Christian, you are in ministry

man raising his left hand
Photo by Luis Quintero on Pexels.com

 

Tomorrow, people all over the U.S. will go to a local church. I have an opinion about what most of us going to church tomorrow think doing ministry means. I’d guess if you asked the average church attender, who among them is doing the work of the ministry, I bet they’d point to the pastor, the elders, the worship team, the children’s ministry leaders and teachers, and the student ministry leaders. I’d guess very few would say, “Me. I am doing the work of the ministry.” But that is exactly who the Bible says is to be doing the work of the ministry.

“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…” Ephesians 4:11-12

I serve as the kids ministry director at my church.  This isn’t the first time I’ve served in kids ministry in church. But this is the first time I’ve ever been on staff with a church and the first time I’ve submitted myself to learning to lead others well for the kingdom’s sake. This year I’ve come to realize what the mindset about ministry is among those of us who go to church and serve in some capacity on a team in our churches. The prevailing thought seems to be something like, “I serve at my church. But the pastor and the kids ministry director and the worship leader… the staff are ‘in ministry’.”

I have a theory about the connection between the lack of passion among church members about their role as Christians in the church, at home, at work and in their neighborhoods. I believe the lack of zeal among us is at least in part because we think of ministry as something that the church staff or pastor or missionaries do. We don’t think of ministry as what the nurse, the pool guy, the college student who works at Dairy Queen and the stay-at-home mom does.

I believe the thought that ministry is something pastors or missionaries, not average everyday church members do, creates a task-oriented service mindset. Without “the saints” being equipped and having a passion and conviction within themselves that they are called to ministry, volunteerism and service teams in churches will lack passion and gospel growth.

I’m in a great local church. There’s a healthy mantra among the staff and leaders in my church that says, “We don’t use people to build the church. We use the church to build people.”  We believe the heavy lifting is on our knees, asking God to move on hearts, save our friends, and fill us with joy in serving one another. But I’ve noticed in myself and in other volunteers in the church, when feel burned-out or run-down in serving, it can almost always be traced back to what motivates us to serve. If we see serving at church as a good thing to do, as sort of a holy task we add to our weekly to-do list, we run out of steam. When we drag our busy lives along with us and add church on at the end (or beginning) of a busy week, serving in any capacity on a Sunday feels like a tax.

But when we see our lives in light of the gospel; when we see our lives as not our own; when we see our lives as being for, “…the work of the ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ,” a fire of love drives our service.

The Bible lays out the case that every Christian is in ministry. Each one of us makes up a, “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9). As a side note, I wonder if a lot of the drive behind women in some Christian circles striving to be honored as pastors comes out of a lack of belief that every Christian (male or female) is in ministry. But I digress.

So what is, “the work of the ministry”? We certainly aren’t all to quit our day jobs and start vocational roles as pastors, teachers or missionaries. So what does it mean to be in ministry for those not in full-time vocations of teaching or preaching or leading in the church?  I’m sure it means more, but I see at least three things it means. To do the work of the ministry is to:

  1. Build up other people in the local church so they can become more like Jesus. Ephesians 4 says that Christ gave pastors and teachers to the church to equip us to do the work of the ministry so that we would grow mature in Christ. Jesus calls us shift workers, artists, plumbers, students and parents to ministry so that the other people in our local church will grow up! We help each other grow. The work of the ministry isn’t philanthropic or volunteer work in general. Ministry is how one Christian serves another person in the local church to help them become more like Jesus.
  2. Be ambassadors for Christ to the those in our neighborhoods and work, outside the church. An ambassador is a representative of one country stationed in another. Christian, we are ministers and ambassadors of Jesus’ kingdom as God works through us to bring the hope of the gospel to those who do not believe (2 Corinthians 5:14, 20). That is ministry every Christian is called to. We represent Christ to the world. And that leads to the last thing I see doing the work of the ministry means.
  3. Serve Christ with my whole life. For eternity we will be talking about the riches of the grace Christ has poured on us, bringing us into the family of God (Ephesians 1:5-7). We give nothing- no services, no sacrifice- that is not first given to us in Jesus. And so to do the work of the ministry is to give myself with zeal daily to his service. Whatever I do, whether it be at my local church on Sunday morning, or on Tuesday evening with my kids doing homework, or on Saturday with my husband cleaning the house, or any other thing I do all week… my life is not my own.  Christ died for me so I would stop living for myself and start living for him, as I was made to (2 Corinthians 5:15).

