Category Archives: Culture
I had a conversation with Britt Merrick on the subject of “values.”
Britt is the founder of the Reality churches. Someone recently asked him, “What makes Reality the way that it is?” They were basically asking, what are the things that define your church’s identity, culture, mission, DNA, etc? What makes you you? Britt and I had a good laugh, having never really sat down to think very deeply about such things over the last twelve years. But after going home and pondering the question again, I began to see the importance of identifying who we are as a church. Soon after, about fifteen identifiable things came to me in a stream-of-consciousness. Once I began to think about it, it was pretty easy to see who God made us to be. I showed these to Britt, and he seemed to agree. That list grew to about nineteen identifiable things, and is what some of us might refer to as core values.
A value is a deeply-held principle that governs your standard of behavior.
You live out of what you truly value. Likewise, a church (or any organization) operates based on what it truly values, not merely what it says it values, or what it writes down as its values. For that reason, I tried to the best of my ability not to superimpose values onto our church. I am aware that I have ideals that I hope and wish we could live up to. But those aren’t truly our values. Our values are underneath what we are already doing. They expose what is already important to us. Having observed and worked at Reality for over a decade, I tried my best to take an honest look at the principles that emerged out of our shared culture. The values that form us on a daily basis.
It’s worth noting that this really only describes the Reality churches here in the coastlands (Santa Barbara, Carpinteria, and Ventura), and specifically Santa Barbara. There are certainly many overlapping values that we share with other Reality church plants, since we were all birthed out of the same vision and family. But as each church has grown, they have also developed core values that are specific to their own context and identity as churches. We love and celebrate this.
Reality Santa Barbara, by my estimation, has about nineteen core values.
By core, I mean that out of the hundreds of different principles we have as a church, these nineteen are the ones that form our identity and drive us to do what we do. They are what makes us a Reality church. And we need to identify and codify them so that we can continue to realign ourselves with what God has created us to be. So…I will post nineteen of Reality’s core values one at a time in the weeks and months to come. Can you guess what any of them are??
Please feel free to interact, ask questions, or even offer cordial pushback in the comment sections as this blog series develops!
The pilgrims of Plymouth, MA, were almost decimated after the Winter of 1620 killed half their community.
The remaining colonists formed relationships with neighboring Wampanaug tribe who taught them to hunt, fish, and plant. Less than one year later, the colonists had collected enough food to feed the community through the coming Winter. They ended up joining the colonists for a three-day feast in honor of their bounty. This is what we celebrate today as “Thanksgiving.” (1)
Historically, Thanksgiving refers to a kind of absurd generosity.
A coming together against the current of the times to break bread and show gratitude. It moves beyond giving to a friend in need, or donating for a roundabout benefit, like tax write-offs. It extends to those who could be perceived as enemies–what Miroslav Volf referred to as the “other.” The Wampanaugs and the colonists had plenty of reason to hate each other. Had the tribe turned a blind eye, their inability to sustain themselves and lack of resilience would have wiped out the colonists. Instead, the Wampanaugs empowered the “other” to thrive. No wonder the colonists threw a three-day party to give thanks.
Thanksgiving comes from generosity.
But it comes out from another party’s generosity. The colonists were thankful after being shown tremendous compassion. It’s charming to me that between the fear-mongering of Halloween, the consumerism that surrounds Christmas, and the debauchery that accompanies New Year’s Eve, Thanksgiving, of all the holidays (with the ironic exception of Black Friday) is somewhat free from the madness. For many, it stands out as a reprieve. Yes, Christmas should too. But culturally speaking, Christmas is entrenched with a materialistic message. Thanksgiving is still “safe” as far as most people are concerned. I wonder if it’s because of the generosity associated with it. Even the most self-centered persons will take a break from their self-indulgence to be thankful for something, even if it’s being thankful for all their stuff. In other words, thankfulness is still culturally engrained in the holiday. And it’s historically tied to generosity. Of course, it all disappears the next day when the stores open! But if you want to see a longer-lasting generosity, one has only to search the Scriptures.
