Posts Tagged With: ministry

John 21: Never the Same Again

When you really meet Jesus for the first time, your life will never be the same again.  

I trained for the ministry in undergrad.  I earned my degree in Bible and at twenty-two I launched out into the world with too many fears and too little faith.  I then proceeded for several years to run away from the call to ministry. I worked in restaurant management and then in the insurance industry.  Mainly I worked at getting a paycheck and distracting myself from the fear and inadequacy I felt about he prospect of working for a church.  Then, I could fight it no more.  At the insistence of my good wife, we moved off to Memphis for graduate school and I have been in educational ministry ever since.

I enjoyed the insurance job a great deal (the restaurant job, not so much) and could have stayed in that job for many years and many promotions, but I had a nagging sense that all I was doing was making a rich company richer.  My life was missing purpose.  I was made for something different.  I am not being dramatic when I say that there is rarely a day in my ministry career now when I would say there is no purpose to what I do; I see the point of my work by the hour practically (though not the results, often).  Still, there are days when I am tired from the pace and never-ending nature of teaching (not the kids, they are great!) that I joke with my wife that I ought to quit and go back to insurance.  Of course I never would, by choice.  Never.  I don’t think I could ever do that job again with any degree of satisfaction.

Peter had left fishing behind three years before.  Had it been a lucrative job?  Maybe, maybe not.  But it had been a job and it put supper on the table, or breakfast as this story would have it.  Then he matched off after this rabbi and his life had never been the same since.  But he blew it.  He didn’t just deny Jesus once, but three times.  How could he keep following Jesus?  How could Jesus accept him?  So he went back to fishing:

Simon Peter spoke up.  “I’m going fishing,” he said. (21:3a)

Maybe we read this and think Peter was going off to wet a line like some retired man passing some time.  But fishing was not a pass-time with Peter, it was a job.  Peter was saying, I am going back to what I did before.  I am a failure as a disciple, so back to the boat and nets.  What happens next is so interesting:

So they went off and got into the boat; but that night they caught nothing. (21:3b)

Peter can’t do what he did before.  It doesn’t work.  There is no going back.  He has met Jesus and his life will never be the same.  His ability to catch fish is frustrated, because he has a new purpose in life: to be a fisher of men.

Only when Jesus comes along and guides Peter’s hands again does he find success.  A night without a single fish turns into the catch of the year, only because Jesus blessed their work.  Do you really think that there was a miraculous number of fish just on the other side of the boat and they never tried that?  The point, though, is not about fish.  Peter will only find success when he is working for Jesus again.

Then three times Jesus reinstates Peter to his new ministry:

“Well, then,” he said, “feed my lambs.” (21:15)

“Well, then,” he said, “look after my sheep.” (21:16)

“Well, then,” said Jesus, feed my sheep.” (21:17)

Peter can’t go back to catching fish; he has a job to do feeding the sheep of Christ’s church.  And the rest is history. Peter’s life was never the same.

John has taken us from the beginning of Jesus’ life — actually before his birth, to the point when he created the world — to the death and resurrection of our Savior and now to Jesus as he prepares to leave the world in the hands of people like Peter.  What will they do now? History tells us that all of them went on to live radically altered lives of service and sacrifice.  Eleven of the twelve apostles will die a martyr’s death and our author John will die in exile.  John leaves the reader with the same question Peter had to answer: what do I do now?  Now that you see who Jesus really is, what will you do now?  There is no turning back.  You will never be the same again.

What did you learn from this month’s reading of John?

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2 Corinthians 10: Boasting Without the Ego

Some days it seems like we are swimming in a sea of ego.

Here in America, the presidential campaigns are heating up and there is enough ego to choke on coming from both parties.  I guess that is part of the game.  Football seasons are cranking up and a great number of athletes are more than willing to tell us how good they are.  In the world of Howard Stern, Usain Bolt, LeBron James, and Lady Gaga self-promotion is a must.  Then our kids learn this and life imitates art in the hallways of schools across America and on Facebook and Instagram pages.

