‘Calling’ is one of those Christian words, used by Christian people, that is more confusing than clear. In this article for Rooted Ministry I try to unpack the meaning of calling and seek to bring helpful clarification.
“To feel called by God would be evidence that we are unique, that we are special, that we are being used for a divinely appointed task. To feel called would be proof of some sort of special anointing upon us, a special anointing that no one else would have. To feel called would mean that we have been set apart to have a significant part in the movement and growth of God’s kingdom.
To some extent all of this is true, but the trouble we run into with this thinking is that it places the emphasis on us and not God. God has called us unique, special, anointed, and called, whether we feel it or not.
We have confused feelings with calling. God’s actual calling does not always show up on a billboard, nor does it always feel right.”
Divine action is God’s work in the world. It is his activity in the world through the means of the Spirit and human beings. An older generation would term this ‘God’s providence’, and Root himself uses ‘God’s transcendence’ to describe the same thing. Nevertheless, divine action is helpful in capturing the idea that God is actively at work in the world.
Root wants to counter the disease of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD) and believes that reaffirming the concept of divine action will do just that. MTD is the idea that God wants me to be a good person (moralistic), God is a being who should help me feel good (therapeutic), and God is a concept to decorate our lives with but isn’t an agent who really does anything (deism). Divine action, and the truth that God is at work even in the ordinary lives of middle-class Westerners, is Root’s solution to the ‘D’ in MTD.
With the loss of recognising God in our lives we are left believing that God isn’t there. We are left wondering if God is actually real, and whether he does indeed care for us.
As I finished reading this book I was also working through a teaching series on the story of Ruth. While the Lord barely makes a mention throughout the four chapters, never actively speaking himself, his handiwork is clear in the lives of the characters, Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz. If there is ever a book of the bible that teaches God’s divine action and transcendence in the lives of ordinary people then this is it.
When we turn to youth ministry I wonder whether we recognise the handiwork of God?
In all aspects of youth ministry in your church; with your students, with your families, with your leaders, God is at work. He is working in each of their lives and in the ministry-at-large.
And of course, it’s hard to see how God is working at times. It’s hard to see, in the moment, the ways God is comforting, strengthening, freeing, connecting, growing, and inspiring different people and their lives.
It is hard to see God at work when our eyes aren’t seeing it or our hearts aren’t feeling it.
How often we might doubt when someones say they think God is speaking to them? How often do we question whether someone is actually growing in their faith? How often do we feel disappointment over a poor conversation, or a seemingly poor youth night, or a rowdy couple of kids in our small group?
Yet despite this, God is often working while our limited perspective clouds our view of God’s divine action.
In this day and age of result driven, short-term, growth it’s hard to gain perspective. In this day where God is seen as a divine being who will only give happy, heart-warming therapeutic advice, it is no wonder we exclude the divine action of God in our own lives and the lives of others.
The bible promises that God is with us. And through his Spirit he continues to be at work. May we remember this in the excitement of summer camps and in the depths of winter lock-ins.
“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6:)
You can read my review of Faith Formation In A Secular Agehere.
I’ve recently been preaching through the book of Ruth. It’s been really exciting and energising to do so. For one thing, I’ve been fascinated by the various levels of meaning the author uses throughout the narrative. Anyway, in reading and re-reading the story of Ruth I put together a post, which has been published on Rooted Ministry.
I imagine in the work you do as a youth minister – the people you have conversations with, and the crises you get called into – there are similarly tragic moments you’re involved in.
The student who loses her best friend to suicide and didn’t know she needed help. The young man in high school whose father passes away suddenly. The family who is effected by a car accident, or by cancer, or by an illicit liaison.
As youth ministers, we often have the privilege of being part of people’s lives at the worst of times. And often we ourselves don’t know what to say or how to handle such events and experiences. But we sit there, we listen, and we show our love and care for them.
