Alright, so I know that as busy as I am, posts here can be few and far between at times. This little announcement is just to let you know that until the end of November, posts are going to be even fewer and farther between. Why, you ask? After many years of thinking about doing so, I am actually going to participate in this year’s National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. (Their site can be found here.) I’ve been meaning to put together the second novel in my planned trilogy (volume 1 may show up on here sooner or later), and this is the perfect opportunity. As it means writing 50 000 words in a month (and volume 1 took me 2 years to do 90 000 words), I’m not going to be on here much. Wish me luck, and I’ll see you back here in December 1st!
I know I’ve posted this message before but I think it’s worth revisiting, and I hope you’ll take the time to read it all the way through.
1 Corinthians 15:9-10 “For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”
The Apostle Paul is a man with a past, one he probably would have loved to forget if he could. He’s a man who made mistakes, big mistakes, just like we all do. Paul’s past, though, doesn’t define him. The important thing for us to see is what does define him. Does your past define who you are…? What, or who, gets to tell Paul who he is…?
1 Corinthians is one of the letters that Paul wrote to the Church in Corinth. They had issues in their lives that Paul had issues with, and he spent the first 14 chapters of his letter dealing with these issues, trying to correct them. In chapter 15 he defended his authority to say the things he said. The Church in Corinth would most likely have known what was in his past (bad news travels in church, right?), and they may have questioned his authority because of that when they received the letter. As a result, Paul has to defend his authority to them to make sure he is heard.
So what was in Paul’s past…? Violence, and lots of it. Before he came to Christ, he was Saul, the Pharisee. Saul is the guy who you find in the Book of Acts as the “chief persecutor” of Christians. He’s the guy locking up men, women and children for their beliefs, the guy “breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1), and the guy who gave his consent to the death of Stephen (Acts 8:1). While Stephen was stoned to death, Paul just stood there, doing nothing.
Not exactly Apostle material, right…? If there’s anybody who you would think should be excluded from the Church, and especially from a position of authority in it, it’s a guy with a past like that. And Paul agrees with you, but only to a point. As we read in 1 Corinthians 15:9, he says, “Yep. That was me. I did that.” But then comes the really important part, where he disagrees. He says, “But by the grace of God, I am what I am.” Paul accepts his past, but it doesn’t define who he is. You can’t count him out as an apostle of the Church just because of his past.
So if Paul’s past doesn’t define him what, or who, does…? It’s not his work, that’s for sure. As a leader in the church he could easily point to what he does and say, “That makes me who I am.” But he doesn’t. Yes, he’s done great things as an apostle, and he says so himself, but he admits he’s only done those things because of Christ. Look at what he just said, and what he says next. “By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain.” Paul tells the Corinthians, and us, straight up, “I’m not who I was, and Christ is why.” Christ makes Paul who he is, and Christ didn’t make a mistake.
“In vain” means useless, something that misses the point. If you work really hard in math class, pass all your tests and then fail the final exam and the entire course, your work has been in vain. You wasted your time. Christ didn’t waste his time when he chose Paul to be an apostle. He didn’t make a mistake taking a guy who spends his free time locking up Christians and turning him into one of the leaders of the Church. In the end, because Christ makes him who he is, Paul is exactly who he needed to be at exactly the right time. He is enough, even with his past.
And now Paul’s not ashamed of his past anymore. Yes he made mistakes and he hurt people but because of Christ he’s forgiven and that’s not who he is anymore and that’s that, as far as he’s concerned. He can take issue with their issues all he wants.
Next question…so what? What does all this mean to you and me today…? We all have pasts, and we’ve all hurt people and been hurt, and we’ve all done things we’re not proud of, just like Paul. And we might think that those things keep us from Christ and from all that’s good in life. It’s easy to think, for example, that because of things you’ve done, or because of what happened to you, you’re never going to be any different than you are right now. Your past screams out that you’ll always be this way. Maybe there’s a moment that defines how you think of yourself, a time when you got hurt really bad or you did something you regret or something bad happened that you couldn’t control. A moment that tore your world apart, and now you think it will never be the same again.
And the “So what?” is that that’s not true. When you come to Christ, those moments don’t get to define you anymore. They become a part of you, yes, a part of your story, but they don’t get to be the whole story anymore. They stop being something to hide behind, to make excuses for, and they become something that happened to you once that you learned from, or that you grew through, and that made you a better person. You are enough right now, in Christ’s eyes, even with those moments, and you don’t have to hide from those moments or let them define who you are.
You’re not who you used to be. Just like Paul, you’re not a product of your past. You’re a product of the grace of God. By the grace of God, you are who you are, and God’s grace which has been bestowed upon you has not been in vain. Who you are is not a mistake, and who you are right now is enough, exactly the way you are.
