Built to Build: The Call of Vocations (Part 1)

After previously discussing 1 Corinthians 4, I want to rewind a chapter and review our vocational identity – what God intends us to be on the clock.

While we will ultimately need guidance from Colossians 2 to unpack this in full, for now let’s start with 1 Corinthians 3:9-11 (ESV):

For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

Here, Paul, having emphasized church divisions (v. 1-4), is reminding the Corinthians to see Christ as their cornerstone (Ephesians 2:19-22), as the foundation of life on which new life can be built. Unfortunately, like the Israelites in Judges, the Corinthians are strong in flesh and weak in discernment. A people ravaged by schismatic impulses, they are plagued by paganism and a past rooted in idolatry. Certainly, Paul couldn’t have been too surprised to hear reports of such dissension.

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Yet, what Paul lacks in suspense, he makes up in candidacy, specifically we are servants designed for unity and God is the source and core of it all. What matters is not who gets this task and who gets that task, but rather why the task exists at all. For most of us, this makes sense, but to the Corinthians, a people who saw their value through who they followed, this would have been difficult to accept. Imagine your political preference and/or denomination of choice being your chief designation. “Hi, my name is Cameron and I’m a charismatic Republican.” A bit off-putting, right?­

Conversely, for Paul, affiliations meant nothing compared to eternal intent as evidenced in v. 9 (AMP):  

For we are God’s fellow workers [His servants working together]; you are God’s cultivated field [His garden, His vineyard], God’s building. “ 

Like 1 Corinthians 4:9-13, this is powerful imagery concerning our vocational identity. We aren’t just God’s workers, but fellow workers on mission with Christ doing good works in Gospel partnership (Phil. 1:5-6). Concerning our colleagues and clients, they’re also designed for God’s assignments, but whether they know it or not should not deter us from working peaceably as it depends on us (Romans 12:18). As long as we accept the call to be Christ’s championing companions, we can embrace unity as helpers of joy (2 Corinthians 1:24) while perceiving our cultivation as an overflow of God’s goodness.

After all…

…we don’t work to lay the foundation; we work because Christ is the foundation!

Put another way, as co-laborers and vocational leaders, we’re meant to be laid on, not laid upon; hence, why Jesus says in Mark 3:25, “…a house divided against itself cannot stand.” If we don’t value teamwork apart from personal gain, our operations will be hindered having affirmed our identity as the foundation.

Again, this offers quite the paradox to the natural mind. Are we the foundation Christ, the master builder, lays or are we the slab plan built on Christ the foundation, by Christ the builder? Personally, I side with the latter, especially when I note the Psalmist and weeping prophet (i.e. Jeremiah) who perceived identity as predestined (Psalm 139:13, Jeremiah 1:5), Christ’s work in them1 as destined, and God’s nature as perpetually present. Applying their worldview, we can rest knowing as vocational influencers, we can mature our reach knowing it is Christ in us who does the cultivating through our work.

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In other words…

He is the vine, we are branches…but we are also a part of His vineyard!

Sometimes, we get so discouraged being branches, we forget the beauty of the garden we’ve been planted in. This tells me not only do we need to know Christ as the foundation on which we stand, but also the cultivator who pours out seeing the growth before it happens.

Colossians 1:4 and 2:2 (AMP) captures this process beautifully.

We have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus [how you lean on Him with absolute confidence in His power, wisdom, and goodness], and of the [unselfish] love2 which you have for all the saints (God’s people)…For my hope is that their hearts may be encouraged as they are knit together in [unselfish] love, so that they may have all the riches that come from the full assurance of understanding [the joy of salvation], resulting in a true [and more intimate] knowledge of the mystery of God, that is, Christ…”

Combining these passages, we find the blueprint to living our vocational identity. When we’re overcome by disappointment, we choose gratitude seeking God in confidence. When we’re overwhelmed by hate, prejudice, and indifference we choose love seeking God in faith. And when we’re overpowered by unbelief and unforgiveness, we choose hope seeking God in His grace and power. In this way, we allow the towel (John 13: 1-9) to unfold as our hearts yearn to see others transformed and united by unselfish love. Granted, when we talk being on the job in the midst of funk and discrimination, this is easier said than done.

Then again, the whole point of Paul writing this is to encourage the Gentiles to desire unity with the Jews in hope to see them know Christ. And it’s this heart posture, I submit, we embrace as believing vocations on marketplace frontlines. Remember we are built up to build up, a process that with God knows no bounds.