Preaching 1 John 3:19-4:6 this past Sunday meant I touched upon the doctrine of the incarnation. In referring to the early defenders of this doctrine I quoted Melito of Sardis. He died toward the end of the second century and wrote about the incarnation this way:
“Though he [the Son of God] was incorporeal, he formed for himself a body like ours. He appeared as one of the sheep, yet he remained the Shepherd. He was esteemed a servant, yet he did not renounce being a Son. He was carried about in the womb of Mary, yet he was clothed in the nature of his Father. He walked on the earth, yet he filled heaven. He appeared as an infant, yet he did not discard his eternal nature. He was invested with a body, but it did not limit his divinity. He was esteemed poor, yet he was not divested of his riches. He needed nourishment because he was man, yet he did not cease to nourish the entire world because he is God. He put on the likeness of a servant, yet it did not impair the likeness of his Father. He was everything by his unchangeable nature. He was standing before Pilate, and at the same time he was sitting with his Father. He was nailed on a tree, yet he was the Lord of all things.”
In 1952-1953 Martyn Lloyd-Jones preached a number of expositions on John 17. These have been put together in a book called “Life In The Spirit: Classic Studies In John 17”. Although, it now looks like its been retitled and republished as “The Assurance Of Our Salvation“. In his second exposition, “Why Pray?” there are some terrific quotes about prayer worth being reminded of here.
“We might have considered a man very saintly because his will was conforming to the will of God, and because he meditated about these things and because his supreme desire was to live to the glory of God. Well, you might say, such a man would have much less need of prayer than anybody else, but it is not the case. Look at the most outstanding godly men and women, how often they spent much more time in prayer than anybody else. They did not just passively wait for God’s will to be done, no, they, more than anybody else, went, rather, and talked to God. And as you proceed to read the history of the church throughout the centuries, you will find exactly the same thing. Whether he belongs to the Roman Catholic Church or the Protestant Church, it is always the hallmark of a saint that he is a great man of prayer. John Wesley used to say that he had a very poor opinion of a Christian who did not spend at least four hours in prayer every day, and that is but a typical statement of God’s outstanding people in the church through the centuries.”
(John 17:1, Why Pray?, p26)
“You show me a man who does not pray very much and I will tell you the real problem of that man. It is that he does not know God, he does not know God as his Father. That is the trouble. The problem is not that he is not a moral man, or that he is not a good man. He can be highly moral, he may be very faithful in Christian church work, there many be nothing he is not prepared to do, but if he does not pray, I tell you that the essence of that man’s trouble is that he does not know God as his Father. For those who know God best are the ones who speak to him most of all.”
(John 17:1, Why Pray?, p29)
“Let me put it like this: the saints always prayed to God, and our Lord supremely did so, because they believed in God’s power, because they believed in God’s ability to help, and, above all, because they believed in God’s willingness and readiness to help. That is tremendously important. They, of everybody, knew the power of God, yes, but the world and its trials tend to shake our confidence in him and there is no better way of reminding ourselves of the power and the greatness of God, his ability and his readiness to help, that to go and talk to him; that is why the saints always fly to prayer. ‘The name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe (Proverbs 18:10). In other words, the saint rushes to God in prayer and reminds himself of these things.”
The book of Hebrews, in the New Testament, is a terrific read. It’s a book that outlines how God is no longer tied to a particular place but is accessible through the person of Jesus.
At the beginning of the book the writer, or ‘preacher’, outlines how God speaks. He used to speak through the prophets and fathers of the Old Testament. Now, however, God has spoken through his Son, Jesus. In explaining who this person Jesus is the writer uses these words:
“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…” (Hebrews 1:3)
This is some lofty language, and some kind of statement.
First, we find the writer speaking greatly of this Jesus whose divine nature is seen and made known to us. Jesus, this God-man, reflects the image of God in the most perfect way. The glory of God and the nature of God shine upon the world through this Jesus. Jesus isn’t some sort of replica, a replica that is mass produced like small toys gifted to children at Christmas. No, this Jesus is God. And, the glory of God the Father and everything of him shines through his personhood. He is the light of the world (John 8:12).
Second, we are then told of his divine rule. Jesus upholds the universe through his power. His words are the foundation of the world. It is by his word that things happen and things don’t happen. Here we see the power and authority imparted to Jesus as he rules over the universe. We shouldn’t be scared of his rule, for he is the perfect ruler. He is unlike worldly rulers who seek glory for themselves and go a little loco with power. Jesus is the ruler of the universe who rules perfectly.
