the desire for the Christ-life

Some proclaim Christ from envy and rivalry but others from goodwill. These proclaim Christ out of love, knowing that I have been put here for the defense of the gospel; the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but intending to increase my suffering in my imprisonment. What does it matter? Just this, that Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true, and in that I rejoice.

Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my salvation. It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be put to shame in any way but that by my speaking with all boldness Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me, yet I cannot say which I will choose. I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better, but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, so that, by my presence again with you, your boast might abound in Christ Jesus because of me.

Philippians 1:15-26

The book of Philippians catches an important connection, note, indeed song in God’s story: the proclamation of the good news of God in Christ, and the Christ-life or life of Christ that is in the middle of that. There was nothing more important to Paul than this, both on a personal level, and in ministry in service to others. This was the heart and passion of Paul. So much in Philippians is so powerful, helpful and good in our quest as individuals and in community to be followers of Christ.

Why do we want to live? As believers and followers of Christ it should be similar or related to what Paul was talking about. Christ is in the center of that, God’s good news in him. And it’s about Christ’s life existing and being lived out in us, God’s people in him. And it’s a life not only for eternity, but for the life of the world even now. If this Christ-life doesn’t result in good works and a passion for the world now, how can we really imagine that we care much if at all for the eternal good of all?

This is what we’re to be devoted to. Because of Christ, centered in him, God’s will and the good news in him. We want to be devoted and have our part both as individuals and together in community in that. That is why we want to live, even our very life.

in praise of not having it all together

…they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.”

2 Corinthians 10:10

Tim Gombis’s book, Power in Weakness: Paul’s Transformed Vision for Ministry is most helpful, and possibly even groundbreaking in giving us a view of Paul, pre and post conversion, and how that affected Paul’s service to God. And how that might speak to us today, even those who are in the trenches in ministry, and yet doing so in a way that is often more like Paul before his conversion to Christ, completely flipped after that conversion.

Too many of us have taken on the worldly attitude that we are out to sell something, have a big impact on our communities, be successful in terms of numbers: growing and growing, and just be the epitome of success inside and out. Win, win, win is a big part of that, being winners. Or having just that image that people imagine is good, maybe even Christian, and perish the thought: even like Jesus. After all, some have compared Jesus to images contrary to the “love your enemies” cross bearing picture given in the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).

We ought to not only much prefer, but accept nothing but honesty to God and to each other. And while we should pray and do our best to present the truth in Christ as fully as possible, faithful to Scripture, to what we’re hoping God has given us, that should be done in utter humility with a willingness to be ourselves, to be vulnerable, maybe to trip over our words some. That might encourage the kind of church the New Testament envisions in which everyone is a participant. We’re not out to impress each other, but to seek God together, and be faithful together in God’s covenant in Christ.

We need to get rid of the notion once for all that we’re to have it all together, whatever that means. What we do desire is to be growing together into the image and full maturity of Christ. Nothing else matters. What we need to see is not us, but Christ in us. No pretense, all real, honest, even when raw and most often with the sense of falling short. But God’s grace in Christ making the needed difference. In and through Jesus.

finish the work

Tell Archippus: “See to it that you complete the ministry you have received in the Lord.”

Colossians 4:17

We all have something to do. It may seem insignificant, maybe even disappointing if we compare it with what we had hoped for, or envisioned. But in Jesus we’re God’s masterpiece, created for good works God has prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10). The word translated “ministry” could also be translated, “service,” and “can refer to helps and service of various kinds which can range in meaning from spiritual biblical teaching (Ac 6:4) to the practical giving of provisions, supplies, support, and finances to those in need (2 Co 9:12).” (Bill Mounce)

We may consider our task relatively insignificant, or it may seem nonproductive, but it has its place in God’s overall scheme. Our responsibility is to discover what it is, then seek to accomplish it. The church can help us discern through the Spirit just what our God-given gifts are, and how we can use them for the good of the church and others. Our task is to simply be faithful, not letting up on what we’ve been given to do, but continuing to do it. God’s gifts and call are never taken back, so we have to continue in this until our time in this life is over. In whatever form that work might take. In and through Jesus.


why we are so bold

Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was transitory came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!

Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate[a] the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

2 Corinthians 3:7-18

There is no question that there’s a kind of boldness that goes with being “in Christ.” Paul had that boldness as a minister of the new covenant. The same Spirit that was on him is also on us in Christ. We too share in the blessing, which by our witness we’re to share with the world by good works, and by pointing others to the good news in Christ.

This boldness we have doesn’t at all depend on us. It is completely the Lord and his grace that makes it a reality. Even in our weakness, and we might say especially in our weakness, given this entire letter.

There are no two ways about it: in Christ there’s an unmistakable boldness for all who are people of the new covenant. The Spirit is on us to help us be a witness, and to change us from glory to glory into Jesus’s likeness. In and through him.


damaged goods?

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
    wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

Psalm 51:7

Oftentimes, in fact, as a rule it seems, once someone commits certain sins they are largely finished as to serving in the ministry, be it a man or woman. Adultery comes to mind right away. See the superscription of the psalm cited here. And supposedly pornography is an ongoing issue even with some serving in ministry, probably particularly men. Or at least men come to my mind when I think of that problem.

But I think the heart of the problem lies in the general failure of the church, and my perspective is in evangelical churches, but I think this could well range across the board, to deal with these cases forthrightly and thoroughly, so that the offender truly is repentant, and goes through a time of dealing with the issues underlying the failure. One can’t just snap their fingers, then say it’s done, and all is back to what it was before. At the very least it can never be the same, since they can’t take back what they’ve done, and how it affected others, not to mention how it grieved God.

The problem of a sufficient response from the church here in the US is complex, yet the basic fault for that I would say lies at the feet of the church. If we were united like we ought to be, then we could deal with these problems better. Living in a democracy, within that culture, and having easy access to a number of churches, we can escape, and unless we tell the church, or the church has a policy which at least tries to uncover such problems, the sin will never be known. It can be swept under the rug, so to speak, and therefore not properly dealt with. While it probably is good to say that the fault lies mostly with the sinner, the church should not be left off the hook. Yet given our democratic culture, and legalities involved, the church being faithful here could prove to be difficult. But if the church is wise, there certainly can be a good attempt at doing so.

I’m not sure how the Roman Catholic practice of penance works, but it does seem to me that there ought to be a period of what frankly might amount to an assignment to both work through and work on the issues of one’s sin. Toward the goal of full restoration, even though, at the same time, the sin can never be erased. I’m not saying that one who has been a pastor should or should not be reinstated. I would leave that up for each church or denomination to decide. I have to admit, I go back and forth on that one. Maybe, maybe not, I’m not sure. I would like to think so, however there has to be a practice put in place to make that viable, so that the person being restored can be accepted and embraced by the church, and accept that embrace themselves.

And here’s where maybe the biggest rub occurs. The person sees themselves as damaged goods, and think they can never be right with God or others again, not just in position, but in their heart. And the devil gets in there, and has a hay day, piling on guilt and condemnation, which makes one feel lost and at a loss to know what to do. Even dirty, of no use, not fully received by God or others, damaged goods.

I think there’s a better way, but the church along with the one who has committed the sin, must be fully engaged in it. There is no reason that after a period of time a person can have a return to a new normalcy in Christian life and service, even if it can’t be the same as it was before. Again, Psalm 51 is great in helping us walk through this. It offers great hope, but in the midst of ongoing contrition, it seems. A certainly deepened humility seems possible. All of this against the lie that God no longer is merciful, and that the life no longer matters, or can contribute to much good. In and through Jesus.

confessing sin and thoroughgoing repentance

I think a compelling article by R. Kent Hughes and John H. Armstrong, stating the case for not restoring fallen pastors to the ministry, except in rare cases within a stringent rule, I find convincing scripturally and it seems to be upheld by the tradition of the church. The idea that all one has to do is confess their sin, and the sin is not only forgiven, but gone flies in the face of so much. Restoration as it is called in more evangelical circles involves so much. The adulterer’s spouse and the victim. The families, the church. And not least of all, the adulterer themselves. Not to downplay the messiness and difficulty as well as the time needed to work through everything, restoration to the church should be immediate upon confession and genuine repentance. The issue here is restoration to the ministry.

