What’s my ministry?

Christian_Ministry

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:18-19

In Christian-ese, the word “ministry” is usually used to mean the most obvious, outward thing that a person does that is for God… especially if they earn any money for doing that thing. It seems that a very small number of Christians consider themselves in “full-time ministry”, others may be in “part-time ministry”, some volunteer to be involved in a “ministry” from time to time, while most, it would seem, are not actually in ministry at all. Some may be trying to find their ministry, or find out from God what their ministry actually is. Once they know, they’ll do it, but until then … I guess they’re waiting and wondering.

reconciliation |ˌrekənˌsilēˈāSHən|

noun

1 the restoration of friendly relations: his reconciliation with your uncle | the colonel was seeking a reconciliation with his wife.

But 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 tells us about the ministry of reconciliation that we ALL have ALL the time. Reconciliation is just a big word meaning good relationships. My ministry is the ministry of good relationships: me with people, me with God and me helping other people to have a good relationship with God. You’ve got the same ministry! It’s the Christians, not God, who seem to think that ministry switches on and off and is only happening with certain, specific, religious activities at certain specific locations and times.

For the follower of Jesus, ministry should not switch on and off. My ministry (and yours) should always be on. We are all in full-time ministry. My ministry does not depend on whether or not I have a guitar around my neck or a microphone in front of my face or if I’m away from home or if I am with churchy people singing and speaking about God. I hope my vocation is woven into the fabric of my ministry of reconciliation, but it’s unhealthy for me to think of only those activities as being ministry. That’s not even the high point of ministry!

While I recognize that my ministry – the ministry of reconciliation – is always on, always happening, there are different layers, or levels of my ministry. There are some people where being reconciliation with them is a higher priority than with anyone else. It turns out that my main ministry is at home – being reconciled with my God, my wife and my boys. What could be better than that!?

Link

god-at-work

There is a difference between my work for God and the work of God through me. A great deal of damage is done as a person – even with every good intention – decides to do what they think God want them to do.

Even things that appear to be good can be nothing to do with the work of God. They may just be a human definition of work for God, and nothing to do with God’s perfect will. In our own strength, we can never do what is truly God’s work. We can only do our own work and then hope, or convince ourselves that it was in line with God’s perfect, eternal plan. But it cannot be and never will be.

The work of God happens through a person who is first submitted to the Lordship of God. The work of God must happen in a person before the work of God can happen through that person. To be a conduit through which the work of God flows, I must first lay down my will,  my self-determination, my desire to control my own life – even how, when and where I do the work of God. I must lay down my “life”. (Matthew 16:24)

Then, and only then, will God’s presence operate in and through me. When I am filled with God’s presence in this way, any work that comes from me is not my work at all, but the work of God in me and through me.

Anyone who sincerely wants to allow the work of God to operate through them must be aware of the difference and the dangers.

As Oswald Chambers says, “We actually slander and dishonor God by our very eagerness to serve Him without knowing Him.”

Read the Oswald Chamber’s devotional from “My Utmost For His Highest” here.

The Sermon On The Mount… is too hard!

Sermon-on-the-Mount-Carl-Heinrich-Bloch

 

One of the most important and challenging passages in all of The Bible is contained in the Book of Matthew, Chapters 5, 6 and 7. Every sincere Christian is aware of this passage, or at least the general gist of it. It’s known as The Sermon On the Mount.

You can read is here:

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew%205-7

Jesus’ most famous sermon starts with what we call the Beatitudes. You know …

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:3-5)

The list of blessed-ares is followed by some chunks of teaching on a wide range of topics:

  • on being salt and light to the world,
  • on fulfillment of the law,
  • murder and hatred,
  • adultery and lust,
  • giving to the poor,
  • oaths,
  • not worrying about anything, especially our stuff,
  • not storing up treasure on earth,
  • judging others,
  • loving our enemies and much more.

What Jesus teaches is tough, uncompromising and, in many ways completely unrealistic and unachievable. I’m tempted to quote some passages here to prove it, but I’d rather you take the link above and read Jesus’ words for yourself. Go ahead! Take a few minutes and come back …

Just the first part of chapter 5 should leave us feeling completely out of our depth and inadequate. Is this what I have to do, Jesus? No way! I can’t do this!

