Christianity 201

August 5, 2017

Ministry Give-and-Take

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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The Message, Philemon 8-9 In line with all this I have a favor to ask of you. As Christ’s ambassador and now a prisoner for him, I wouldn’t hesitate to command this if I thought it necessary, but I’d rather make it a personal request.

Today we’re paying a return visit to the rather unusually named Chocolate Book with writer Jackson Ferrell. Each day the author has a chocolate flavor of the day and a reading for the day (seriously!) working his way through the Bible chapter by chapter. (This is another excellent blog to bookmark if you want a commentary source in the future.) To read this at source, click the title below.

You’re encouraged to begin by clicking through to read the entire book of Philemon before beginning.

Philemon – Gospel Negotiations

Today’s PassagePhilemon

Welcome to the third-shortest book in the Bible by word count. It’s Paul’s letter to Philemon, a man who had come to faith through Paul’s missionary work. Philemon owned a slave named Onesimus, who had run away, encountered Paul, and been converted to Christianity. In the ancient world, fleeing as a slave was a capital offense, but Onesimus had tended to Paul’s needs while in prison and proven himself an enthusiastic and helpful follower of Christ. Paul found himself in a tight and complicated spot, and the letter gives us a look into his response to the problem at hand.

Full disclosure: I’m drawing heavily from N.T. Wright’s commentary on Philemon in Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters. It provides an excellent perspective on a situation that it could be easy to misunderstand, particularly when one is inferring based on nothing but a quick read of a 335-word letter. Wright’s done his homework, and his insights into Philemon come highly recommended.

But if you aren’t familiar with the letter or its background, Paul’s actions may surprise you: he’s sending back Onesimus to Philemon. He writes, “I have sent him back to you in person, that is, sending my very heart” (12). He’s sending a runaway slave back to his master, who in the Roman world would have every right to punish a slave as severely as he sees fit.

Paul, however, has another plan. He tells Philemon, “For perhaps he was for this reason separated from you for a while, that you would have him back forever, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother…If then you regard me a partner, accept him as you would me” (15-17). Paul makes an appeal, strongly suggesting that Philemon should not only accept Onesimus without penalty, but go further and free him. Paul negotiates shrewdly throughout the letter, but here we see the ace up his sleeve. If Philemon has in fact accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ, if he’s a partner with Paul in furthering God’s kingdom and embracing the love of Christ as a way of life, then he should no more return Onesimus to a life of slavery than enslave Paul himself. The implication is subtle but serious: if he doesn’t free Onesimus, then what kind of partner in the gospel is he?

Slavery in Paul’s writings, as we’ve seen before, is a thorny issue. But in his actions we see what is perhaps his strongest stance against slavery, a push to free slaves without resorting to a violent overthrow of the Roman social order, and an appeal to brotherhood between believers. And he puts his money where his mouth is, telling Philemon, “But if he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge that to my account…I will repay it (not to mention to you that you owe to me even your own self as well)” (18-19). One gets the impression that even as he pushes against anticipated arguments, Paul is ready to pay the cost of Onesimus’ release, if Philemon would dare to charge him for it.

That’s the third-shortest book in the Bible by word count. It’s Paul’s letter to Philemon, a man who used to own a slave named Onesimus.

July 28, 2017

When People Disappoint

James MacDonald is the pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicago’s northwest suburbs, the host of the weekday radio program Walk in the Word and blogs at Vertical Church Blog where this first appeared. Click the link to read at source.

Dealing with My Biggest Disappointment

The psalmist said, I have been young, and now am old . . . (Psalm 37:25), and that is how I feel. Fifty-something is not over the hill, but it is surely down the road—and now that I am down that road I see things a lot differently than I did when my shoes were new and I hadn’t broken a sweat. Back then I was filled with convictions that have lasted and idealisms that have not.

I am more convinced than ever that Jesus is God’s Son—the One who made atonement for sin and exemplifies righteousness—that the Bible is God’s Word revealed to us in perfection and sufficiency, that heaven and hell are real, and that God’s glory is the only thing worth fighting for. But I am less convinced about methods—mine or yours. I am not persuaded that my way is the only way, or even the best one in some instances. And I have lost my naivete about people. I frequently doubt when a person expresses their sincerity, their longevity in leadership, or their commitment to do as they say they will. It’s so shocking to look back and see how frequently people are excited about accountability until they are the one who needs it.

