Four Things Seminary Did Not Teach Me.

Before you read this list, I want to say Seminary was wonderful and I learned a ton from seminary! My professors were amazing and I was prepared for ministry because of Seminary. Further, this post is my own experience and is not intended to be a criticism of Seminary. Others may have learned these things in Seminary, I did not.

I am a 37 year old pastor of a small church plant in south Texas. I have been in vocational ministry for over 15 years and have served at some level of leadership in a variety of churches since I was 14 years old. When I began in ministry, I recognized my need to learn. I entered Seminary with a deep desire to learn everything I could and I did so with a fierce and steady methodology. I took seminary slowly and strove to soak up everything I could from my professors. I coveted opportunity to learn from older pastors and professors who had proven track records.

I learned a great deal in Seminary. Necessary Biblical training and historical understanding of the church has served to shape me and improve my own life. I believe my seminary studies taught me much of what I need to know to serve and lead a church well. That having been said, I did not learn EVERYTHING I needed to know from seminary. There were some things that I had to learn on the job.

  1. How to plan for church events and yearly schedule.I’ll never forget the first time I was asked to present a schedule for a youth group for the year. I was informed that the staff had a meeting on Sunday night with the other leaders of the church. I began to panic. I walked across the hall to the associate pastor’s office with as much composure as I could muster and asked him to clarify what I was supposed to present. He graciously walked me through a basic understanding of what to do. Over the next 8 years in that position I developed a pattern of planning in advance. I would prepare sermons months in advance, events were planned almost a year ahead, and the general calendar of the youth ministry was completed in September. My fellow pastors suffered as a result of not being able to sit down and plan. So I resolved to be ahead and as a result I was often available to run events for them as well.

    Now, I am always about 4 months ahead in planning for worship. I can usually tell you what I am going to teach and where the teaching is headed 8 months in advance. I can preach the sermons about 4 months ahead of time. I plan events months in advance and I have a pretty good grasp on how to schedule and plan in general.

    Seminary did not teach me how to plan. I had to learn on the job. I was fortunate to serve with ministers who knew what they were doing and had experience in leading organizations. In short, here is how you plan. Pray, lay out a calendar, put your schedule down with some flexible dates, start with the easiest event to plan (most often something you’ve done before that does not need to change), then work from most common to most unique. Don’t fall into the trap of doing the soonest first. If you will plan the most common event first and then work your way to the most uncommon (or new events), then you will find momentum and you’ll enjoy the work a lot more.

  2. Conflict resolution.Being a pastor means that you are a shepherd. Funny thing about sheep… They bite. People are sheep. We bite, jockey for position, shove, and butt heads when we do not get our way. Seminary does not teach your pastor how to deal with Mrs. Contentious when she has upset Mrs. Overly-dramatic. The difficulty of these conflicts is that it rarely ever works out in a room with all parties present. Most of the time, conflict resolution involves talking to each party individually and slowly leading them to make decisions that help to grant grace.

    To be honest, I’m still not an expert in conflict resolution. I know what the Scripture says, and I try to follow those principles. But conflict resolution is rarely an issue of HOW I read Scripture and often an issue of getting others to READ the Bible. In my inadequate amount of knowledge on conflict resolution I’ve learned four things that help me in dealing with others.

    First: Remember, unless it is genuine heresy, it is not as important as we think. Do not make a big deal over secondary issues.

    Second: Address confusion, gossip, and rumors immediately from the source. This is sin. So when gossip or rumors surface, address them immediately. Grant grace and be casual about the address, but do not leave sin unaddressed.

    Third: Accept that some conflict is just going to be around and you’re going to have to learn to live in that tension. In a church that I served in for several years there was a particular man who just did not like me. I would try to be polite, earn favor, and do a good job in effort to somehow garner his approval, but to no avail. Eventually I just accepted that he was not going to like me and I moved on. There was no overt sin to address and he stayed in his area of ministry without causing issues elsewhere. Once I accepted that I was not going to be liked by everyone, this particular conflict stopped bothering me. I wish I had some great reconciliation story for this one, but as I said above, “Sheep bite.”

    Fourth: Give people the benefit of the doubt. Seldom is anyone just being selfish or rude. Most of the time, in the church, people believe they are doing what is right. They don’t mean to be hateful or malicious. Recognize that and treat people accordingly.