It seems to me that, at this point, most Christians simply refuse to directly plot their lives in relationship to The Sermon On The Mount. It’s just too hard. We tend to simply allow ourselves to become numb to the words, or perhaps think of the passages as some sort of poetic imagery from Jesus. “Surely it isn’t to be taken literally,” we may argue. We think, hopefully, that Jesus is describing some holy ideal that is not actually required. A dangerous supposition.

True: In one way or another, as I compare myself to The Sermon On The Mount, I must realize that I can’t do this.

Exactly!

If I am a a disciple of Jesus, the Sermon On The Mount is a description of how I must act – how I should be. I must not ignore it and simply put it out of sight and mind. But, instead, I must recognize that it gives evidence that I have a human heart, infested with the disease of original human sin. And that I can’t do this! No matter how hard I try in my own strength, it’s impossible. In reality, I don’t want to live God’s way at all. I want to live my way. I want to be my own small “g” god and simply deny that I need the big “G” God to save me from… well, me! I must realize that everything in me is incapable of meeting the requirements of Jesus – the One I claim to follow.

The moment I accept the hopelessness of my situation, instead of just becoming numb to the Sermon On The Mount – or seeing it as some poetic gobbledygook from Jesus that he doesn’t really mean – I now see that I need a heart transplant. I need my sinful human heart to be surgically removed and replaced with a new heart that God gives me – His heart. And this is not just something that happened once when I was thirteen at a Christian summer camp. This heart transplant is what I need now! And in every moment. The Sermon on the Mount is not simply a list of rules for me to (not) keep. It is a light that shines on my own desperate need for God and His amazing, saving grace.

The reality that my conduct falls far short of the standards described in The Sermon On The Mount is evidence that I am still not completely “dead” to myself and alive only to Christ in me.  If it was, “no longer I that lives, but Christ that lives in me,” (Galatians 2:20) then The Sermon On The Mount would be true in me. Or, as Oswald Chambers (in a manner far more effective than I could, as always) puts it…

“The Sermon on the Mount is not some unattainable goal; it is a statement of what will happen in me when Jesus Christ has changed my nature by putting His own nature in me. Jesus Christ is the only One who can fulfill the Sermon on the Mount.”

It’s a pointless exercise for me to be striving to make myself a better or more acceptable disciple of Jesus in my own strength. This is not about trying harder. Only Jesus can make me His disciple. Oswald Chambers again …

“If we are to be disciples of Jesus, we must be made disciples supernaturally. And as long as we consciously maintain the determined purpose to be His disciples, we can be sure that we are not disciples.”

Nor does the pilgrimage of the disciple allow for a dulled conscience or complacency –  accepting a certain deficiency or short fall in me when compared to the standards set out so clearly in The Sermon On The Mount. Instead, in each and every moment of my life, I must surrender more completely. I must be more surrendered than I was in the moment before. I must surrender to Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior. He’s my only hope.

Please read Ozzie’s incredible “My Utmost For His Highest” devo that inspired this blogpost here:

http://utmost.org/the-go-of-relationship/

Am I a “Christian”?

Screen Shot 2014-09-04 at 11.47.08 AM

And who are these so-called “Christians” anyway?

Quite obviously, the term “Christian” means different things to different people. I’ve found it can mean one set of things where I live in the buckle of the US Bible-belt and another in Portland, Maine. Travel to other places in the world outside the US and you’ll find that the variations become even more diverse. In Turkey, I’ve found that many locals think of a “Christian” as any westerner. And these western Christians want to destroy their culture. They remember the Crusades from the Middle Ages!

Doing a bit of amateur Bible study, I was surprised to find that the word “Christian” is used in The Bible only three times:

1) The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. Acts 11:26

It was not the disciples who were first calling themselves Christians. It was other people! Many theologians believe that “Christian” was first being used as a derogatory term – a put down – to categorizing the followers of Jesus as a means to better identify them for persecution.

2) Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” Acts 26:28

And Paul does not say that he is trying to persuade Agrippa to become a Christian, but, instead, to become what he (Paul) is.

3) However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 1 Peter 4:16

This passage could be interpreted in many different ways, but I think it’s saying something like, “If you are being called this derogatory name Christian and being persecuted by the name-callers, just take the label and the suffering for Christ’s sake.”

