The Cost of Ministry

I have a friend who is the most talented salesperson and one of the most gifted minds in business that I have ever known. He has the capacity to make money with seemingly effortless ease. He also has struggled personally to an extreme that is rare and, in the middle of it all loves Jesus and pursues God as fervently as anyone I know. From that place of ability, struggle, relationship and pursuit, there appears to be an invitation from God for this friend to step into ministry.

“Ministry,” by definition, is service to others. In this context, that service is related to eternal things grounded in the Word of God. That calling, to serve, doesn’t require special schools or a job at a 501(c)3, as 2 Corinthians 5 makes clear. In that chapter, Paul teaches that once we are reconciled to Christ, we are ministers of reconciliation. It isn’t dependent on a profession, but a relationship.

In the unfolding of this calling, my friend called me in tears. The tears come from the pain of dying to himself. What God is doing within him requires that any pride and any needs for attention or affirmation from the service of reconciliation must die. He has realized that the reason God is talking to him about that is because it needs to be talked about when he considers himself.

Ministry will eat you up. A desire to serve without the ongoing death of your soul will pervert your service. It will be a service to needs for the filling of your voids instead of in submission to the purposes of Jesus. What God was doing with and in my friend is a favor to my friend and a requirement of true service. It can’t be about us, or it wasn’t ministry in the first place because it wasn’t about serving.

Our soul has wants and needs that will be satisfied in the grace of Jesus and the Holy Spirit fills us and fills us again. The grace of Jesus will lead us to the love of the Father and that love is a perfect satisfier. That perfect love fills us and affirms us and satisfies temporal voids with eternal relationship. The shortcut can be ministry.

If we serve others in their effort or need to be reconciled to the Father through the Son, they often times will ascribe value to us in the process. They will affirm the “anointing” or gifts of the servant. If there is anything in the minister’s soul that feeds, it can stir an addictive cycle of attention seeking in Jesus name.

Want to serve? Have to die first. Want to minister? It will cost you everything, starting with yourself. You’ll never regret it but if it doesn’t make you uncomfortable then you are probably missing it.

 

Choose Forgiveness or Swallow the Bitter Poison

There are two choices; forgive or grow bitter. There is no such word as “unforgiveness,” there is only forgiveness given or bitterness fostered. Remember anybody along the way that someone else said, “they are just a bitter old man?” Likely, if true, it’s because they chose not to forgive somewhere along the way.

Catch that? “Chose” not to forgive. Nothing about their feelings. Forgiveness isn’t an emotion; it’s a choice. It doesn’t mean that it didn’t hurt; in fact, hurt is almost always present if/when forgiveness is called for. Forgiveness comes as a choice in the face of hurt. Or bitterness.

Bitterness is validated by justice. When considering what someone did which was hurtful or offensive, it is typically not difficult to formulate a solid strategy and monologue supporting their conviction. We all become trial attorneys. Based on our supporting evidence, we find you guilty and in fact, it’s often true. So the self-argued and self-decided guilty verdict results in a sentence of nothing for the other person and bitterness for us. Poison.

They offered Jesus the poison, the bitter gall, on the Cross. He could have taken it and it would have eased His pain but He didn’t swallow it. He wasn’t on the cross to get even; He was on the Cross to give grace. He wasn’t there to perpetuate justice; He was there to satisfy it. He chose instead, “Forgive them, Father . . . ”

Making the case and holding onto the offense is satisfying for a moment. It satisfies our soul’s desire for justice at the cost of our spirit’s need for grace. It fosters toxins that give us the illusion of vindication but actually starts the erosion of our character from the agitating effects of bitterness.

It’s not an emotion; you can’t wait until it feels better because it’s needed in triage at the diagnosis or hurt. In fact, that same choice to forgive may have to be made over and over through lingering hurt from a single offense. It may have to be multiplied 7 times 70 or so.

The best part is that you don’t really have to manufacture it; there is a Source that will give it to you. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” gives us the “how to.” Remember and appropriate the grace that you have received and continue to need. Then, give it away to others.

Want to Change the World?

At our core, we want to live beyond ourselves; leaving a mark that lasts. The applications of that want can be expressed through various forums, including family, finances, beliefs and community. How to accomplish the greatest of possibilities requires the simplest of choices.

It starts with a heart that is able to be wrong. We must be comfortable with our flaws or the strength of our abilities will paralyze multiplication through agreement. In other words, if everyone else is so impressed or intimidated with our perfection, there will be no call for them to agree and multiply. The net result would be a very finite impact. True emotional security produces the humility that accepts it’s own limitations.

That humility is fueled by grace. It is acceptance of invitations into destiny despite us. That invitation is from a Source that has plenty of perfection to give to make up for all of our flaws. When we can accept acceptance, we can see others beyond their flaws in the same manner we get past ours. We aren’t perfect and neither are they, so we can agree and minimize the drag that imperfections might cause individually. Agreement produces multiplication and multiplication produces exponential impact.

From acceptance that originates in eternity, we don’t have to work from a heart that strives to be recognized or rewarded but from a satisfied soul that desires outcomes more than it needs affirmation. We get to; we don’t have to. We are invited, not compelled. From that freedom, the passion to run is inspiring and sustainable in a way that others can join in and go further and beyond what we are capable of.

Agreement is imperative to impact as multiplication is necessary for expansion. Lasting agreement requires invitation without relying on manipulation, subjective absolutes or division. Freedom fosters invitation as it is secure in its identity and conviction, allowing others to determine their place and extent of involvement. Even if it means rejection.

