complete your call

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Philemon 1:1-3

And say to Archippus, “See that you complete the task that you have received in the Lord.”

Colossians 4:17

Archippus I’m guessing was likely a leader in the church, at least considered a fellow soldier with Paul in the spiritual battle in which we’re in. He may have been nearing the end of his life, although we don’t know. The word given to him by Paul at almost the very end of the letter to the Colossians can apply to us at different ages, and I think refers to the sense of calling God puts in each one of us. What brings us life and passion? That likely is what God has instilled in us for the service of the gospel, or for the good of humanity. And as believers, we all have our gift and calling that goes with that gift within the church.

We best work hard to both figure out what that calling is, and stay true to it, work hard at both. To finish it, yes, complete the work God has called and is calling us to do. We each have our task whatever it is, and since it’s from God, it’s never mundane or secondary. It fits in with the whole of what God is doing. We need to do our part and get it done. God will help us. In and through Jesus.

faith is found in daily life

It is always good to get some rest from the normal wear and tear. Jesus seemed to practice this regularly with his disciples though at times it seemed hard for them to come by.

Although I’m not altogether fond of the monastic notion since it seems like “laypeople” might be regulated to a secondary status as far as holiness is concerned, I will say that the monastics are far from being inactive. They may especially be punctual at religious activities such as reading scripture and prayers along with chants together. But they are also known for work in productive activities not just for them or the church, but for the community.

Faith is found in daily life, and in all the responsibilities of life. Dietrich Bonhoeffer believed in a “worldly holiness” by which he meant a holiness derived from God in the midst of being fully engaged in the world. And by that he meant something like in all the responsibilities along with the sense of call from God one has.

In this we have to be careful not to leave our sense of call from God behind, or that what we’re about is something holy. At the same time we need to be careful not to abandon that call, just where we can find holiness from God, because holiness is meant to be lived out in real life, in the common ordinary responsibilities of life, along with what special callings God gives us. In and through Jesus.

the call to complete discipleship not only to those in ministry, but to us all in Jesus

In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

Luke 14

We often think that only pastors or those in “full time Christian service” are called to be completely set apart for ministry (2 Timothy 2), while the rest of us will even necessarily be engaged in the affairs of this world.

But Jesus’s call to discipleship is to us all. We remember that Jesus himself was fully involved in the world he was raised up in. Doing carpentry or whatever kind of work it was (whatever the term actually means) up until the time of his call to ministry at around the age of thirty. But that time did not exempt him at all from complete devotion to his Father, which we have inklings of in the narrative before, when he was a twelve year old in the temple (Luke 2). The world system or aspects of it which are opposed to God (systemic evil) we must be completely opposed to. But the everyday matters which can occupy our lives, and so much of our time, we’re to be fully engaged in to the glory of God. And to do so as those who are followers of Christ by the Spirit.

This certainly involves so much as spilled out and spelled out in scripture. And only possible by God’s grace through the Spirit. Through God’s call we can overcome and follow fully. Even though along the way we will stumble, and we won’t do it perfectly. But we want to endeavor to get back up, keep going, and keep on following no matter what. Given to us, completely a gift in and through Jesus.

the Lord’s faithfulness to his servants

At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

2 Timothy 4:16-18

To be a servant of Christ truly, is such a high and holy calling. Nothing should get in the way of that call, although a servant will want to do well by their family, if they’re wise. We have at least one biblical examples of a good servant who evidently may not have been as good when it came to his family. I’m thinking of Samuel in the Old Testament. Not that the children of all such servants might not lose their way for a time. But too often such servants can be neglectful of their families in their busy schedule of serving others. We need to try to be really present, both in terms of quality and quantity time with our children, and spouses. Yet there is little doubt that there will be some price they have to pay, as well as ourselves, to fulfill what God has called us to do.

Paul had the advantage of having no such ties, evidently having no immediate family of his own. Perhaps as a Pharisee he had a wife, but she evidently had died, because it is clear from the New Testament that he was not married when he wrote his letters (see 1 Corinthians 7). But Paul still had friends who served with him, and he needed companionship. And this was probably especially the case during trying and difficult times.