I personally feel compelled to define a Christian as anyone who calls themselves a Christian. Who am I to say they are wrong? If I were to meet someone who calls themselves a Christian, and I don’t think they should be using that label, all I am saying is that their definition does not match mine. That they should be more like me if they want to call themselves a Christian! I can’t imagine that conversation going well. Life’s too short to expend any energy trying to change peoples’ word definitions to match mine. There are better things to do.

People who call themselves Christian today represent a very segmented and varied bunch. Much of what I see from Christians seems to have very little, or nothing at all to do with Jesus the Christ. As disappointing as that may be to many people, it’s not a huge deal-breaker to me. Yes, I want to see lives surrendered to Christ Jesus. But the label’s not that important. Encountering Jesus as Christ is important. Lives changed – surrendered to His Lordship – is important. In many cases it seems, the term “Christian” creates a huge hurdle for people. A barrier that need not be there.

I am encouraged by this: Jesus never asks anyone to become a Christian. He does not ask us to assume any sort of correct label or banner to describe ourselves. He asks us to recognize Him as Lord. He asks us to come to Him and drink (John 7:37). He asks us to lay down ourselves (Matthew 16:24) and, in so doing, allow Him to flow into us and through us (John 7:38). He describes the fruit that flows from us as the indicator of the change that has happened. And the fruit is the fruit of the presence of God Himself!

I don’t mind if other people think of me as a Christian, but it’s not a term I resonate with personally and I do not easily use it to describe myself. However, if I have to use a term, I am a follower of Jesus the Christ. I am a disciple of Jesus. But using finite language will always fall short of describing the wonder, mystery and awe of the God/human transaction. Like any defining terms we might try to use – even one as scriptural as “disciple” – there will be problems.

Put simply, a disciple is a follower or student of someone – usually a teacher, leader, or philosopher. But Jesus is more than just a teacher, leader, or philosopher. He’s God! It is possible to be a follower of the teachings of Jesus, and think of myself as His disciple, yet not actually be surrendering my life to Him – His risen, present Lordship. In the end, it seems, it’s not about finding the right words in our limited English language to correctly describes what we think we mean. It’s about swimming into the mystery – individually and corporately – of oneness with God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

I’d rather just let the fruit of my life surrendered at the foot of The Cross point to Jesus. I just want to get out of the way and have His life flowing through me.

B1

unity

“Indeed, in nothing is the power of the Dark Lord more clearly shown than in the estrangement that divides all those who still oppose him.” J.R.R. Tolkien, “Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” (as spoken by Elf Haldir from Lothlorien)

I believe that true unity in The Church will only be found as we become one with Jesus the Christ,  just as God is one. This will only happen as we value “oneness” with Christ more highly than we value our own versions of “correct theology”.

“How good and pleasant it is
 when God’s people live together in unity! …
For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.” Psalms 133: 1 & 3b (NIV)

“My prayer is not for them alone [the 12 disciples]. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” A prayer by Jesus as recorded in John 17: 20-21 (NIV)

Certainly, learning about God and developing our understanding of Him through scripture is important and a good thing. But unity with Christ and each other is more important than being right! The Psalmist tells us that, where there’s unity, God bestows His blessings and life eternal! From Jesus’ own prayer, we understand that “oneness” with Christ is the prerequisite to “the world” believing in Him! But if unity is ever to be achieved – “oneness” with Christ and each other – it will require us to hold less tightly to our cultural concepts of God and the emphasis on defending our own intellectual positions around the subject of God. We must hold to Him and Him alone – not our particular theologies. More easily and dangerously than many realize, theology can become an idol and this idolatry causes much disunity.

It seems to me that a great deal of Christian theology is developed with little or no consideration for the leading of the Holy Spirit and oneness with God and The Church. Theological doctrine is often developed out of a desire to be right about God rather than to be one with Him. Where there is doctrinal division and disunity, there also is a lack of oneness with Christ. Will we ever be able to celebrate “oneness” in Christ and with each other? For the answer to this question to be “Yes” and “Amen”, we must:

  • turn down the volume of our own cultural “Christianity”,
  • attune ourselves to the voice of His Holy Spirit,
  • let go of the desire to be right about God, and
  • learn from one another in our doctrinal diversity.

Perhaps then the Church will be one.

Co-Crucifixion

3crosses-1

Brilliant stuff again from Oswald Chambers this morning in My Utmost For His Highest on Co-Crucifixion.