And it’s not just others I am disappointed with, it’s myself. I see how often I have failed to be all that I wanted to be for God and for others. Without question my biggest disappointment is with people—you and me, the whole bunch of us. On our best day we are incredibly flawed, and the harder a sincere person tries to push the blame on others, the more they should feel the weight of their own shortcomings . . . what “I” should have done differently.

But here’s the thing: give others the grace you know you need and move on in the lessons you have learned. Too much navel gazing and wallowing in disappointment hinders the work of God in and through you. The Christian life requires forgetting those things which are behind (Philippians 3:13). If your focus is on the rearview mirror today, I challenge you to lift your eyes to the road ahead and leave your disappointment with people behind you.

HOW???

Jesus had disappointments with people, right? With the religious leaders who attacked Him, with the family members who first rejected Him then fought for their own prominence when His popularity was on the rise. Where were they at the cross? Then the disciples—Peter denied, Judas betrayed, the rest ran when the Savior needed them most. Or did He? Of course Jesus loved people, but did He need them? An interesting verse in the opening of John is a lesson I could have used a lot earlier.

After many were flocking to Jesus and “believing in Him,” John 2:24-25 says: But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.”

Jesus was neither cynical nor naive. He loved people without entrusting Himself to them, and He served people without exposing himself to their faults or failures. Are we so attached to one another that we set ourselves up to be shattered when the inevitability of our fallenness comes to the surface? Are we so in need of affirmation and acceptance that we find ourselves ‘wheels up’ in the ditch when a friend or colleague denies or betrays? Loving people, yes. Living in community, yes. But attaching ourselves to people in a way that we lose our footing in following Jesus when they stumble or trip us up? No!

Let’s fix our eyes squarely upon the only One worth following—praising God for the blessing of people, but refusing to attach ourselves in a way that puts our faith/following at risk. Looking back, if I had been a little less euphoric in the glory days with any particular person, I would have been less crushed by disappointment when I discovered their feet of clay . . . no doubt they would say the same of me. Only Jesus on the pedestal, the rest of us on level ground, looking up. That’s how I deal with disappointment.

John 21:21: “Peter . . . said to Jesus, ‘Lord what about this man?’ Jesus said to him, ‘. . . What is that to you? You follow me!’”

October 3, 2016

Serving with Determination and Perseverance

This devotional came recommended to us, and is from Seeds of the Kingdom the devotional page of  Ellel Ministries*, an organization with branches on many continents.

Keep On Keeping On

by Denise Cross

Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not loss heartGalatians 6:9, NIV

Many years ago, when I was a young Christian, I was taught that believers should expect that doing God’s work would always be challenging and difficult. Indeed, this very fact of contention, they believed, proved that the work was a ‘good’ work.

However, later I discovered that other believers had a different expectation. They believed that, if something was a God-ordained plan, it would all fall into place with no struggles, because God Himself had gone ahead and prepared the way.

After a good few years of being involved in Ellel Ministries, it seems to me that neither of these extremes is true. There may be times when things go easily, and we feel the path ahead is easy, but there may also be battles, and discouragement along the way.

I can only think that Paul himself might have been feeling a little weary and discouraged when he wrote this letter to his friends in Galatia. They were obviously showing signs of being tired and discouraged, and needed to remember that perseverance and determination were what was needed. They had, perhaps, started with enthusiasm and excitement, but they’d hit difficulties of some kind, and their energy seemed to be running out. Paul is saying “Don’t give up. It will be worth it in the end. Keep your eye on the finishing line. What you’re seeking to achieve will come to fruition, and you’ll see the completion, and feel rewarded”.

I wonder if you’re feeling weary today, or losing heart about something you’re doing. Have you started something which you feel sure God’s laid on your heart, but it’s all taking longer, or proving much more difficult, than you first expected? Are you wondering when, or if ever, you’ll see the harvest of your efforts?

We may just need to ‘keep on keeping on’, because it’s just a matter of time until the ‘due season’ arrives, or maybe we need some rest to catch our breath, so we can re-focus on the goal, and push onward with renewed determination. Perhaps we need some extra support in prayer, or practical help, before we can totally reap the reward

If you’re feeling tired of doing good, you can ask God to refresh you, to refocus you and to give you a new determination to complete the work He’s put before you. Then you will, in the fullness of His perfect timing, see the end results of your efforts, and have the delight of hearing His ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’.