  3. Humility.I love seminary students, I really do. They are filled with zeal and they often know the right answers. I love seminary students… especially AFTER they graduate. When I was in Seminary I was trained in how to find the answers I needed in Scripture! I know the languages of the Bible and I love to study old dead guys. I went into ministry with a tremendous grasp on theology, ecclesiology, eschatology, and every other ology! I felt as though I had answers.

    While my professors worked hard to teach me that I did not know the answers to every problem, the critical environment of Seminary inadvertently taught me that I am right! I was taught to identify problems in the church and offer theoretical answers to those issues. Seminary was intended to produce a servant who would labor to display the character of Christ in the midst of fellow Christians. The result of my own arrogance produced a young man who needed some chips knocked off his shoulder.

    It took me several years to realize that I am not. It took me years to learn that I needed other leaders who could walk with me through difficult circumstances and give counsel. It took me years to learn that I needed the voices of other leaders to call me out when I was in error.

    The church I serve now has a plurality of elders who hold me to account. They know me well and I loose a lot of battles to those guys. I trust them and as a result, my confidence is bolstered and humility is honored.

  4. How to define successI was one of those students who could read the book in a day and write the report that evening and make an A on the paper. If a professor favored content over grammar, I was going to make an A+ in the class. I could make a B with little effort and found seminary to be a long, but enjoyable experience. With all my work in seminary, I never learned how to define success. I learned how to fail and what it meant to work your way back from the bottom. I failed Hebrew twice and worked hard to overcome failing Hebrew 1 eventually make an A in Hebrew 1, Hebrew 2, and Exegetical Hebrew. I knew what failure way, and I knew how to press on to overcome failure. But I did not know what success was.

    Seminary does not teach you how to measure success in ministry. I did not know if I should measure myself according to the numbers in attendance or if I should find another metric. Eventually I landed on another method of judging success, you can read about that here. (article also linked below.) Whether you judge success in numbers, or life transformation, or personal devotion, strive to learn how to judge success in your ministry. It will be the catalyst for purpose and your ministry directives.

When I first began to seek a full time position at a church my first question for every church was, “can I learn from your pastors?” I was fortunate to meet a man who had been in ministry and was serving as an associate pastor. He was not a seminary grad or a wise old seasoned pastor. He was a genuine pastor who knew some things I didn’t. I credit him for much of what I do in ministry. We sharpened each other. If you are considering ministry. Find a guy that is a little further down the road from you and learn what you can from him.

HOW TO JUDGE SUCCESS

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Brief Thoughts: Galatians 1:21-24

21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me.

One of the most common character traits among great Christian leaders is a startling lack of desire for fame. There is a profound humility that accompanies the self-aware Christian. It is a humility born out of the understanding that man’s works and achievements cannot secure salvation. Paul certainly grasped the weighty truth that God alone must save. It is this truth that drives the bulk of his letter to the Galatians. Paul is not redeemed because he deserves redemption or has earned righteous covering. Rather, Paul is acutely aware that his own salvation is the result of grace extended from God’s hands to him. Likewise, any exaltation or honor for the work of the gospel after Paul’s conversion is due to Christ alone.

Reflecting on his journey in Christ, Paul explains that he was obscure and unknown in person to the Christian leaders for several years. He did not travel to Jerusalem and was not trying to advance politically. Indeed, in his former life of Judaism, Paul had attempted to make a name for himself, climbing the ranks of religious leadership. His Christian journey is marked by an attitude contrary to his former life. He seeks no fame nor accolade for himself. His testimony bears witness that he is concerned with the glory of God, not his own fame or fortune.

Beware of those who seek to make their own name great. Those supposed men of God who must have their names printed on everything are truly men who are seeking their own glory. A leader who seeks his own glory is not a leader worth following. Instead, seek to follow leaders who are obsessed with the glory of God and His kingdom. A Godly leader is one who will place the exaltation of Christ above his own prestige.

Paul seeks the glory of the Lord and early on in his ministry was privileged to be used by God to acclaim Jesus’ name and glory. Indeed, Paul recognizes that true joy is found not in fame or self-exaltation, but in lifting high the name of Jesus.

In Western Christianity, there is a pressure among teachers and preachers of the gospel to make their own names great. Marketing strategies, blogs, video curriculums, and the like are sold with particular teacher’s names attached and there is a particular glory that is often ascribed to these teachers. Consider Paul’s testimony in light of such a reality. He was not known to any of them personally, nor was he a famous teacher. Yet, the Lord used his testimony to further the Gospel and in this Paul found his value. “They only were hearing it said, ‘He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.’ And they glorified God because of me” (v. 23-24).