As far as what we do between being built up in Christ and building up through Christ, Paul does give an additional template on this later in Colossians 2. For now, let’s pause and revisit the topic in next week’s post on how we contend for unity at work.

Selah.

Footnotes

  1. Ministry of reconciliation/sanctification
  2. The key to understanding this and other statements about love is to know that this love (the Greek word agape) is not so much a matter of emotion as it is of doing things for the benefit of another person, that is, having an unselfish concern for another and a willingness to seek the best for another.
Photo creds: FULLER studio

Messiah’s Misfits: Why The Name Says It All

So recently I’m reading 1 Corinthians 4 when suddenly it hits me…

…of all the chapters in all of Paul’s letters, arguably the greatest content on vocational perseverance can be found in v. 9-13 when Paul discusses the nature of true apostleship.

 Let’s check it out…

For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.” (ESV)

It seems to me that God has put us who bear his Message on stage in a theater in which no one wants to buy a ticket. We’re something everyone stands around and stares at, like an accident in the street. We’re the Messiah’s misfits. You might be sure of yourselves, but we live in the midst of frailties and uncertainties. You might be well-thought-of by others, but we’re mostly kicked around. Much of the time we don’t have enough to eat, we wear patched and threadbare clothes, we get doors slammed in our faces, and we pick up odd jobs anywhere we can to eke out a living. When they call us names, we say, “God bless you.” When they spread rumors about us, we put in a good word for them. We’re treated like garbage, potato peelings from the culture’s kitchen. And it’s not getting any better.” (MSG)

For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles at the end of the line, like men sentenced to death [and paraded as prisoners in a procession], because we have become a spectacle to the world [a show in the world’s amphitheater], both to angels and to men. We are [regarded as] fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are highly esteemed, but we are dishonored. To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty; we are continually poorly dressed, and we are roughly treated, and wander homeless. We work [for our living], working hard with our own hands. When we are reviled and verbally abused, we bless. When we are persecuted, we take it patiently and endure. When we are slandered, we try to be conciliatory and answer softly. We have become like the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now.” (AMP)

Now, before we dive in, we must understand the broader context.

First, what is the nature of true apostleship? Going back to 4:1, we find the answer: Those who minister Gospel hope as servants/stewards/ambassadors of Christ no matter the cost. The Amplified breaks it down further describing these servants as those who are certain in adoration more than they are uncertain in anything else. Essentially, apostleship goes beyond the office of apostle and involves anyone who is willing to be salt, light, and life in places where there is none. If you are being a faithful steward of God’s call on your life, you’re engaging your apostolic anointing! Whether or not you have a mobile ministry is moot compared to God’s faithfulness being reflected in what you say and do as you draw people to Christ (Colossians 3:17).

Second, how do we abide in the nature of true apostleship? Verses 7-8 give us a hint when paraphrased: We have not only been given everything for goodness and godliness (2 Peter 1:3), but every reason to trust the Lord as our portion (Psalm 73:26)¹. Accordingly, as we reference God in reverence², to live as Christ (Philippians 1:21) becomes the foundation to our perseverance and influence regardless of setting and trial. After all, “there are different kinds of [work], but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work (1 Corinthians 12:6).

Finally, we arrive at v. 9 where Paul employs some serious poetic license. Messiah’s misfits (MSG), prisoners of spectacle (AMP, ESV), an accident in the street everyone stands around and stares at…these are all powerful metaphors and similes reminding us there is no earthly honor in apostleship. If, by chance, we are pursuing any glory apart from what is rightfully God’s, our endurance will not stand, but if our satisfaction is rooted in being complete with Christ (Colossians 2:10), if our contentment is secure to His sufficiency, only then will we be victorious as dregs. It’s a paradox to the flesh, but one necessary for our dependence. When we are thirsty, we’ll see the need as being filled as opposed to satisfying a lack. When we are persecuted, we’ll know God is with us as one who relates as opposed to withdrawn as one who can’t. And when we’re struggling to make ends meet, we’ll rest in the mysteries of what God has and hasn’t revealed since our reliance is not contingent on self.

For some of us, it’s hard to accept what doesn’t make sense. It’s like we’re okay being misfits to sin, but not to the minds/culture tolerating it. I know for me, I’d rather be criticized for what I do wrong than be judged for what I do right. At least, with the former I can apply the correction and move on! However, I also know whenever I crave my work to be affirmed and my love to be reciprocated, I can declare God’s grace as sufficient, the fact I can joyfully boast in His power made perfect in my frailty (2 Corinthians 12:9-11). And suddenly those ‘weak as I eke‘ moments fade in something infinitely more…

…the sweet reality that I need JESUS! What a beautiful place to be!