When Paul wrote his very emotional second letter to the Corinthians, he kept attributing the church’s thanksgiving to the generosity of Macedonians (2 Cor 9:11-12). Earlier, he described them as being “in a severe test of affliction,” and yet that “their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.” (2 Cor 8:1-2)! To rephrase, the poorest of the poor were the most generous, and it was “overflowing in many thanksgivings to God” (2 Cor 9:12). See that? Thanksgiving comes from generosity. But these people were very poor! Why did they give so much, when they had so little? And why, especially being poor, did their giving bring them so much joy?
Paul says that true thanksgiving comes not from our generosity, but from God’s.
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9, ESV).
This is the generosity that lasts the longest, and goes the deepest.
This isn’t to say people who don’t know God can’t be generous; we can all do acts of generosity—even self-sacrificial ones—without knowing God. Rather, the gospel changes our deepest motivations, and loosens us from our most prized resources. We loosen our grip on things that matter less. And as seen in the Macedonians, the gospel makes everything we own seem less important than it used to be.
Thanksgiving is born in people who have experienced life in Christ.
And these have the most to be thankful for this week. In fact, Paul states earlier, that the reason you are given anything at all is so that “you will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.”
So when you enjoy the food, the family, the solitude, the air you breath this week–let it be a constant and thrilling reminder of the wealth you’ve received from God in Christ.
I leave you with a prayer of intersession from John W. Doberstein’s prayer book,
O God, who givest daily bread without our prayer, even to all the wicked, we pray thee that thou wouldst give us to acknowledge these thy benefits, and enable us to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
1- History of Thanksgiving. (2013). The History Channel website. Retrieved 12:56, November 22, 2013, from http://www.history.comhttp://www.history.com/videos/history-of-the-thanksgiving-holiday.
This is a piece in the Atlantic, “Debating Dinosaurs With Creationists,” interviewing Ken Ham at his famous Creation museum in Kentucky.
I figured from the title that it probably wasn’t in the Creationists favor. Surprisingly, it was a cordial, lighthearted, and honest article—not loaded with vitriol as these often are. And there were even times I resonated with Jeffrey Goldberg. However, reading it still saddened me. And my issue is not with the author. I’m upset that Ken Ham’s view of cosmology is often the only one covered or presented by the media (I’m thinking back especially to the debate between Ham and Bill Nye). For those who are unaware, Ham is one of the biggest proponents of the Young Earth view of Creation (YEC), which means he believes the planet began around 6,000 years ago. Though I am not a YEC proponent myself, I don’t mind others who hold that view—many people I love, respect, work with, and learn from do. Again, it’s the sheer volume of exposure it gets.
Young Earth Creationism is the only Christian view of origins that seems to get discussed in popular culture.
It’s the Left Behind of cosmology. To be fair, I don’t think journalists, bloggers, and debate coordinators are necessarily to blame for this (though they are to some degree, as they do not invite Creationists with varying positions). I, respectfully, lay a bit of the blame also on Ken Ham. In his writings, in this interview, and in debates, I’ve seen his view of creation presented, not merely as a contending viewpoint for Christians, but as the only valid viewpoint for Christians to believe. See, I wouldn’t mind Ham’s views if he were a little more charitable towards Christians who disagree with it. But when you combine his staunch views on cosmology with what Goldberg described as “marketing genius…his ability to shape a conversation on his terms“–you soon end up with Ham’s quotes—and only his quotes—filling the blogosphere, twitterverse, and news channels, as seemingly the only representation of what Christians believe about the origin of the universe from the book of Genesis! But it is not. It’s not.
There are many scholars who have devoted their lives to studying the Book of Genesis, who believe in the authority of the Bible, and yet hold to an entirely different interpretation of the first two chapters of Genesis than Ham.
Great scholars like John Walton, Johnny Miller, and John Sailhamer have unearthed the backdrop of the ancient world against which the first book of the Bible was written. They provide contemporary readers with historic context, linguistic insight, and alternative interpretations that should be considered before developing any serious conclusions. Unlike Ham, they do this all without having to pit science against Scripture.
A common objection to this is,
“That’s letting modern science form your belief about the origin of the universe and not the Word of God.”
