Be Weak for Christ

For many years, the imagery that ministry evoked in my mind could be likened to a scene described from a book on the tactics of Napoleonic warfare. I’ve imagined charging the battlefield William Wallace-style with sword in one hand and shield in the other while gritting my teeth as we slay the enemy one worldly influence at a time. Certainly the analogy has some truth to it, and yes, perhaps a little more grit and fortitude wouldn’t be such a bad thing in ministry. Scripture does seem to invoke these images in certain instances, after all.

Even still, I can’t help but entertain one nagging thought to which more and more ministry experience has lent credence. This thought just won’t let me embrace any mentality of triumphalism wholesale, even though I know the Lord’s absolute victory is ultimately guaranteed. Specifically, the hard truth for the minister is that he is altogether inadequate for the task he is given. What’s more is that the Christian in general is equally inadequate for the commission he has been given day-in and day-out.

I doubt I needed to tell you this. If you are a church planter, pastor, deacon, or elder, you likely have already felt the sting of defeat at one point or another. Maybe you, like myself, have felt disheartened because of the seeming ineffectiveness of our preaching or pastoring from time to time. Maybe a recent skirmish has left you without the sense of a clear-cut revival victory for which you had hoped and now that vigor for the fight you had has gone and you’re left feeling weak.

Truthfully, we feel weak… because we are weak.

That’s certainly not the message you are likely to hear in a church plant’s next Youtube fundraising video. It’s definitely not going to be advertised by most “personality” preachers who have veiled their need to tickle ears with a nominally Christian message. Even among the faithful, though, when was the last time you heard “Be weak for Christ” instead of “Be strong for Christ”? No, we routinely hear “Put on the armor and fight,” not “It’s ok to feel inadequate because, well, you are.” Such a message just doesn’t play well with our sense of pride, especially as ministers. And while the reality of our inadequacies often sounds fine to us as we preach our next salvation message, the pill is sometimes harder to swallow when we find out that they are just as prevalent in our ministries as well.

But take heart, because success in ministry, like our salvation, is not contingent on our adequacy. Amen.

In fact, an often overlooked tenant of Paul’s ministry was that the Lord desired that Paul be reminded of his weakness as a hedge against arrogance. Though we don’t know the specifics of the thorn in the flesh mentioned in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, we do know that this weakness was the very thing that put God’s power on a pedestal in the ministry and life of Paul. The sufficiency of grace became the unquestionable theme of the ministry of Paul, a man who found that his weakness is the suitable vehicle for the power of God to eclipse the inadequacies of man. For Paul, to be weak was to be strong in Christ. Therefore, weakness can be embraced. It is welcomed. It is celebrated, despite the sting with which it is packaged at times.

So, if you are feeling weak today, I want to leave you with a few thoughts for ministry:

  1. Embrace your weaknesses and inadequacies. Yes, the Lord empowers the man of God to complete the work of his calling, but there is freedom in knowing that the Lord does the empowering and it isn’t something we need to muster up from within ourselves.
  2. Don’t market your ministry or church as being without weakness. Why would we portray no weakness?! When we are weak, we are strong because that is when Jesus’ strength is all the more evident. It’s ok to want to do the best you can for the glory of God. Balance, however, is when you can see past the quest for a superlative to the higher calling of building the Kingdom, even when that means admitting that you are inadequate but Jesus is gracious.
  3. Rest in the knowledge that weakness is used by God. Moses had the speech impediment. Paul had the thorn. Charles Spurgeon battled deep depression. William Carey lost three children and faced his wife’s mental breakdown. Who among us is adequate? God uses the weak!

Josh Waltman is a preacher, writer, and evangelist at On Truth and Love, a preaching and teaching ministry based out of Lynchburg, VA. He is also a worship leader with The Worship Collective, an alternative worship band from Chester, VA.

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Loving the Homosexual Next Door

Recently, two gay men moved into a house across the street from a friend of mine. He’s Christian, married, and has 4 young children. He reached out to me for guidance. He’s not afraid, this is just new for him. Like me, he has been brought up in a fairly insulated, loving Christian home where protection from the world in many cases meant sheltering from the broken, confused, sick, different, and dirty. We understand we’ve been “called out” as people of God to be different, but we forget we’ve also been “sent back” and “set apart” for a purpose. We are on the earth to make disciples, but we’re too busy making distinctions.

