God Knows We’re Dense

I’ve been working through the book of Matthew over the past few weeks; two chapters a day. I used to see the Gospels as a collection of valuable stories that taught great lessons… like Aesop’s Fables. Now I’m seeing them for what they are: baby steps. Jesus had to dumb things down a bit for people in the first century.  He had to simplify the concepts and bottle-feed even the disciples with parables because people were too thick-headed to listen and understand the raw truths themselves.

Idiots. I mean, really, I’m picking up on these ideas pretty quickly here… what’s the matter with these people?

Then I realize that I’m reading the exact words Jesus spoke to them in order to get them to understand.  Apply a little deductive mental computation here and you’ll begin to understand what I’m driving at… we’re just like them. Obviously God saw fit to speak to all of us like this. From the least to the greatest. After all, He did commission the work and methods of Christ, as well as the subsequent record of his labor (The Bible, folks). He knew that Christians twenty centuries later would need the same handicap.  We’re just as thick-headed and unwilling to hear and see the truth as those who actually saw and touched Jesus.

Maybe we can’t handle the raw, unabashed, unsweetened version of what God is communicating to us. Instead we must be coddled and spoon-fed the truths in the hope that one day we’ll catch on and be able to be nourished and healthy. But I’m okay with this. I like stories and simplicity and multiple levels of meaning. (It also breaks things down into nice bite-size sections using the heading The Parable of…). And I’m comfortable deferring to God’s judgment on how best to teach me the things he wants me to learn. Sometimes I think I could have even used some flash-cards or something.

How To Lose Your Vision

The steps to losing your Vision are really quite simple once you understand exactly what it is that you’re trying to lose.

By Vision, I am referring to that lens through which you look into the future and make some attempt to aim at or achieve something. It is also that encompassing ideal… that faint wisp of a concept upon which you have based your life’s work, be it ministry or otherwise. Vision is like cancer to the uninitiated and candy to the idealist.

Like I said, the steps to losing your Vision are simple. All you have to do is dry up, disengage, and detach. It really is that easy! And I chose three ‘D’ words to help you remember.

[Exit Sarcasm]

Dry Up

Ministries are like toothpaste tubes – they work great when there’s a steady flow of ideas and activity, but when the tube runs out the spout gets crusty and corroded. It takes more effort to squeeze out what’s left and you end up with a smaller result for the strain. God’s work is about being creative and innovative. If it weren’t, there wouldn’t be a dynamic range of ministries. We’d all be doing the same things, reaching the same people, working in the same places. Thankfully ministry is dynamic. It’s full of life, color, and variety. God’s work is always like that. (I cite the Earth as Exhibit A and mankind as Exhibit B.) Where one ministry ends, another begins. If one organization ministers to women, another works on the men. One might focus on providing medicine to a deprived group of people, while another helps to deprive a different group of the drugs they’ve been addicted to. I’d venture a guess that there aren’t many areas of the world – geographically and socially – that we haven’t reached in some capacity. So at least we have saturation on our side. But we must continue to innovate and find new ways of reaching the lost or we’ll dry up, get crusty, and eventually get tossed.

Disengage

I love the word ‘engage.’ The root word ‘gage’ in it’s verb form means to “offer a thing or one’s life as a guarantee of good faith.” In it’s noun form it refers to the thing that one would offer in that same pledge – an object of value. It was also used to refer to the glove thrown to the ground to symbolize a challenge to fight. Oh the implications! I just love this! What a literary gold mine! Just think of it… to be engaged in work, especially in ministry, means that you are offering your life, or something of value, as a guarantee of good faith that you are up for the task. It means that you are willing to sacrifice and do what must be done to accomplish your work. And it proclaims that you’re ready for a fight, that the gloves are off, and that you’re not going down easy. Are you hearing this? This is hard core stuff. And the benefits far outweigh the value of what you put in because they’re eternal.