I suppose this could be rephrased in the reverse: “YEC’s let their cultural literalism form their belief about the origin of the universe and not the Word of God.” Objections like this tend to be unhelpful to the conversation; both sides in the Young/Old Earth debate believe in the authority of Scripture, and it brings a robust debate to a screeching halt to throw out elementary attacks like this.
“If science and Scripture seem to contradict each other, Scripture is right, and science is wrong.”
But this fails to take into account another variable: the reader! See, if science and Scripture appear to “contradict” each other, there’s still a chance that neither are “wrong.” Perhaps it’s your understanding that’s flawed. Science, after all, is the study of the natural world through observation and experiment. Creationists often (rightly) posit that the scientist-observer is wrong. But we shouldn’t stop there. You see, theology is also a field of study–the study of God. And this study also involves a certain amount of interpretation. So…perhaps Christian interpreters have gotten Genesis wrong? This is the basis for many of these OEC’s. Their overarching statements about understanding Genesis are based on the belief that Young Earth Creationism has a faulty hermeneutic, and is therefore, a wrong interpretation. Now, whether you agree with that assessment or not, can we at least agree that these other Creationists, who disagree with Ham’s Young Earth position, at least deserve a platform?
As a college pastor for four years, and a pastor of a “young” church–I’ve seen students walk away from their faith over these issues.
Christian college students are forced to bifurcate the Bible and science as if that were the only way to follow Christ. That’s the real issue that upsets me–they don’t have to do that. Of course, when YEC–or a caricature of it–creates a monopoly on hermeneutics, it’s only a matter of time before students feel a disconnect between their faith and real life. And each time, it seems like I can trace those stories back to a parochial, if not militant, view of Genesis 1 and 2 that teaches younger generations that they must choose between science and the Bible. Consider this red flag by the Barna Group:
One of the reasons young adults feel disconnected from church or from faith is the tension they feel between Christianity and science. The most common of the perceptions in this arena is “Christians are too confident they know all the answers” (35%). Three out of ten young adults with a Christian background feel that “churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in” (29%). Another one-quarter embrace the perception that “Christianity is anti-science” (25%). And nearly the same proportion (23%) said they have “been turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate.” Furthermore, the research shows that many science-minded young Christians are struggling to find ways of staying faithful to their beliefs and to their professional calling in science-related industries (Barna)
I’m so thankful for the flood of authors, scholars, professors, and conversationalists who have expanded the conversation. I hope we can continue to cultivate humble, open dialog around these issues.
Some of the ones I already mentioned take, I think, a more honest exegetical approach to the texts in Genesis, and the results—surprise—never force one to choose between science and Scripture. Sadly, most people, if exposed to Creationism at all, will only hear slivers of a particular view that in turn gets filtered through a magazine, a TV documentary, or the unforgiving comment sections of social media. I’m not asking YEC to change their centuries-long view; I’m asking that other experts on the Biblical account of creation get the same amount of air time as Ham. I’m also asking that the rest of us listen to them as much as we have listened to Ham. He doesn’t represent us all.
Well…yes he does. Unfortunately.
What are your thoughts on Creation and science?
It’s not always easy to be single on Valentine’s Day. Maybe for some people it is, maybe it depends on the year and some are harder than others. It hasn’t always been easy for me to be without a significant other come February 14th. During those times, I’ve tried many different methods to make it seem like I’m fine with my singleness, knowing all the while I would have given a whole lot to be anything but alone on that day.
After being in the church for enough years, I know pretty much all the right answers about singleness, marriage, God, and the like. God can and will fulfill all my desires, a spouse won’t make me happy or make all my problems go away, singleness is a gift, I can be content in the Lord now…the list goes on. But what do I do when I still long for a man to spend my life with, and no amount of self-talk, no matter how biblical it is, makes that go away? When I still feel alone and inferior to those in relationships, even when I know that I am complete in Christ? All of these truths are indeed true, but the more I look at myself I see that there has been a part of my heart that those truths have not yet touched. Because the fact of the matter is that while I know that a husband will not fulfill me, there is part of me that is still living as though he will. It’s not in a way that would draw attention or would cause people to notice (most of the time I don’t even notice it!). But around the holidays, or on Valentine’s day, there is that twinge in my heart that romance tends to set off—my heart longs for what other people have, and a little part of it really does believe that when I have it, things will be better and more fulfilling than they are now.
