A Statement on Ministry…

The “official” graduation ceremony for my MDIV takes place this Saturday.  I’ve already walked (across our home church stage, to receive my diploma from my wife & children), but I figured this would be a good moment to pause.  Here are a few words I wrote many months ago, toward the end of my MDIV.  These are words I want to look back on and remind myself with, and so I “file them” publicly here – in case they may serve to encourage others.  These are not profoundly unthought of, will not shock the world, or inherently transform someone’s ministry.  But for me – they are important to remember:

PERSONAL MINISTRY STATEMENT
“My life in ministry aims to join the incarnational presence of Jesus by living out the good news of the gospel invitationally in every area of my life toward the New Creation of all things – both now and yet to come.”

Based on the coursework at Wesley Seminary, the reminders and wisdom gained, the time spent in scriptural study, and conversation with others – I can say some foundational things about ministry itself. I would use the word “pastoral” ministry, but this may imply that it is only true when serving as a professional “pastor”. Instead, I would simply use the term “Ministry” itself from the Christian perspective. This implies and includes those descriptions of a pastor but does not limit an understanding to someone who is paid to carry such a title professionally. Such ministry must always be incarnational, invitational, and eschatological.
INCARNATIONAL
In Jesus we see God becoming human to literally make this fleshly world the location of His presence in a way that had never occurred. This was not simply to give us a pattern to emulate, but by his resurrection and Holy Spirit becomes something we’re empowered to participate in. Any effort for ministry must be fed by first feasting at the table set for us by Jesus in prayer, Word, and worship. By receiving New Life in Christ, we are transformed into that New Creation that proclaims Jesus as fully Lord here and now. This means we are not simply incarnational to be among the people God loves, but we are missionally incarnational – infinitely compelled by the Love of God to proclaim, live out, and share the reality of God’s New Creation reality as is arriving “on earth as it is in Heaven.” Christian ministry here will be a response to all of this in the context of bringing healing restoration and redemption to relationships between humanity, God, and creation itself.
INVITATIONAL
In Jesus we see God extending such an invitation not only during a worshipful moment in the temple but as he walked along the road. We see Jesus extending the invitation to not only hear the objective truth, but to live in the new reality of all things transformed by Christ – set free from both sin, and the death it brings about. Christian ministry contains all of the amazing “Means of Grace” talked about by John Wesley, along with the “Method-ism” he espoused but is so much more than these things. It happens as Deuteronomy 6 proclaims, “When you sit at home, and when you walk along the road, when you lie down, and when you get up.” Because of Jesus Christ, there is no person, no group, no location, no family, and no brokenness that is beyond the invitation of God to experience freedom and redemption in His Love. Christian ministry here is empowered by the Holy Spirit to extend that invitation in life and word.
ESCHATOLOGICAL
In Jesus, we see a life and ministry that joins the flow of God from something toward all things being made new. Even as important things happen, especially in the context of individuals and communities, it is always within the larger context of the Kingdom coming fully that these things are located. The word here is generally used for “last/final things”, but in this case, we really view the coming “completion of all things” as a New beginning that is forever located fully within the reign and rule of Christ. Christian ministry here recognizes with both hope and humility that everything we do, say, and any bit of our “being” is to be discovered and understood within those purposes and activities of God toward what will be. That is not to say our eyes are completely turned toward the “final days”, or even to a contemporary understanding, as we believe God has been speaking and revealing His final purposes actively as His Love has been transforming all things since creation itself.
CONCLUSION
There are libraries filled with books about how these things find themselves happening and “fleshed out” in the midst of individuals, families, and communities shaped by the loving presence of Jesus Christ. It involves worship services, small groups, proclamation, Bible studies, accountability, prayer, fasting, baptism, teaching, and more. Depending on the particular situation, season, and lives involved, it may take different shapes. But at the core, Christian ministry is always about joining the work and life of the Triune God who has invited us to do so in ways that transform us for the sake of all creation. We do this in fear and trembling, with excitement and joy, and mostly with a whole lot of grace – offered first on our behalf, so that we might begin to respond as He calls.