Psalm 51 is evidence of the need for thorough, deep repentance so that not only does one leave the sin, but the sin leaves them as well. Change of heart and practice needs to take place. We’re not talking about sinless perfection, of course. But we are talking about a course of heart and life when such an act would be considered unthinkable, as the NIV renders it (Ephesians 5:3), when there is not even a hint of sexual immorality.

This is not a one time thing, but a sustained repentance over time.

Maybe not the best read for a weekend, but important. If you are interested, read it in its entirety. And a good complementary article from Jack Hayward, another servant of Christ who is always worth reading.

what is a pastor?

John Frye has a helpful series going on over at his blog, considering what a pastor is. I think without oversimplifying the issue, he is hitting on something which I think about as well from time to time. Considering just what a pastor is, or the whole concept of pastor in this day.

I used to sense a call to be a pastor, but I was too unsettled in life I suppose, trying to find where I fit, indeed even trying to find where my own feet fit on the ground. Interestingly enough for me I think the place I most fulfilled this perceived calling from God was in a fellowship which doctrinally was farthest removed from where I am. I was an elder and did some teaching, maybe a message or two of preaching (aside from my regular nursing home ministry) and simply enjoyed the people there, trying to be present for them. Of course we had a pastor, and he was a good pastor as far as trying to teach and preach faithfully the word, as well as seeking to be present and accessible to the sheep.

I scratch my head over what the church does today, as well as over what people, including those with influence in the church, think a pastor is. Boards consist of those who are competent on worldly terms. Maybe the hierarchy of a denomination either dictates that, or suggests it. Within a context where there is close association and a certain amount of dependency so that it may be indeed hard to buck the trend.

A pastor is this or that, in some kind of professional understanding within some kind of model which seems removed from the New Testament, at least to me. Of course no two pastors will be alike, and we should not expect that. Everyone is gifted differently, and as one pastor, Charles Swindoll discovered in his own life, which set him free, each one simply needs to learn to be themselves in the Lord and by the Spirit. But what essentially is a pastor?

A pastor is one of the group listed in Ephesians 4 consisting of apostles, prophets and evangelists, and pastor-teachers (fits Greek, see Klyne Snodgrass). They are given by Christ for the church, to build it up, equipping God’s holy people so that God’s holy people will do the work of the ministry. Certainly not exactly in line with what has been embedded in our own tradition, the people expecting the pastor to do the work of the ministry, in large part by tending to them.

John Frye aptly takes us to John 10 to understand what a pastor is in terms of the good pastor himself, Jesus. Of course pastor can also be translated, “shepherd.” In our non-agrarian culture shepherding and sheep are not known. Jesus is said to be the gate of the sheep, that they go in and out and find pasture, that he has come that they may have life, and have it to the full. That he knows them each by name, he takes a personal interest in them; indeed the Shepherd and the sheep know each other. That he lays down his life for his sheep. And that he has other sheep who are not in this fold who he must also bring in, so that there will be one flock along with the one shepherd.

Peter wrote of elders being undershepherds to the chief shepherd, Jesus. That they are to serve faithfully as such. And as Jesus told Peter, Peter was to both feed and take care of Jesus’ sheep. That is essentially what pastors are to do. They are to feed God’s people with the truth as it is in Jesus, from God’s word. And they are to take care of them, watching faithfully over them in love, being present to gently help them in the way of the Lord. To the end again that Paul brings out in Ephesians 4. That they might mature into the fullness no less of Christ himself, in love each one doing their work for each other, yes doing the work of the ministry.

So much more should be said from this. This is something of the basics of what a pastor is as I understand it. Again I used to have the sense of a special calling from God in this, but over time I lost heart. I couldn’t overcome a deep inward sense of being troubled in terms of certain lies Satan had been able to work in my mind stemming from earlier times and occurrences I never got over. I wish this or that would have been true, but I need to be thankful for the good that was present and how God did work in my own life to bring me to where I presently am.

We need to pray for our pastors, and stand by them. Not criticize them week after week, but instead encourage them. At the same time holding on to what scripture teaches pastoring actually is, in line with the good and chief pastor himself, Jesus. Together in him for the world.