To work in church or To not work in church

It happened again last night.

I came face to face with the reality of hard work that comes with a life of ministry. And I have to ask myself again and again, do I really want to work with the church? I quickly reworded my question to myself…is God really asking me to work with the church? Because if it were up to me and what I want to do, I’m not so sure I’d go down that road. But if God is asking me to…how can I say no? Instead, I squirm and wiggle and complain a little until I finally give in.

I’ve always had this love/hate relationship with church. When I was a working for a missions organization in Georgia, I didn’t go to church. I wrote a blog about it and it ended being my most viewed blog on this site. I still struggle with a lot of the same issues. And often I want to dust my hands off and be done with institutional church. But I still want to share life with people; I still want to break bread and give thanks and worship God together; I still want to study the Bible and learn from one another.

I’m realizing that ministry isn’t only hard because people’s lives are messy and we all have to navigate through this life of brokenness. It’s hard because we also have to come up against materialism, consumerism, biblical illiteracy, self-gratification, sexism, racism, greed, nationalism, and so on. These things don’t only exist in the people attending church, they exist in people leading the church as well.

This is when I start to think a 9 to 5 job sounds really nice. Let me punch in my time and stay away from all this drama.

But if my life is an offering to God, should I not make every effort to bring him the most glory? And what I’ve realized this week is that it doesn’t bring God glory for me to avoid the hard stuff and bypass what he’s asking me to do. It doesn’t bring God glory for me to short-change myself and sit back in passivity. I want to be faithful with what I’ve been given and not bury it in the ground.

This is my journey. I’m graduating from seminary in June and I’m not entirely sure where I’ll go or what I’ll do. Whatever it is, in the church or outside of it, may it reflect the beauty and glory of the one who rescued me from death and gave me this beautiful life.

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What’s the bigger story?

I want to be better about writing.

Honestly, how much or how little I write reveals how well I am taking care of myself. Because when I’m rested and fulfilled, I can’t help but write. But when I’m overwhelmed, exhausted, and depleted, writing is just another chore. It’s interesting how I sometimes avoid what I need most.

This week, two things in particular caught my attention.

1) The war is not over. 

It’s true that when Christ died on the cross and rose from the dead, he gave us the right to become children of God and as his children we get to share in his victory over death. That is amazing! But people still die. People still endure insurmountable suffering. What the heck? How can this be good news? Because with Christ, death and suffering is not the end of the story. And there is a bigger story at play that has yet to be completed. We do not become immortal when we become Christians, but we do inaugurate the coming kingdom of God with transformation and renewal.

Does anyone really understand the concept of the Kingdom being now but not yet? How can it be finished and not complete at the same time? How does death and resurrection coexist? Is it linear? Is it outside of time?

I’ve swung on a lot of pendulums in my life and this is no exception. As a child, the Kingdom was Heaven…a place you go after you die, but not much more. As a young adult, the Kingdom was all here and now…today is the day for victory because heaven is here inside of me. Both seem to forsake either the now or the not yet of the God’s kingdom. And neither promote faithfulness to a covenant relationship with Christ.

This week, I’ve been pondering this tension and the significance of the war that rages on around us. If we as Christians deny that there is a war going on, we are burying our heads in the sand and offering no help or hope to the world. I was blown away by an analogy by a scholar named Oscar Cullman.

“He compared Christ’s first coming to a decisive battle in a war (like D-Day in WWII, which determined the course of the war), and Christ’s second coming to the victory of that war (like VE-Day when the Allies finally triumphed in Europe). Whereas the decisive battle for the kingdom of God has been won by Christ’s death and resurrection, we still live in a time of struggle – the war continues. Nevertheless the outcome is assured and will be effectuated at the second coming.” (Plantinga, An Introduction to Christian Theology)

So don’t put down your weapons. Don’t throw away your shield. Stand firm and be courageous, ready to fight. And along those same lines…

2) It’s not about me.

This came up twice this week. After the second time hearing it while listening to a podcast from a church in Atlanta, I jotted some things down in my journal.

Pray. Stay close to God. DAY by DAY. It’s not about you. It’s bigger. Find your place in the larger story that is ultimately not about you. Be faithful…faithful with what you have and where you are. It’s not about you.

Basically…get perspective. There is a lot more to this world, to the cosmos, to eternity…than me and my little life. God holds me closely and intimately cares for me, but it’s not about me.

I’m reminding of one of my favorite lines in the musical Les Miserables:

“Marius, you’re no longer a child
I do not doubt you mean it well
But now there is a higher call.
Who cares about your lonely soul?
We strive towards a larger goal
Our little lives don’t count at all!”

What is the higher call for us today? What is the larger goal we strive toward? The sooner we realize what it is, the sooner we realize that our little lives don’t count at all.

I am human

In case you didn’t know, I’m human. Sometimes I have to remind myself…is that crazy? I’m not a savior, I’m not immortal, and I’m definitely not perfect. I am needy and unable to fill myself…no matter how much coffee I drink, no matter how many books I read, no matter how good I am.

Lutheran pastor, Nadia Bolz Webber says in her book Pastrix, “being good has never set me free the way truth has.” How profound to realize that Jesus didn’t say that you will know how to be good and it will set you free…he said that you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.

I started 2018 with a month of fasting. So many people asked why…and I think it’s a valid question. But now that it’s over, I feel like I have to show something for it, prove what it produced in my life. But I didn’t have a purpose that seemed to satisfy those questions. I wanted to begin the year acquainted with truth. I wanted to embrace truth and drink deep of the freedom from fear, striving, perfection and performance. Could I have done that without denying meat, bread, sugar and coffee? Sure. But there is something about the discipline of saying no to something with the intention of reminding myself to seek truth that sets me free. In doing so, I did become aware of some things in my life.

I realized how desperate I am for Sabbath. I realized that my hesitance to help others often comes from my attempts to self-protect. I realized how bent I am to believe lies about my worth and purpose which causes me to distance myself from truth and love. I realized that it’s better not to speak if I have not spent time bathing in truth.

And I remembered that I am human. And the depth and intensity of the human experience requires fierce emotion and intentional reflection. It deserves more than religious platitudes that are uncomfortable with the reality of struggle and pain. It deserves brutal honesty and relentless truth. I’m ready for the church to be more interested in truth than being good and having right answers. I’m ready for Christians to be the most honest people in the world, not trying to impress people by looking and sounding really spiritual.

I don’t know about you, but I cannot survive in this world by just being good or looking good. I need truth to pierce my soul and soften my heart. I need quietness to make room, inviting and welcoming truth because the lies are rudely intrusive and insolent.

I’m thankful that truth is available to me in Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Son of humanity. Though I am poor and lowly, the God of the universe has mercy on me and offers me life and freedom if I’m willing to receive it.