Paul was on trial because of his proclamation of the gospel, and had been abandoned by everyone, evidently because of their fear of being identified with him with their lives possibly at stake. Most of us today can’t really identify with that. But what we can understand is the sense of being alone, of others not in the work with us, maybe having a hard time finding anyone to serve where needed at all. And yet we can press on time and time again, often not really feeling like it, but still wanting to do it. And we find over and over again, that the Lord is faithful and stands with us. That somehow he is present, and through us he blesses others. That is what Paul experienced, and it is for all of us who endeavor to faithfully serve Christ, even when oftentimes, it’s not convenient. The Lord is faithful. And he will be with us to the very end, as in our weakness, we endeavor to be a faithful servant of his to others, come what may. All in and through him.



back to work

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Paul’s words need to be seen in context (link takes you to 1 Corinthians 9 and 10). This was all for the gospel, which is all about reaching people. It means the good news, so that is Paul’s aim given his mission. And by extension it seems clearly that he is calling the entire Corinthian church to the same commitment, of course in their various callings, but this one call directing all of that.

It’s our mentality and attitude up front that is crucial, which is why we’re told that we’re not to be conformed to this world, but instead transformed by the renewing of our minds. Paul’s heart and mind were for Christ and the gospel, and involved in that is not only the message, but the medium for the message which must never contradict the message itself. Paul, and by extension we are that medium. Yes, not all of us are called to proclaim the good news like Paul was as the apostle to the Gentiles. But we are all called to be witnesses to it, which will involve both word and deed. Our lives must line up with what we say, otherwise our words will be empty.

It is utterly crucial for anyone in the ministry to take the hard discipline Paul exerts on himself to heart for themselves. When you read the passage in context (again, see link above) you will note that it’s about the gospel, and with reference to sexual immorality and idolatry. Money, power and sex, not necessarily in that order, have grounded many an aspiring person to follow Christ. Or perhaps it uncovered their true heart. At any rate, we are told in this passage that we all must be careful, and beware lest we fall into the same trap (1 Corinthians 10:1-13).

Yes, we are present to work, to roll up our sleeves and be in God’s work by his grace in Jesus. Whatever form that work might take. What God has put in front of us, what we can do and find joy in doing in that work, we must give ourselves to fully. Rest is good, and must be incorporated along the way. But the work is what we’re called to, and what we must not let go of. And that requires a commitment and the discipline that goes with that. All for the gospel in and through Jesus.

the brokenness of the world: where do we begin? what lines do we draw?

Take your pick. There’s no end finding brokenness, and some things which might particularly distress us in the world. It never ends, and never will end in this life. At the same time, it’s hard to know when to take a strong stand, or know just how to do it. Our interests will be on different problems depending on our inclinations due to our disposition, constitution and experience, along with simply what we choose.

What we have to avoid is a spin-off into issues which are not at the heart of our own calling. I can easily get into political concerns during normal times, and all the more so during what I consider the present challenging time. And I believe Christians ought to pay attention to what is going on in the world, as well as remaining in God’s word.

Some of us have special callings, and we do well to hone our skills, and grow in those areas. But all of us in Jesus have one general call: to serve our Lord by being servants to the gospel, the good news in him of God’s grace and kingdom. The ultimate answer for individuals and for the world is found there.

Of course that doesn’t mean that other things don’t matter, maybe some, seemingly trivial, but everything important in its place. Not that we have to concern ourselves with everything. We probably need to pick our fights and where we put our efforts with care, quite well.

What needs to remain at the center for us in Jesus, is what truly is in the center: the reality of the good news in Jesus. And what we do needs to have some connection to that, either directly or indirectly. Our passion, how we see all of life, while we share much that is significant with everyone through creation, is at its heart Jesus-centered in God’s will in him. And that is a good news no less of love, the heart of that found at the cross. To show the lengths God would go, and did go.

So that is where I want to remain, centered in that, and from that taking the brokenness of our world seriously. Even as we look forward to Jesus’s return when at last all brokenness will be gone, and the healing complete. But until then we keep looking, and grieving, and sighing with our own brokenness, and the brokenness of this world. In and through Jesus.

follow on; just keep following

Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”

Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return,what is that to you? You must follow me.” Because of this, the rumor spread among the believers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said,“If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?”

John 21

The context is rich and well worth the time to read it, including this being the end of John’s gospel account. Peter was being wisely and lovingly reinstated by the Lord, after Peter had denied the Lord three times. John is called the one who Jesus loved, and why, we’re not told. Except it may be that John simply had that revelation which others did not have, but which actually applies to us all, at least to every believer in a special, covenantal relationship with God through Christ. Or they may have had a special bond. Perhaps something of both. Jesus was human, and surely felt closer to some than to others. I prefer the former, but it is likely something of both.

Peter was reinstated and given a primary role in feeding and taking care of Christ’s lambs and sheep. He was to be a pastor, an undershepherd under the good Shepherd. But like we all do, Peter looked at John and evidently was comparing himself with John. Jesus made it clear that John’s own following of the Lord was not Peter’s business, but instead that he simply needed to follow the Lord, himself.