All of life for the Christian is ministry. And when we see our lives that way, serving in some capacity on a Sunday will be one way we are doing the work of the ministry, building others in the church up to make them more like Jesus.

Why I love “The Little Drummer Boy”

The_Drummer_Boy_William_Morris_Hunt

Dr. Russel Moore, me and my gone-to-Jesus Grandma Oleta have something in common: The Little Drummer Boy is one of our favorite Christmas songs.

I read Dr. Moore’s, “In Defense of ‘The Little Drummer Boy‘” this morning and smiled. I’ve been driving through busy traffic, writing to-do lists, wrapping presents, and trying to stay on top of the full calendar this December with the motivating live rendition of The Little Drummer Boy by For King and Country playing on repeat.

Dr. Moore’s mention of the Christendom that I grew up with, where the Little Drummer Boy was the “carnal Christian’s” favorite Christmas song because it wasn’t Biblically accurate and repeated the non-churchy phrase, “Ba-rum-ba-ba-bum” made me chuckle. I remember hearing my late Grandma Oleta say her favorite Christmas song was The Little Drummer Boy, and somehow in my family that was interpreted by me to mean she didn’t know her Bible very well. But even as a girl, I secretly agreed with my grandma- I loved the Little Drummer Boy!

In Dr. Moore’s article he shared how he longed to tell the Drummer Boy, “You don’t really need to perform for him. You really don’t need some token of excellence, to make you worth loving, worth being here. You’re loved and received already. You’re adopted for life.” I understand Dr. Moore’s empathy with the Drummer Boy from that perspective. I understand that conviction and desire to receive from Jesus his un-repayable love, and stop trying to earn his approval. But unlike Dr. Moore, that’s not where I feel a connection with the Drummer Boy. Like the Drummer Boy, I am a poor boy too (actually a poor girl, but I digress), and I just want to bring an offering with my life, my skills, my weakness, my poverty, my child-likeness, to Jesus.

The message I’ve spoken to myself this Christmas season has been, “Bring an offering Sheila. Prepare an offering. The Father loves your offering. As little and ineffective as your offering is on it’s own, bring it. The Father will light it on fire! He’ll make it powerful and effective. He’ll receive it as an offering of thanks, love and worship and he’ll use it powerfully to draw others to Jesus.” That is why I feel the Little Drummer Boy beating in my soul this year! And looking back on my precious Grandma Oleta’s broken life and legacy, I think she wanted her life to be an offering to Jesus too. She felt her poverty, but came as she was. She wanted to bring a smile to her King. So do I.

There’s a definite danger the Little Drummer Boy, Dr. Moore, my grandma, me and other poor boys face- the danger of thinking we can earn Jesus’ favor. But if we check our stuffy, defensive, Bible-literacy at the stable door, and with the child-likeness of a poor boy who knows how to bang a beat on a drum, approach our King wanting to play for him; just wanting to bring an offering, we’ll march right past all that looming danger and enter the worshipful relationship we were intended to have with the King of the Universe.