Third, we are made aware of a permanent salvation. No longer is salvation found through the Law and sacrifices of the Old Testament. There is no need for an annual sacrifice in order to purify our sinful nature and deeds. Jesus was that “purification for sins” when he died on the cross. He fulfilled everything that was needed in order for us to be made pure. This process doesn’t need to occur over and over again. It is not like water purification, which needs stage after stage, to make it clean. No, Jesus made us clean once and for all through his death and resurrection.
To confirm its permanence we note Jesus “…sits at the right hand of the Majesty on high”. He does not need to go through this purification for sins process again, he is not required to die over and over and over again. No, “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10) and “…when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sin, he sat down at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:12).
How astonishing to know that we have our sin covered, our person made clean and pure, through the sacrifice made by the ruler of the universe. This salvation is offered to us through he who radiates God’s glory and majesty. May it radiate from our heart into the world we live.
This post is a free writing exercise in response to The Daily Post topic ‘Radiate‘.
I’ve had the privilege of having a post published on the Rooted Ministry blog today.
“Why is it that many of us in youth ministry are hesitant to reference the Scriptures? Do we believe that the Word of God is too antiquated, that it will scare young people away? Have we lost confidence in the meaning and power of God’s Word?
Don’t get me wrong. I too often wonder whether the scripture I use in sermons, talks, and one-on-one meetings is actually helpful or comforting for my students. But one particular experience has made me more confident, relieved, and secure in using God’s Word in youth ministry than ever before.”
The Australian baggy green is a significant symbol in our nation’s sporting landscape, and some would argue our Australian culture-at-large. The baggy green is held up as a symbol of sporting greatness and success, and is the embodiment of Australian cricket values and expectations.
When a player is selected for the Australian test team they become part of a select number of people to ever do so. Upon being selected they are presented with a baggy green cap.
In years past this cap was picked up when the player received their kit bag for the upcoming tour. Some players were given a number of caps throughout their career and many of the ‘greats’ have long ago lost or given theirs away. But in recent time, from the mid-90s, each debutant is physically presented with their baggy green by a former Australian test great. On the morning of their first test, just after the warm-up, this player is told of the significance of the cap and what it represents. He is surrounded by the others in the team, who congratulate him on becoming an Australian test cricketer. They watch him put it on and welcome him into the fold. As cricket journalist and historian Gideon Haigh comments ‘the baggy green means a lot to the current generation of players – they are constantly being told how important it is and how great they are’.
This baggy green is a symbol of what it means to play cricket for Australia. It is a symbol of elite performance and cricket excellence. But more than that, it is a symbol of joining the other 450 players who have played test match cricket for Australia.
In a similar way baptism is a significant symbol of the Christian church.
Baptism has played an important part in the history of the Christian church. Prior to the birth of Jesus baptism was practised by the various Jewish sects as an act of cleansing, for ritual purity. Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, led people in the practice of baptism ‘for repentance of sins’. And, Jesus was baptised himself, in order to fulfil all righteousness and share in this act with those who were to follow him in faith.
Throughout the New Testament the followers of Jesus have continued in this tradition and symbol of baptism. After Jesus was resurrected, and before he ascended to the Father, Jesus said to his disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
And from this time on baptism has been a symbol and rite of passage that takes place as one puts their faith in Jesus, follows him, and seeks to obey his commands.
But what’s this got to do with the baggy green?
First, like the baggy green baptism is a significant symbol and rite in the Christian church.
Since the resurrection of our Lord Jesus baptism has been performed as a symbol of entrance into the Christian community. It is through baptism that Christians were recognised as believers of the Way. When we are baptised today we not only join a local body of believers, but also join with the millions who’ve gone before us in recognising Jesus as Lord and Saviour.
Just as the baggy green is a symbol of an Australian test cricketer, a marker of their entrance into the team. So too, baptism is a symbol of a follower of Jesus, a marker in their life and faith.
Second, like the baggy green baptism has meaning and significance.
Through the act of baptism itself we acknowledge what Christ has done for us. When we are baptised, like many before us, we acknowledge the work of God in our lives and the reality of what Christ has done.
Those who have been baptised do so because through his death on a cross Jesus has paid the punishment for their sin. Through his resurrection Jesus has enabled true life, and a relationship with God. And by faith, those baptised acknowledge Jesus as Lord and seek to trust and obey his commands.
Going down into the water and coming up again is an imitation of this truth. It is a symbol of leaving behind the ways of the past and committing to a life of following Jesus.
