a broken person whom God is redeeming in the present through the past work of Christ and the continual work of the Spirit?

I have been thinking about this.

I have been wrestling.

As regards West Valley PCA… we are a church that is growing.  Every Sunday when we gather, the critical mass is expanding such that the SOUND of our gathering should crescendo just the same.  But what is that sound?  What is the sound of a people gathered by God, whom he has been renewing daily, personally, and thus corporately?  How does renewal sound when we call to God in worship, or sing in celebration, or collectively repent in liturgical prayers?  How does renewal sound in small groups and coffee shop meetings?

I want to know the sound of renewal that grumbles within people.

We should know the sound of renewal that the gathered of God should be known for.

While pondering all this, I happened upon Ezra 3.  Immediately, I knew I was being informed by the Word of God about the SOUND of RENEWAL.  This is the hope of my soul… that I would pastor a church that has the acoustics of redemption.  That my family would sound this way… and be part of the sound.

It’s an honest sound, to say the least.  But let me not analyze it…I will leave the Word of God to you.  The context of Ezra 3 is simple: God’s people have been brought back from exile, and are privileged (by the decree of Cyrus) to rebuild the temple which had been destroyed.  Upon the completion of the new foundation, the people all gathered in worship.  They were back in the land promised them by God!  They were together!  They were experiencing a renewal of God’s plan and place and presence!  What was that sound???

Ezra 3.10-13 – And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord… they sang responsively, praising God and giving thanks to the Lord, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.”  And all the people SHOUTED with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.  But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, WEPT with a loud voice… so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted with a great shout, and the sound was heard far away.

Yep.  That sounds about right.  God’s people, renewed by God yet struggling because it is all still so broken, so imperfect, so not quite finished.  Yeah, to me as the pastor of West Valley PCA and as a man and husband and father… what I hear from the renewed is all so, indistinguishable.  People weeping as they long for MORE, God, please MORE!  People shouting as they taste freedom and see the glory of God in their lives for the first time.  That is the life.

Sounds like renewal to me.  Sounds like reality til Jesus returns and the weeping fades away (Revelation 21)…

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calling or quitting

I vacillate too many times a week because IT is hard.

I vacillate between calling and quitting – that is, pastoral ministry.

I don’t mind the sound of that, even for people whom I serve as their pastor.  In fact, I am beginning to wonder if my wandering thoughts toward quitting pastoral ministry (for reasons that are too familial and spiritual and personal for a public blog) is in reality, my beginning to wrestle with the reality of God’s calling over my life, in the truest sense.

So I am not saying I am quitting.  I am saying that the thought of quitting makes me wonder about having been CALLED by God in the first place.  Does that make sense?  Maybe when I never wrestled with the difficulty of how gospel-living and ministry was supposed to be a battle of spirit-vs-flesh, of Spirit-vs-world… maybe when I never wrestled within my soul and tired body about that normal reality in a world of Christ’s already-not-yet kingdom, I never really understood calling.

Hmm.

Our home has been trafficked by more spiritual upheaval than I thought possible.  Most always my sin.  But how about loneliness now.  How about exhaustion… too little sleep.  How about hospitality of a homeless person to recently BREAK me of how I don’t want to be inconvenienced… at all.  How about not pastoring my wife and kids as well as I should.  How about having the shortest leash in the world for 120 adults.

So I think “quit” when in reality I guess I am looking up to God – my Father – for help about “calling.”  Is this how things go in an inaugurated kingdom?  Is this my immaturity as a pastor of only 8 years?  Is this the collision of kingdom-v-world that will always be, whether one is a banker, a welder, an at home mom, or a pastor?

Calling or quitting… crashing makes me ask.

Sometimes I wonder what Timothy was going through in Ephesus when Paul said to him:

Set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.  Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.  Do not neglect the gift that you have, which was given you by prophecy when the elders laid their hands on you (CALLING/ORDINATION).  Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress.  Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching.  Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers (1 Timothy 4.12-16)

That sounds so hard.  Timothy, were you vacillating?

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reposting Nouwen, wounded healer

A little known fact of my weakchristian blog is that over the few years, thousands and thousands of hits have come from people who have search-engined for “wounded healer, nouwen.”  As I re-enter blogging, I decided to re-read a post from 2007, which has garnered more clicks than anything I have posted.  It came after I had read Henri Nouwen’s 1979 book, Wounded Healer.  I am pasting it below, as it was a bit startling for me to read four years later – four years in which I have seen the awesome tumult of the Lord’s work in planting a church in the secular, postmodern, broken, excessively spiritual and busy-professional culture of the Northeast.  The crazy task of conversational pastoring. Wow how the words apply…

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Henri Nouwen, the renown and reflective catholic priest, wrote a classic in 1979 called The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society. His thesis is simple: “In our own woundedness [weakness!!] we can become a source of life for others.”  If you have never read Nouwen – it will stretch you.  Theologically – OK, he is not protestant nor committed to covenantal reformed theology – BUT he had a passion to enable catholic priests and ministers to think differently about their ministry and the people/culture to whom they minister.  Thus, there is much we can learn from him.

In Wounded Healer Nouwen writes in 1979(!) about the cultural shift we are living in TODAY.  He writes about how the minister of tomorrow must have a different angle of ministry from ministers in the past if he would engage the “nuclear man” (his term for “postmodern man”) in today’s disjointed, pluralistic, internal, tribal society.  Just thought I would share one part of the book.  So here you have it: a catholic priest wrote something the year after I was born about the kind of weakness-ministry that I am trembling before God about today as I contemplate gospel ministry in our needy and weak world.  The backdrop of Nouwen’s words is a discussion about how, for the ”nuclear man,” culture has shifted.  The culture of traditional and authoritarian spirituality has become a culture of internal spirituality. Does that not sound post-modern and accurate?!

Since the God “out there” or “up there” is more or less dissolved in the many secular structures, the God within asks attention as never before… The first and most basic task required of the minister of tomorrow therefore is to clarify the immense confusion which can arise when people enter this new internal world.  It is a painful fact indeed to realize how poorly prepared most Christian leaders prove to be when they are invited to be spiritual leaders in the true sense.  Most of them are used to thinking in terms of large-scale organization, getting people together in churches, schools and hospitals, and running the show as a circus director.  They have become unfamiliar with, and even somewhat afraid of, the deep and significant movements of the spirit.

In this context pastoral conversation is not merely a skillful use of conversational techniques to manipulate people into the Kingdom of God, but a deep human encounter in which a man is willing to put his own faith and doubt, his own hope and despair, his own light and darkness at the disposal of others who want to find a way through their confusion and touch the solid core of life.  In this context preaching means more than handing over a tradition; it is rather the careful and sensitive articulation of what is happening in the community so that those who listen can say: “You say what I suspected, you express what I vaguely felt, you bring to the fore what I fearfully kept in the back of my mind.  Yes, yes – you say who we are, you recognize our condition…”

When listening man is able to say this, then the ground is broken for others to receive the Word of God.  And no minister need doubt that the Word will be received!  The young especially do not have to run away from their fears and hopes but can see themselves in the face of the man who leads them; he will make them understand the words of salvation which in the past often sounded to them like words from a strange and unfamiliar world.

Thank you Nouwen.  When I was 1, you were calling for pastoral ministry from the angle of ‘weakness transparency.’  What a calling.  What a risk.  What a thrill.  Sign me up.

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