How do we walk like Christ through the world of ego?  

We are headed now into the last big part of 2 Corinthians where the idea of “boasting” is key.  In this chapter alone the word “boast” is used seven times in eighteen verses.  As we will see more clearly in the next chapter but as has been seen several times already in the Corinthians correspondence, pride was certainly encouraged in the self-important culture of Achaia.  A person needed to make a name for themselves, develop the skills and personality traits that were admired, and then they didn’t need to feel bad about making these known.  Furthermore, pride always brings about competition, and it seems it was also okay to point out your opponents failures in comparison to your strengths.  We can tell that in the Corinthian church there were people present not lacking in ego and quite willing to point out Paul’s inferiority.

Paul states in this chapter that he felt justified in joining in the boasting, but he would boast in what God had done through him, not his own accomplishments.

But when we boast, we don’t go off into flights of fancy; we boast according to the measure of the rule God has given us to measure ourselves by, and that rule includes our work with you! (10:13)

For Paul, the most important things he has ever done, the greatest bragging point is simply the success he has had evangelizing.  Yet, Paul also knows that success does not come from his great rhetoric, because he is sometimes lost for words.  It is not his charisma and personality; he is too meek and weak for that.  It is not some ministry proudly named after himself, because the power of his ministry came from God and the ability to change hearts always comes from God.  The Corinthians need not look for Paul’s credentials to be impressed.  They only need to look at their own history to realize, they would not be in Christ had Paul not come to town.

In a world of ego, we would do well to boast like Paul did:

Anyone who boasts should boast in the Lord! (10:17b)

What stood out to you in this chapter?  

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2 Corinthians 3: Qualified for Ministry

So what makes you think you are qualified for ministry?

That seems like a pretty reasonable question.  In fact, it is the kind of question I would expect to receive if I were in an interview for a sales person job or an opening for a management position at a factory or a job as a crane operator at the construction site down the road.  A person needs to have the appropriate credentials if they are to assume they can do a job.

Isn’t it the same in ministry?

Don’t get me wrong.  There is nothing wrong with pursuing academic training in ministry.  I have two earned degrees in theology myself.  But is a person qualified for ministry if they have a degree in the field?  If they are a dynamic speaker?  If they have the charisma to capture a room and motivate people to achieve a goal?  If they go to lots of conferences and enact cutting edge thinking and technology in their churches?  If they can attract a crowd and grow the membership of a church?  If they can lead a capital campaign that nets millions of dollars?  Now flip it.  Is a person disqualified from ministry if they do not have these traits and abilities?

Think like a Corinthian.  We know their culture.  Wisdom, knowledge and education is good.  The cult of the personality will take you far.  Recommendations from the masses will take you far.  Gather a group of people to you and have them follow your teaching.  Sure, others might call it pride and “being puffed up” but really its just confidence.  We even know that this kind of cultural thinking had seeped into the church in Corinth in various ways.  If a group of people think like this, won’t they want credentials and recommendations?

Does that Corinthian thinking sound that different from everyday American thinking?

So, what qualifies a person for ministry?

Perhaps we need — as some do — official references to give you? . . . You are our official reference!  It’s written on our hearts! . . . That’s the kind of confidence we have toward God, through the Messiah.  It isn’t as though we are qualified in ourselves to reckon that we have anything to offer on our own account.  Our qualification comes from God: God qualified us to be stewards of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the spirit. (3:1-2, 4-6)

Paul appeals to two things as evidence to his qualifications as a minister:

  1. They only had to look at themselves.  How did they come to know about Christ?  Who brought them this far?  Their very lives were reference letters.
  2. They could see the marks of the Spirit in his life.  His power came from the power of the Spirit, not his own power.  His persuasive spirit was not his own, but God’s.  His charisma was the “charismata” (Greek for “gift”) that comes from the Spirit, not a charming personality.

One is qualified for ministry if there is within that person the Spirit who is changing the worshiper into the image of Jesus from one stage of glory to the next (3:18).

What caught your attention in this chapter?

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2 Corinthians 2: What’s That Smell?