Prayer: Father God, You’ve called me, and trusted me to do good works, Kingdom works for You, in ways You’ve planned for me. Thank You that, if, and when, I grow weary, I can turn to You for refreshing, re-inspiring and re-energizing to continue with those good works. Please speak Your encouragement to me today. I ask it in the precious name of Jesus. Amen.


* What does Ellel mean?

Ellel Ministries takes its name from its first building in England, Ellel Grange, which is near the village of Ellel, in Lancashire.

In old English, the name Ellel means ‘All hail’ which means ‘All glory to God’
In Hebrew, Ellel means ‘towards God’
In Mandarin Chinese, it means ‘love flowing outwards (愛流).

So Ellel could be said to mean ‘All hail, Jesus, All glory to Him’ and be expressed as ‘Love flowing outwards’ into a fallen and broken world, where we are helping people move ‘towards God’. It is all for His glory.

July 8, 2015

Surrounded by Unbelief

After a week off which no doubt including lounging by his pool (a pool which I don’t covet, no really, honestly, not at all) Clarke Dixon returns. Click the title below to read this at his blog and feel free to leave comments.

When the Church Faces an Atmosphere of Unbelief

The ministry of Jesus hits a snag in Mark chapter six. Things have been going quite well up until this point with people responding to his teaching, wisdom, and miracles. But not here. This is Nazareth which is set apart from the other towns by only one thing. This is Jesus’ hometown.

He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2 On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offence at him. Mark 6:1-3

Notice that these people are no less amazed by the teaching and miracles of Jesus than the people of the other towns. But there is something about them that makes their response different:

Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us? Mark 6:3

The problem is that they are already familiar with Jesus, they have already made up their minds as to who he is and what he is all about. He is a carpenter and despite the wise words falling from his mouth, carpenters can’t teach. He is also the “son of Mary,” which is an unusual expression to use for in that time and place one would normally say “son of Joseph.” They knew there was something different about his birth, and remember it took an angel to convince Joseph that Mary’s story wasn’t crazy nonsense. I don’t doubt that the people of Nazareth had their doubts. They knew enough about Jesus to have already made up their minds about him and so as impressive as he was they were not impressed.

We live in a time and place where it feels like the ministry of the Church has hit a snag. There are healthy and growing churches, but we have a changed and changing society where most of the runners you pass on a Sunday morning are not running to get to church on time. But when the topic of Jesus comes up, people do not say “who is he?” They say

Is not Jesus from that old fairy tale we have moved beyond? Like the tooth fairy?
Is not Jesus that wise teacher that Christians turned into a god as I read in a book once?
Is not Jesus the founder of an organized religion? I don’t like organized religion.
Is not Jesus connected somehow with those tv preachers that are always asking for money?
Is not Jesus connected somehow with those priests who have abused their power and people?
Is not Jesus connected somehow with those kings who led crusades against innocent people?

For many Canadians the trouble with understanding Jesus is not that they have never heard of him. Like the people of Nazareth it is that they have already formed an opinion: “Is not this the carpenter?” They have already heard about Jesus from friends, from tv, from movies, from podcasts, from songs, from social networking, from documentaries and sometimes from school. Every Canadian has some opinion on Jesus and many have already hung a huge amount of baggage on his back. So how do we engage the minds of people who have already made up their minds? How do we proceed in the face of apathy?

We look to what Jesus did in the same situation.

1. Jesus appealed to his own honour: “Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honour, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house” (Mark 6:4). In hearing Jesus’ words we might focus on the lack of honour on the part of the Nazarenes. But don’t miss the fact that Jesus is commending his own honour. Do we actively honour Jesus? Are we ready to defend the honour of Jesus?

2. Jesus took care of whomever would come to him: “And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them” (Mark 6:5). It kind of figures that it was the sick who came. That is often still the case for “blessed are the poor in spirit.” When people do come to Jesus are we devoted to caring for them, helping them grow in Christ?

3. Jesus was amazed at unbelief: “And he was amazed at their unbelief” (Mark 6:6a). We often get this backwards and too often expect that it is normal to not believe in the supernatural. Jesus was amazed at disbelief because the evidence was there for them to see: “many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands!” (Mark 6:2) But having made up their minds already, no evidence was enough evidence.

