God dragged me into ministry kicking and screaming.
That’s not something that you hear from most people that work at the church, although it might be more common than you would think.
When it came to the thought of doing ministry full time, I was almost perplexed by the number of people who were interested in such a vocation. It just didn’t make any sense. Why would anyone put up with so much for so little return? Who in their right mind would take a starting position getting paid so little to do so much? Who would want to, for the rest of their working career, put up with seeing the worst sides of people? Who would want to be in the middle of everyone’s personal lives, their divorces, their abuses, their vices?
If I posted on a job board a highly detailed job description of the average ministry position, along with its compensation and average hours worked per week, most people would run the other direction. This isn’t because people hate the church, or don’t love God enough. It simply has to do with basic economics: if you don’t receive a greater return than what you put in, you made a poor investment.
So for a young, success-driven man like myself, I couldn’t wrap my head around ever entering the ministry, not because I didn’t love God or the church, but because it just seemed like a bad investment.
God has a great sense of humor.
And I was very naive.
As my love for teaching evangelism (the what of Christianity) and apologetics (the why of Christianity) grew, it turned into less of a hobby and more of a part-time ministry. I started teaching an apologetics class at c|Life’s Sunnyvale campus. Though the thought of standing up in front of people and speaking was not something I had ever imagined myself doing, there I was, doing what I believed God was calling me to do.
God’s humor shows up here because, while I thought God was just using me to plant seeds into the hearts of his people, he was actually using that small step of obedience to plant seeds into my heart. God was using a small step of obedience, to produce in me, a changed heart about his calling on my life.
Though, at the time, I thought the idea of full-time ministry was crazy, a lot of things God has in His plan are crazy. So should I have been surprised? Should I be surprised by how wrong I was about ministry?
Oh, don’t get me wrong, a lot of my assumptions were true. You do put a lot into ministry for little return. You do take a starting position that pays very little You do see the worst in people, and you are in the middle of everyone’s personal lives, their divorces, their abuses and their vices. Ministry is hard, and there is no easy way around that.
Little did I know, however, that these problems are outweighed by the immense blessings that working in full-time ministry brings.
Because, while all of those things are true, the spiritual blessings that you receive from ministry are incalculable. You may get little in return in the worldly sense, but your spiritual growth is incommensurable (Matthew 6:19–21). You may take a starting position that pays very little, but God can do so much with very little, and the Lord will always provide you with what you need (Matthew 6:25–34). You may see the worst in people, but you will also see the best in people (Matthew 22: 37–39). You may be in the middle of everyone’s divorces, abuses and vices, but you will also witness first-hand evidence of the transforming power of the Gospel (Titus 3:3–7).
The truth is, I love ministry so much, I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else.
I won’t pretend like this decision was easy for me. It took a lot of prayers, encouragement and God-ordained moments for me to finally fold and enter into full-time ministry, which is why I feel that I can empathize with Joseph.
In the first Chapter of Matthew, Joseph is presented with the information that his betrothed, Mary, was pregnant. Knowing that he had nothing to do with it, I can understand Joseph’s fear: What will people think of me? I can’t marry an adulterer!
Though he did have the integrity to divorce her quietly, he still allowed fear to dictate his decision to divorce her in the first place. It wasn’t until Joseph was face to face with an angel that his fear was then removed.
Because of Joseph’s small act of obedience, God included him to play a key role in the greatest story ever told.
Extraordinary acts of God often start with ordinary acts of obedience. Could you imagine what would have happened if Joseph had allowed fear to dictate his decision? Can you see the impact that this one ordinary act of obedience had? Joseph’s decision created a ripple effect through history. His decision made him part of the Gospel.
God became a human being with the sole purpose of living the life we could not live, and dying the death we should have died. In our place. He did this so that we could have a newly restored relationship with him, for eternity, as adopted sons and daughters.
Neither Joseph nor I had any idea what God had in store for us. All it took was one small act of obedience on our parts. What one small act of obedience are you holding back from God? What do you fear? Is it a decision about your family? Your friends? Your finances? Your career choice? Where you live? What small step of obedience is God asking you to take?