So I’ve tried to make myself content. I have actually tried to convince myself that I am content, while being well aware that it is not the case. I picture it like trying to keep one of those floaties under water (you know the ones you wear on your arms when you’re learning to swim). As long my hands are holding contentment in my heart it stays down there, but as soon as the hands come off, it shoots right back up to the surface and back to head knowledge. I have been trying to force contentment from my head to my heart and it just hasn’t worked.
I’m tired of trying to do that. I’m tired of there being this part of my heart that has not been transformed by the truth of God and what He says about me, and namely what He says about Himself. I want my heart gripped by His truth, especially when it comes to singleness, relationships, and who I am in the midst of that.
Just the other day I read an article written by a married woman talking about things she wished she had known while she was still single. She had some great things to say about singleness, what can be learned from it and what can be developed during it if people use the time well. But more than any specific thing she said, and what really got my mind racing was a stream of thoughts that went something like this,
“What if I actually took this advice and started living according to it?”
“What if I, and this generation of those who aren’t yet married actually lay hold of the truths that are taught to us by those who want us to benefit from lessons they have learned?”
“Rather than doing it my own way and then finding out they were right all along (that a spouse really doesn’t make things all better), and then trying to preach the message to those still single and who can learn from my mistakes, why don’t I just trust and actively walk in what they say?”
What would happen? I think a few things. One, I think I would experience more of God than I ever dreamed of, both now while I’m single and in a future marriage. Two, I think it would honor Him greatly. It would let Him be God, and would demonstrate a submission to His plan amidst my lack of understanding with what He is doing. And I’m pretty sure He loves when His kids trust Him. But how can I do that?
I know I can’t force biblical truths into my heart. It has to be a work of God Himself. However, there have been a few things in particular that I have been meditating on and praying that God would minister to my heart regarding who I am, and who He is that I would like to share.
1) God’s character is the same in seasons of blessing and fulfillment of desires as it is in seasons of waiting and exercising patience.
God is a giver, He is generous, He is kind, He is all-knowing and all-wise; He knows what is best for us. Why is it that I can rejoice so easily in seasons of blessing and not in seasons of drought? Why is it that I can be so thankful when I am getting to walk in my dreams but can’t muster up the same fervency of thanksgiving when He is still calling me to wait?
I have found that when I dwell on His character, my perspective changes. God is intimately acquainted with all my ways (Ps. 139:1-3), He is sovereign over every detail of my life (Matthew 10:29-31), and He is working things for my good that I be conformed more and more to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:28-29). So if God is having me wait for something (even something that I really want), is it the best possible thing for me right now? It is because He is so loving that He is having me wait for it! If the God of the universe is working things in my life with my best interest in mind, why should I begrudgingly accept His “wait” rather than rejoice in it?
Consider this quote by Andrew Murray,
If we but saw our God in His love, if we but believed that He waits to be gracious, that He waits to be our life and to work all in us—how this waiting on God would become our highest joy…
I want that truth to mark my life. I can’t say it always does, but I want the knowledge of God’s character to change the way I view waiting for Him. Not only that, but He is using my very circumstances to form me into the woman I desire to become. Right now He is allowing me to grow into the woman that will, Lord willing, get to walk forward in desires of being a wife and a mother some day. Many of us have big dreams of who we will become and what we will do with God and for His Kingdom. We have desires, longings, and hopes (all with the best intentions) to be the best man or woman of God we can be, as well as the best future spouse we can be.
But I often forget that He is forming us into those people right now. He is uses the every day, the mundane, the not-so-exciting, to shape us in ways that quick blessings could not accomplish. That truth has given me so much freedom; I can look at the seemingly mundane and truly rejoice that He is growing me now into the woman that will get to walk forward in the dreams He has given me when He says it is time.
2) We are seen by the One on whom we wait.
You are not invisible to the one that you are waiting for. God sees every time you obey Him, every time you hurt and feel alone, every time you cry out to Him asking Him to meet you. Every time you sacrifice for Him, every time you trust Him. He sees all of it, and He LOVES when His kids look at Him. He loves catching our eye when we fix our gaze on Him, when we don’t understand but tell Him that we trust Him anyways. He loves when we really mean that. He sees us and we are safe exactly where we are.