All that to say. Here are the five reasons the Little Drummer Boy has become one of my favorite Christmas songs:

1. The Drums! There’s something visceral, soul-shaking; a ring of command, order, and mission that makes me want to stand up against all odds and march behind my feet-washing King Jesus all the way home when the drums play.
2. Bring your gifts to honor him. You and I could never offer Jesus anything fit for his Alpha and Omega-ness. He’s the King of the Universe. But like the Drummer Boy, we should bring our gifts and offerings in response to what Jesus has done for us. We should beat our drums, or paint our paintings, or sing our songs, or build our bridges, or care for our kids, or whatever we do, we should do it as an offering of adoration for our King.
3. “I am a poor boy too.” Jesus knows our poverty! He became dependent and poor so that we could be free and rich in his Kingdom. Come in your poverty. Come like my grandma. Our sins and the sins of others have robbed us. But we come offering our lives too the one laid his life down for us.
4. “Mary nodded.” Mary’s life tells me to pay attention to Jesus. To look at him. To do what he says. To treasure in my heart what I don’t understand but sense is way bigger than me.
5.”Then he smiled at me.” Poor boy or girl, Jesus loves you. He loves your childlike offering. He receives it as worship. You’re not trying to earn his favor, you just want to honor him with what you have. He’s smiling.

Confessions of a comfort addict

mountains nature arrow guide
Photo by Jens Johnsson on Pexels.com

I’m getting nervous ya’ll.

On Monday I start the capstone class for my BSN. I’ve been trying to sit with this uneasiness and discern where it’s coming from.  I’ve decided it’s just the discomfort of being stretched beyond my zone.

I’m a comfort addict.  And a chronic conflict-avoider. Those scriptures about God being the God of all comfort and his children being peacemakers I can easily twist to say God doesn’t want me uncomfortable and we’ll just sweep that problem under the rug and try to forget about it.

Lies.

Can’t do it.

I might try twisting, but the truth just snaps back into place and stings.

God is a God of all comfort and he leads me through very uncomfortable stretching so I can experience HIM as my comfort, not my circumstances. And Christ is the Chief Peacemaker, promising to bless me if I follow him in making peace. But he leads me in doing this by taking up a cross, bearing pain to deal with my sin and the sins of others. Loving, forgiving and enduring.  He doesn’t lead me in heaping up more and more trouble under the rug of my life.

So what does my passivity and comfort-lust have to do with my capstone class and completing my BSN? It has to do with entering the stretching zone knowing full-well, this is leading me to less comfortable circumstances and more cross-bearing.

There’s comfort in staying in a position I know well and could practically do with my eyes closed.  There’s much poking, prodding and acid-stomach  in stepping into a position of formal leadership in nursing, which is where I sense I’m being guided.

But there’s a whiff of refreshment blowing in the wind as I turn down this rocky road.  He who began a good work in me, will be faithful to complete it. He is working all things together for my good to conform me to the image of Christ.  And one day I will see with my eyes the Scar-Bearing King of the Universe, who bore a bloody cross to lead me, and scandalously, he will say, “Well done! Sit here. What can I get you to eat?”

Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. ‘ Luke 12:37

Take me with you Jesus!

Living from a gospel-transformed identity

pexels-photo-262399.jpegI’ve been wrestling with how to put to words what God has been teaching me about my identity from John 13 for the past year.  Yesterday I found someone with the words I’ve been looking for.

In the Preparing our Hearts for Easter: A Lenten Devotional, day 38 titled, “The Washing” the author writes reflecting on the passage in John 13:

“Often when we consider loving someone, we think in terms of actions and behaviors.  We ask ourselves, ‘What’s the loving thing to do?’ But Jesus’ unexpected, self-effacing act of service leads us to ask the antecedent question, ‘Who am I?’  Without first asking this question, we can unknowingly place limits on our love because we are not operating out of a gospel-transformed identity.  For example if we functionally see ourselves as orphans needing to look out for ourselves instead of as God’s beloved children, we will limit our generosity towards others out of fear of not having enough.  Likewise, if we think we are righteous by our own hard work, there will be boundaries to the way we are willing to serve others because pride keeps us from serving those who ‘aren’t deserving’.”

A thousand times yes!