God won’t force you to do something you don’t want to do. Don’t let fear keep you from missing out on the adventure God has in store for you. My encouragement to you is that you will cast your fears at his feet so that you can also take part in the greatest story ever told.
There’s pressure in buying Christmas gifts. There, I said it. I know no one else has ever realized this before me just now, but it’s tough.
Do I get the thing that’s on everyone’s “Best of 2017” lists? Or do I get the thing that’s 60% off, thanks to Cyber Monday? What about gifts for a loved one?
We put this pressure on ourselves because gifts are synonymous with Christmas, and they often replicate what the gifter thinks of the giftee. We want to portray our care for someone with a material item that conveys how much we love them. This is difficult.
Now consider God.
No one thinks more highly of us than the Lord.
We become incredibly preoccupied with the gift-giving season. There are plenty of us who spend hours and hours searching for sales, building wish lists and struggling to wrap seemingly-unwrappable gifts, all to properly convey how much someone means to us.
For Christmas, God sent us a savior — his own son — so we could escape the grasp of death and, instead, spend eternity in his kingdom.
What if we spent that same effort recognizing how God did just that, summarizing what he thinks of us with the gifting of a savior?
We desperately need to acknowledge God’s voice calling into motion the birth of a savior because of our desperate need for one. Instead of worrying about what each person is going to think about the gifts you give them, we must remember the gift of eternal life God gave us when offered up his son to live, die and be resurrected.
As we continue to learn how to Fear Not in our current sermon series, think about the ways in which God intimately thought of you — and you specifically — when he sent Christ to be born, knowing that in doing so, he perfectly communicated our worth — something no other gift could ever match.
Today, I changed the world. Oh, no! You didn’t notice? That’s okay, none to worry. Had I not been prompted to consider how Joseph must have dealt with the flash briefing he got from the angel Gabriel concerning Mary, his wife to be, I would have missed it myself. How did it happen? I am so glad you asked.
Given the first century culture in Palestine, this unanticipated announcement to Joseph may well have triggered a panic attack. At the least, several deep breaths. If I’m Joseph, my side of this dreamy conversation goes like this:
“Mr. Angel, I’ve got a problem with this. If the people think I took advantage of Mary, acted against her will, her dad will be stringing up the bow, and I’m dead. On the other hand, If the people think she is a willing participant, she’s dead. I know it’s no big deal for an angel. It’s easy for you to say, ‘Fear not.’ You get to fly back to heaven. All is merry and bright on your end. Me? I’m fresh out of wings. I’ve got to stay here and face the people — not so good a spot to be in if you’re human.”
That’s not how it went at all, though, is it? No, quite to the contrary:
When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife.
— Matthew 1:24
Fear of what others think of you can be paralyzing, I know. I have stood petrified over people’s opinions of me, even when I didn’t know what those opinions were. I want to be liked. I want to be respected. I want my friends and co-workers to think well of me. I want my family, my wife and children to be proud of the man I am. So, to guard against making a wrong decision and leaving a bad impression, I have more than once failed God, opting to go with the flow instead of listening to him and following his lead.
That day when Joseph, regardless of what others may have thought of him, woke up from his angelic visitation and took Mary as his wife, he changed the world. In like manner, when I got out of bed and came to church to hear God’s Word preached, dropped my check in the offering basket, took a seat with my wife and sang Angels We Have Heard On High, I too changed the world.
No, it may not be readily apparent, but it’s happening. Every stroke of the brush on the canvas of God’s redemptive plan is a part of a finished work we will one day see. Until then, we must remember. Our obedience at times may seem inconsequential and feel uncomfortable but, as our pastor said, “Extraordinary acts of God start with ordinary acts of obedience.”
For I consider that the sufferings [mistreatment] of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
— Romans 8:18
The LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.
— Deuteronomy 4:24
Last week, a close friend called to tell me that he had just heard a really destructive rumor about me. Because he knows me, he didn’t believe it when he heard it, and he told the person who shared it with him to immediately squash it. But he wanted to let me know what was circulating about me. The rumor was patently false. I suspect it was a case of mistaken identity, that maybe I had been confused with somebody else.