There is evidence for the truth of Christianity, let me share some examples. There is the evidence of changed lives and positively affected culture. There is the evidence of the nature and makeup of the scriptures (hint: it is hard to explain why the New Testament documents were written if Jesus did not rise from the dead). There is evidence for the reliability of the scriptures (you can look up textual criticism). There is evidence from philosophy (you can look up the moral argument) and cosmology (you can look up the fine tuning of the universe and the Kalam cosmological argument). There is historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus (you can look up the minimal facts argument). There is archeological support for places and people mentioned in the Bible. There is enough evidence pointing in the same direction that we ought to be amazed at unbelief. I wish I had a penny for every time I heard the expression “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” This is an expression one uses when one’s mind is already made up.

In addition, perhaps we ought to be amazed at disbelief when we consider what is passed over. Grace for the past, hope for the future, a love based ethic for today. No worldview has a better way of dealing with the past, present, and future.

4. Jesus persisted in teaching: “Then he went about among the villages teaching.” (Mark 6:6b) Jesus did not throw in the towel when he encountered apathy. He continued teaching about the Kingdom of God. Some churches today attempt to change the teaching in an effort attract people to Christianity. Some try to turn Christianity into a highly personal spirituality that you can shape to suit your own needs. But we cannot shape Jesus. He shapes us. Just as Jesus persisted in teaching so too must we persist with the classic doctrines of the Christian faith, even when that proves unpopular.

5. Jesus sent out the disciples to do even more: “He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.” (Mark 6:7) Notice that Jesus gives the disciples authority over “unclean spirits.” In other words, they were given the authority to carry out the ministry of Jesus as His representatives. We still are.

6. Jesus told the disciples to walk away when appropriate: “He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” Mark 6:10-11 Do we have enough humility to leave people in the hands of God, to trust Him to do what is good and best?

What is the Church to do in the midst of an unbelieving society that is apathetic to the message of the Gospel? We do what Jesus did; continue on with passionate persistence. If we read forward in Mark’s Gospel we see great things happening again, for example the miraculous feeding of five thousand, and Jesus walking on water. Keep reading and you will get to the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus did not get derailed by a snag. He never wavered in pursuing God’s will with passionate persistence. We will be amazed with what God has in store for the future.

All scripture references are taken from the NRSV.

 


One of the lines of Clarke’s text for today is echoed in a song by Keith Green.

July 25, 2014

The Macedonian Call

Come over to Macedonia and help us

This verse is often used at missions conferences or other contexts to challenge people to consider Christian service:

During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”
(Acts 16:9)

I don’t know the exact timeline between this passage and one where apparently Paul answered the call but there was obviously a definite need for Paul’s time there was not easy:

For when we came into Macedonia, we had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn–conflicts on the outside, fears within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus,
(II Cor. 7:5-6)

Answering the call

In most cases this verse is presented as a direct confrontation: Will you stop what you are doing and consider going to some other part of the world in Christian service?

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
(Matthew 9:36-38)

I’ve included verse 36 here to see that Jesus call to his disciples was based on seeing genuine need and responding with compassion.

And knowing our propensity to procrastination, wanting to put off our response to the call, scripture includes this verse:

Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.
(John 4:35)

But where I want to land today has to do with another aspect to this we often don’t consider:

Issuing the call

If you’re reading a “201” devotional, it may be that you already are playing a ministry role in your local church, with some other parachurch organization, or are simply deeply involved in 1:1 ministry with individuals in your sphere of influence. And sometimes you need to reach out to other people because you can’t — and were not made — to do it all alone.

“Help! I need somebody
Help! Not just anybody”
(The Beatles)

The help you need may consist of

  • Someone’s knowledge or expertise in a particular area of counseling or Bible knowledge. I list this first because sometimes we refuse to admit when we’re over our depth in something.
  • Physical help. You can’t move great weights but together with others the load becomes lighter. It’s nice that you offer to help someone move, but when you get to the refrigerator or the piano, probably a group is needed.
  • Respite. Sometimes you need a break. People in leadership are often the last to realize that. (I’m at that place right now!)
  • Financial assistance. Perhaps you’re trying to do alone something where the costs really need to be borne by a larger group.

It’s at that point, that The (capital C) Church needs to step up, but they can’t do this unless you ask.

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.
(Galatians 6:2 NIV, ESV)

How will people know you have a need unless you tell them? What keeps us from asking for help? Pride. I know this to be true in my life; I want to be able to do it all myself, to be the Lone Ranger who rides in and saves the day.