Most of my posts here are products of experiences in my life, and this one is no different. If you’ve seen my personal Facebook page before, or if you know me at all, you’ll know that my sense of humour and my personality are not exactly what many expect of a minister here in the South. I don’t even look like one. And you know what? That’s OK. I am a Canadian living in the South for a reason, and I am the me that I am today for a reason, just as Paul was and just as you are. When we give up who we are to fit the ideas and opinions of others, in the end everyone loses. You never will fit in taking that approach, and what you lose through it is yourself. The real you is far too precious to be wasted like that.
So in my life, and here in this blog, I’m going to keep being me. God made me who I am for a reason, and I’m not going to change that me for anybody other than Him. I hope you’ll do the same.
This. THIS is the reality I’ve been trying to communicate here.
Over and over again Scripture reminds us that Jesus is God. (And He certainly is, don’t get me wrong; there’s a point to where I’m going with this.) If we dwell on that at the expense of His humanity, however, we will miss so much. For Jesus was both God and man, one and both at the same time. How exactly that works is a subject for theological debate, and therefore beyond the scope of what I want to do here. What’s more important here is that Jesus, as the One who took on flesh, can understand and relate to the struggles we face in our own lives. That being the case, rather than get into deep theological debate, I want to present an example of this reality that I stumbled across while reading through Luke earlier this week.
In Luke 12, Jesus is in the middle of an “us and them” sort of speech, prompted by yet another run in with the Pharisees. The parables and illustrations in the speech all fit the context until we get to verses 49 and 50. Here we read, “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!” What’s odd here is not the first part of verse 49; the whole context in the larger section here is, as we’ve noted, one of division. What’s odd is the second portion, “…and would that it were already kindled!” It almost seems here as if Jesus is impatient. The sense in the end of the verse is one of “Let’s get this over with!” And we get the same sense in the following verse. “Baptism” in verse 50 refers to His coming death on the cross. Jesus is God, yes, but He’s also a man, and this brief picture implies, He knew what was coming, and although it was the reason He came and the act that would secure salvation for millions, He still dreaded it. If you’ve ever seen the movie The Passion of the Christ, you’ll have a good idea of what that experience was like for Him, and He knew it was coming and He dreaded it.
Jesus knows what it’s like to fear, to worry, and to dread. He’s been there, too. He’s walked that road before, and He’s walking it again with each of us now as we go through the difficult times in our lives. He can relate. The writer of Hebrews takes this a step further when he says in Hebrews 4:15, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Whatever it is you’re dealing with, whatever struggle, whatever fear, whatever temptation, Jesus has dealt with it, too. And He knows, He understands better than anyone ever could how you feel. He’s the One who created you, the one who loves you more deeply than any other ever could, and He gets it. He gets you. There’s a reason they call it “Good News.”
“He (an overseer) must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how well he care for God’s church?” 1 Timothy 3:4-5 (ESV)
When I began my journey through seminary, I read through this passage and saw it as sort of a check list. If I’m not doing too terribly with my marriage, then I can check that one off the list and go into full-time ministry. Looking back, this was more than a little naive, and now I see that there’s more to it than that. Much more. (And if you’re not religious at all and somehow found your way in here, there is a point to all of this if you’ll stick it out to the end.)
Keeping in mind that Paul’s letter to Timothy is a product of a culture and a time far different than our own, it’s safe to say that not everyone who follows the call to minister will find full-time employment in that role. In the Baptist Association in which I was ordained, there are, as of the last time I checked, something like 30 ordained ministers on the association’s supply list, and maybe one open position. (The case throughout South Carolina in general seems to be that there are far more qualified applicants for the positions that do exist than there are positions for them to apply to.)
So what of Paul’s advice to Timothy regarding pastors (or bishops, or ministers, depending on how exactly you want to translate “overseers”)? Could it be that, far from being a check list of sorts, this is the main ministry for us as men and women?
In Ephesians 5:25-33, Paul says,
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
Speaking as a man here (no offence ladies), as husbands we’re meant to come through for our wives. We’re meant to protect them, nourish them, and support them, to “give ourselves up for them” just as Jesus did on the Cross for us. Please here me when I say that I’m not trying to negate the role of women here. Any successful marriage is a team effort through and through, and the gist of this passage goes both ways. Neither am I trying to say that, as men, our wives are the report card on us, so to speak. We will still fail and fall short and screw up and disappoint, and if we believe that how our wives react in those situations reveals the truth about us, it will destroy us internally. Only God gets to tell us who we really are. (I should also point out that I’m not trying to put your spouse on a pedestal here, either. You have needs of your own, and you matter, too.)
What I’m really trying to say here is that, if we find ourselves in a situation in life where all we can do is minister to the needs of our spouse, then maybe that is enough. By all means chase your dreams, and don’t settle in life. I’d be the first to admit that the job I currently have doesn’t always fit with my calling, and I would gladly change it if I could (especially if I could find my way into ministering full-time). (On a separate note, if you’re ever calling into AT&T for help with your service, try to be to nice to whoever’s on the other end. We really do try our best to help.) But maybe, just maybe, if you find that all you can do is minister to the needs of your spouse, then maybe that’s not too small of a thing.