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Beyond fig leaves…

In ministry to youth since my college years, there have been many psychologists, sociologists, neurologists, and even parents who have attested to the teenagers’ quest for “self” discovery.  Throughout adolescence, floods of hormones and new/heightened neurological abilities for cognitive and social connections (the ability to “think” from anothers’ perspective) allows young people for the first time to be more fully aware of the self they not only are – but the self they are perceived as by others.  The fact that the “self” perceived by others might be different from the “self” they believe themselves to be – becomes realized.  (For more on this, here’s an awesome article you might be interested in.)  This ability actually grows and deepens throughout adolescence, and combined with modern technology can become a labyrinth from which young people need – not rescue, but guidance.  I’m also convinced that many of us “adults” (myself included) are sucked back into our adolescent years, in terms of the practices evoked by these opportunities.

This goes back to our very first presentations of a crafted “self-image”, as human beings.  Today, we see it in the duck-faced 13-year-old girl or the 15-year-old male flexing in a mirror – both affixed as a “Profile Picture” or even just an update.  The statement is implied by sharing (even if not understood), “This is the image I’ve chosen to represent the ‘self’ I’m curating for you to perceive me as.”  This is not a new desire.  Our first img_8561attempts at this are found in Genesis 3:7, as Adam and Eve sew fig leaves together out of a desire to cover up their true “self” which they’re shamefully aware has been marred.  They want to be perceived without the humiliating nakedness and vulnerability, and so they put on leaves and say, “This is the image I’ve chosen to represent the ‘self’ I’m curating for you to perceive me as.”

To this, God responds with the hard truth about what has happened.  He also replaces their garments of leaves which cost nothing, with garments of skin which we can assume cost the lives of animals.  God seems to suggest, “You may cover up, as this level of vulnerability is a heavy burden.  But it comes at a price also.”  We see here a prophetic illustration, that the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).  Not as payment, but as a direct result – living in a way that chooses our own presentation of “self” above the “self” God has created us to be, will always lead to death – whether of relationships or literal.  This is not something that weak people “fall into” as an activity, but rather something we are each born into as a state.

Thomas Merton wrestled with this same concept in thought & prayer: “To say I was born in sin is to say I came into the world with a false self. I was born in a mask. I came into existence under a sign of contradiction, being someone that I was never intended to be and therefore a denial of what I am supposed to be. And thus I came into existence and nonexistence at the same time because from the very start I was something that I was not.” (Merton’s Palace of Nowhere, 1978)  (Note that “sin” here is less about morality and more about ontology.)

We are not left to struggle with this tendency toward the “false self”.  We believe and proclaim that Christ has provided a New way of being (ontology again!).  Galatians 2:20 declares that our “self” is “crucified with Christ” so that “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (NIV)  Scripture reveals to us this Freedom is not only something offered to us, but invites us to understand that the very activity of sacrificing our “self” in order to receive the “self” that is alive in Christ is our act of worship! (Romans 12:1)  It is in this New-Creation-living in the life of Jesus that we discover and move toward the “self” God has created us to be. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

So how do we guide young people, and how do we respond to a technology culture that constantly invites us to purposefully curate our own “self” for the sake of how we’re known by others?

  1. Understand where the desire for “multiple-selving” comes from.  A certain level is healthy and expected:  What foods do I enjoy? What music/culture/comforts/fashions do I prefer?  What art do I appreciate/contribute?  During the adolescent years especially, our cognitive abilities develop in ways that allow us to “try on” variations of who we might become.   Most of us even continue into adulthood with more than one “self”, and seek to balance these expressions of our identity.
  2. Understand where the desire for a “false self” comes from.  Scripture reminds us we are born into a state of sin that brings death (Romans 5:12).  To deny this is our nature, and just try to “be good” or “be strong/successful/attractive”, etc. is to throw on fig leaves and hope for the best.  We come to God, confessing our naked vulnerability, and accept the price He has paid-to reconcile us in relationship – offering a restored “True self” that exists in the Love of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.
  3. Offer every expression of our “self” to be an opportunity to worship God, not bring glory to our “self”.  Whether on social media, in classrooms, in the living room, or wherever we find ourselves.  “Offer your ‘self’ as a living sacrifice…” (Romans 12:1)  This means daily (and a life of) prayer where we bring our whole “self” into the presence of God.
  4. Pray.  Together, and individually.  In prayer, we enter into a redeemed time and space where we discover the Loving God whose image we were created to bear, and are shaped/empowered by His Spirit toward how that can happen today.  Here we become less and less influenced by how we might be perceived by others, and in declaring Jesus as Lord – give weight to who God has declared we are becoming in Christ.
  5. Love.  Love God as the source of our True Self.  Love others, not as the “selves” they might curate for better or for worse, or as the “false self” ascribed to them by others, but as the “True Self” they are in the light of Jesus Christ.  Finally, love the True Self God has set you free to become – united with God in the Love and power of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

One Year.