I hate the word ‘disengage’. It’s the same as the word ‘engage’ but with a resounding ‘DIS’ in front of it. It means you wussed out. You sacrificed your ground, your fight, and probably your glove. Losing is different… it implies that you actually fought. But disengagement means you turned around and ran like a yellowbelly. This may be the worst thing you can do in ministry. Because when you’re disengaged, you can only be running away from God, into the hands of the Enemy.

Detach

You know that look in a person’s eyes when they’re daydreaming. And then you wave your hands in front of their face and say “Hellooo? Where’d you go?” That’s a form a detachment. It’s a disconnect between the life you’re actually living and the one you’re dreaming about. This same thing happens to ministry workers – we become detached. We can go about our daily tasks like we’re in a trance, but we’re thinking about the greener grass in a different ministry, or a different line of work. We remove ourselves from the reality of our situation and think of the things that might make us happy. What happens then is that seeds of discontent and resentment are sown, and they grow up around us like thickets and thorns, suffocating the rays of light bit by bit.

Detachment can be addictive. It can become our defense mechanism when things get tough at work. We just take a hit of detachment to soften the edge a bit. But each time we need more and more. Soon we’re just shells sitting at a computer, or standing behind a podium, regurgitating the words we’d formerly spoken with passion and zeal. When the passion leaves us, and we don’t pursue it, we begin to empty. And then, like a used up fuel tank on a space shuttle, we detach, and float off into the endless void.

If you think this all seems rather melodramatic, sadly you’re wrong. It’s actually rather understated. I’ve merely given you three simple steps to lose the Vision of your ministry. I haven’t even touched on the disastrous effects this can have. Maintaining and communicating Vision within your organization is imperative because it sets the goal line. The better you cast the Vision and the more effort you put into helping people understand it, the less likely it is that you’ll face these issues in your work.

Vision is supposed to be unattainable in a Christian ministry, so set your goals high and lofty – then jump like a lollipop-obsessed three-year-old at the bank counter to achieve them.

Chasing the Unattainable Vision

The trouble with Vision is that you have to have it to know where you’re going. But it also needs to be far enough away that you’ll never reach it so that you’ll always have a reason to keep going. Happily, the Christian life comes with this edition of Vision built-in, and it’s free of charge. For the rest of the world Vision comes at the price of actually attaining it and then having nothing to do afterwards. There is a great nothingness beyond Vision that can only be avoided by setting high and lofty unattainable goals. The Lost are doomed to achieving their goals and then finding them empty and meaningless in the end. That is a high price to pay. Especially when the alternative is so readily available.

God has prefabricated our Christian lives with this great feature of The Unattainable Vision. It’s an extension of the Vision that He gives us individually that allows us to work with a greater purpose. It’s the rainbow that stays just off in the distance looking beautiful and mysterious . We chase it, knowing all the while that we’ll never catch it. But maybe along the journey we see something new. Maybe the chase reveals something about ourselves that we had not yet uncovered. Or maybe we just needed to chase it to remember how we love to pursue Him. Imagine the despair you would feel if you actually reached the rainbow and found out what you always knew… it was just a bunch of water molecules basking in the sun and reflecting it’s light. It’s the chase we really want. Shakespeare quickly sums it up when speaking about the pursuer of a cruel lust:

Past reason hunted and, no sooner had,
Past reason hated.

This doesn’t mean that we hate everything once we’ve attained it. That would be extreme. But, what it does mean is that it’s the thrill of the chase that we crave. And often, when we’ve reached something, we discard it in search for a new chase. And thus, with God, and by His design, we cannot be completely satisfied when it is He and His Vision we are pursuing. This should come as a comfort to know that we will always be able to chase after Him, and that only in the boundlessness of Eternity will we know what it’s like to have caught Him.


Punching Out For God

I work in ministry. That’s the shorthand for “my work on this earth will never be finished so long as I’m called to work here.” If you work in ministry then you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you’re a Christian, then technically you should feel like this as well. Our work here is never done, no matter where you are, what you do, or who you boss around.

