I suspect that some of you reading will have your mind made up before I even have a sentence written out. While others will be begging for the answer as they have wondered this exact question. The question of fate and freedom or God being 'sovereign' over our wills or humanity having a free will has been an age old debate. One that was highlighted in a conversation I had online not to long ago.
It revolved around a quote by R.C. Sproul which read, "Most Christians salute the sovereignty of God but believe in the sovereignty of man.”
I personally like this quote and I think it asks us the very hard question of who we are allowing to be on the throne. But I am getting ahead of myself. See, some would see this as a debate about the question of God's 'control'--I would have a very different understanding. It really boils down to your understanding of the word 'sovereign'.
Paul Douglas Walker (Not that Paul Walker), an avid blogger and native to Canada (now living in England) had this to say on the topic:
It's a 500 year old debate between Calvinists and Arminians.
My comments that will follow will not focus on the conversation and debate that circles the idea of man's will and it's degree of freedom or lack thereof. But I wish to simply bring a different thought to the conversation that I will hope can be helpful in our interaction with God and the word 'sovereign' on both sides of the argument.
Truthfully, my title is a bit of a bate-and-switch as I won't be answering the question if God is truly in control and I doubt my one blog post could ever settle the argument--truthfully it is not even settled in my own mind.
So, let me start with a question: What if sovereignty has nothing to do with control but rulership or better... Kingship? When I look at the original quote above, I don't see the debate: if God controls every action or not, but about His Kingship of Christ and His Kingdom (though, knowing RC Sproul's theological stand point of predestination, I suspect the modern idea of control is probably laced in there).
That being said, a king in ancient time would be Sovereign and at any moment could make any decision, place any decree and in some cases sway the will of his people. But this didn't negate the reality that his kingdom and the people in it were 'free agents' and could make autonomous decisions inside of that sovereignty or even contrary to that sovereignty. The difference between an earthly king and our Heavenly King is most earthly kings would rule out of fear while we are persuaded by the supernatural divine motivator of Grace. This grace has an effect on us that empowers us for change and transforms us and I think both sides of the argument would agree we are unable to do so without this grace (2 Cor 4:1-6).
I think when you get to the root of the word and the cultural and grammatical context of it, this understanding makes much more sense. When we speak of God's sovereignty, should we be thinking of the age old debate of fate and choice or who is ultimately ruling. I think the big issue is we have gotten caught up on the modern understanding of the word 'control' and see it as a cause and effect of reality when I think there is a better option: God's is sovereign because He is King and what a good King we have.
Furthermore, when we experience this divine grace, it seems impossible, to me, that we would not wish to make Him ruler over our lives and set Him on the throne (which brings in the supernatural effects of grace which we can do nothing to gain on our own merits). But this does not mean absolute 'control' over our wills. There is a great mystery in this. But it still becomes the question: What do we mean by 'sovereign'?
Of course much rebuttal and counter points can be made as it is a complex topic with many differing facets and sides. So I don't presume this short post will prove anything indefinitely. Just a thought.
First off I just want to thank you all for sending your questions into the 'Ask Anything' section of the site. We are in the process of answering them and hope to be able to answer them all as soon as possible.
So, to our first question. Hannah asked: "I'm personally wrestling with and trying to discern if I'm called into ministry. How did you know God was calling you to ministry?"
First, let me just say that this is a very complex and multi-layered topic. No one blog post will be able to answer this question in every facet and I suspect I will miss something or be unbalanced in some form or another. Furthermore, this will not be an exhaustive list. I will be sharing from what I have personally experienced and general things I have seen in others who have been called. It would probably be wise to get the advice and wisdom from a variety of people and perspectives. Truthfully, in many cases this can be unique for every individual--how I knew I was called into the ministry and how someone else might be could be drastically different. Please interact with this post in the comments if I have missed something or just add to the conversation.
That being said, I think there are some principles that one can follow to help navigate this question and let me say, these things will probably only aid in giving better clarity; they will not answer the question for you. I also suspect that the same principles could be used to help discern God's leading in one's life in general when it comes to major decisions or their place in the mission of Christ. We are all called to be something and are gifted and wired somehow.
I wonder what would happen if we as the Church started to ask what our passions were, our giftings and started to use them for HIs purpose and Kingdom. I suspect we would be an unstoppable force. Maybe you are not called to vocational ministry, but God is calling you nonetheless. I hope that these ideas will serve the whole body of Christ.