One year ago I was on my way to the D6 Conference in Texas, along with our new lead pastor and another pastor friend we picked up along the way.  I was attending the conference both as a “Pastor of Family Life”, but also as an intensive study course personally administered by the president of Wesley Seminary toward completion of my MDiv.  It was a great week of learning, dreaming and praying over what God had in store for a church family I loved with a new pastor I was blessed to also call a friend.  I ended up being able to share a spoken word I’d written as part of my coursework with the entire D6 Conference!  As we went home from that week – we had no idea what would happen in the year ahead.  We certainly didn’t imagine the year we’ve had. 🙂

This year we’re traveling to the D6 Conference in North Carolina, along with our spouses.  The four of us look forward to some great time praying and casting vision over what God has in store for this church family that we love – and we’re blessed to img_8338all do so as friends.  But my wife and I are also attending as a couple on the edge of launching into full-time missionary work in Gyor, Hungary!  We’re scanning the topics, and trying to figure out what seminars/speakers might equip us for the work on the horizon as well as the work we’re aiming to finish well.

This past year I’ve finished my MDiv, something I never thought was part of my life plan.  It seems when you hand God your life and ask Him one step at a time “What would please you here?” – He actually seems to suggest things you may not have imagined.  Not in an anxious “Oh my goodness, I’d better not miss out on any tiny decision that God may have an opinion on….”  But more in a mode of living toward receiving and responding to the flowing Love of God out into and for the sake of His Kingdom announced and arriving in the world through changed lives, people set free and restored relationship.

All this to say, the past year has brought some changes for sure.  The year ahead seems to be filled with quite a bit as well.  We’re going to be selling our home soon, and moving into a short-term rental.  Then we’ll move to Hungary, and learn a new language both literally and figuratively as we learn to join the living Word in a new context.  Thankfully, we’ve been shaped for years already by the Word who became flesh.  So #D62018, 2019, and beyond…here we come…

(If you haven’t already, check out our website for the family missionary adventure that has already begun!!)

 

We Are Seeking…

img_7747In 1965, the Jamaican Methodist church was seeking a year of renewal.  Sir Hugh Braham Sherlock,  a Methodist leader also known at the time for writing the Jamaican national anthem “Jamaica, Land We Love”, helped pen this incredible poem & hymn as a prayer for God’s people to sing in unison…

Lord, Thy church on earth is seeking

Thy renewal from above;

Teach us all the act of speaking

With the accent of Thy love.

We would heed Thy great commission:

“Go ye into every place;

Preach, baptize, fulfill My mission,

Serve with love and share My grace.”

 

Freedom, give to those in bondage,

Lift the burdens caused by sin;

Give new hope, new strength, and courage

Grant release from fears within.

Light for darkness, joy for sorrow;

Love for hatred, peace for strife.

These and countless blessings follow

As the Spirit gives new life.

 

 

In the streets of every city

Where the bruised and lonely dwell,

We shall show the Savior’s pity,

We shall of His mercy tell.

In all lands and with all races,

We shall serve and seek to bring

All the world to render praises,

Christ, to Thee, Redeemer, King.

Amen.

 “Lord, thy church on earth is seeking.” The Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology. Canterbury Press, accessed August 22, 2018, http://www.hymnology.co.uk/l/lord,-thy-church-on-earth-is-seeking.

Faith Seeking Understanding…

One thing I never seemed to learn in college, was how much I loved learning.

The hidden nerd within me fell asleep around 5th grade, rolled over restlessly with classic literature around late high school, and remained largely dormant until around 2004.  Full time ministry and life had created a need to grow academically, spiritually, Biblically, and theologically in new ways.  I found mentors who helped me discover books that would stretch me – both by affirming what I believed, and by challenging it.   I took a few classes through the Free Methodist Church, and surprised myself with high grades, before being ordained in 2009.  I considered “continuing education”, but with the beginnings of parenthood, I decided to wait.  I wanted things to “calm down a bit” before I jumped into a Masters program.  (This is where all parents everywhere laugh a bit at my naivete.)