“It is … the greatest moment in your life once you decide that sin must die in you-not simply be restrained, suppressed, or counteracted, but crucified—just as Jesus Christ died for the sin of the world.”

The emphasis of “Christianity” (it seems to me) is merely the restraint and suppression of “sinful” activity. But the call of Jesus is my co-crucifixion with Christ – my “self” – the stone cold death of my sin nature – a complete end to my desire to live a self-governed life. This is a far deeper calling.

Read Chambers’ devotional here:

http://utmost.org/complete-and-effective-decision-about-sin/

Remembering Rwanda

Rwanda20

It’s been nearly five years since Brooke and I visited Rwanda in east central Africa. We were taken, primarily, to see the work of Compassion International first hand. Our time there in 2009 triggered significant, ongoing change for us. Looking back, I can see that the experiences and meetings of those ten short days (that felt so much longer) started a fire that continues to burn profoundly within us.

This week, Brooke and I worked together to make a music video for our song “Rwanda”. I started writing it at about 3am in our hotel room in Kigali (the capital of Rwanda) on our last morning there way back in 2009, but the emotion is still very fresh. The video will be shown at Experience Compassion conferences early in March, where I will be singing and speaking. For the new video, we used a collection of photographs taken during the 2009 trip. Looking at these images five years after they were taken, we have been moved again by the faith, hope and love of the wonderful people of Rwanda.

This blog is to share the song with the new video and an older poem (below). These are our best, creative attempts to explain what happened to us in Rwanda, and why we will be forever grateful.

“I Have Been To Rwanda”
by Grant Norsworthy

I have been to Rwanda.

I have stood before the tombs of over a quarter a million dead.

I have wept at the grave of a nation of unparalleled beauty and suffering.

Been afflicted by her great faith.

Cajoled by her smiles.

I have been struck speechless at the killing grounds – once a church building, a place of refuge, then a corral of carnage, now a monument to man’s evil upon man – the rows of broken skulls and the one the same size as my son’s.

I have listened to the story of a woman spared, with her three children, from mutilation and murder by the pleading of her seven-year-old son to the leader of a genocidal militia gang.

She has dedicated the remainder of her life to deliver children from their torturous memories and trauma.

I have carried water with a barefooted young boy whose daily journey and burden came close to breaking my will to carry.

I have sat and talked with a gracious old man in a crumbling mud hut – his home since birth – and heard him say that he is no longer concerned by death because he knows that his granddaughter will not be alone when he’s gone. She is loved

I have walked hand-in-hand with a twelve-year-old orphan girl who knows that soon she will be without her aging grandfather and soul caregiver. She has hope for the future and knows that Jesus loves her.

I have been held by a woman whose unfaithful husband, before he died, gave her the same virus that took his life.

She praises God for each new day she is given to care for her four children and the four orphans she has taken into her home and heart.

I have danced with a child whose shining face proclaims a peace and joy well beyond my own. She declares that she loves me and will pray for me.

I have been invited into the home of six orphaned children and their new ‘mama’ – a woman of indescribable grace and beauty and a healing victim of equally indescribable abuse.

They make no mention of the material assistance they have been given, but are humbly and eternally grateful for family and community.

I have stood shoulder to shoulder with the future leadership of Rwanda. Their quality of character, clarity or purpose and ethical conviction knows no boundary.

I have sung with two hundred clean brown faces with shiny white smiles and closely cropped hair. They have gifted me with more than I could ever give to them.

I have had my heart swept away by the smile and embrace of three children who give so much more than I can ever repay: Kirabo, Rafiki and Sandrine.

I have hobbled through a new nation: born out of chaos and blood and death into hope and forgiveness, into love (even for an enemy), into an understanding of what it means to ‘turn the other cheek’, of being ‘like the birds of the air and the lilies of the field’, and that ‘a kernel of wheat must first fall to the ground and die.’

The death of Rwanda and the new life in Rwanda sing loudly and clearly that greater faith in God grows in the garden of suffering.

I have been shown that the call to new life in Jesus is also an invitation to share in His suffering and death.

I have fallen in love with a hopeful, gracious and generous people that have gladly shared the pieces of God that only they have carried in their chests. Thank you Rwanda.

Meet more Compassion children here: http://www.compassion.com/grantnorsworthy