Let me be clear, this is not a step by step guide that you can finish one step and go to the next and never return to the previous point. All of these principles should be done together. You will rely on some more then others in various situations, but ultimately view this as a toolbox filled with various tools to be used while working this out. Okay, here we go:
1. What does the Bible say?
It should be no surprise that we start here. Before anyone even attempts to journey in search of any big question we should be familiar with the Scriptures and what it says on the topic. It becomes the anchor when we need to slow down, the compass when we need to go one way or another, litmus test of our thoughts and examining if we are asking the right questions or seeking the right answers. Simply put: if what we are feeling, seeing or counsel we are getting goes against what you read in the scriptures, you should be asking the hard question of 'why'?
So, fill your head with the words of God and let them guide you when seeking the direction and decision in this matter. There is much to be said about pastoral calling and the biblical standard and criteria for a pastor in the scriptures, start there (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus would be a good place to start).
2. Seek out the advice and counsel of wise people.
Who in your life do you trust, who has shown to have wisdom, who knows you well and knows the scriptures well? When making any important decision, seeking wise advice and counsel is well... always wise. It not only helps give perspective and collective wisdom, but these people can be helpful to bounce thoughts off of, and they can ask good questions and the right questions, give you the next step or even show why you shouldn't.
Are people who know you and are wise saying things like, "Have you ever thought about going into full time ministry?", "You should go to bible college" or "I see a lot of [fill in the blank] giftings in you"? These kinds of statements may give you some indication that you should be looking further into this.
We are stronger together as the body of christ and this is definitely no exception. The difficult part in this post is that much of answering this question needs dialogue and finding the right people to do this with is essential.
3. What does experience say?
"I truly don't believe you know until you've spent some time in that area of ministry. If you feel like you are called to be a pastor you cannot necessary stand in for a pastor but you can ask to sit down with 3 or 4 different pastors and pick their brains, their experiences and their journey. For something like a youth pastor, worship pastor or children's ministry. Spend time in that area of ministry, volunteering yourself to the current leader. Do the extra work needed, take on more responsibilities. You will find out within a few months whether you would enjoy a position like that. " // Jen VanSteenbergen
Simply put, does your experience in the ministries you are involved in, the people you interact with and the way you are wired give you indication that you should be in vocational ministry? I have two key volunteers that are in the process of seeking these answers out and in hopes to help them figure out if they are called, I have been investing in them, asking hard questions, and ultimately giving them opportunities to test and grow in their giftings and 'test the waters'. The more experiences you have to taste what it could be like, the better indication you will have if you should, could or even want to head in that direction.
4. What does the spirit say?
What is the Spirit trying to say to you, through everything above, but also in your gut? As you work through figuring this out, what is your gut saying? Is there this nagging in your soul that you just can't get rid of? When you think of ministry, does it give you life, does it excite you and get your heart pumping? Obviously this isn't the only factor in this decision, but it should be a big one. Do you feel a pull into the ministry and do you crave to be in it? I am not talking about not having fears, reservations, question or doubts. But, is there this thing in your gut that is driving you to seek it further and is it growing like a hunger that needs to be fed? You may go down that road and figure out that it is something much different then you thought and may not be vocational ministry, but you need to follow that to its final conclusion. Maybe this feeling hasn't grown fully yet and you are not sure; don't give up yet.
Pray! Ask God to show you this and give you a burning heart for this if He wishes for you to pursue it further. Don't dismiss any level of this. If you are asking the question maybe there is a reason why. But I would hope that you have some sort of desire and drive to want to be in ministry or some kind of draw and pull, even if that be something others see in you that you can't yet and you need to explore that further to see if that means vocational ministry.
5. Does it help the church's vision?
Will you entering vocation ministry help with the vision and mission of Christ and His church? In the end being a 'pastor' is about being a bridesmaid to Christ's bride. We are called to prepare the bride for the return of her bridegroom and this means ultimately we need to ask the hard question: Will me pursuing this help the Church and those in it. I recommend you read Philippians 2 and have that spirit in mind when journeying through this.
6. Am I excited about this?
I am not saying we wait until it is 100% or that we never have any questions or doubts when going through with it. But, does the idea of vocational ministry excite you? Does it get your heart pumping? Not devoid of uncertainty, fear, doubts or trials, but do you actually want to be a pastor or have some pull towards it?
Much to often we have this false humility on the church that says, wanting something makes it bad. That I need to be doing something that I hate to make me holy. That isn't true. Do you love it? Then maybe that is because you are wired to do it. That could be anything. Maybe it isn't pastoring, but maybe it is.
Another good question to ask would be: "Can you see yourself doing anything else?" Pastoral ministry is hard work, it brings great trials in some seasons and because we interact with broken people, it will usually get messy and the statistics have shown that many pastors have become the main casualties of the church ministry.