If we desire to glorify God above ourselves there are a few things we can learn from Paul.

  1. Seek to grow in your knowledge of God in fervent, God-obsessed, self-obscurity. Paul begins his discipleship process among unknown saints. He joins the disciples in Arabia (1:17) and does not pursue any of the big names until three years into his growth as a Christian (1:18). Learn to cultivate a love for obscurity. In this modern age, obscurity can be a blessing. When everything is put online for the world to see, there is little room for error or mistake and there is less forgiveness than there is room.
  2. Train yourself to find value in God’s glory. As Paul reflects on his life, he finds his value in knowing that his past wickedness is used to glorify God. There is certainly shame over his past life, yet God has redeemed him and is using his former self-righteousness to exalt the Gospel.
  3. Think heavily about grace and strive to extend it to everyone. A cursory read of Paul’s life in the book of Acts will show that he became obsessed with grace. Recognizing that the law could not save and that his previous successes as a Pharisee meant very little in the Kingdom, Paul demonstrates that God saves whoever will come (John 6:37). There is no preference given to one group over another, only grace extended to every weary and repentant sinner. Even the apostle Paul had to learn to cultivate grace. Paul’s relationship with Barnabas certainly helped him learn to extend grace to his brothers and sisters in Christ as is exemplified in his reaction to John Mark and his apparent shift from early in his ministry to the place of 2 Timothy 4:11.

Learning to practice these three things will help to cultivate a vision for God’s glory over self-exaltation. In the long run, these will bring you much more joy in your Christian walk.

 

 

We Hide From Conflict; Ways we Rob Ourselves of Joy, Part 2

The time had come to address the issue. My stomach seemed to drop beneath the ground and my head began to spin. The weight of conflict landed heavy on my shoulders and made my fight or flight reflexes begin to wrestle with unrivaled fury. I knew this issue must be dealt with and I also knew I did not want to do what was necessary.

As I entered the room and sat across from the man I needed to speak with, my legs felt like jello and I could see on his face the same weight was heavy on him. Small talk and light banter covered over our awkward attempts to dance around the issue. Then, one of us spoke of it.

This sort of encounter is normative in communities. People are fragile. Relationships break and fracture. Often these confrontational meetings are necessary. However necessary they may be, we don’t like them and we often try to avoid them. We convince ourselves that we can just sweep the issue aside and persist in a false sense of harmony. Overwhelmed with the prospect of effort it will take to overcome the conflict, we run from the opportunity for joy! You see, when conflict arises, we are given a rare opportunity to press hard into the community and find joy. We are granted the grace to test our faith community and see the grace of God. We are given the chance to trust God in the midst of our failures. We are given the opportunity to love and know God more fully.

Yet, given the opportunity to walk through difficulty and feel the grace of God, we often deny ourselves the joy in favor of complacent comfort. There are numerous reasons for this avoidance, here are four common reasons why I have avoided conflict:

1. I was afraid of the outcome. Indeed, the end result of conflict terrifies us. We convince ourselves that vulnerability will result in our own self-destruction. We look across at the other person as though we are in a contest that must result in the death of someone or something. However, death is not required in conflict. Indeed, if you have trusted in Christ, death is not on the table. Conflict will not result in your demise, only your betterment. Romans 8:28 is true! God works all things for good. In the midst of conflict, we need to remember death is not on the table.

2. I don’t trust God’s grace and sovereignty. In general, it is safe to say that most people believe that God is all powerful and CAN do what He desires to do. While some may argue over the self-imposed limitations or the preservation of free agency, Christians agree that God is actively playing a role in the world and in our individual circumstances. If it is true that God is actively involved in the world and that His involvement is good (Romans 8:28), then it stands to reason that the conflicts we face can be used by God for our good and His glory. When we avoid necessary confrontations and difficult discussions we deny the truth that God is good and we fail to trust that God is at work in our circumstances. We fail to trust God.

3. I fear I will be fully known. Most people do not have close personal friends. Indeed, many are living rather lonely lives even in the midst of crowded spaces. In truth, we don’t want to people to know who we really are. Self-identity and thorough self examination are terrifying to our sensibilities. We want people to think that we are perfect and that we have everything together. However, there is great comfort in being known. When someone knows us, we need not fear that we will fail to live up to expectations or disappoint through conflict.