Just as the baggy green derives its meaning from the players of the past, the values and expectations of what it is to be an Australian test player. Baptism derives its meaning from the person and work of Jesus, who died and rose again in order for us to know God.
Third, like the baggy green baptism is a natural part of being a Christian.
It would be odd for a player to be presented with his baggy green and then to put it in his pocket or stick it in his kit bag for safe keeping. The baggy green is handed over and is expected to be worn. To not do so would be odd.
In committing our lives to Christ and putting our trust in what he has done it is only natural to be baptised. To not do so would be odd. The New Testament doesn’t have a category for one who is a disciple of Jesus and not baptised.
Those who do go public with their faith are following a rite of passage into the Christian community from ages past until now. In front of a local church congregation they acknowledge Jesus as Lord and simply follow him in obedience.
Just as the baggy green is to be worn and acknowledges the cricketer as a test player. Followers of Jesus are to be baptised, publicly declaring that they are following in the way of Jesus and his commands.
Below is a Christmas poem written by someone who attends Rowville Baptist. It was written and shared last week at a local retirement village. I had the privilege of having it emailed to me and received permission to share it here. Enjoy.
Jesus Invites You In!
Young Mary with Joseph a journey did make
Tho’ pregnant with child, this risk she must take
There were thieves along the way, the road was rough
By the time they reached Bethlehem they had had enough
They were hungry and weary, the babe was due any minute
When they saw the inn they hurried to get in it
They knocked on the inn’s door and asked to lodge there
The innkeeper refused, for their plight he didn’t care.
“No room” he said, you cannot stay,
“Go to the stable, go sleep on the hay”
The tills were overflowing, business was good;
Take in these straggling strangers? Couldn’t see why he should
But he paid a price when “No room” he cried
He missed big time when the shepherds arrived
He never got to hear how the heavenly host did sing
He missed being at the birth of our Saviour and King
We recall this story each year for a reason
Lord, help us reach out to others this season
As the day approaches and we are all set to rejoice
Help us remember those who have no voice
Lord may we not reject with a word or a glance
And say “We have no room”, not give others a chance
With your heart and your eyes help us to see,
And pray for the suffering, for those who aren’t free
We pray for ourselves to do unto others
Remembering always they’re our sisters and brothers
Lord we think of the many souls that are lost
We thank you, you saved us at such a great cost
How thankful we are that You made Yourself known
Visited us as a babe, left behind Your own throne
We are so thankful Lord Jesus, that you love us so much
Others who don’t know You, they too need Your touch
Now as Christmas approaches, You stand at the door
Saying “Come in, come in, there’s always room for more”
The beginning of this year has seen me start reading through some of the issues related to believer’s baptism vs. infant baptism. A few months ago I baptised a couple of young people at church and it sparked the realisation that I’d never investigated “the other side” (infant baptism). In any case, these holidays I’ve taken the time to read two books on the topic thus far and I’ve at least 3-4 to go.
They’re both great books on baptism and I’m glad to have chosen these as the first two to read. They’ve covered all the issues that differentiate the baptist and infant views.
Witherington is rather persuasive in his thoughts about the importance of infants and children. Not convinced this means that they should be baptised so young and without making a decision for themselves but puts the issue on the table well.
The point above is linked to the very real question of whether children of Christian parents are saved or not. This has practical and theological ramifications and Witherington does well to persuade here.
The importance of baptism seems to be undermined a little when Witherington questions it’s importance in the NT. This is odd considering he writes a whole book on baptism anyway. Certainly the weight of the NT on baptism is a consideration in whether one should make a larger than life issue out of it.
Acts seems to be be main book for where the main arguments come from in this book. I did wonder whether it was relied on too heavily or not.
The three views book is excellent with two particular scholars, B. Ware and S. Ferguson going at each other.
Ware, a proponent of the baptist view, is more convincing here. Ferguson spends heaps of time explaining the covenants, which is good but isn’t so convincing re baptism and the NT.
Ware is thorough in his exegetical points whereas the other two aren’t as much. The third view, a middle ground view that includes both views by A. Lane, is interesting but quite inventive and too reliant on historical grounds and not the NT.
Overall, these are two good books to begin with. It’ll be time to crack on with a few more in the coming weeks.