Sadly, many professors of Jesus have failed to properly love those with whom they disagree. I operate by the principle that Christians have no authority where they have not shown responsibility: stop correcting people you haven’t tangibly loved! Discipline without love feels like dictatorship. Jesus’ model for the treatment of those different than himself was something like this: service and healing, work and relationship, q & a times, trust and Truth. For your neighbors, the order matters. The five points below are what I wrote to my friend. I use homosexuality below because that’s context in which my friend was asking, you may choose to insert a different struggle, the principle is the same. The scope here is not a battle plan for Christians who are interested in legislating our way to a moral land. Politics and policy are important, just not primary, and they don’t transform and heal the heart. This is a reminder that primarily every Christian is a missionary, called to sacrificially love his neighbors; all of them, unconditionally, no matter how different they are from us.

1. Stop thinking of your neighbors as homosexuals – of course that’s their “sin”, but really they are fallen humans that need a Savior. What if they were straight, but drunkards, adulterers, verbal abusers, addicts, given to money and materialism, etc? Everyone has screwed up neighbors, most of us don’t have to look outside our own home. See them not as two men that have sex together, show grace by looking past their sin (like you do your family, brothers and sisters, spouse, etc.) and have compassion on them as sheep who are harassed and helpless, in need of a Shepherd. They are two men that see each other as savior/idol. You’ve got something better, and they are gonna see and feel it over time. Your job is to strategically, just like a missionary in a foreign land (because that’s what you are), show them the reality of God and the story of the Gospel. You can’t fix them, be released of that duty, only Jesus can change them. Show them what it means to follow Jesus, get them following too, and let the Holy Spirit soften their hearts and illuminate their minds with truth. Your neighbors aren’t sin incarnate, they’re sinners for whom the incarnate Christ died.

2. Be a friend, build relationship – These guys can be your friends. Honestly, they are probably hilarious and fun to hang out with, but who knows? They are your neighbors now, and it wasn’t an accident. Make them some cookies and prepare a card from your family with a picture, cell numbers, etc. Let them know you look forward to being friends and that they can call on you for anything if they need it. Friend them on Facebook, learn about them there, and invite them over for dinner. Make your house a city on a hill to them, a place they will see light, stability, grace, love, and truth. As you befriend them, it will build trust and relationship. Your life will become curious to them over time, then they’ll start asking questions about your life, faith, etc.

3. Integrate your lives with them – Only you will know how much integration is appropriate or even possible. The fact is, you need them, whether you think you do or not. Most of us live propped up, individualistic lives, ignoring community. We suffer for it. Not only are these guys valuable in God’s sight, they’re valuable to you. I’m sure they are talented guys, with some amazing God given strengths. One may be an artist, a musician, a writer, a banker, a designer, a gardner, who knows? Find out how they fit into your community and use that as a blessing for everyone. There should be a few things that you guys can share in common, like chickens, or gardening, mud runs, maybe hunting, camping or cooking, etc. Go and find out what they like, what their hobbies and interests are. Identify things in your life that might encourage or bless them, and offer it to them freely.

4. Don’t waste a perfectly good discipleship opportunity for your children – Don’t fear for your kids, they were given to you to bless your neighbor (Gen. 18). Your children will pick up on your fears and prejudices. The battle is going to be not devaluing your neighbors worth as humans and persons for whom Christ died because they live a way you deem inappropriate. You children won’t turn gay just because you have neighbors that you treat normally who are gay. It’s ok right now for them to know that they are just two men living together. But when “the talk” ensues, 10-12 years old-ish depending on each child’s maturity, that would be the appropriate time to disciple them through God’s standards for marriage, what your family believes, and what your neighbors have chosen. Be very open, honest, and direct with them about life, love, and missional living. It’s messy, but kids are smart, resilient, and teachable. Imagine what your children will be able to do for God at 18 years old after watching their parents lovingly minister to lost or hurting neighbors for 5-7 years of their young adult lives. And like Jesus, sit them down in between ministry endeavors to explain the Kingdom of God in stories, in power, and in truth.