Why? Probably because I want to get the credit, the recognition, the earthly honor. The fact is, some people in ministry don’t want to share the blessing, don’t want to share the stage, don’t want to share the pulpit. They trust the promise that God is able to equip them to do everything, but fail to see sometimes he equips them to be able to recognize people who would provide great help and assistance.

Conclusion

By all means, listen for the Macedonian call and be prepared to respond if you are able. But don’t forget to be prepared to issue a Macedonian call when you find yourself completely over your head in ministry life.

January 22, 2014

Did You Really Hear from God?

Today we’re in Jeremiah 23:

21 I did not send these prophets,
yet they have run with their message;
I did not speak to them,
yet they have prophesied.  (NIV)

21 I didn’t send the prophets,
yet they ran anyway.
I didn’t speak to them,
yet they prophesied anyway. (CEB)

21 I did not send those prophets.
Yet they were in a hurry to give their message.
I did not tell them anything.
Yet they prophesied anyway.  (NET)

21 “I have not sent these prophets,
yet they run around claiming to speak for me.
I have given them no message,
yet they go on prophesying.  (NLT)

The force of this verse is clear, but the second line is nuanced differently in each of the above translations. The CEB brings out the idea that the prophets went out regardless of having not heard; the NET Bible suggests that they were in a big rush to speak, and the NLT suggests what we sometimes call a “beehive of activity.”

Each one of these three alternatives to the NIV offers a different potential application.

To me, the CEB suggests someone who, like the characters in the comedy The Blues Brothers goes forth saying to themselves, “We’re on a mission from God,” when in fact God didn’t authorize that particular mission. Blogger Johnny B. writes that this really turns a true prophet into a false prophet:

How many times do we follow false gods or do things against God, yet try to give God the credit?  Beware false prophets as you venture out and open yourselves to the world today.  Constantly, throughout the day, be in tune to God and what He wants you to do.  Be not a false prophet, but a man (woman) who follows God and displays Jesus in his (her) daily walk and actions. 

In an article about problems in the church in Africa, someone recently wrote:

They prophesy lies in God’s name, but God did not send them, command them nor speak to them.  They prophesy lying vision, worthless divination and the deceit of their own minds.  Jeremiah 14:14.  They are all over the place and they spring up every day like mushrooms.  They claim to be “men of God,”  “apostles,”  “pastors,” “prophets,” “bishops,” “archbishops,” and what-nots, but they lie!  They are ordinary criminals parading as “men of God” and deceiving the gullible who don’t know their Bible and have no discernment.

With the NET Bible, we think of the times we think first and speak later. This is even more important when we presume to speak for God. I’ve already covered the idea that each of should be “slow to speak” in this article and this article.

However, we can’t assume that if a pastor feels he hasn’t heard from God this week he should simply move directly to the closing hymn and dismiss the service early. But it does suggest that there are indeed such times. Could the pastor phone up a church member and offer him or her the pulpit? In conversation with hurting people do we open our mouths when perhaps just our presence — even in silence — or an offer to pray is what is called for?  Do we know someone who needs encouragement, but we pick up the phone or send the email before we’ve really been given something of substance to say?

In ministry this is sometimes called burnout; though the term would have been somewhat foreign to Jeremiah or this context. In a review of the book Leading on Empty by Wayne Cordiero, a reader defined it:

Burnout happens when you keep pushing yourself and don’t know when to slow down… As a leader you give and give, but you can’t give what you don’t have…

Singer Jackson Browne called this Running on Empty,

Running on-running on empty
Running on-running blind
Running on-running into the sun
But I’m running behind

Can it be that in so doing you cross the line from true prophet to false prophet?

The Voice Bible echoes this with the addition of an extra phrase:

21 Eternal One: I did not send these so-called prophets,
        but they have run to you with their empty words.
    I did not speak to them,
        but they claim to speak for Me.

With the NLT, I see the breadth of ministry defined. God gave us a word to give to person “A”, and we then scurry out thinking that “B,” “C,” and “D” need to hear it as well.  Probably entire churches have been founded on what was a single word that was meant for a particular individual, location or situation.

In the NLT rendering there is a picture of running around, ‘to and fro’ as some say; a picture of busy church people busy doing church things.  A great deal of energy is expended, but the result is heat when what’s needed is light.