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Bottom line: If you’re a vocational leader, dare to see the identity of what you do through the lens of apostleship, through the lens of being a servant taking light into dark places. And if hard times come, don’t be surprised; rather view them as a sign you’re doing things right³. When you bless others in the face of voids and discouragement, remember the same Christ you ask to bless others is the same Christ who will honor your obedience. If you don’t fit in, remember you were never called to in the first place. Stand out, take what comes, and know the power of you standing through adversity will assuredly have a positive ripple-effect on those around you even if you don’t see it right away.

Selah.

Footnotes

  1. Note how strength in this verse has Hebrew roots to ‘rock’
  2. This form of dependence opens up the Romans 5:1-5 road (more on this in a future post)
  3. Assuming the hard times aren’t consequences of sin, shortcuts, etc.
Cover photo creds: Medium

Love Reminders: Why Voids Are Not To Be Avoided

I got a random question for you…

Have you ever wondered why it’s easier to accept your flaws as opposed to your voids?

Flaws = Weaknesses, imperfections, what you can control and change

Voids = Lacking a necessary good, what you can’t control and change

If so, I want to encourage you: No matter how vast, no matter how voluminous the void, God’s sovereignty is always greater to not only fill it, but overflow it.

Granted, this truth is clearer conceptually than applicably, not to mention I’m sure there are some who struggle less with voids than flaws; however, in case you’re sittin’ there thinking I get all this, I just don’t know how to get there, consider this post a joint dive in discovering fresh purpose in places you never thought possible.

‘Cause truth is, for many of us (myself included), we prefer bridging our voids than exploring them in depth. Even when we do take the plunge, we’re often not ready for what we may find be it ego, fears, and/or our infatuation with the past. As Richard Rohr states in his book, Immortal Diamond

Whether humans admit to or not, we’re all in love with the status quo and the past, even when it’s killing us. [For most], it’s easier to gather energy around death, pain and problems than joy. For some sad reason, it’s joy we hold lightly and victimhood we hold on to.”

This in mind, let’s go back to the initial question and rephrase it: When it comes to the holes in our lives, have you ever wondered why we put God behind the telescope and our voids under the microscope?

Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Or are we so content in idolizing what’s not working in our life, so content in finding identity in ego¹, we fail to see our voids as God’s love reminder. To quote Jamie George, senior pastor at Journey Church in Franklin, Tennessee, “The thing that’s not working [in your life] is your opportunity for salvation to be saved from your ego and remember who you are.”

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Accordingly, the reason we wrestle with our voids often ties to not knowing what God wants to reveal through them. On the surface, we admit God wants us to know the highest heights of His love in the darkest depths of our despair. Yet, deeper down, we fade God in light of false hopes telling our trust what to do. Before we know it, we’re lost in a search for meaning outside the only place we can find it desperate for breakthrough, but not necessarily for freedom.

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Perhaps this is why Jesus taught love as an invitation first (Psalm 91:14, Matthew 11:28-30, John 3:16, John 15:15, Romans 5:8, Romans 8:38-39, Revelation 3:20) and as an instruction second (Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Matthew 22:37-40)…so we could see awe in the awful and life as not only richer than temporary troubles, but richer because of them! The inevitable hurdles we encounter, they are more than opportunities to be humbled, but lifelines we’re passionately loved and rescued through. Therefore, we must accept the fact voids are imperative in the narrative of our lives as they offer a chance to centralize Christ as our security, the redeemer of all things who takes our time traveling tendencies and morphs them into a desire to know God as perpetual presence.

Think of it this way: In this life, on this side of heaven, there are many people living apart from God. To them, fear in the face of chaos makes perfect sense. After all, they have nothing to rely on other than themselves, their hope a mere flatline on the cardiogram of circumstance. But to those who trust in God, they can fear² Him in disarray knowing the chasms created in trial also create the heart space we need to receive those aforementioned love reminders³. As I told a colleague at work today, an empty container is better than no container at all since only the former can be opened and poured into.

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Bottom line:  Whatever you did…whatever you’re going through…those experiences are never worth the fear we preserve keeping them close at heart. Remember your battle scars are more than checkpoints signifying where you got it right; they are altars pointing people in the direction of wonder and reference…the veins by which people can know God longs to commune with them. Ultimately, our voids help us adore God, abide in gratitude, and die to our need to make sense of it all.

