Category Archives: Vocation

Impulsive Callings: The “what” may not include the “when”

Has God ever called you to something risky?

Adventurous? Exciting? Perhaps through a prophetic word, a confirmation, an opportunity; maybe through a divine revelation, the kind that gnaws at you when you lie in bed, and consumes your thoughts; or a burden, as though you felt the very heart of the Lord on the matter. Regardless of the form it takes, one thing is certain. God calls us to obey—often in ways outside of our comfort zone—and that, in a very mysterious and satisfying way, is exciting. I remember when Brianna and I experienced God’s calling on our life, and the urge we felt to obey God in that moment. We immediately rearranged our lives, not to mention our emotional and mental state of mind. Unfortunately, that calling never materialized, and we were both left wondering if we heard from God all those years to begin with.

The examples of my friend, Dominic Balli, are exemplar. In one conversation I had with him, he brought up some dreams and ambitions of music God put on his heart, that he pursued for years, and are only just now transpiring. After we shared mutual stories (and laughs), he pointed out that many of those grand callings God put on his life didn’t take place for eight to ten years later! Then a sobering thought: When God gives you a calling, he is not necessarily giving you the timing.

Why am I saying this?

I have seen friends and peers ruin their lives by prematurely chasing God’s calling.

For example, I hear lines like these a lot:

“I’m called to ministry—right now!”
“I’m supposed to be with that guy/girl—right now!”
“God’s calling me to this job—right now!”
“God is telling me to move to Russia—right now!”
“I think we are supposed to get married—right now!”

The pattern is predictable: God’s calling = right now.

Sometimes God may call you to the former, but you mistakenly assume the latter. Unless you hear God giving you a time, or a specific command to “move immediately” you should consider that He might be revealing his plans just to excite you, or refocus your attention on him, not so you can “help” make it happen. When you rush too quickly, you end up working outside of His will by pursuing a God-given calling through power-hungry cravings and willpower; God never blesses those self-reliant efforts. Here, outside of God’s will, your calling will likely not happen the way you envisioned, and you will find yourself entertaining all sorts of explanations, dead ends, and endless circles of confusion. Kind of like I did at the beginning of the story. Where did we go wrong? We moved without him telling us when. Premature obedience is still disobedience.

So what should we do with God’s big callings?

Maybe two examples from the Scriptures will help; one, Joseph, the other, Mary. Read the rest of this entry

What is there for singles on Valentine’s Day?

I know this is the day for celebrating romance, as it should be; marriage and relationships are a gift from God. But so is singleness. And on a day when many singles feel lonely, undesirable, or at the very least, bored, I hope this look back into church history reveals God’s kind intention for your singleness.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, and a key player in the first Great Awakening published a fifteen-point expository sermon on Paul’s letter to the Corinthians entitled Thoughts On A Single Life (1835). I will summarize each of his extensive points so that you can soak it all in.

  1. Singleness can be as holy as marriage
  2. Christians often view singleness as a spiritual malady to be fixed by marriage
  3. Paul commands certain people to remain single because they can concern themselves more with the things of God (1 Cor. 7:8, 27, 28, 32-35)
  4. Paul wishes that all men could be single like him
  5. Singleness, it turns out, is a gift that God bestows on people, either for a season or for good
  6. Those who are given the gift of singleness have great advantages to enjoy…
    • being “without carefulness”
    • without the necessity of “caring for the things of the world”
    • desiring only to “please the Lord”
    • concerned for being “holy both in body and spirit.”
    • able to be “attending upon the Lord without distraction.” Wesley then compares the single person to Mary who is enabled by her freedom to “remain centered on God, sitting…at the Master’s feet, and listening to every word”
    • a blessed freedom from the “‘trouble in the flesh’ which must more or less attend a married state”
    • to experience “liberty from the greatest of all entanglements, the loving one creature above all others,” for Wesley later writes of how conceivably difficult it is “to give God our whole heart, while a creature has so large a share of it!”
  7. You have leisure to wait upon God in public and private…whereas those who are married are distracted by the “things of the world.”
  8. You can devote all your abilities, time, and energy to God.
  9. You must pray for God to help you see the value of your singleness
  10. You must pray for God to protect you in your singleness
  11. You must surround yourself with like-minded single people of the same sex
  12. It’s silly to hang out carelessly with the opposite sex if you are trying to enjoy singleness
  13. In fact, avoid all self-indulgence that weakens your desire for God. Wesley does not here advocate the avoidance of pleasure, per say, for God gives you all things to enjoy. Rather, he  implores you to “avoid all that pleasure which anyway hinders you from enjoying [God]“
  14. Enjoy all the advantages of singleness to the fullest, and you may find that being single gets easier.
  15. Don’t worry yourself about what is better between marriage or singleness, because perfection does not consist in an outward state but in “absolute devotion of all our heart and all our life to God.”

Wesley is saying that the reason you are single is so that God alone can preoccupy your affections.