3) God could never disappoint His people.
I often end up disappointed or unsure at where God has me in life. While I may be disappointed in a moment for not getting what I want or what I think is best for me, God continues to remind me that He is the best story-writer in all of creation. Each of us are getting to play a part in the greatest story ever written. And God is using our desires, passions, longings and dreams for a spouse, family, or anything else, to write that story. We, as His children, will not be disappointed by the ending.
4) God is ALWAYS good.
Similar to #1, God doesn’t change. He is always good, always faithful. I believe that we can experience that goodness even more when we wait for Him and trust Him. In that time we see Him as good simply because of who He is rather than what He gives us. How purifying is that! Andrew Murray writes on the goodness of God as we learn to wait,
At our first entrance into the school of waiting upon God, the heart is mainly set on the blessings with which we wait for. God graciously uses our needs and desires for help to educate us for something higher than we were thinking of. We were seeking gifts; He, the Giver, longs to give Himself and to satisfy the soul with His goodness. It is just for this reason that He often withholds the gifts and that the time of waiting is made so long. He is constantly seeking to win the heart of His child for Himself. He wishes that we would not only say, when He bestows the gift, “How good is God!” but that long before it comes, and if it never comes, we should all the time be experiencing: it is good that a man should quietly wait. The Lord is good to them that wait for Him. 
Which leads me to #5…
5) Every need and desire we have is and will be fulfilled in Christ.
A husband will not fulfill me. My dream-job will not fulfill me. The perfect family or home will not fulfill me. The perfect ministry opportunity will not fulfill me. Christ is the only one who can and ever will make me whole. I have to confess, it doesn’t always feel like that. But that is a truth I am going to lay hold of by faith…that is, until I live with the man that teaches me that he really doesn’t fulfill me ;) I want to trust that I have full access to God now by the power of the Holy Spirit; no less than I will when I am married, or walking in my passions, or in a dream job. And if He is the one who has created me for Himself, then He is the one I am going to run after, here and now. And when He calls me to run side by side with a man, what I am running after will not have changed: God is and will always be the goal.
Please run with me.
The F Market streetcar joins the Embarcadero to the rest of Market street. Brianna and I rode one with Abby after a strenuous day of walking the streets of San Francisco; it wasn’t the city itself that we found exhausting; rather, my kid was throwing up, it was raining, and we forgot to pack an umbrella. Or jackets. There was little else on our minds except to get back to our hotel and pass out.
Out of the corner of my eye, two older women began raising their voices,
“Excuse me. Yeah, you!” she shouted to the driver as he was transferring shifts.
“You shortchanged me a dollar, and thought I would forget! But I’ve been keeping track and I want it back before you get off this car.”
The last thing I needed: a flare-up next to me. I suppose if Abby isn’t vomiting on one of us, it might as well be a tourist. At the same time, another driver (I will call him Dale) hopped up the steps of the streetcar to change shifts with the driver who by now was getting chastised by these two women over a dollar.
“What’s the problem?” Dale asked as the other driver turned his back, clearly wanting to clock out and head over to a pub.
“Well that young man right there told me that the price was such-and-such and I gave him gibba-gibba-gibba and he said this-and-that and he just needs to refund me the amount of blah-blah-blah….OH!!! Nevermind, just go. I’m done with this. Get out of here! Just go. Go go go!”
Brianna and I looked at each other and exchanged sympathetic grins. People may think city dwellers are snippy, but tourists can have a fierce bite of their own. The original driver stepped off the bus at the nearest stop, leaving Dale with the two jolly guests in the front row. As we all continued down the Embarcadero, the awkwardness of the silly conflict began to dwindle, until the daughter got up before their stop-off and approached him to gently explain the situation. Dale turned around with a big smile on his face, and pulled cash out of lockbox. As the grandmother began to storm off the car, Dale stopped her, cupping her hands in his, and implored: “I don’t want you to be mad; here’s your dollar back, ok!” They soon exchanged laughs, and the two women left the car with smiles. As the streetcar began to move up Market Street, Dale whipped his head around, and shot a grin our way; Brianna smiled back. This guy was contagious.
