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? 

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That Time I Wanted to Name Our Son Benjamin Franklin Mitchell

The creative writing teacher at the school where I teach put up a flyer for a contest, and on that flyer is a quote from Benjamin Franklin–“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”

“Easy for you to say,” Ben. That’s what I think anyway. A world-traveler. One of the most brilliant men of his day, perhaps of this day as well. An innovator. Inventor. I wanted to name our firstborn Benjamin Franklin Mitchell. I got the Benjamin, but Patrick would have to suffice for that mysterious middle place. Ben wrote and did something worth writing, many somethings.

You may not know but I suffer from what’s called “Golden Age Syndrome.” At least that what’s the pedantic, self-consumed character in the movie Midnight in Paris calls it. When suffering from this affliction one believes that he or she would be happier or more fulfilled in a different age of history. I don’t have a particular age, preferably one where I wouldn’t die from the slightest infection or have to skin a beast for breakfast.

In the minds of dreamers–of which I am terribly given to–the present generally seems most dissatisfying. The past is tempting…mainly because it is known. And I can imagine myself in that already traversed landscape, usually as someone far more accomplished that the present me. The future, though, well that’s a vast unconquered land of bogeymen. Oh the possibilities! Oh what might I be in the land of “what ifs” and “one days”.  I’m an incredible vision caster in my head; you should see it.

But I find myself here today. What would a life worth writing look like? What about a life worth reading? Thinking cumulatively is when I start stressing, feeling anxious about not having done something truly great…like Chia Pet great. I mean, come on, the grass grows like the animal’s hair.

How do I live a more writable life? My conclusion is this, and feel free to push or prod: Living today and its multitude of moments given over to the leading of the very Spirit of God.

Give this. Go there. Say that…no, not that, that other thing. Get up. Put the book down. Pray. Pray more. Pray for her right now. Ask this question. Don’t speak at all. Seriously, shut your mouth.

The Holy Spirit says more each day than I care to hear, which is probably why I don’t listen two-thirds of the time. Should I do all that the Spirit says, my days would look dramatically different. I mean like Chia Pet different. Only God knows how differently my story would’ve read by now.

What if for one day you and I did everything we sensed the Spirit telling us to do, or not do? String together a week’s worth of those kinds of days. Maybe our blogs and facebook pages and tweets and vineagramchats would be more interesting, at least worth reading.

I Don’t Want the Volvo

“If you watched a movie about a guy who wanted a Volvo and worked for years to get it, you wouldn’t cry at the end when he drove off the lot, testing the windshield wipers…” (from Donald Miller, A Thousand Miles in a Million Years).

volvo

I read Donald Miller’s book three or four years ago, and I still think about this particular quote. Miller’s point is to say, simply, most of us live boring stories. People wouldn’t look at our lives and say, “Wow! There must be something empowering you that’s out of this world.” People certainly wouldn’t pay dollar bills to see our lives played out on the big screen. And for good reason. Stories without risk, adversity, and faith are boring stories–especially for someone claiming to have the same power that raised Jesus from the dead dwelling within (i.e., the Holy Ghost).

Most recently this quote resurfaced as I sat with my wife listening to a pastor from India. The mission he leads in India educates pastors, trains woman in sewing, cares for orphans, plants churches, and evangelizes the Hindu population. This year alone they’ve already witnessed 686 baptisms of men and women confessing faith in Jesus Christ for the first time. 14,000 Christians are worshipping locally as a result of God’s work through that ministry. Over 20,000 people have entered fellowship with Christ over the course of this man’s 23-year ministry.

I don’t have a Volvo. But I do have an Accord. Mostly because Honda’s are more reliable and cost less to maintain. So, technically, my Accord is even less of a risky choice than a Volvo.

As I listened to pastor Abraham (not to be confused with father Abraham of the beloved classic children’s song), I thought about how boring my life can be. Don’t misunderstand. I love my wife and our kids–and doing that well is a huge responsibility. I love pastoring Bunker Hill Christian Church…another huge responsibility. But I’ve never walked into a house full of Hindus not knowing whether I will walk out again.

I know what you’re thinking. Don’t compare your life with someone else, especially someone in a different country where a particular religion holds sway over all others. It’s a fair thing to say. I probably couldn’t find a house full of Hindus to enter into. But there are plenty of people steeped in southern religiosity, legalism, and Phariseeism. Preaching in this area of the country (E. TN) is tough. Many people have been taught it’s irreverent to say “Amen” during a sermon or to make any kind of motion while singing (raising hands, singing loudly, clapping). We’ve made the most exciting story in the history of the world boring.

It’s not boring for pastor Abraham and his colleagues. It wasn’t boring for the apostles Paul or Peter. It wasn’t boring for Stephen, the first martyr on record. I’m left with questions:

1. Am I personally living a story that requires the power of the Holy Spirit? Or am I living for the Volvo…with heated seats and a coffee maker? (p.s., when will a car be made that has a coffee maker)

2. Is my church–and your church–living for a vision in which the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential to succeed?

If either answer is no, we may want to think about selling the car.