So if you are called to be single for good, know that this is a blessed calling, and one which God deems so respectable and difficult that He must call and anoint certain people to be so. But O! the joys of this kind of single life! For even if you are called to marriage one day, yet are single now, know that God designed your singleness to draw your eyes towards a better Love than this population can supply.

I pray our Valentine’s day be filled with the love of the Father in Christ Jesus by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, as “every pleasure of sense prepares us for taking pleasure in God.”

You can purchase John Wesley’s full sermon Thoughts on a Single Life here

Make Good Tables ~ renewing our sense of vocation

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.

4 ways to make a crowded room feel smaller

In a prior post I wanted to bring attention to the problem of community in large groups. One way of bringing community to large groups, is by making large groups feel smaller. In this post are some ways my local church gathering has attempted to accomplish this.

Serving.

It may seem relatively simple, but asking a newbie to show up and set up chairs, clean, or make coffee, has had some great results at Adorn, but only when the other volunteers are intentional to get to know that person. Serving is very conducive to relationship, and it’s easier to get to know someone when you share a common goal (e.g., greeting people at the door).

Comm groups 

Tribes can develop in a neighborhood pretty organically if you have that type of socialite on the block who can just throw parties. For those who can’t do this, organized community groups are very helpful. Instead of serving at a church, the common bond can be the neighborhood space, bible study, mission, food, etc.

Hobbies 

You would be surprised how effective it is to grab a couple socially awkward guys and invite them to shoot guns in the wilderness. Bring a bag of chips and drinks, and conversations will follow shortly after. Or billards. Or a book club. Whatever floats your boat.

Food

This is my favorite cannon for community. When all else fails (or even if it doesn’t) just break out the food. People love gathering around shared meals. It’s not just a way to fill a felt need, but an open table is a loud invitation tot he stranger that they are welcome where you are. No wonder Jesus came “eating and drinking” (Luke 7:34).

How have you created small yet meaningful community?

What is a Missional Church?

There are a few animated videos explaining a missional church. Some very popular videos have pitted the gathered church against missional churches, which is an unnecessary bifurcation—the church gathers and scatters.

This vid is short and unpolished, but so far, is my favorite, because it’s spot on.

When passion becomes apathy: A plea to my fellow millennials

Color outside the lines

I have a few memories of coloring books from childhood–remember those?–if you went to Sunday school, they were often thickly stenciled images of Jesus holding lambs or a dozen children on his lap with a blue sash and a lackluster smile. But I didn’t care what it was; my job was to color it in! And oh did I. I spent way too much time getting the shades and tones “just right,” and making sure the crayons didn’t bleed into the borders of Jesus’ head, for fear that the he might turn out looking like a Smurf. I would get frustrated when one of my friends would grab a random crayon (like Razzmatazz), and begin coloring Jesus’ face with it, only to choose a different, also unnatural color, for his hands. Grr. Of course, this was further compounded by the kid’s blatant disregard for…

Coloring outside the lines!!

Yeah, that’s right—he kept scribbling outside of the bold black lines of Jesus’ face. Imagine my horror. Sometimes I would correct said person to remind them that the proper goal of art is to color within the lines. Later, I would get a taste of my own medicine, but instead of coloring books…it would come in the form of mission…

Mission in the church is often privatized.

We sometimes fall into the error of thinking that mission happens solely at the hands of a corporate entity. The New Testament shows a church that is both scattered and gathered; at some points in the week, we gather together as the church in a visible congregation, while other times, we are the church scattered and dispersed throughout neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces.

Because of the mega-church culture birthed out of the 1980′s, we have the “gathered” element of church down, but have forgotten what it means or looks like to be scattered. The easy reaction, then, to mission, is to relegate it all to a group of professional clergy, and the building where we meat as a gathered congregation.

Some churchgoers love the idea of mission, but still expect it to happen within the walls of the church building.

We evidence this by the large number of programs we depend on throughout the week for our quota of mission and evangelism. Programs are not bad, per se, but neither are they everything, and are certainly not the full spectrum of the church’s calling as a light to the world. And yet, our initial convictions when the local church lacks activity in the community, is to start a program: small group night, single’s night, homeless ministry night, street-witnessing night, etc. Instead of taking the responsibility (as the scattered church), we place it back on an impersonal institution (which is not the church). We are elevating programs to the highest level of mission, when Jesus relegated his highest levels of mission to small communities of ordinary people.

Church programs are our coloring line!

Think about this: if the entire church body looks to the clergy to get mission done, we are drastically limiting the influence and power of available church goers. We are taking 30, or 300, or 3000–however many members worship at our church–and bottlenecking a potential grassroots movement to the small capacity of the church staff! In doing so, we stifle a movement and relegate the exciting call of following Jesus to a few “anointed” people and their programs.

We’ve got to view mission as something that is much more broad than what the church staff, or selected leaders, are capable of launching and overseeing. We need to understand mission as a personal responsibility that happens within community, during the ordinary course of our daily lives. We must not depend on clergy, but on each other in the body of Christ.

I doubt that Jesus intended to change the world through weekly programs. But he seemed to spend a lot of time with his twelve disciples, doing life together.

