Ever feel like you’re serving in a ministry of death?

Death // Spirit

Condemnation // Righteousness 

Fading // Enduring

These are the contrasts employed by the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 3:7-11. For the sake of context, please take it in

“Now if the ministry of death, chiseled in letters on stones, came with glory, so that the Israelites were not able to look directly at Moses’ face because of the glory from his face — a fading glory —8 how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious? 9 For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness overflows with even more glory. 10 In fact, what had been glorious is not glorious now by comparison because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was fading away was glorious, what endures will be even more glorious.”

— ‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭3:8-11‬ ‭HCSB‬‬

It’s a weird text, really. Paul is saying that the old laws (e.g., 10 commandments) were a ministry of death and condemnation and, ultimately, are fading. Makes you want to jump into Deuteronomy and read it all right now, doesn’t it?  

But when you compare the old law, now fulfilled in Christ (Matthew 5:17-18), with the law of the Spirit, now you’re talking about something different. It’s the law of life and peace (Romans 8:6). Life and peace or death and condemnation…tough choice. Yet we choose the latter so often.

This got me thinking about just how easy it is, given our various ministries contexts, we to feel, well, dead. Whether that ministry is on a church staff or in a Christian school or at a dentist’s office, unless it is being lived out though the Spirit at all times, it will feel like death, like condemnation, like a fading fad. 

See, “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom,” writes Paul later in 2 Corinthians 3:17. Freedom. Do you feel free–more free!–in your work because of Jesus? Because the Spirit of God dwells in you and leads you? 

If not, something’s off. If I work day in and day out and feel dead or condemned or like the work is petty, then I’m not living life in the Spirit. I’m living by my power, for the approval of others, or something lesser than the Almighty God. I’m certainly not living by the Spirit. 

If it’s really better for everyone that Jesus left us the Holy Spirit and ascended into heaven, then how about showing the world how it’s better? I think the world is calling our bluff, dear church. It’s our move. 

What would a life of freedom lived in and by the Spirit look like? How radically different would it be from the mostly mundane lives of death we’re living now? 

You can demolish or be demolished. Here’s how.

One of the positives of being a dreamer is the possibility of what could be.

One of the negatives of being a dreamer is the possibility of what could be.

It’s one thing to dream about making something better or starting something fresh, but it’s another thing to try to live that out before it happens–if it’s going to happen at all–and to imagine that whatever you’re dreaming actually exists and is being enjoyed by others right now. That’s the part I have trouble with.

The imagined future, the possibilities, all the what ifs and so on, are all far better than the present. Result?

Discouragement, dissatisfaction, and discontentment with the present. Yep, all the d-words…

So I was expressing these feelings one day, and Lindsey reminded me that I need to take every thought captive.

OH NO SHE DIDN’T quote Bible words at me! She didn’t pay an exorbitant amount of money on a degree that she could’ve gotten for $900 in a little deal called Logos! Okay, she helped pay for it, but that paper on my wall has my name on it.

The apostle Paul writes about “taking every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5, HCSB).

EVERY THOUGHT. That’s just exhausting.

Paul precedes the what  with the why: “For though we live in the body, we do not wage war in an unspiritual way, since the weapons of our warfare are not worldly, but are powerful through God for the demolition of strongholds…(verses 3-4).

Love that last part I underlined. Demolition. There’s nothing gentle or sweet about that.

Image result for demolition

A massive metal machine gently massaging rubble

would easily say that my dreaming, and subsequent discontentment, has been a stronghold.

The lie of something better, grass that’s greener…water your own stinking grass.

I want to live into what Jim Elliot urged, “Wherever you are, be all there!” I want to demolish those strongholds by the power of the Spirit of Truth.

Jesus said today has its own troubles. Today has more than enough to keep you occupied. Stop worrying about tomorrow and your five-year plan. Just be obedient to Jesus today. And the next day. And repeat.

As thoughts arise, measure them against the truth of God’s Word.

  • Is this thought leading me closer to Christ?
  • Is it stirring affections for the Lord?
  • OR is it leading me into one of those d-words?
  • Ultimately, if I run with this thought and let it linger, will I end up in sin of some sort?

God be with you (and me) in taking EVERY thought captive to obey Christ today.

 

Pledging Allegiance In Word and Deed

Pledge of AllegianceIf I asked you what makes someone a citizen of a particular country, you would most naturally, and correctly, answer, “It’s where they were born.” That’s the simplest answer.

Now of course we can move to another country and go through the requisite process to become a citizen.

But what are we to say of those men and women who are born in a country, possess citizenship, and then betray that country?

What about the Timothy McVeigh’s who pledge allegiance to country with hand over heart, serve in the military, and then park a truck filled with explosives in front of a government building and blow it to smithereens?

Most countries call such actions treason. Punishable by death. Which basically says, “You’re no citizen of this country.”

So beyond birthplace, pledges, and oaths, it seems that behavior is of utmost importance in the discussion of citizenship.

How you behave says more about your allegiances than birthplace, pledge, or oath.

Does that same line of reasoning apply to the spiritual realm? What of those who pray a prayer, confess faith, are baptized, but who behave no more like a citizen of heaven than the devil?

In Philippians 1:27-30, the apostle Paul makes the case that one’s behavior is indicative of his true citizenship. He commands those who call themselves citizens of the kingdom of God, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ…” Our English translations don’t use the word citizens, but it’s there: “Only behave as citizens worthy of the gospel…”

Paul proceeds to list behaviors becoming of a citizen of heaven.