4. I misunderstand the value of conflict. Conflict is inherently valuable. It is through conflict that we grow and produce valuable means of grace and maturity. It is often through the greatest conflict that God develops the greatest soldiers in the Kingdom.

Here are three ways to press through conflict and grow.

1. Remember this is not the end, take the long view. My dad used to say, “don’t sweat the small stuff and if you back up far enough, everything is pretty small.” Remember there is a great deal more to life than this one issue. Gain some perspective and realize that this is not the end. Indeed, for a believer, none of this life is the end. Heaven awaits and this is merely a training ground. So, if this is not the end, then press on towards action. Instead of dwelling on and dealing with past offense, move forward. Make plans of how to move forward in the relationship. Ask forgiveness for wrongs committed, offer forgiveness when wounded, and make plans to advance the Kingdom of God. (A truly practical way to do this is to make specific plans to hold eachother accountable for gospel work. Commit to pray for specific gospel opportunities for one another. This way we turn conflict into conquest!)

2. Remember grace given to you, Jesus overcame the ultimate conflict for you. Often, in times of conflict, we forget the grace that has been given to us. A “woe is me” mindset begins to set in and our ability to see the reality of our circumstance is skewed. But God has granted us grace beyond our own ability and has rescued us from certain death! In Jesus, He has taken the punishment for sin upon Himself and forgiven you. You who were an enemy, He has made His child. Can you not extend grace to someone else? Is this conflict going to result in your literal crucifixion? If not, I think you can bare a little tension and struggle for the betterment of your community. Extend grace to the other person. Don’t take things personally, even if they are and go ahead and let yourself die for the other person. After all, if Christ is in you… then you have the power to do so.

3. Remember to cherish life. Through storm comes life. The aftermath of storms is devastating. Houses are destroyed, lives are lost, and even nature seems to be crying out in despair after a hurricane or tornado. However, when we return to the sight of a storm years later, houses are built stronger, lives are restored, and even the ground seems to have blossomed with a life-ferocious. Storms may bring pain, but they also strengthen the resolve to live. When conflict comes, do your best to preserve life, remembering that you will be stronger on the other end. Confess your wrongs, own your faults, take the blame (even if you’re right). Let the storm land on you so that you can preserve and protect the other. IN this way you will be stronger and the other will be loved.

Are there things you do to press into conflict? Share them in comments!

See part 1 of this post here

Galatians 1:18-20; Brief Thoughts

18 Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. 19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. 20 (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ.

Paul’s insistence that he was introduced to the Gospel through a supernatural encounter with Jesus as Lord can lead readers to believe that there was no discipleship in his life. However, a simple read through the book of Acts reveals Paul’s own journey as one that involved the community of faith and particular men who poured intertwined their lives with Paul, vouching for his character, encouraging his relational growth, and sitting with him while he wrestled with the deep truths of the gospel.

After his initial conversion, Paul was directed by Christ to go to Ananias in Damascus and there Paul recovered his sight and began to live among the saints as one of their number (Acts 9:10-22). Three years later, Paul travels to Jerusalem and spends 15 days learning from and with Peter and James. In Acts 9:26-31 Paul attempts to join the disciples and they avoid him because of his past persecutions. It is at this moment that one of the greatest disciple-makers in Scripture takes hold of Paul and begins to train him in the gospel. Barnabas begins to walk with Paul and teach him the way of Christ.

In Paul’s story, Barnabas serves as his mentor. Though Paul failed to connect with the disciples in Jerusalem, God provided a brave and bold brother who loved others deeply to disciple this stubborn scholar. Barnabas and Paul fought side by side to advance the gospel (Acts 13-15). Barnabas and Paul would eventually separate over Paul’s opinions about John Mark, Barnabas’ cousin. After years together, Barnabas and Paul continue the mission without each other. It is tempting to see the separation of Acts 15:36-41 as a failure of the disciple-making process. However, it is natural that leaders will eventually need to separate from one another and pursue their own specific assignments in the gospel ministry.

Paul had a miraculous conversion and certainly a radical and spontaneous transformation. However, this transformation was shaped and refined in community through careful discipleship. God gave Paul a community of faith that could help mold his ministry and empower him as a leader. Paul was so acutely aware of his community that he writes of them at the end of every letter, including those who are walking with him in the moment. In truth, Paul’s life before Christ was marked by a personal exaltation and a kind of lone-wolf fame. However, as a Christian, Paul is almost never alone. On the rare occasion that he is alone, God provides a convert.