Much of this new letter from Paul to the Corinthians revolves around a need Paul felt to defend his authority and reputation as an apostle.  We saw some of this in 1 Corinthians too.  It would appear there were other self-proclaimed apostles who had come to the Corinthian church after Paul who were discrediting Paul and trumpeting their own reputations.  In Paul’s response, we find some of the clearest teachings on what it means to be a minister of Christ, what our goal is for ministry, and from where our power comes (and we are all ministers if we choose to be, even if we don’t receive a paycheck from a church).  As much as possible, as we make our way through 2 Corinthians I am going to focus my posts on these ideas.

Today’s passage is a familiar one:

But thanks be to God — the God who always leads us in his triumphal procession in the Messiah, and through us reveals everywhere the sweet smell of knowing him.  We are the Messiah’s fragrance before God, you see, to those who are being saved and to those who are being lost.  To the latter, it’s a smell which comes from death and leads to death; but to the former it’s the smell of life which leads to life. (2:14-16)

It is not our job to save.  Our job is to witness, to live, to smell.  In fact we can’t help but smell.  That is just what happens when we live the way of Christ in this world.  People will sense something from our lives about what it means to know and be known by God.  Whether they like the aroma of our life is also out of our control.  Some will, some won’t.  And in the context of this passage, it has nothing to do with our level of sincerity.  Lost people can’t appreciate the smell of life.  But saved people find it as comforting as the smell of home-made brownies.  Our job is to walk, and even this is out of our control.  Prisoners of war were paraded, often in chains, through cities like Corinth in a “triumphal procession.”  God is even in control of where we walk.  Yet, we walk, and as we do a smell is emitted.  That is our job: to smell.

What did you notice about ministry in this chapter?

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1 Corinthians 9: Ministry & Money

Jim Bakker.  Robert Tilton.  Creflo Dollar.  Kenneth & Gloria Copeland.  Joyce Meyer.

These are all ministers, well-known from their television presence, who have either been convicted of financial malfeasance in their ministry or have been investigated for such because of their lavish lifestyles.  I am afraid that there are whole sections of America that think of people like these first when they think of Christian ministers.  For these people, closely associated with church and church leaders is greed and exploitation of followers in order to line the pockets of those leaders.

Today, we learn that Paul was being accused of the same things.  We have been progressively piecing together a picture of Paul’s opponents in Corinth.  It would appear there is a group of leaders in the Corinthian church who have arrived only recently who are picking away at Paul’s authority in the church by making people question his credentials (chapters 1-4) and now his motives.  We can divine from this chapter that they are suggesting Paul is taking advantage of the Corinthians financially in order to benefit his own bottom-line.

Paul’s response is two-pronged.  First, he defends his right to support.  This is only fair and lawful.  Basic life practices show we owe people for what they do for us.  It is only right to pay those who minister.  For goodness sake, a farmer doesn’t even deprive an ox his due.  It is entirely inappropriate and unbiblical to pay a minister a subsistence wage for his or her work.  On the other end of the spectrum, we should also ask ourselves whether we can pay a minister so much that it actually begins to hurt him or her spiritually?

However, Paul’s second point was that if they remember correctly, he never even exercised his right to support in order not to give people like these accusers a foothold for scandal.  He supported himself through tent-making.  He willfully gave up his freedom so as to be as free from accusation as possible:

But we haven’t made use of this right.  Instead, we put up with everything , so as to place no obstacle in the way of the Messiah’s gospel. . . . I am indeed free from everyone; but I have enslaved myself to everyone, so that I can win all the more. (9:12, 19)

It is unconscionable to think we can pay a minister well below the average income in a church or community just because they are a minister.  Ministers don’t take oaths of poverty.  We are saying how much we value these noble people and their work with we pay them a pittance.  But in a culture where accusations and realities of ministerial greed do exist, we probably ought to consider whether it is wise to compensate a minister well above the median income of the church of a community or for a minister to live a lavish life.  We certainly owe a minister his or her due, but we also owe it to Christ to do whatever we can to “win all the more” and in America that means money is always part of the equation.