Finally, in January of 2015 I began my MDiv through Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan Seminary.  We had 3 growing children at home, and a 4th daughter trapped in the DR Congo since late 2012, that we weren’t sure when/how we’d bring home.  I’d waited long enough, and life didn’t show any signs of “settling down”.  My senior pastor at the time encouraged me to check it out, and it seemed like here was a program that not only “allowed” you to be in ministry while learning, but actually embraced your place of service as a primary lens through which your learning would be taking place.

I was really glad I waited until life was “calm” before continuing my education. In June 38848820_10155885768936747_2625269017031475200_n2015 during an on-site intensive in Marion, IN we received word that our daughter’s health was failing in the DR Congo.  That launched a trip to Kinshasa to care for her needs, and over the next half a year worked out a move into foster care to make sure she’d survive until we could bring her home.  We were finally given permission to bring her home in early 2016.  We purchased one-way tickets in the middle of the semester and found ourselves trapped without any idea when we would be allowed to leave Africa ourselves.

After a few weeks, we finally made it home on March 31st and I dropped any summer classes in order to soak in these first moments together as a family.  This pushed graduation back, but was well worth the change, and Wesley Seminary professors and advisors encouraged these moments.

I picked classwork back up that fall, just as the new school-year was beginning. (Remember – I’m also a full-time youth pastor here!)  Things started to find a routine, and our youngest daughter was learning both English AND what it meant to live in a family context.  Then 2017 arrived.  Our lead pastor announced he was leaving, and I found my own position precariously perched on the edge of the unknown.  I accepted a slight pay-cut, and increased ministry oversight in order to stay and even fill-in through that summer many ways until a new lead pastor arrived that fall.  We survived all of this because of our amazing church, volunteers, and the Holy Spirit for sure.  Life was busy, to put it mildly.  Through it all, classes continued.  Graduation was coming in late 2018!

In November of 2017, God decided to pull another trick that apparently He’d been working on years before.  He slowly (very slowly!) made it obvious that we were being called to full-time missions work in Hungary!!  It was a difficult but exciting thing to announce, and we’ve been slowly starting to work out the details. (We’d love to come share at your church/group!)

All of that to say – life didn’t slow down.  If anything, it was as if life said “Oh yeah? Gonna start a degree?  Take this!” and began ninja-kicking things.  Still, the crew at Wesley Seminary, our amazing church friends/family, and the Love of God have helped us navigate these days.  As I finished my final “Capstone” class in Marion, IN last week – I’d urge anyone considering taking a step like this – pray, and step forward.  If you’re in ministry already, don’t wait for “things to calm down”.  It has been a great blessing – personally, professionally, and spiritually.

Zion & Babylon

(By Josh Garrels) Listen now?

Oh great mammon of form and function

Careless consumerist consumption

Dangerous dysfunction

Described as expensive taste

I’m a people disgraced

By what I claim I need

And what I want to waste

I take no account for nothing

If it’s not mine

It’s a misappropriation of funds

Protect my ninety percent with my guns

Whose side am I on?

Well who’s winning?

My kingdom’s built with the blood of slaves

Orphans, widows, and homeless graves

I sold their souls just to build my private mansion

Some people say that my time is coming

Kingdom come is the justice running

Down, down, down on me

I’m a poor child, I’m a lost son

I refuse to give my love to anyone

Fight for the truth

Or help the weaker ones

Because I love my Babylon

I am a slave, I was never free

I betrayed you for blood money

Oh I bought the world, all is vanity

Oh my Lord I’m your enemy

Come to me, and find your life

Children sing, Zion’s in sight

I said don’t trade your name for a serial number

Priceless lives were born from under graves

Where I found you

Say, my name ain’t yours and yours is not mine

Mine is the Lord, and yours is my child

That’s how it’s always been

Time to make a change

Leave your home

Give to the poor all that you own

Lose your life, so that you could find it

First will be last when the true world comes

Livin’ like a humble fool to overcome

The upside-down wisdom

Of a dying world

Zion’s not built with hands

And in this place God will dwell with man

Sick be healed and cripples stand

Sing Allelu

My kingdom’s built with the blood of my son

Selfless sacrifice for everyone

Faith, hope, love, and harmony

I said let this world know me by your love

By your love

Oh my child, daughters, ​and sons

I made you in love to overcome

Free as a bird, my flowers in the sun

On your way to Mount Zion

All you slaves, be set free

Come on out child and come on home to me

We will dance, we will rejoice

If you can hear me then follow my voice

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