Paul’s testimony in Galatians may lead young Christians to think that they do not need to be discipled or trained in the Gospel. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of Paul’s growth. Paul was poured into by other believers throughout his ministry. He had a brother who dedicated himself to serving alongside him in Barnabas. Barnabas taught Paul a great deal and Paul’s character changed as he walked with Barnabas. Then Silas walked with Paul and offered kinship. Oh, Christian, God has so much more for you than lone-ranger Christianity. He has formed a community in the Church that can and does help you grow. Don’t mistake Paul’s testimony for one that denies the influence of any community. Paul is simply reminding the Galatians that his own faith is just that – his own.

Paul’s faith is not from Peter or the Apostles. Indeed, as discussed above, Barnabas played a much more significant role in Paul’s growth than the other leaders of the Church. For three years Paul lived the faith out with brothers and sisters whose names we may never know. The point of his testimony in Galatians is not that he did not learn from anyone, but that his authority and understanding of salvation is not drawn from any man.

Paul understood what discipleship is. He recognized that the Holy Spirit is the teacher and we learn together from Him. His work and life are testaments to the truth that believers grow best in community.

So, to whom are you connected? What community are you growing with? Paul’s testimony is certainly not prescriptive for the average Christian. Indeed, everyone’s testimony is unique and individual. However, we can still learn from Paul’s journey. He needed Barnabas to walk with him. He needed the unnamed believers in Damascus to encourage and help give him a start. He needed Silas to walk with him in his later mission work. He needed Timothy and Titus to receive his discipleship. You need the community as well. There is no such thing as a Christian devoid of community. You need the body. To put this simply: go find a church and plugin.

Brief Thoughts; Galatians 1:15-17

15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.

When a man recognizes his own inability to achieve the work of salvation within his own power, he is brought low. He will see the task before him, the mountain that must be conquered, and he will feel the weight of impossibility. For Paul, this was accomplished in a moment. He was heading to prove his own righteous worth before a holy God and that God knocked Paul of course. In a moment he knelt before an unknown God, whom he had dedicated his life to study, and asked, “who are you, Lord!?” The righteous Pharisee, the persecutor of the church, the fury of the Law’s wrath was reduced to surrender and blinded in his own self-righteousness.

Such a conversion leaves nothing to the self-importance of a man. Such a conversion is a violent reduction of man’s role. Paul’s transfer from the kingdom of this world to the Kingdom of God is a sudden and vicious rejection of Paul’s offering of righteous works according to the law. Only Christ’s work will suffice to bring salvation. Paul’s language about his life in Christ reflects this great truth: that salvation is a work of God alone.

Paul acknowledges that Christ “had set [him] apart before [he] was born” (v.15). Paul’s receipt of Salvation is such that he knows that he has little to do with the victory wrought on his behalf. Before Paul was born, Christ had set the course for Paul’s eventual redemption. This loving and generous God had designated Paul to be His own. As Paul observes of Jacob and Esau in Romans 9:11 the course of election is set before the man has accomplished any deed. Consider the grace present in this picture: God sees that the intention of Paul is entirely wicked, murderous, and determined self-righteous works and still God sets him apart for the greatest glory. God’s redemption was set in motion before Paul ever took a breath.

Least we think this means that Paul was simply a robot with no meaningful choice or part in the Lord’s work of salvation, Paul follows his bold declaration of election with two verbs that describe God’s work. God’s work, though set before Paul’s birth, is calling and revealing. First, Paul is set apart. In this, he acknowledges that salvation is a work of God from the beginning. Then Paul explains that this set apart reality is manifest in a calling by God. The calling of Christ on the heart of a believer is effective. When a believer is called, he must come out. As Lazarus was compelled to defy death and come out of the tomb at the call of Jesus in John 11, so Christians are compelled to rise from our dead state and glory in the presence and glory of Jesus Christ! (For further reflection on the calling of Jesus on the heart of those who believe consider Jesus’ words in John 6:35-59.)

Note also, the calling that Paul speaks of is “in His grace” (v. 15). Paul’s calling is one of grace. He is called by God because God is good and gracious. There is no merit in Paul that derives such a lavish gift. Indeed, Paul’s own works should be met with wrath and eternal death. A holy God who is infinite and just ought to lay waste to Paul. This is mercy in the face of certain death! God bestows mercy on Paul by calling him to surrender. The Holy Lord of all creation is well within His rights to destroy everyone, and yet He offers salvation in Jesus Christ to all who will believe! This is grace. There is no earned worth in Paul’s calling, only grace.