Will the Kingdom of God expand only through official church programs, or might it allow the imaginations of the “laity” to run wild with missional zeal?

For crying out loud, let’s color outside the lines.

Millennials: The Generation of Promise. Pt.3

Myth #1 – College will automatically get you a dream job

A while back, I pointed out how the relentless pampering of an older generation has cultured Millennials. Soon after, we mulled over the lack of opportunities to spend our inherited greatness. Now we have a group of young people who feel that they’ve wasted their potential. An environment of coddling with no opportunities is a cruel trick.

But not as cruel as the trick you play on yourself by going to college.

Higher ed is what they tell every Millennial to do after graduating high school, yet no one explains how this is going to help. As far as we know, it’s a magical band-aid.

Sooner of later, you find yourself disappointed for toiling those four years, expecting a significant job, with benefits, and a $40K annual return, yet only experiencing cold-calls and shoulder shrugs. It turns out, that college degree is not as magical as you thought.

The one thing I would tell college students before they packed their bags for schoolRead the rest of this entry

Millennials: The Promised Generation, part 2 – Redeeming Lost Talent

At the end of January, I asked what you would do if you were given so much promise and deprived of so much opportunity. All Millennials are. You are the promising generation, and you know it; decades of pampering and care has gone into a Millennial generation’s upbringing, and now  you have come of age.

Unfortunately, there’s no where left for you to be awesome.

The first post was a wake up call. I know you all like it more when I write inspiring posts about Millennials—after all, I am one, and at a DOB of 1981, I barely made it!—but I can’t help noticing a bad trend emerging from those of us who are called to speak into the lives of Millennials.

Millennials are so high up on a pedestal, that we forgot what it was like to fall on the ground.

The world isn’t always fair. There are not always opportunities open for us to waltz into, and this has caused many to feel ripped off. It’s true for college leaders, as well. We love that you are the promised generation! We have also placed so much hope in you, that we are sometimes quick to disregard the entire picture, that circumstances do not always turn out ideal, and in ignoring reality, we sometimes explain away a basic understanding that life is unromantic. You are given great gifts, talents, and education, only to find that life has given you the shaft.

But God has plenty of opportunity for you in his mission.

While you may not get a high-paying job with benefits right out of college, your calling in life will always concern being on God’s mission to make disciples of the nations and your city. I want to propose a biblical worldview of calling.

You have not been seasoned for this moment to make much of yourself and career, but to put God’s eternal purposes on display. God is out to renew creation, from the material nature of the environment, to structures, cultures, and societies. And of course, he is in the process of renewing and restoring a broken group of humanity for his own glory. Approach life differently.

Use your gifts to make much of others and align your calling with the mission of Jesus.

That’s redemption. It means your life is not wasted. It means God is not ignoring you. It means there is a plan. And it means you are in the middle of it, albeit, one larger than yourself. This is what Peter was referring to when saying that “As each one has received a special gift, use it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” ( 1 Peter 4:10-11). Even if you’re stuck in a dead-end job; the glorious mission of God is always available to you in the form of servanthood, for in the serving of others, you loosen the fragrance of Jesus.

It’s less glamorous, but then again, when has “glamorous” ever changed the world?

We were made for more.

Millennials: The Promising Generation

Millennials want to make a difference because they are pampered and sheltered.

When generational experts, Neil Howe and William Strauss, wrote their defining book on Millennials, they highlighted our generation’s pros and cons, namely, that we had a desire to achieve greatness, and our parent’s generation was the driving force behind this.

We are the result of a domino effect.

Some mothers will recall the tragic crime in September 1982, when “a cyanide-tainted Tylenol triggered an October wave of parental panic over trick-or-treating” (Howe and Strauss, 43). On its heels was a “national hysteria over the sexual abuse of toddlers,” an immediate distaste for classic 80′s horror flicks victimizing children, replaced with a flood of sitcoms portraying kids as the heroes. While parents filtered the family television, American school teachers experienced a newfound pressure to raise better kids in the classroom. And the trend continued.

Our generation is almost entirely conditioned for greatness

By the time we reached grade school, we had already adopted a skip in our step (or perhaps a leap in our step). And why not? We were being preened to take over the world by an earlier generation that wanted to leave a better legacy. We evolved from the latchkey kids of our ancestors to kids inheriting all the keys on the latch.

Millennials are unlike any generation that has gone before. And because of this, there is an overwhelming pressure to succeed. Unfortunately, the opportunities available to an aspiring millennial are underwhelming enough to damper the passion of the most resolute college grad. Our parents didn’t just leave us with a different outlook on life, they left us with a different life. Look no farther than a broken economy, steep living prices, and a job famine. It’s as if someone taught us how to fish in the middle of the Sahara. The world’s greatest generation, pampered with hopeful expectations, and sheltered from the grim truth of everything our parents never wanted us to experience. How do we handle this? Can we take advantage of the momentum we’ve been given?

What do you do when someone promises so much and gives back so little?

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