There’s something I’d like to point out about the statement “I work in ministry.” Word choice is very important here. A simple change of prepositions renders a completely different interpretation of just what one does each day. For instance, if you replaced the word “in” with “at” (and stuck in an “a” for good looks), your statement would read “I work at a ministry.” Now, tell me that doesn’t ring a little dissonant in your heart. You might as well say “My job is at a place where they do things that they think God wants them to do.” It reeks of discontentment, detachment, and what’s another ‘D’ word… inDifference. But to say “I work in ministry” implicates that you have invested and immersed yourself in the work that needs to be done. It communicates an attitude of dedication, commitment, and responsibility to the tasks laid before you. And if you find yourself in the former state of mind – using “at” instead of “in” – then try switching it up. Remind yourself of the mission and your part in it. Remember that you’re in a battle, and that you can be a hero, just by altering your prepositional tendencies.

Working in ministry is sort of like being on call. Whenever you finally manage to wrap up the day’s pressing responsibilities you end up going home with a vague sense that your work isn’t done yet – that it’s still, somehow, unfinished. And to the cynic, the realist, the workaholic, and the Christian… it is. But I have a nagging feeling that we take this too far. Maybe we take ministry too seriously in general. If you go home at night feeling guilty about all that you’ve left unfinished, and stressed out about all that you have before you, then something is wrong. Of all the work environments, the atmosphere of a ministry should be the most gracious and understanding of all because, in reality, those involved have agreed to take on a level of responsibility that surpasses earthly measurement. It goes beyond task lists, time tracking applications, and project management software. It stretches into the realm of the impossible because we all know our work will never be “complete.” For every person reached, there are millions more that have yet to hear the message we work so hard to impart.

This is an eternal perspective. Whether your in ministry, at ministry, or a Christian working a 9 to 5, if you think that if you work enough hours and get enough done that you’re almost finished, you need wake up. Check out Ecclesiastes 3 and you’ll see what I’m talking about. God has already instituted His blanket contingency plan for our uselessness and the vanity of our work. What is and what will be, has already been, and God has already done what needs to be done. Nothing we can do will add or subtract from that.

So, what’s the point? You’ll find that in Ecclesiastes 3:12…

I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil – this is God’s gift to man.

So do yourself a favor. Work hard, go above and beyond, and work with a sense of urgency. I guarantee that you’ll get more pleasure out of your work than if you only put the in the required amount. But at the end of the day, CLOCK OUT! Go home, do good, enjoy the food, the drink, the family, the dog, and whatever else God has given you a passion for – God’s work is accomplished in those things as well. And when your boss calls you to do something, tell him the same thing – Clock out!

You Want Me To Love My Wife?

30 seconds ago I was working on a different post. Then I got a slap in the face when I went to the home page of BibleGateway.com to look for a verse for that other post. Today’s verse:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25)

It’s simplicity and poignancy stunned me.

Now, I don’t think I’ve been particularly guilty of not loving my wife, at least not in recent memory (though she might need to confirm that). Nonetheless, the first four words of this verse pack a potent punch that cannot, and must not, be ignored. It’s a simple command to Love Your Wives. If I were a pastor I would walk to the podium and say “HUSBANDS! LOVE. YOUR. WIVES.” and then leave. Because what else needs to be said? It doesn’t say “Husbands, hassle your wives.” or “Husbands, abuse, ignore, neglect, betray, lie to, yell at, and annoy your wives.” It also does not say “Husbands, love yourselves.” or “Husbands, love someone else’s wife.”

Paul uses four simple words to convey what is, in my lowly opinion, one of the most profound and influential commands in the Bible. It’s a fundamental building block not only for the family, but for the church. And when the family and the church are healthy and grounded in the love of Christ (the metaphorical groom), the world that surrounds us stands will become healthier as a result.

The verses following clarify the command a bit more as Paul continues to describe both wives and the body of Christ using each to describe the other. He paints a picture of the church, and essentially the wife, as being cared for by Christ so that she may be washed in the Word – having a radiant presence, and exsiting without stain, wrinkle, blemish, or blame. And while all of this remains up to the husband to ensure, it is done by obeying one simple task. Love. Your. Wife.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]