Selah.

Footnotes

  1. The sum of self-reliance/independence (i.e. prioritizing reason over faith); sentence shout-out to Jamie George and his Awakening series
  2. Fear as in awe/adoration
  3. See Psalm 23:1-4
Cover photo creds: medium.com

Resurrected Community: A SOAP Study on John 13

ScriptureJohn 13:1-9

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.”Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!

Observation:

While much attention in this passage is given to the washing of feet, it’s interesting to note the towel’s contextual significance in the moment and beyond. With His hour rapidly approaching, Jesus knew now was the time to prepare His disciples for life post-resurrection; however, He also knew ‘now’ was not yet the time to commission them for evangelism. Accordingly, Jesus, through the towel, opted to preview the next ~40 days, a stretch during which He wouldn’t evangelize, but strengthen His community as a future colony of heaven (i.e. Kingdom community)12.

Having said that, before we can dive further into “towel theology” (i.e. the towel as a communal template to daily rising with Christ), we must first talk about what Christ sought to model through it.

Consider this: The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most powerful event that this planet has ever witnessed. Yet, as for who actually ‘saw’ the resurrection? Nobody but a couple of awe-struck Roman soldiers who in a matter of hours would go from literally trembling in fear to lying about what they had seen. One would think the lives of these guards would instantaneously change à la Paul’s conversion, but truth is the power of the resurrection didn’t change them at all.

Of course, none of this was a surprise to God given He knew what the soldiers denied would be what many believed as they experienced His transformational love working through human hearts3; still, the takeaway here is while Christ’s resurrection was certainly a powerful moment in history, it wasn’t the greatest demonstration of divine power. Rather, as we’ll soon see, the cross,  paved the way for the greatest force of divine power – sustainable agape love.

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Application:

The application is simple: To be raised with Christ is to build His community as Jesus did after His resurrection.

“If then you have been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead, walk in newness of life and seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” ~ Colossians 2:12, Colossians 3:1, Romans 6:4 (Blended ESV)

Again, we may think the key to being on mission with God is effective evangelism, but when we consider how Paul and early church perceived being raised with Christ, we find the critical priority to be the community of Jesus serving one another in love with evangelism as the overflow. For when a genuine Christ community exists that’s all the Holy Spirit needs to impact the cultural community it exists in.

Therefore, we must be careful we don’t abuse evangelism as a promotional means to add to ‘our’ number, but rather allow the Spirit to awaken eyes to see the love we have for one another. This, I suggest, was the center of Paul’s approach to mission – we don’t build a colony of heaven through forced rhythms of effort, but instead build Christ’s community through unforced rhythms of service laden with love, kindness, and compassion. Doing this, as Paul saw it, was the way a local church could reflect heaven on earth and the way the Spirit could spread this light into new places.

As for the body of Christ, the recipe for cultural transformation is straightforward: To build communities of agape love and to let the Spirit establish them as colonies of heaven. For as we know, in this life we are plagued by worldly structures bent on dominating, manipulating, and controlling through destructive systems of independence yielding cultures of anxiety, fear, hatred, and pride. However, by living confidently in the assurance of our guaranteed future (Jeremiah 29:11, Romans 4:16, Hebrews 11:1), we can be free to accept a Kingdom, ‘crucified and raised in Christ’ structure as the framework by which we love and serve – a structure that proclaims the good news in this way: We are free because we’re helpless, free because we’re confident, free because we’re crucified in Christ, and free because we’ve been raised with Christ, the foundation to being a Jesus community4. Once we accept our helplessness, then we can better depend on the Holy Spirit, rest in our future completion, and serve in present love.

Paul describes this endgame in Galatians 5:13 and 6:2:

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” ~ Galatians 5:13

If you bear one another’s burdens, if you love by serving each other, you’ll stay in the Spirit and remain in alignment with Christ and so fulfill the law of Christ.” ~ Galatians 6:2 (paraphrased)

With Christ’s resurrection in mind, the core of being a community of Christ is experiencing the law of Christ as loving one another by serving one another…

…which brings us to why Jesus took the towel in John 13. 

While many are quick to emphasize Jesus’ humility and modeling of submissive service, what’s often missed is how the washing of His disciples’ feet clinched the founding of His community. Backtrack to v. 3 and we find our first sign of evidence: Jesus knew the Father had given all things into His hands and that He had come from God and was going back to God. This is the real reason why Jesus took the towel5 – to not only achieve a timely metaphor, but to unveil a central commandment (i.e. ‘love one another’) that would soon become the cornerstone of Christianity.

