A leap in the dark?

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3 years ago I set on a journey to leave friends and family behind for a life abroad that I had only seen in missionary journals mixed with some television drama.

Some would say it was a leap in the dark, a step of faith. But looking back I beg to disagree. Not least because this turned out to be the most instrumental years of my life but as I learned from God’s Word, it never really is a leap when we know the God we have believed.

Starting a new friendship, getting married and a new job overseas might be a leap but not trusting God. One of the things that have amazed me this year studying the Bible Overview and Mark’s Gospel is how much God has amassed in his Word not only to help us know him but help us believe and continue believing in him. To me, it’s an undeserved blessing and one we rarely recognize or praise him for. It’s almost as if God knew how stiff-necked we can be! That even with all the facts and evidence on the table, we would need more to deal with our hard, sinful hearts.

I have been struck by how much one can know about God and yet not believe in him. The mind can be full and the heart as hard until God does his life-giving work. But it’s not just a one-time miracle that stops at our Christian birth, he is doing this miracle in every day of our Christian life.

Nothing pains me more than seeing my sinful craving despite all the wonders of God’s revelation. It’s more than foolishness that I would settle for the temporary that is vanishing away when I can have the permanent glorious reality. But I see it all the time and not just in others but I hear the lies linger in my ear and my sinful heart is drawn to them. I’m convinced that if I didn’t have God at work in me by his Word then I would fall like a man who never heard of God before.

So this is my joy and conviction as I set forth in the unknown if you like, that I have a friend who will never leave me. One who will carry me by his Word to his eternal home. I dare not trust my knowledge or my weak strength but in the one who never fails.

30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40.

Trusting in him is not a leap in the dark. It’s only a leap when I trust in my own strength. It would be a great step of faith if I trusted my knowledge, even my own knowledge about God and the Bible. But since I have the God of the universe by my side, at work in my heart by his Word and leading me on the way then I have the full assurance to live for him now ahead of living with him forever.

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Get ready for your ministry job!

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When I started my Christian ministry training it was quite hard to explain to my family and friends what I was doing. To be honest, not many people know what I actually do except my frequent jibber jabbering here. And honestly, I would hate it for my identity in Christ to be reduced to a title.

But in my mind I expected I would do an apprenticeship then maybe get some formal theological training and like everyone else get some proper job. Say something people acknowledge and respect like a pastor maybe even a bishop, college professor or some title of some sort. Because in our world training equals getting a job and some title.

There’s only one title and it’s taken

But I was deeply challenged when I realised there are no titles in Christian ministry. If you like it, there’s only one title for our Lord and Saviour and then there’s all of us his servants. He is the head and we are the body as we see in Ephesians 1:

22  …God placed all things under his (Jesus) feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

We have no titles only opportunities and gifts for service.

Problem is though most Christians are happy to accept that they still believe there’s a fundamental distinction between the man who stands in front and those who sit listening to them. Which is not surprising because in our world those who stand on the stage are the real heroes and the audience better listen to them. The show is on them as the rest of us spectate. But it’s not the case in Biblical Christianity.

Yes, there are responsibilities in the church according to God-given gifts, opportunities and training but they are all for the sake of the one master, King Jesus, and for the benefit of his body, the church. The pastor is no different from anyone else as long as it involves building God’s church.  And the pastor is not doing more ministry than the man in the back row if they are a Christian.

A ministry for all

In the Bible, we see that God is building his church by his Spirit as a whole and he achieves this through his Word. It tells us that God is working in us, Christians, not just the man in front to build his church. And the church as a body is responsible for ministry as we hear and speak God’s Word to one another. We see this clearly in Ephesians 4:

15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. Ephesians 4. 

I used to think that the pastor, “the Minister”, is responsible for the ministry and everyone else comes to receive or support them in this. But that’s not how the Bible sees Christian ministry, not it’s how the world works not God. It’s a man-made dichotomy and bureaucracy that no longer exists in the redeemed community of God’s people.

Those in the teaching ministry are not the bosses and everyone else a slave. They are but mere servants given the responsibility of equipping the church with the Word for the noble job that every Christian share in, building God’s church to maturity.

 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.

Ephesians 4.

The Bible teacher or preacher whichever title they go by are like the man who mixes the concrete for others to do the building work. Their gifts and training are important and a blessing to the church but don’t make them the big dogs as is the case in the world. Rather they equip others with God’s Word and they join the church in building the body.