God was “pleased to reveal his Son” to Paul (v.16). The revelation of Jesus to believers delights God! Consider that for a moment: your faith pleases God! When you see Jesus as He is, you delight the heart of the King of all things! You seeing Jesus makes God happy!

To what end was Paul saved? He was not brought to the obedience of faith in a vacuum. Each personal encounter with Christ is set in the larger context of God’s redemptive plan. You matter to God’s work. You are a part of God’s plan and you play a role in the Kingdom. Paul was redeemed for the purpose of sharing the Gospel with the Gentiles. Likewise, you have been redeemed to display the gospel for all to see. So get to work. Share the revelation of Jesus.

Galatians 1:11-14; Brief Thoughts

11 For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. 13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 14 And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. 

Paul’s understanding of the gospel is one of complete dependence. He is completely dependent on Jesus for his salvation. According to Paul, the Gospel is something that has been accomplished by the work of Jesus on the cross and not by any works or movement of any man. Indeed, there is no good thing that a man could do to possibly save.

In the churches of Galatia, some were accusing Paul of preaching a gospel that would establish his own righteousness above their own. This accusation embodied a fundamental misunderstanding of Paul’s own experience and interpretation of that experience. Paul answers the objections by giving a testimony of his own discipleship. He does not focus on his conversion experience or his pre-conversion life. Rather, he briefly mentions those and then spends the bulk of the testimony explaining his own discipleship journey (Paul explains his discipleship from chapter 1:12-2:21, concluding with the famous paragraph that includes, “not I but Christ who lives within me!”).

Paul has spoken the gospel message that Jesus saves by faith and not by works of the law. Certainly, the Jewish leaders would have claimed that Moses had received the law from God and therefore, it was not of man. Yet, Paul went one step further citing that the law was given to man for the purpose of leading men to recognize their need for Jesus. Salvation is not a result of works, nor is it achieved by works of the law. Salvation is a work of grace that is secured solely by God’s hand.

Paul appeals to his readers as “brothers” (v.11). In this simple title, he diminishes the distance that they may have felt from him as a leader. His gospel is not distant nor is it unique to Paul’s experience. His gospel is what connects them as family. It is what empowers their connection as brothers. Through the gospel of Jesus Christ, they have been united as family. Such a connection could only be forged by the creator. Such kinsmen could only be united through super-natural means by a divine designer. We are united in the gospel as family because the creator of all is the designer and sustainer of the gospel itself. This gospel is not “man’s gospel.” If it were man’s gospel, then it could not unite them as brothers.

Paul did not receive the gospel from a man, nor was he taught the truth by a man. He received it from God. A careful reader will note that Paul is not saying that no man had any influence in his own spiritual growth. Rather, Paul is asserting that he did not first learn the gospel from a teacher. He had a miraculous experience (c.f. Acts 9:1-19). Paul’s journey of faith led him to learn from Peter, James, and even Barnabas. However, it was Jesus who met him on the road to Damascus, blinding him and leading him to Ananias. It was Jesus whom Paul first met as Lord. Jesus claimed Paul for Himself and no man could take credit for his conversion. Paul’s conversion was wrought by Jesus.

As evidence of this truth, Paul cites his own history. He explains that he was too busy murdering those who would have taught him the gospel to learn from them. Paul’s life was bound up in self-righteous piety and war on Christianity. He was present at the stoning of Steven, most likely instigating the crowd to murder him (Acts 7:1-8:1). He was ravaging the church and attempting to blot out Christianity altogether. Paul was not merely a Jewish leader, he was the general leading the charge against Christ! So great was his zeal for the law of Moses that he was making a name for himself as outstanding among his peers. Certainly, such a man must have divine intervention in order to bring him salvation.

Such is the nature of salvation for us all. Amidst our attempts at self-righteousness, God intervenes and rescues us from our own wickedness. Like Paul, we all must have a transforming encounter with the Most High. There must be a surrendering of self and submission to Christ. Indeed, the law and moral activity cannot make us clean enough to redeem us from sin. Yet, God has provided a way of salvation to all who believe: Jesus. Trust in Jesus’ goodness to save you. He has come to earth, lived a perfect life, bore the punishment for sin on your behalf, rose from the dead bringing resurrection, and has redeemed those who would believe! Trust Him.