What I am not talking about is being in ministry and having bad days, weeks and even months were you think I could probably do something else or even dream of other jobs. But, when you get into those seasons (and you will) will you be able to say: No, I am compelled to do this! I was called to do this! I was made to do this!
This is a serious question, because many people who were genuinely called into the pastorate left, not because they were wrong about their call, but because they burn out and lost that vision. So, ministry can and in many cases is not for the faint of heart, so make sure you are called.
I would recommend these articles to read over as they will help give some preparation, thought and hard reality of the pastorate that you should consider before entering the ministry
THESE 9 THINGS COULD REVOLUTIONIZE YOUR MINISTRY
THESE 7 PRACTICAL TIPS WILL KEEP PASTORS ENCOURAGED AND HEALTHY IN MINISTRY
WHY DO SO MANY PASTORS LEAVE THE MINISTRY? THE FACTS WILL SHOCK YOU
Now, let me encourage you after some of those sober words. Ministry can be one of the most fulfilling things anyone can do with their life. Like anything, if you are wired and called to be in vocational ministry, then you will be doing what you were made to do. In the same way that a school teacher must teach, a writer must write and a painter paint, I feel compelled to be a pastor and know this is what I need to be doing.
Times do get tough and there are trials and rough seasons, but I know I am doing what I am called to do and I can't wait to get to work and do it and be it. I had all the criteria listed above in my life and maybe others will have more and others less. This isn't a perfect science, but wrestle with it, while not over-thinking it.
It is about being confident about this decision, rather than having absolute certainty. There will be doubts, fears, uncertainty, and questions. There will be days you will question that calling and you will need those moments to remember when that verse came to you and pointed you towards this place, or those people who spoke into your life and confirmed that call and ultimately that the Spirit drew you to the ministry. It will be a stake in the ground that you can look back at and say: No, I know I was called this is what I was built to do.
Maybe that calling will take different forms in different seasons, and maybe they won't always be paid positions. Maybe you will have to tweak your job description, position or even church to better fit your skill set or even find an environment that you can thrive in, but you will be confident about that calling.
In the end you will simply need to make a choice. You can wrestle with this until the cows come home, but you need to move in some direction and let God direct you and you direct yourself. I hope this encourages you, helps give clarity and also brings some soberness to help weigh it all in figuring this all out.
To everyone reading, please feel free to ask more questions in the comment section, add some thoughts and wisdom and share this on twitter and facebook and lets keep the conversation going.
We looked in Part 1 of why Love Alone Is Worth The Fight--that Love Is Arguably The Most Powerful Force In The Universe. That the one thing that fully sets us free is love & in Part 2 that Love Alone Was Worth The Fight To God--that this is the message we hold, this is what is important to our creator, this is the mission that He invites us to continue until He returns and this changes everything. Which brings us to our third and last part of this series... Love Alone Is Worth The Fight Part 3: This Changes Everything.
See when Love Came To Earth, it changed everything. It changed the condition we found ourselves & the hopelessness of that condition. It flipped all the paradigms we understood about life and its reality on its head; it heralded the beginnings of a new kingdom covenant that would spread to the ends of the earth & it invited us into a mission that would change the world.
What if this Radical Love was the driving force in our lives and the lives that we interact with? I would dare to think it would transform the lives of those around us, this world - and this would change everything.
You see, the power of this love not only has the ability to transform our lives from the inside out, but also has the ability to transform the world through the main outworking of it--the church. We were never meant to keep this message of love to ourselves. Jesus instead calls us to be the salt and light of the world (Matt 5:13-16) and through us receiving this love, we share it in the everyday walking of our lives.
The passage "Go and make disciples", would probably be better read as "As you go, make disciples" (Matt 28:19). As we go our everyday lives, day in and day out, we make disciples.
Imagine a movement of people who in their every day lives were so stricken by this transforming love of Christ that their lives would be so marked by it, it would not only change who they were but would change how they would live & love this world. I always say: "It seems impossible to me that someone could leave a supernatural experience with God and be the same person." This Radical Love changes us and compels us to live out in light of this Radical Love and in turn express this Radical Love to others. It is by this Love that people will know who we are, and it is by the Love that peoples' lives will be transformed. It is by the seeds of this Radical Love that we can see the world we wish to make, the seeds to see the change that this world so desperately needs.
The passage "Go and make disciples", would probably be better read as "As you go, make disciples" (Matt 28:19). As we go our everyday lives, day in and day out, we make disciples.
I was stricken by this idea when I saw the below clip from the Movie rendition of 'Les Miserable' (not the most recent). It made me ask the question: what if the Church loved like this? no strings attached, no concern of what one would do with this act of kindness, but simply loved--with a supernatural, wasteful and radical love.