You can change the world but for you and for me, that starts and ends with the heart. From the heart, good intentions either get multiplied by agreement which is fostered by grace or they are limited in their own insecurities. The challenge is that the need for grace is ongoing as our insecurities take a lifetime to resolve. This requires a perpetual posture of submission for the greatest possibilities of impact. The good news is that the grace which fuels greatness is available in Jesus.

You Know Humility Isn’t Weakness, Right?

I got that little jewel handed to me thing morning. Through what has seemed like a battle that has lingered for decades, I’ve realized lately that I’ve been more focused on me than I would care to admit. I have admitted it, however, and the Lord is peeling it back for me to afford increase in the decrease.

Upon sharing with my wife, Julie, another perspective that Holy Spirit stirred related to pride generally and my pride specifically, she lovingly looked at me and offered, “you know humility isn’t weakness, right?” Seriously, it was so sweet and caring and clearly for my best interests that it was incredibly easy to receive.

First knee-jerk reaction was internally something like, “well of course I do.” Within a split second or two, however, I realized that I have put humility and weakness hand in hand. Weakness isn’t an appealing characteristic for me and I don’t suspect it is for most of us. Men may be particularly adverse to the idea of allowing for weakness.

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

By the way; I looked it up . . . “weakness” in that passage means weakness. It means a lack of capacity either in physical terms or in the character of our soul. But that same passage promises perfection and power by way of Christ without the limitations of my body or soul.

Here is what I learned in the past about pride; it isn’t reflective of a strength, but of an insecurity. Pride is self-promotion and the only time that is necessary is when we don’t feel promoted otherwise. So humility is actually a strength as it reflects the realization that, in Christ, we are perfected and empowered. Julie is right; humility isn’t weakness; it is actually strength. The security of knowing your limitations invites the grace of Jesus.

Today I choose to be strong and admit that I am weak. I choose to rest more in His grace than I do in my ability. I welcome His power where my efforts are otherwise limited. You’re invited.

We All Want to Preach

We all want to preach because it’s easier than the real deal. We want to have it figured out and tell others the answers. We want to master the incomprehensible so that we can control the limited reflection of eternity we have wrestled into our inadequate perspective. Then we can’t fail because we figured out the rules, keep them and tell others what they are and how to follow them.

The difference between preachy church goers and social media proclaiming of various political and social perspectives is the misuse of authority. That is, those that want to preach what they claim and hope to be eternal truth use the Bible to justify their vague understanding. Present company included.

At the same time, as an audience we want someone to have it figured out. If we can read a book, hear a sermon, attend a seminar or digest some other form of secondary understanding, we won’t have to allow the Source to examine us to produce intimate understanding. That is, if we can “be fed” by someone, we can avoid the hunt.

The net result is a Christian culture of pontificating which entertains heresy in order to foster freshness. A specific and untapped niche for the advancement of a platform is valued above the transformation available to us personally or others uniquely. Finding the place from which we can be heard to “help people” understand and do what is good and right is the controllable and satisfying place of ministry malpractice.

If we gain some understanding of the Word, it is not God’s way of giving us a ministry; it is His grace offering to transform us personally. He will do the same for others, but they will have to go to the same Source for the same introspective examination of their soul. The Word is an invitation into knowing God, not fodder for a sermon.

When we truly know Him in the glimpses we can handle of Him, we are undone. The paradox of His might and His mercy becomes an endearing and transformative catalyst for our growth. The deepest understanding of HIs Word often leaves us speechless and sometimes in tears; completely undone as we realize our own humanity compared to His magnificent Divinity.

Ministry, then, is to afford others the same. It is an invitation into the search which produces intimacy with Him and not impressions of us. Our messages, preaching, blogs, programs should simply hope to tell only of our lack to afford His glory to be evident. It’s His glory that carries the message that people need to hear.

Don’t Take the Bait

I fell into a trap lately and, before you know it, I was stuck. The consequences weren’t catastrophic other than the fact that the net result robbed my potential joy and diverted my attention from God’s glory. Not good.

We had a chance to minister overseas in a culture which is vastly different from what we know as normal. The language differences as well as event logistics resulted in a dynamic outside of the norm from which we typically operate. The time we had to engage was limited and we left soon after we were done. Frankly, it was a little difficult to tell how effective the time was. We had flown 1/2 way across the world and it was just difficult to tell whether it impactful. With the commitment of time and resources we had made, the question of impact was relevant.

Not being able to tell, I came home partially satisfied. I knew that some good things had happened as there was some feedback. I was less than 100% secure in the value of the trip as I processed the experience.

Then another member of the team who flew out separately got back and he had numerous video testimonies that he had taken following our time with these people. He also had a chance to spend time with local leadership after our departure and their appreciation for what was happening was evident. The long and short of it was the feedback that I was missing, he had captured. From those testimonies, It was undeniable that the trip created a huge ripple effect and God had clearly moved in people’s lives in powerful ways.

The trap I had stepped into was the need to satisfy my soul. My mind, will and emotions wanted validation that the sacrifice was worth it. I wanted the security blanket of getting to see results from the process we had engaged in. I wanted the visible to affirm the invisible. My faith in God’s faithfulness was weak compared to my need to be assured that He did what He does.

Ministry is not, cannot be and should never be about me (or any of us). If you go, it’s because He called and if you serve, it’s unto His pleasure and His glory. The results, then, are His to work out. Obedience is the call of HIs Spirit to our spirit and the wants and desires of our soul are irrelevant comparatively.

We don’t save people, heal people or set people free; He does. If it happens, He did it. If it doesn’t, that’s His deal with them. We don’t get credit or blame; we just get called and have to decide if we are in or not; no matter the outcomes.