I couldn’t help but think of Proverbs 15:1: “A gentle answer turns away anger” (HCSB).
Soon a new slew of tourists filled the car, and another obnoxious rider began to bark orders at Dale with his head glued to the side of a smartphone. “I’ll call you back; I just hopped on the bus, and will be there in a minute.”
“Bus???” Dale exclaimed. “You call this is a bus??” The streetcar roared with unexpected laughter.
“I’m sorry, Sam, apparently it’s not a ‘bus.” I’m on the trolley and I’ll be with you shortly.”
(More laughter) Read the rest of this entry
“America’s problem isn’t too much religion, or too little of it. It’s bad religion: the slow-motion collapse of traditional Christianity and the rise of a variety of destructive pseudo-Christianities in it’s place.”
This introductory remark encapsulates the main theme in Ross Douthat’s book, “Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics,” that the undermining of Christianity in America today is due to a deep chasm of cafeteria spirituality left over by mainline churches in decades past.
This thesis comes through two sections:
- Christianity in Crisis
- The Age of Heresy.
Introducing the first section, the New York Times columnist prepares a rather exciting taste of the Church’s glory days through the beginning of the twenty-first century before issuing a scathing diagnosis on mainline churches for botching everything up. Douthat argues that the church typically wavered between accommodation and resistance when faced with cultural difficulties. A single, albeit notorious, example of this were the tired arguments over biological evolution and the book of Genesis which helped excuse the church to the margins of the scientific community. Conservatives and Evangelicals came out swinging on a variety of similar issues, but left a lot to be desired. In the end, the fundamentalism that emerged from the fight was Read the rest of this entry
Karl Barth used to teach his young students to read the Bible and the newspaper at the same time, so that they could interpret culture through the grand story of Scripture.
Mark Sayers is a champion at this.
The Road Trip That Changed The World is a diagnostic narrative on the lightweight spirituality we inherited from Jack Kerouac, who, in his novel, On The Road, reacted against the conformity of the 1940’s by abandoning home, family, and place in search of the unfettered freedom of the road. But even if you haven’t read Kerouac’s definitive work on the Beatnik generation, you are certainly affected by it along with the rest of our culture. Ever wonder why American Christianity seems so lackluster and flimsy? Well, this is a book you should read. Sayers gives extensive treatment of Kerouac’s worldview–known hereby as “The Road”–that wound up affecting the spiritual climate of Western culture with consumerism, individualism, and a thirst for change. Charting this affect as it ripples through decades of both secular and Christian culture, a reoccurring theme in The Road Trip is that people today want a spiritual experience without being shackled down to the spiritual requirements. This “on-a-journey-with-no-destination” mentality paved the way for the Sixties, and post-Christian America, creeping all the way to the coast, with California symbolizing a dead-end to a spiritually frustrating road trip. In what Sayers describes as our endless search for the next “woosh” moment, life became a series of cheap thrills with no backstory.
The book begins with an illustration of a fork in the road which helps bring together two major sections.
The first section is the diagnosis. He presents the road of unrestricted hedonism that our culture is following. Chapters 5 through 15 work out some of the less desirable implications that go with the journey on “The Road.” Sayers is a masterful story-teller, so you never feel like you’re sitting through a history lecture. It feels more like theatre. In Seinfeld-ian style, the reader is drawn through vignettes of American culture, before piecing them together into an image revealing how deeply this generation is hurting. One of my favorites was his portrayal of Sayyid Qutb, whose religious devotion provided a contrast to Kerouac’s shallow excesses. These vignettes all serve as indictments against the thin spirituality so common in our culture.
The second section is the prescription. Sayers directs the Christian on a different road with the cross in view. He calls for consumeristic Christians to come back to the gospel, and the rich practices of historic Christianity. Sayers pleas for a church with “believers who are deep”(267), in an attempt to peel back the lid that has stifled the Christian imagination. He often explains the worldview of “The Road” alongside destructive facets of contemporary culture that came as a direct result. While his conclusions are more broad and immeasurable than I was hoping for, it was still a much-needed call for returning to the self-denial that used to identify a disciple of Jesus. And throughout these 271 pages, the visible backdrop of the gospel looms, with a hope that transcends cultural and social norms by evoking our hearts with a greater story.