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Remember up until their feet were washed, the disciples were followers, but not a following of disciple-makers. When Peter didn’t want Jesus to wash His feet, Jesus said, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no part with me‘. Why? Because love through serving was the foundation Jesus was laying. In other words, Jesus knew convicting Peter to helplessness would open him up to radical dependence. We see this instantly when Peter replies, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head‘. Yet, even at the utter of this imperative, little did Peter realize this act of total dependence would result in radical freedom, a newness of life where he could experience life as a new human serving and loving.

As Peter discovered, the implications of this reality, specifically how we do church, is huge. In a world screaming ‘make your life count’, it’s worth noting the early church would not have understood such dogma. To them, one didn’t try to make a difference, but rather let their love through service be the difference. As such, having embraced their identity as a resurrection community – a community who loves and serves in the moment – their operation as the new humanity would ultimately revolutionize arguably the world’s greatest superpower in history.

Bottom line: What Jesus did in John 13 went far beyond washing a few stinky feet.

Rather by exchanging outer garment for towel…

  1. He revealed what resurrection community would soon look like – a ‘walk in the Spirit’, ‘serve your spouse, forgive your brother, love your enemy’ way of living far contrary to the ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ lifestyle we know today.
  2. He connected repentance to not only being transformed by the renewal of our minds (Romans 12:2), but also celebrating our helplessness, dependence, and freedom to be a John 13:35 community so, “by this all people will know that [we are His] disciples, [by our] love for one another.”
  3. He redefined church as a body of believers becoming the colony of heaven on earth by living in the Spirit (i.e. daily dying and rising with Christ).

Selah.

Prayer:

Footnotes

  1. As would soon emerge through the Holy Spirit
  2. Not to suggest we don’t prioritize evangelism; after all, the Holy Spirit’s coming was so we could be empowered to be Christ’s witnesses.
  3. Remember after Christ’s resurrection, Jesus not only prepared a community the Holy Spirit would eventually come upon in Acts 2, but also a unified body transformed by Christ’s love as a testament to God’s existence.
  4. Inspired by Messenger Fellowship’s ‘Being the Community of Jesus’ module.
  5. Side note: I love how this moment captures Christ’s baptism and brings it full circle (more on this in a future post).
Photo creds: Highland Park United Methodist Church
*Content inspired by Messenger Fellowship’s ordination course*

 

 

Repeat the Sounding Joy

So a few weeks ago I’m walkin’ to work basking in the joy of winter actually feeling like winter when out of the corner of my ear, I hear ‘Joy to the World’ playing from a nearby corner street music station. At first, I’m like, ‘December is over. No more Christmas music!’ But almost instantly I hear that still, small voice whispering…

…‘But Cam. Why not repeat the sounding joy?’

*Holy Spirit mic drop*

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Of course, what can I say, but admit the truth…

…that notes and lyrics that seem out of place by cultural timelines should always be in place by daily surrender.

Among all the reasons Isaac Watts wrote the song, perhaps this in light of the cross’ power is the greatest key to his interpretation of Genesis 3:17-18, Psalm 96:11-12, and Psalm 98¹.

Of course, I could dive into a deeper analysis of the carol’s Scriptural inspirations (I may come back to this Christmas 2019). For now, understand there’s a reason why certain Christmas songs like, ‘Deck the Halls’ and ‘Joy to the World’ are the only ones that can cure my little Everly’s sadness. Seriously, Caeden (who just turned three) will start singing his ‘Fa, la, la, la’s’…and even if it’s a few minutes, all is calm, all is bright in the world.

*Note: You don’t need kids to extrapolate this example into your own life*

Bottom line: As you walk with God, receive the practical, prudent reminders of His goodness, peace, and joy even they momentarily disagree with the senses.

Footnotes

  1. Speaking of the latter, it’s interesting to note how he incorporated the passage into his song. As history shows, after Watt’s father challenged Isaac to write contrarian to his contemporaries, Watts started to pursue lyrics that not only exalted Christ, but also reminded Christians of their hope in his saving work on the cross. Clearly, this desire is evident in the way he wrote “Joy to the World” with Psalm 98:4 driving the song’s legacy home:

 

“Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!” And this is exactly what Watts set out to do. Little did he know that this song would spark a joyful noise that would ring through the ages.”