We Rob Ourselves of Rest; Ways we Rob Ourselves of Joy. Pt. 1

We avoid rest. Often we find ourselves tired and in need of rest. We need reprieve from the world. So we seek rest in passivity, or entertainment, or even just sleep. Our work makes us tired, both physically and mentally and we seek to refresh ourselves by “resting.” The trouble is that we have a fundamental misunderstanding of rest. We think “rest” means “doing nothing.” We think “rest” means escaping reality. Rest is so much more.

In my first church position I served as the janitor/youth pastor/set-up team/technical ministries head. It was my first position and I worked hard to learn how to do ministry. A pastor had taken a chance on me as a 22 year-old fresh out of college and I am forever grateful. Well, now I’m grateful. I grew into that.

As part of my job, each Sunday I would set up the church starting around 5:00 am. Church started at 10, the band arrived between 8 and 8:30 to practice. Our building doubled as a dance academy each week, so set up could be rather extensive. I would set up 100 chairs, a full sound system, and anything else that was necessary. During my near 2 year tenure at the church I had several volunteers come and help on occasion. They would help for a season and then might be too busy or too tired to continue and they would drift off. For the last year I was there, one man stood out as more faithful than the rest… Will

Will was a man who was basically homeless. He lived in a trailer/camper that most people would claim condemned. He smoked like a chimney in winter and looked as though he did not know how to shave. What most people would never have guessed is that Will was dying of cancer. He had a hole in his back shoulder blade and you could literally put your hand inside the hole and pull it out clean. At some point in my time as all things “setter-upper,” Will became a believer in Jesus (through conversations with my pastor) and began to show up every Sunday morning.

Each morning I would begrudgingly open the church, complaining about how early it was and how no one ever saw the work that was done before church started. Will would arrive just before or just after I unlocked and would go to the back room, clean and re-dress his cancerous wound, then he’d come out and start to set up the chairs. Often he would begin to cough up blood and have to go to the restroom to clean himself up again. Nothing was ever said. Often it was just Will and myself. Sometimes others would join us. The pastor was kind and would occasionally join us, if he knew I was tired. We set the church up in near silence.

One particular morning Will had a coughing attack and covered his mouth with a white rag that slowly turned red. He went to the restroom to clean up and came back a few minutes later. I wondered why this man, dying of cancer, would arrive at church 5 hours early to set up chairs and be at church. Why would someone who was so tired and who seemed to struggle to stay upright consistently arrive at church early, wear himself out, and subject his body to such pain when he could sleep an additional 4 hours and arrive at church rested.

Setting out the last chair, I turned to see him stumble back into the room with a fresh rag hanging from his pocket. I asked, “Will, why are you here? You could easily show up at 10:00 and enjoy the service and get more rest at home!?” A moment of silence followed. Then his gravelly voice responded, “I’m here because I need the rest.”

“Rest?” What? Didn’t I just ask him why he was depriving himself of rest? Will knew something I had yet to learn – rest is not found in sleeping or doing nothing. Rest is found in Jesus. Will knew that his soul needed the rest of service. He knew that his mind and heart needed the rest of community. He knew what rest was and he knew where to find it. So he arrived early each Sunday to serve, to engage, to rejoice… to rest. He came each week, setting up chairs, running wires, setting up screens, moving speakers, and coughing up blood, all in order to rest.

Cancer would take his life two years later and usher him to true rest with Christ. It took me a long time to understand what Will meant. In fact, I’m not sure I completely grasp the depths of that simple man’s response. But I do understand a little more now. I know that when I am physically and mentally exhausted, I need to put in the effort to go to the Bible Study and find rest in the community’s study. I know I need to push through and do my personal devotions to find rest in study. I know I need to make that food for the sick brother or invite the needy one to talk in order to find rest in service. I know I need to attend church or go to visit that brother or sister and delight in the rest of community. I know that sleep or mindless entertainment will not answer my need for rest. Jesus is where we find rest. We find Jesus in two places, the Word of God and the community of faith (1 John 4:12). Seek out rest.

Some basic things you can do to find rest:

  1. Read your Bible instead of your phone.
  2. Attend church and Bible Study.
  3. Read other good books.
  4. Take time to talk with other believers.

When you are tired, seek rest in these things. Don’t waste the time you are given, seek out true rest.

I John 4:7-12