This for me is a rather life-giving word. Both in terms of how I look at others, and also in terms of how I might think others look at me. I have to continue on, even if I am misjudged, or considered of no account. My call is to simply follow. And to look at others the same way. Of course we’re not islands, or simply individuals, but our relationship to God through Christ means we’re in special relationship with all others in Christ. There is accountability. But within that, there is also respect for the fact that not only are we different, but that it is God in Jesus who is the God of us all, the one each of us is to follow, the one who directs our steps, as well as the steps of each and everyone around us in and through Jesus our Lord.

faithfulness (not giftedness) is what matters

Gifts are good and this post is not to downgrade them or deny the blessing they are. And of course all goodness comes from God; any good any of us can do is from the gift of God in creation or new creation.

But as I read somewhere recently, and I believe it at least has plenty of truth, in the end it’s not the gifts that matter, but our faithfulness, we can say our faithfulness with the gifts we have.

A person who is faithful with far less giftedness will end up accomplishing more than a person with great giftedness who lacks in faithfulness. What God is looking for is faithfulness, not giftedness. God doesn’t need great people; he needs faithful people. Those are the ones he chooses for the work of his kingdom. God delights to take humble gifts and multiply them to his glory; I am thinking now of the five loaves and two small fishes Jesus received from a boy to feed a multitude of thousands.

The irony is that people often don’t find out well what gifts they have from God apart from being faithful. Sampson comes to mind as a possible exception. He judged Israel for twenty years, but it seems to me like the good he did was largely hit and miss. He did some great feats by himself and as a Nazarite dedicated to God. But they were often in spite of himself; he was certainly a man of his times, and those times were not much in the way of faithfulness to God. And yet as long as Sampson remained true to his Nazarite vow, God gave him unusual strength. But when you consider his entire life, while he was a person of faith whom God used signficantly (see Judges and Hebrews 11), there seems to be something lacking which is hard to put one’s finger on. Sampson certainly was not exemplary in his moral life and seemed more or less driven by a personal agenda, though God was using even that. But not without consequences. And one can’t help but think that the story may have taken a twist not imaginable had Sampson lived more faithfully. Maybe it wouldn’t have been so spectaculor, yet it could have been far better.

Faithfulness is with reference to all of God’s will, both his general and specific will. It shouldn’t be about trying to do great things for God as much as it should be simply humbling one’s self before God and being faithful in the little things, as well as in everything else, while at the same time humbly stepping with the audacity of faith into whatever the Lord might be calling us to. That should be the tenor of our lives before God and as lived out in this world in and through Jesus. So that in the end we might here the words from the Master; “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.”

trying to get through the challenging places

There are times which more than try the soul as it was once said, which test one’s patience and expose weakness as well as plumb depths to which one does not care to go. That is where I am right now. We have to realize that the Lord is present to see us through regardless of what we face. And that he is at least using the problems to a good end, that he is working out his purposes in and through it all. While we have to deal with the small details which come our way, we do well to look at the longer view and the big picture insofar as God gives us the insight to do so.

What comes to the fore in this is the sense of being called. We are called to something we would not choose on our own, but which is important to God as well as for the people who are involved. A calling implies responsibility and trust: one is entrusted with an important task, or put in an important place to be and to remain.

What is also helpful is to realize that “this too will pass.” For some it does involve a lifetime, although there normally are different seasons so that there may come some relief of some kind. For many of us it is a window of time which is part of today, but will be gone tomorrow in the sense that at least a decade from now things will look different.

Going through this we need to find the times of relief and rest, even recreation. The times when we for the moment can forget everything, having entrusted it all to the Father. Easier said then done, and truly a gift.

We must depend too on the prayers and help of the community of the faithful of which we are a part, the church. We can’t make it through such times alone; we need not only the Lord, but each other in him.

We want to be faithful, but to be so we must learn to rely more and more on the Faithful One, who will give us the wisdom and strength that we need, as we look to him for that through Jesus.

faithful to the end

Life is what it is. There are messes here and there, some big, many not. It is not neat and tidy. Bad things do happen, and we hurt when they happen to anyone. But any of that can happen to us as well. We don’t know what a day, a week, a month or a year may bring forth.

The one thing I want to be come what may is faithful to the end. Faithful to God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Faithful to the gospel. Faithful to the church. One who seeks to grow in the “Jesus Creed” of loving God and neighbor. One who with others wants to serve until the end.

I am grateful for a good wife along with me on this journey who has the same heart and mind. I hope by God’s grace to be faithful to his call in Jesus to the end.