Get ready for your ministry job

This should be very liberating for preachers. Can you believe how hard a task it would be if you had to do all the ministry while everyone else cruises for the rest of their Christian life? It’s also very reassuring as all we need to do is make sure to equip people with God’s Word and then join them in building the body by speaking this truth to each other.

It’s great news for every member of the body as there are countless opportunities and possibilities to do ministry at work, at home and at the church gathering as long as we are equipped with God’s Word. You are the minister at home, at the office and at your friend’s party. And for this reason you should get as much training as you can from God’s Word.

It means we don’t go to the church gathering as we do a show, rather we go with our sleeves rolled up set for some building work. And we don’t need to wait until the pastor comes to speak to a colleague at work or our struggling neighbour. No, as long as we have God’s Word then we are fully equipped for all the opportunities God has laid in front of us to do Gospel ministry.

What a joy that the God of the universe would entrust us all with his most precious work, the job of his Son, the ministry of reconciliation. How amazing that all of us, Christians, regardless of titles have the one job that has lasting significance. For we all share in the ministry of our Lord and Saviour:

…And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5. 

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All things in moderation?

I used to think that moderation was the best guiding principle in life. It’s what most people have in mind when they say someone is a good person in this day and age. For moderation is the standard of goodness in our world. Because nobody wants to deal with extremists and fanatics which is what we think is the only alternative to moderation.

Problem with moderation is that it’s really dependent on the prevailing culture and in this age, it’s acceptable personal preferences. But what looks like moderation today will be ridiculed and might even be abhorred in years to come.

But who am I to define how people should live especially if they don’t subscribe to the authority of God’s Word as I do. In any case, if I am the ultimate authority over my life then whatever serves me and my interests as longs as it does not harm others works. Everybody wins?

Unfortunately, moderation is also common among Christian circles. A good Christian to many goes to church, have their kick for the week, is a good citizen and helpful member of a community. And many think that’s what defines a Christian. To them, the church gathering is nothing more but a weekend hobby to meet friends or keep the guy upstairs happy.

A call to die!

But that’s not what we see in the Bible if God’s Word is the authority behind our faith. No, it’s what those who subscribe to moderation want to reduce it to. Biblical Christianity well understood is radical. It demands total surrender to Jesus and his mission. Here’s how Jesus describes it:

34 Then he (Jesus) called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. Mark 8. 

There’s no way you read this and think, well as long as I go to church, pay my contributions and do well at work, I’m a good Christian. You might be in the eyes of the world but not before Jesus and his word.

No, he calls us to a radical way of living: to die to the world and live instead for him who died that we may live. This is what informs Biblical Christianity as the apostle Paul says elsewhere:

 14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. 2 Corinthians 5. 

As longs as we live, Christians are to live fully for Jesus and his mission, the salvation of the world. Moderation steals and waters down the power of this conviction for a comfortable and acceptable worldly way of life. It robs from us the joy of totally dying to self and fully living for King Jesus every day.

But how do we move from moderation to living fully for Jesus?

Knowing Jesus is all it takes

Such a radical call is only possible when we fully and continually know and trust the Lord Jesus. It’s when we know him and believe that what he has done and promised is worth it all that we can live fully for him now.

But it’s not just a strong motivation as much as it qualifies as one. It’s more than that, knowing him leads us to a new life deeply informed by his Word and fully set for his mission. We become a new creation in him to do his good work.

10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2.

The answer to moderation as well as complacent Christian living is in God’s Word: in knowing Jesus. Which is a very good place to start for people at every level including unbelievers.

For God is accomplishing his plan using his Word in his people. And his word is all we need to start, continue and make it in the end. It’s what we need for our evangelism, discipleship and in training others. 

It’s for this reason that a chat with a Christian friend about the Bible is so helpful and this is why church and Bible fellowship exist. The author of the Hebrews had this in mind:

 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10. 

It makes the job of a Bible teacher and every Christian to continually point those under their care to the shepherd of their souls through his Word: to Jesus. And understanding this frees us from anxiety and guilt in Christian life and ministry as we are equipped with what works, God’s Word. 

The way forward

As you are drawn to Jesus and his word then you will be totally sold on Jesus and his mission as the apostle Paul was. You will not need a set of parameters to exercise or limit your involvement to the mission of the church. Rather you will use every opportunity, gifts, and resources to serve King Jesus at work, abroad and at home. This was Paul’s aim and should be every Christian greatest ambition in life:

20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

Philippians 1.