Last year around this time I was walking through another fiery trial in my hard marriage.  One I didn’t think I could endure without ending the marriage.  But when I read John 13 I felt this conviction that if I knew who I really was; if I knew my “gospel-transformed identity”, I would be able to walk through it in a redeeming way.  In John 13 the Bible very specifically points out four things Jesus knew about himself in the hours before his betrayal. The Bible says he knew where he came from (John 13:3), where he was going (John 13:3), the authority he had (John 13:3), and what he was here for (John 13:1).

As a Christian my identity has been transformed by the gospel.  The old me has passed, and the new me is being developed day by day.  The old me was dead to God, a slave to sin and not able to serve anyone out of the riches of my freedom.  The old me was only able to do whatever I did, even what looked like service, to protect myself, build myself up and hide from the ugly truth that I was rotten on the inside. But the new me is alive to God.  My eyes have been opened by the gospel to the beauty and worth of Christ and I love him!  Even though I’ve never seen him!  And this Jesus I’ve never seen has transformed me from the inside out so that I can function in life from a position of knowing that nothing, no sin, no suffering, not even death can separate me from being an heir of all that is Christ’s (Romans 8:17). Because of Christ, I can know where I’ve come from (1 Peter 1:3), where I’m going (John 14:1-3), the authority given me (Matthew 28:18-20), and what I’m here for (John 13:34, Galatians 5:13).

We’re about to enter Holy Week.  The week when we remember the sufferings Christ walked through to atone for our sins and make it possible for the Holy Spirit to take out our old, insecure, dead-to-God hearts, and make us alive the way we were meant to be when he made us in the beginning.  But we would skew the redeeming message of the Holy Week, and turn the gospel into a sin-enabling, victimization of an innocent man if we fail to recognize with Jesus that no one took his life from him (John 10:18).  He laid it down willingly.  And he took it up again.

This Jesus who was about to face a humility and suffering no one has ever known was able to take the position of a servant and wash the feet of his disciples who misunderstood him at best and betrayed him at worst. He was only able to do that because as the Son of God he knew nothing that happened to him here and no low position he took could take away the life that was about to burst forth from his brokenness.  We are not very God of very God, but we are, by miraculous grace, sons and daughters of God through faith in Jesus Christ. That position is unshakable.  And from that position we are called to follow Jesus’ example in humbling ourselves here, serving others and exposing sin with the desire for reconciliation.

How does this apply to walking through a very hard season in my marriage? It applies in how to forgive sin and not ignore it, how to submit to one another and not be an enabler, and how to live the way redeemed sons and daughters of God live in relationships with others.

Jesus’ example in John 13 leads us not in just doing some acts of service and ultimate self-denial so that we can be seen as holy or godly.  He leads us in knowing who we are so that we our acts of services and temporary self-denial can lead to redeemed resurrection life.

Taking up our cross and following Jesus in serving others and dying to ourselves from a position of knowing who we are in Christ will produce gospel fruit and redeem lives. It’s the promise of God. But like our Forerunner, we will be accused of being a victim or enabling sin or defying authority.  The key is to not actually fall into doing those things.  And the difference between actually doing them and being accused of doing them is a matter of knowing who we are.  I think this is why 1 Peter says if you find yourself not growing in the character of Christ it’s probably because you’ve forgotten who you are (2 Peter 1:9).

The riskiest thing humans do is get close to other humans.  It’s risky because people hurt us, betray us, misunderstand us.  The only way this risk is worth taking is if nothing others do can diminish our identity as beloved children of God.  If we have the heart of God beating in us, we can loose even our lives serving others and it will never be for nothing.  When we’ve been transformed by the gospel we can walk through hard things in our relationships, humbling ourselves, exposing sin like Jesus did with Peter and Judas, leading by example as a servant, because we aren’t victims we’re victors (Romans 8:37). We aren’t enablers we’re ministers of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:11-21).

When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you?  You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. -John 13:12-15