Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Privilege and Blessing of Ministry

Summer, 2016 is coming to an end.  I have long ago recognized that the concept of the lazy days of summer is unrealistic, but I do appreciate the more relaxed schedule and opportunities for outdoor activities that summer offers.  As we enter the Fall season of back to school and back to ministry, I am afraid that I sometimes “fall” into a “back-to-the-grind” mindset.  But I am coming to understand that the Lord wants more—and better—for me. 

Please consider with me a passage in C.S. Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  King Caspian of Narnia, along with his crew and Edmund, Lucy, and Eustace from our world, have sailed on a long journey from Narnia.  They have accomplished Caspian’s mission to find the missing Lords who served his father, but they have not yet sailed to the end of the world.  Many of Caspian’s sailors are tired and want to rest and then return home to Narnia as soon as possible.  But sailing to the end of the world is an opportunity not to be taken lightly.  As his sailors begin to grumble and groan at the prospect, please listen along with them as Caspian speaks:

“’Friends,’ he said.  ‘I think you have not quite understood our purpose.  You talk as if we had come to you with our hat in our hand, begging for shipmates.   It isn’t like that at all.  We…have an errand to the world’s edge.  It is our pleasure to choose from among such of you as are willing those whom we deem worthy of so high an enterprise….’  ‘Aslan’s mane!’ he exclaimed.  ‘Do you think that the privilege of seeing the last things is to be bought for a song?’”

It seems to me that continuing, returning, or beginning ministry endeavors is much the same as sailing to the end of the world with King Caspian.  It may demand much of us, but the reward far outweighs that demand.  We don’t have to do ministry.  We get to do ministry.  A friend of mine, a thoughtful pastor in the Bible belt, commented to me recently that he likes to say that they don’t use people to do ministry but rather they use ministry to do people.  Ministry is an opportunity to partake in the nature of Christ and participate in His kingdom purposes.  It is a powerful tool for the Lord to make us more fit for heaven as we use His gifts in relationship with one another.  It is a high calling and not to be taken lightly.

As we enter this new season, may we approach ministry opportunities as a glorious, heaven-sent invitation to join our Lord’s work in preparation for His party.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Power of Perspective

“For what you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing: it also depends on what sort of person you are.”

                                           C.S. Lewis, The Magician's Nephew

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Ministry Thought to Ponder

"We do not use people to get ministry done.  We use ministry to get people done."

                                                                                         Pastor William Sofield

Monday, August 8, 2016

Faith in a Timeless God

As I occasionally mention, I am a Dr. Who fan.  Dr. Who is a science fiction television program produced by the BBC; the Doctor is a Time Lord who travels through space and time in his Tardis.  The original version ran from 1963 to 1989; and while this iteration of the series holds a firm place as an icon of British television for many viewers, I found what little I watched of it to be too cheesy and far-fetched to keep my attention.  The re-booted series started in 2005, and it, too, is often cheesy and far-fetched.  But the new Dr. Who often offers something that not only grabs my attention but keeps it: insight into the nature and relationships of human beings and an invitation to wrestle with moral or ethical questions. 

In a Dr. Who episode that I watched recently, the Doctor is traveling with two companions, Amy and her husband Rory.  In the process of exploring a new place and time, Amy is left in another time dimension and needs rescue.  Although the Doctor and Rory find Amy quickly, they soon discover that she has been struggling to survive in a hostile environment in a faster time stream where almost 40 years have passed.  So in Amy’s time stream, decades have gone by, but for the Doctor and Rory in their time stream, no more than a day or two has passed.  In her almost 40 years of waiting, Amy has become hard, bitter, and devoid of emotion apart from anger.  She wants nothing to do with the men who abandoned her. 

Amy has good reason to be angry and wary of the men who have now—finally—come to rescue her.  And this is where the episode transcends mere science fiction and becomes real food for thought.  Amy must come to grips with the perception-bending truth that while her nearly four decades of misery is very real, the Doctor and Rory did not abandon her the way she feels they did.  She needs to release her anger.  And then she must allow herself to access her emotions and engage in relationship with the Doctor and Rory so that they can in fact rescue her.  The rescue has become as much about rescuing Amy from her heart of bitterness as it is about rescuing her from her situation.  And in true television fashion, Rory slowly coaxes Amy to recover her emotional memory of their relationship, and in the end, she sacrifices the security of her bitterness in order to recover the “real” Amy.

It strikes me that Amy’s experience in this episode of Dr. Who is often our own.  We are truly and deeply hurt, and it very much feels like God has abandoned us, or at the very least, is excruciatingly slow to rescue us.  But we are living in a different time stream than God.  We are bound by time and our sin nature, while God is eternal and perfect.  And while our pain of living in this fallen world is very legitimate, our perception of God is often artificially and inappropriately limited.  We are so hurt that we no longer feel that we can trust God.  And so, like Amy, we need to resolve our anger in the light of the larger truth that our Lord will never leave us or forsake us.  And beyond that, He will work great good out of our most difficult times of suffering.  Without doubt, we have the difficult work of grieving to do.  And then, as we allow ourselves to feel emotions other than fear and anger, we become able to cooperate in our rescue—to trust our Lord to redeem even the most difficult of circumstances.  And in true Biblical fashion, the Holy Spirit and our spiritual brothers and sisters can fan the flame of our faith, we can embrace our Lord’s rescue, and then become our real selves, the people our Lord created us to be and become.