You can see what else I’ve been reading…
Whenever someone shares the call of God on their life with me, it seems almost invariably to do with a ministerial vocation…
“Lazo, God is calling me to be a pastor.”
“I think I’m being called into the ministry.”
“I have a heart for missions.”
“I want to be a church planter.”
As one who is in a full-time “ministry” vocation, I can’t help but get excited when others are sensing a similar calling. But I also can’t help but be a bit perplexed. No one ever comes up to me and says, “Lazo, I think God is calling me to be a school teacher!” or, “Chris, I think I’m being called to work at Habit Burger for a season!” or, “God is calling me to be a carpenter! Can you pray for me?” The only callings I ever hear about, as if these are the only ones that are worth a Christian’s excitement, have to do with some type of clerical ministry.
Maybe we think that the only way to be faithful to God in our work, is if we are working for God in His church. It was normative in the middle ages to bifurcate the work of priests from that of the “laity.” In other words, if you wanted to do “holy” work, you had to get a job with the church. Everything else was menial. Of course, this divide was one of the false teachings that Luther, Calvin, Kuyper, and many reformers after them were quick to deny. For one, the doctrine of common grace reveals that there is no such divide between sacred and secular, for the entire sphere of life is under the domain of God’s benevolence. Abraham Kuyper, the Dutch reformer, was famous for championing this worldview. He opined that if common grace is true “the curse should no longer rest upon the world itself, but upon that which is sinful in it, and instead of monastic flight from the world the duty is now emphasized of serving God in the world, in every position in life” (Kuyper, Lectures. 30). Secondly, God no longer sanctifies jobs, as he did in the Old Testament cultus, with its priestly duties and unique ministerial work. In the New Covenant, God sanctifies people (Heb. 2:11; 10:10; 13:12). This means that a vocation is sanctified by the Christian working in it, without separation between secular work and ministry. A carpenter is on the same mission as a pastor.
Unfortunately, many Christians carry on the same dreary divide between sacred and secular to this day. This is not to say that we don’t need callings in vocational ministry today. We do! But roughly 1% of a church assembly will ever go into “church” ministry. The overwhelming majority of a church membership will be in the world of science, arts, education, politics, technology, law, retail, etc. If our mindset is still stuck in the middle ages, many church-goers will not think of their vocations as holy callings, but menial jobs to trudge through before they find something more meaningful. But the church of Christ needs a renewal in its sense of vocation lest the power offered by Christianity is one day found only in the four walls of a secluded cloister. We need school teachers who feel called by God to teach math. We need CEO’s who believe God has set them apart to lead well. We need construction workers who build for more than the paycheck. We need scientists who want to discover the world of God. We need grocery baggers who love to make grocers feel welcome and the environment hospitable. We need baristas who know how to deflect the grumpy demeanor of a sleepy customer with a smile and a mean cup of coffee.
But nonetheless, this divide continues still. Even our perception of what faithfulness means in a secular vocation is still highly spiritualized. For example, if we do suppose that our secular vocation is a calling of God, then we limit our understanding of job faithfulness to, say, evangelism, or perhaps the hope that a Bible study will spontaneously appear in the break room. But what about the content of our job descriptions? Do we think everything but doing our jobs well is what God is calling us to do? The Apostle Paul’s calling on every Christian is that “each one must live his life in the situation the Lord assigned when God called him. This is what I command in all the churches” (1 Cor. 7:17, HCSB).
Timothy Keller quotes Dorothy Sayers in his book Every Good Endeavor,
The church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours and to come to church on Sundays. What the church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables. (Creed or Chaos, 56-7, emphasis mine)
Keller describes this as the “ministry of competence,” where Scripture directs skilled men and woman of God to greatness in what they do, faithfulness with their callings, and integrity in the workplace (76). The majority of Christians are not called to leave the secular behind to pursue ministerial vocations. We are called to be faithful where God has us now.