But do you know what I immediately felt? Shame. In the pit of my stomach. Isn’t that weird? I mean, I didn’t do anything to cause this rumor. And it’s easily proven wrong by my life. But I still felt ashamed of something I didn’t do. Of something I didn’t even do! What is that? Where does that shame come from?
As the day progressed, I found myself consumed by the rumor. Why had it started? Who was saying it? How many people had believed it? How badly had it tarnished my reputation? Obsessing over the rumor ruined my joy that day. I wanted to celebrate some accomplishments, but I couldn’t. I wanted to enjoy time with my family in the evening, but I couldn’t. All I could do was worry about what others thought about me. That fear stole from me.
I had to come face to face with the truth. The enemy of my soul wants to steal from me. Satan wants me to be consumed by what others think about me so that I forget what God thinks about me. So that I neglect what God has called me to. So that I lose sight of what he is doing in and through me. On Sunday, we learned that, if we are not ready to be criticized for our obedience to God, we are not ready to be used by God. We must find freedom from fear of man and learn to live for an audience of one. If we are not being consumed by God, we will become consumed by others’ opinions.
The truth is that no matter how hard I try to live uprightly, I am going to be judged by others. Sometimes it will be because of my own poor choices, failures and mistakes. Sometimes it will be because the world is a place broken by sin and ruled over by a murderous prince who wants to destroy me (2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:2; John 12:31). This prince, Satan, is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44). But I am no longer under his rule (Col. 1:13). By the power of Christ in me, I can become consumed by what God thinks about me. This is the quickest, surest way to forget what others think about me.
My God is a jealous God. He does not want me to become obsessed with others’ opinions of me. He desires my full focus. I am a wayward person. I so quickly make others’ judgments my idol. Lord, please help me to persevere in being consumed by you alone! Amen.
The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.
— Proverbs 29:25
Anyone remember being in junior high? As I think back on my 7th and 8th grade years, I have vivid memories of doing my best to fit in with the crowd. I suppose I was like every other student, but when I was that age and in those circumstances, it seemed as though everyone in my world was not only looking at me but simultaneously judging me. As a result, I did all sorts of things to blend in with my peers. You name it. I wore deck shoes with the tightly curled laces, sported Z Cavariccis, shaved lines in my hair, and even wore parachute pants from time to time. Why? Because I wanted to fit in.
I suppose I could pick on the 8th grade version of me all day long, but the reality is my desire to please my peers followed me through high school, college, and even into my career in ministry. Honestly, I still struggle with the pull to please those around me. I want to measure up and meet expectations. I want to be liked. I want to gain the approval of man.
As a matter of confession, I want you to know that I care about you, but I also care about what you think of me. It isn’t unusual for me to scour Facebook after a sermon to see if anyone paid me a compliment. I may get a dozen compliments, but if I suspect someone was critical of my message, it voids out the compliments in an instant because I worry about what that one person thinks of me.
When my kids misbehave in public, I wonder if people are judging me as a parent. If one of my kids struggles in school, I wonder what other parents are thinking about my ability to help my kids succeed. If a group of friends invites my wife and I to go on a trip with them and we have to say no because of finances, I worry they will find out and formulate an opinion of how I steward our resources. If I am out of town or my mower breaks down, I worry about how the neighbors view my yard and my ability to maintain my home. I could go on, but surely you get the confession. I am sympathetic to the tendency we all have to worry about what others will think of us.
Then, I come to a passage like Proverbs 29:25. Why is this in the scripture? I suppose it is in there because of people like me. When we fear the opinions of others, we lay a trap for ourselves. I am not 100 percent sure what all the traps are, but the biggest one is we begin to play out our lives for the wrong audience. The opinions of others shift as often as the wind. In trying to please everyone else, we eventually lose ourselves. In the end, we lose. We can’t fear man and trust God at the same time.
However, when I play to an audience of one, I can’t lose. When I trust that God is pleased with me as his son, I can live my life with confidence. When I believe that God loves me in spite of my shortcomings, it gives me what I need to continue to press on.
Are you working really hard to impress the people around you? If so, it’s exhausting, and it is good to stop. Instead, play out the story that is your life to a holy God, and trust the scripture that teaches us that then, and only then, will we be safe and at peace.