Now of course, wisdom is always needed, but what if we stopped trying to win arguments and loved people? What if we were less concerned about making a point and instead worked towards making a change? What if this Radical Love was the driving force in our lives and the lives that we interact with? I would dare to think it would transform the lives of those around us and this world-- and this would change everything.
With the so called debate of the century behind us, I want to spend a little bit of time to express my thoughts of how much of a complete waste of time this is in my opinion. Don't get me wrong, I am not an anti-debate or anti-apologetics guy. I think it would be ironic, to say the least, if I was and be the editor and creator of this page. But all in all, I think this whole venture probably missed the mark.
Much to the trend of the culture/belief wars, this topic has become such a circus with both sides entrenched in their own delusions. What is worse, this debate of both extremes make it seem as though everyone who is observing this go down is either on one side of the other, when in reality the majority of the people wouldn't hold either view--at least not in the pure form it wishes to represent here.
The truth is a 2012 Gallup Poll found that 32 percent of Americans believe God guided a process of evolution. That reality may trouble some people. if you hold that God and evolution could never be in the same sentence. But giving us either the option of creationism or atheism is ridiculous. As VICE Magazine puts it:
...matching creationism up against atheism is a “false dichotomy,” as an article in Catholic Online about the debate puts it. Plenty of Christians believe in both God and evolution, but the Nye-versus-Ham debate seemingly pits the Bible against Darwin as mutually exclusive systems of thought. “Viewers are being asked to either favor a Protestant fundamentalist young-Earth creation story, or a scientific, atheistic view of the universe,” writes Catholic Online. What about a third option?
Nye works from a purely naturalistic perspective that won't even concede to the possible idea of anything outside that natural world. And Ham wants us to reject anything that might challenge a purely literal and so called scientific understanding of Genesis. Both sides are anti-reason.
As a Christian, I find it increasingly troubling that so many Christians wish to draw this line in the sand even in our own camp. This is done even to the point that they would say that unless you hold a similar view of Ken Ham, you are not a 'true defender of the truth' and somehow don't take the Bible seriously. What is absurd about this is that the ongoing effort to read OT texts, like Genesis, as some scientific journal written by God of how everything was created. When in reality, a good case can be made that the evidence, the culture, the forms, context and literature point to a very different conclusion. There is much room for interpretation into this ancient text and we need to hold it with confidence, but not utter certainty.
We have created a false separation of faith and reason and live in a dualistic reality that needs to be mended. I would recommend reading Harold Eberle's book: 'Christianity Unshackled' to understand how we got to where we are today and see a better way.
But for now, let me leave you with this video, it does an amazing job explaining some of the ins and outs of properly understanding Biblical texts like Genesis in light of what it was meant to be, and not being understood in light of a 21st century understanding.
If this video resonates with you and you want to explore this way of reading the Bible more and dig deeper into learning the story behind the stories of the Bible and you live in or near the Edmonton area, make sure to check out The Academy held at Gateway Alliance Church. You won't regret it.
We looked in Part 1 of why Love Alone Is Worth The Fight--that Love is arguably the most powerful force in the universe. That the one thing that fully sets us free is love. Another reason why Love Alone Is Worth The Fight is: Love Came To Earth--Love Alone Was Worth The Fight For God.
This reality should blow our minds, that "For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)
Don't under estimate the power of that verse. Let it sink in and think through the implications of it. From the beginning God had put into motion His cosmic rescue mission, the wasteful and extravagant pursuit for His lost children and the creation that had been subjected to the cancer of sin. So, simply put: Love Alone Is Worth The Fight, because it was worth the fight to God.
"This is the message we hold, this is what is important to our creator, this is the mission that He invites us to continue until He returns and this changes everything."
So not only are we motivated by the love we receive from God and that love we receive changes us from the inside, but also the motivation of seeing ourselves, other people and and the world in the eyes of God Himself. He saw enough worth in what He created that He fought for it. Furthermore, We need to realize that the mission of Love is our mission to, because if the creator of all things was willing to give it all and fight this fight for love, we should take notice.
God was willing not only to seek us out through out the pages of time and seek and save the lost while we were still sinners, but He gave it all up. He paid the ultimate price and taking our place and giving it all and by laying down His own life for us, He ultimately wins the fight of Sin, Satan and Death and sets us free, destroying the cancer that has permeated in this world and ultimately welcomes us home. This is the message we hold, this is what is important to our creator, this is the mission that He invites us to continue until He returns and this changes everything.
Part 3: This Changes Everything
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