1. You stand firm (v.27)–like a soldier prepared for battle. The same word is used just prior in Ephesians 6:11 “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.

If a soldier is prepared for the physical assaults of the enemy, shouldn’t a citizen of heaven be prepared for the assaults of hell? To push it further, isn’t it true that you know when and how you’re most likely to be attacked by the devil? A pet sin, private indulgence, proclivity towards a particular evil? You know it’s coming and yet you stand unprepared. That’s suicide.

Be prepared to stand firm against the specific attacks of the enemy.2.

2. You strive side by side (v.27)–like an athlete determined to be victorious. The word for strive is where we get our word athlete, so it makes sense to take advantage of the metaphor. In an age when there was no ‘tapping out’ in boxing or wrestling, he who lived won.

That’s why Paul takes this issue up elsewhere, such as 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. Athletes discipline their bodies and train and diet and compete with utmost intensity. Why? For a perishable wreath. A bonus. An over-sized ring. A gold medal.

If an athlete will exercise such discipline for that which fades and is left behind when s/he dies, how crazy would it be for us to not train all the more for that which never fades?

We train together and run alongside one another, side by side. Paul says we do this “for the gospel,” but he isn’t saying we strive in order to attain the gospel. Rather, we strive ‘on behalf of’ the gospel mission and message. We run to the next person who needs to hear of Jesus. We discipline ourselves to flee from temptation. We shed sweat and blood in order to help rescue a teammate in need. Our citizenship drives our behaviors.

And,

3. You show courage (v.28)–like the outcome is known. Your opponents can’t shake you because you know that Jesus has overcome the world. When your opponents see that you aren’t flinching, it’s a sign to them of their destruction and your salvation, their defeat and your sweet victory.

Who are these opponents?

– A friend who encourages you to seek vengeance against the guy who wronged you.

– A boss who asks yo to cut corners in order to increase profit margins.

– A husband who asks you to view pornography or act out pornographic fantasies.

Be not afraid. For you’ve not been given a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-control. Jesus has overcome your opponent in that moment. Your victory and your salvation are from God.

Lastly,

4. You suffer for the sake of Christ (v.29)–like Christ himself suffered. Suffering comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. But one things must be made clear.

Having the 10 Commandments taken off the courthouse walls is not suffering. Not being able to pray out loud at a designated time in school is not suffering.

Our brothers and sisters around the world who are being beheaded, bombed, and raped, they may speak a better word as to what constitutes suffering.

The strange thing about the way Paul says it here is that “you should not only believe in him,” which translates, “you won’t JUST believe…you’ll go over and above belief…you will also suffer.” It’s counted as a grace to suffer for Christ. Blessed are the persecuted.

While the most intense sufferings have yet to reach the US, we do suffer by way of disease, decay, and death. And how we suffer says much of our allegiances. Can we say with Paul, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain!”? Do we bear on our bodies the marks of Christ?

Are you standing, striving, showing courage, suffering? These are behaviors that mark a citizen of the kingdom of God. What does your behavior say of your allegiances?

A Plea on Behalf of Pastors

I’ve met some–happy pastors that is. But if you spend enough time with enough pastors, you find that the bulk of them (us) are discouraged, depressed, or dreaming of some escape from the madness otherwise known as ministry.

Ministry’s tough. It’s especially tough because most people think they have a right to tell you how to do your job. I imagine it’s a lot like being President, without the personal helicopter. Everyone knows better than you–you just make an easy target.

I started preaching through the book of Philippians a couple of weeks ago and spent week 1 reveling over the ridiculous affection Paul had for these people. He was a happy pastor…at least with this crew.wve-white-flag-260

Depending on what source you check out, statistics show that pastors generally have a shelf life of 2-5 years. That’s not per church…that’s per career. By that standard I would have already been done and moved into another sector.

And I was close.

I was going to pursue teaching or modeling, but most likely teaching since “pasty and pudgy” isn’t a high-grossing category. But I was done. Yet here’s Paul, most likely writing from prison in Rome, brimming over with joy because of his relationship with the Philippian Christians.

So what’s the difference between Paul’s experience and that of so many pastors out there? Well let’s consider why Paul’s affections were raised so highly.

Philippians 1:3-5 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy (Okay we get it, Paul. You’re happy and joyful and sing-talking as you write this, but why?)…verse 5 because of your PARTNERSHIP in the gospel from the first day until now.

You catch that? The Philippians were partners in ministry. They didn’t just pay a pastor to do ministry; they joined alongside and took responsibility. They bore one another’s burdens. They served and gave and sacrificed and prayed.

When I preached this sermon I dared to draw a distinction between partners and parasites. It seemed harsh to me at first, but I felt the Spirit saying, do it. Plus, if I tell people the Spirit made me do it, how can they be mad at me? Win-Win.

Parasites take, consume, and contribute little to nothing to their host. In this case, the host is the church body. The parasites are people who do very little to help the church be the church. They may be faithful attenders, but as far as being contributors, not so much. They’ll point out when their preferences aren’t met and when someone else messes up.

I wonder if it’s such people who end up causing pastors to wave the white flag? Sure, there are other factors that contribute to pastors jumping ship, but it’s not like they go to other churches. They just leave ministry.

So let me encourage you, church member/attender, partner with your pastor(s) in ministry. Fulfill the commands of Hebrews 13:17 andObey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with JOY and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

You don’t want a grumpy pastor; so don’t be grumpy, greedy people. Beyond that, if the love of God has been poured into your being, how are you showing that in your local church?