Think of the impact that simple stewardship of work would have on the world around us. If it is true that only 1% of a local church will ever pursue vocational ministry, than what of the 99%? Now I know that being a faithful employee will not save the lost. Nor will cultural transformation, or relational evangelism. Only the proclamation of the gospel can act as the means by which the Holy Spirit brings the dead to life (Rom 10:14-15). But if we Christians worked well in the field of our employment, perhaps our co-workers would take us more seriously when we share the story of redemption. Or even better, maybe they will start to ask us.
- A Letter to a Confused Christian Artist (cwoznicki.wordpress.com)
This is a spur-of-the-moment post, but today’s Bible reading made my gears whirl.
Here it is:
Although I have great boldness in Christ to command you to do what is right, I appeal to you, instead, on the basis of love. (Philemon 8-9, HCSB)
Before this passage hits you with all intensity, you have to think about what’s going on behind the scenes of Paul’s writing. This short, personal letter has a lot packed within twenty-five verses: betrayal, abandonment, injustice, crime, conflict, redemption, appeal, tears, prison–it’s like a drama series on NBC.
The list of characters is Philemon (a Christian slave-owner) and Onesimus (a Christian slave), with Paul writing an urgent appeal to Philemon on behalf of Onesimus. Roman slavery in the first-century was very different from the more horrific chattel slavery of America’s early years, yet it was still an injustice that the New Testament repeatedly undermines. In this case, Onesimus was a runaway slave, a crime punishable by death in the Roman empire. At some point in their friendship, Paul must have led Philemon to a saving knowledge of Christ, for he claims that Philemon owes him his entire self (19). It is the effect of this gospel that Paul uses to leverage the situation on behalf of his new friend, Onesimus, to spare his life.
Paul could have demanded Philemon to change his behavior.
Think of all that was at stake! Onesimus was facing execution, or in the most merciful of circumstances, imprisonment with torture. Paul certainly could have used his Apostolic authority to manhandle the situation, as he has done elsewhere (2 Cor. 10-11). But in this case, he mentions that while he has authority to command right behavior, he instead, wishes to appeal “on the basis of love.”
Paul, in this case, attempts to break the chains of injustice, not by legislation, protesting, bullying, or picking up a sword, but through the power of the gospel. By winning Philemon to the gospel of Jesus, he is able, through that gospel, to make an appeal to Philemon’s changed heart for the freedom of Onesimus. What’s radical about the gospel is that Paul was able to use it to stretch Philemon even further than mercy–he calls him to treat Onesimus graciously, as a free man and brother.
Can you imagine the effectiveness of the church, if we put more weight on the transforming power of the gospel to save sinners?
Paul described the good news of Jesus as “the power of God for salvation” (Rom. 1:16), which not only results in declared righteousness, but crushes the ongoing desires behind our wicked behaviors! (Rom. 6:12-14).
Sometimes we seem to put more of our hope in our tactics of rhetoric, close-minded argument, and anger to change their behavior? Perhaps we are fighting for truth and justice, but to what end? With what effect? If our only method of treating a fallen world is to protest their actions from a distance, perhaps our trust in the power of the gospel has long faded. If that be the case… you better scream louder.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. – Jesus (Matthew 5:5, ESV)
In my last post, I shared how Christians have their own tribal language which can become a barrier when speaking to people outside the church.
A simple way to avert this might be by getting out of the church building.
Christians are called beyond the “gate” of their church subculture, and into the lives of outsiders on a regular basis, anyway. In fact, our mission involves interacting with people outside the church (John 17:15-16), and we see this reflected in the lives of the early followers of Jesus, as well as Jesus himself.
- Paul “went outside the gate to a riverside” before happening by a group of spiritually hungry people (Acts 16:12).
- Jesus had an urge to “pass through Samaria” where he met a spiritually broken woman (John 4:4).
Now, God’s mission can’t always be systematized. But sometimes it helps to break it down in our minds so that we aren’t overwhelmed by the grandeur of it all. If you read the context given in the two examples above, you’ll find a bit of a pattern that I think works really well in practice…
- Be intentional (Don’t go anywhere, aimlessly. Seek the Spirit for where He would have you be)
- Take initiative (Don’t expect opportunities to come to your doorstep. Engage! Seek others!)
- Expend yourself (Commit to that place/area/community/scene once you discover it)
(adapted from “Operation Lydia: Mission” by Chris Lazo)