Sometimes this flurry of activity is about the building of someone’s personal empire, either a pastor or a ministry organization. The Reformation Study Bible says the verse reflects ” a picture of zeal in their self-serving propagation of falsehood.”

This doesn’t mean that all overburdened, overtaxed pastors are necessarily spreading false doctrine, but certainly it can be a variable that increases the propensity to error.  The phrase “yet they go on” suggests an individual in desperate need of an “off” switch or even a “pause.” We need to take time to refresh and dare I say reload in the sense of hearing from God afresh.

That’s the message in the very next verse:

22 But if they had stood in my council,
    they would have proclaimed my words to my people
and would have turned them from their evil ways
    and from their evil deeds.

Hearing from God is key.

Tomorrow: In preparing today’s message I uncovered an article that really deserves to be featured here on its own. If you thought today’s coverage of this topic was too light, take a deep breath and come back tomorrow for in-depth exposition of today’s key verse.

March 19, 2012

Seasons of Ministry Life

While reading some of the notes in the new NIV Study Bible, I came across a section — nested in the middle of Matthew 25 — which classifies the ministry years of Jesus into three one year phases or periods.

  1. Year of Inauguration
  2. Year of Popularity
  3. Year of Opposition

In our culture, we might describe it differently

  1. Breakout Year — Jesus is a new star on the horizon, up and coming; he’s trending on all media fronts; Pharisees start tracking him immediately though, with some concern.
  2. Jesus Goes Viral — Everywhere you go, someone is talking about him; popularity is at an all time high; if you have Bible software, just do a keyword search for “crowds.”
  3. Approval Rating Decline — Even close followers leave; the lighthearted teachings become ‘hard sayings’ and his sermon content talks about his death as though it’s something impending, and how we all need to ‘take up our cross.’

The section in the study Bible includes many key events, though it’s not a full harmony of events in Christ’s life; that follows later after John. 

But as I read it, I couldn’t help think that for those of us who are Christ-followers, we follow him even in these phases. Our Christian lives begin full of the experience of grace, of sins forgiven;  full of zeal to tell others; and full of God’s purpose and plan in our lives finally crystalizing. We meet new people, learn new songs, and divest ourselves of a way of life that was heading to destruction.

But then as we settle in, we discover that following Christ is both easy — “My yoke is easy and My burden is light” — and challenging — Jesus talks about leaving possessions and family — at the same time. 

Stuart Briscoe summed this up a little differently once in a little booklet, This is Exciting. It’s since been re-written as The Impossible Christian Life. His stages were:

  1. This is Exciting
  2. This is Difficult
  3. This is Impossible

But then he experiences a rejuvenation and enters a 4th stage,

       4.  This is Exciting

If you’ve never read this, it’s available free online as a .pdf file and takes only 3-4 minutes to complete:

Link to The Impossible Christian Life: A Personal Testimony by Stuart Briscoe (click here)

I would take this one step further and suggest that we experience ministry stages like this even on the micro level. For example, my sons both work in the summer at the Christian camp where my wife and I met. It’s a nine week commitment, that I would suggest divides into three week sections:

  1. Early weeks: Everyone is full of energy and spiritually charged up from staff training week.  Huge learning curve for first time staffers.
  2. Middle weeks: Work assignments become routine and nights of missed sleep start to add up. This is optimal ministry time, but the drive of the early weeks is sometimes missing, and it’s easy to get caught up in the mechanics and miss the Holy Spirit’s direction. (Smart directors will insert a staff training ‘booster shot’ in here at some point.)
  3. Final weeks: A few don’t make it this far; those that do continue to serve but are starting to think about returning to school in the fall; some interpersonal relationships start to break down; people show their true colors during these final three weeks. If the summer at camp is a marathon, these are the final miles.

It’s also easy for God to seem distant in those final weeks, or in the final season of whatever ministry task or vocational position you’re currently serving. This is where what Paul talked about as “running with endurance” kicks in.

It’s also important not to miss that before Jesus experienced years of what we called “breakout success” and “going viral,” he had another season of ministry, the time in the desert. This connects with yesterday’s discussion of Jeremiah 29:11; a verse where we so often miss the 70 years of testing that precede the times of prosperity.

What ministry are you involved in right now, and at what phase or season are you in ministry life?

What about your personal spiritual life? Are you new in faith or a seasoned veteran of following Christ? How does where you are affect the energy you have or the challenges you seem to face?