 What do you think?

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Ephesians 3: Ministry Is A Gift!

As I said yesterday, Paul always contextualizes the gospel to fit the audience he is addressing.  Think of it like jazz.  There is a main harmony that is constant throughout a song, but from what little I understand about jazz music a good musician takes that harmony and riffs off in new variations of the same constant harmony.  (Feel free to correct me if I apparently don’t understand anything about jazz!)

Sometimes Paul calls each of these variations a “mystery,” or “secret” as Wright translates it.  These are unique, audience-specific versions of the gospel or the consequences of the gospel.  In Ephesians 3, Paul gives the Ephesian Christians theirs:

When you read this you’ll be able to understand the special insight I have into the king’s secret. . . . Now it’s been revealed by the spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.  The secret is this: that, through the gospel, the Gentiles are to share Israel’s inheritance.  They are to become fellow members of the body, along with them, and fellow sharers of the promise in King Jesus. . . . My job is to make clear to everyone just what the secret plan is. (3:4b-6, 9a)

Paul has a ministry to share this wonderful new message far and wide, with Jews and Gentiles alike.  All are welcome.  This Jesus thing isn’t just for Jews.  Gentiles are welcome too.  And the revolutionary idea that Paul hasn’t really fleshed out in this book as much as he did in Galatians, for instance, is that these Gentiles don’t have to become Jews to become Christians.

This was not as easy a message to preach as we might think.  Sure, the Gentiles would be down with it.  But the Jewish gatekeepers were not as enthusiastic.  The first century Church spent the better part of that first century ironing out all of the details of that “secret.”  It got Paul beaten up more than a few times.  It caused churches to split.  It caused more than a little fuss.  Jewish Christians were content to come behind Paul and slander his ministry, lying about him and painting his ministry as an opportunistic grab at money and power.  I just have to imagine there were days Paul had to have second thoughts and desires to jump the next ship to anywhere.

That is why I am so struck by this line that comes in the middle of this discussion of his ministry:

. . . he gave me this task as a gift . . . (3:8)

Wow!  There was much about Paul’s ministry that I would not see as a “gift.”  I am afraid I am weak enough that there are days I would want to return that gift for another one.  Yet, not Paul.  Oh, to have that perspective!

What stood out to you today? 

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Acts 18: Working for the Kingdom

Everybody’s working for the weekend/everybody wants a little romance/everbody’s goin’ off the deep end/everybody needs a second chance. 

Remember those lyrics from the ’80s Canadian rock group Loverboy?  Are we going through the week working for the weekend?

Actually, I think Paul was, at least when he was in Corinth.

Paul comes to Corinth and meets up with Aquila and Priscilla, two tentmakers from Rome. Paul quickly takes up with them because this is his trade too.  Paul spends eighteen months in Corinth (18:11) and it appears he supported himself (along with some support from the Thessalonians) during that time making tents.

Then on “every sabbath” Paul would go to the synagogue to share with “great energy” the gospel that “the messiah really was Jesus” (18:4-5).  Paul strikes me as the kind of person who is always talking about Jesus no matter where he is, but it seems that for the better part of a year and a half Paul did most of his ministry on the weekend.  Paul did the best he could and he worked hard at ministry with the time he had.

What struck me today is that Paul didn’t feel bad about the tent-making work he had to do the other six days in order to make his sabbath ministry possible.  Maybe sometimes we feel like our jobs take away from the time we could spend doing ministry in a world that needs Jesus.  Interestingly, Paul himself didn’t feel that way.

In 2 Corinthians 11:7-9, a snippet from a letter written to the very church we are reading about in this section, Paul talks about how his tent-making work was part of his mission, not separate from it.  It didn’t subtract from his ministry, it enabled it.  Therefore, he was working as hard for the Kingdom each day when he made tents as he did on the Sabbaths sharing the gospel.

This might give us an even greater appreciation for the work God has blessed us with, regardless of occupation.

What did you see anew in this chapter? 

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