5. Pray and Believe – Belief is going to drive action. The fact is, if you don’t believe God can transform them, you probably won’t pray for them or act in love on their behalf. It might take 20 years, but God can do it. Believe that he can, and let that belief lead to prayer and action. Don’t be bummed that your Christian hero, or your best friend didn’t move in across the street from you. That didn’t happen because you don’t need your Christian hero and your best friend. You have grown and matured, you’re in the peace-maker/persecution stage of the Be-attidues (cycle of discipleship), it’s now time to pour yourself out in service among the wandering souls, the culturally jaded, the misunderstood, the broken and sick. Remember… 1 Cor. 6:11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Who’s on First?

As a Christian, we’re constantly warring between two sides of ourselves – the unrepentant flesh and the redeemed new creation. This war manifests itself in many aspects of our lives as the flesh tries to regain dominance, something which ultimately will never happen, in manners such as a temptation to lust or envy, or an urging to sin in some particular manner. No manner of temptation or urging to sin, however, can compare with the subtlety and destructive power of putting oneself first.

“Thou shalt have no other god before Me”

This is the first commandment and it is often the one most broken. I know in my life, the manner in which I hold my ideal priorities is

  1. God
  2. Family/My fiancee
  3. Work
  4. Myself

Yet so often I find myself slipping gradually into a cycle of, quite literally, reversing that list. I become most important, followed by my work, etc. In doing so, everything becomes about me – what I want to do, how I support my wants, who I use to get what I want, etc. This is a complete inversion and misapplication of my life.

Rather than myself, God should be first. My relationships should bring Him glory, not me my “needs”. My work should further His goals, or allow me to do so, not feeding my material wants. My person and actions should be glorifying to God and edifying to His body, the Church, not satiating myself with my own desires.

Church, can you see the danger of this gradual slide. This transition from God to self as the number one priority in each of our lives can and will render us inert, insular, and isolated, not moving, growing, and spreading the Gospel with those we interact with. This is exactly what Satan wants, to nullify the effect Christ has on us and, through us, the world and, by allowing ourselves to give in to this subtle reversal, we are playing right into his hands.

So, I ask you right now, where do your priorities lie? Are they where they need to be or have you, like myself and so many others, allowed your focus to be shifted towards yourself?

A current medical school applicant, James grew up on the missions field in Cape Town, South Africa. He graduated from Liberty University in May 2014 and is seeking, ultimately, to serve as a missionary doctor.  Read more from James at Third Culture Musings.

Playing it safe ’til He comes

It’s as maddening as it is exhilarating. If you’re on the winning side there’s no greater sight. If you’re the loser, you’d rather stick a needle in your eye than watch as it plays out. It’s football’s Victory Formation.

When the outcome of a football game is no longer in question late in the game, the team with the lead usually goes into an offensive formation that completely protects the quarterback as he takes the snap and almost immediately takes a knee to just keep the clock running. The losing side usually has no timeouts left and no hope of a comeback when the winning side begins this formality.

The Victory Formation is the winning side’s way of making sure they don’t turn the ball over causing a potential miraculous comeback-win for the opposing side. The Victory Formation is playing it safe.

It appears that time may be getting short. The return of the Lord might not be that far away. There are signs all over the place.

Whether that means His return happens next year, next decade or even longer, we’re in the fourth quarter of time.

Because of this perceived shortness of time, many Christians seem content with running out the clock from the Victory Formation while a handful of ministers and leaders continue the trench-warfare that comes with snatching people out of the fire (Jude 1:23).

The hour is too late and the stakes are too high to live out our Christian faith from the Victory Formation.

Sure, it’s a safe way to play the game. There’s almost zero chance you’ll end up losing possession of the football. Might as well take a knee and run out the clock, right?

In Luke 19, Jesus gives the parable of the 10 talents. In the parable, Jesus says a man of noble birth was going away to become king and he gives 10 servants one talent each with the instruction “Occupy til I come.” Occupy meaning put this money to work or continue conducting business until I return as King.

The story continues with the nobleman returning to find one servant who earned 10 talents off the original amount given to him. The next servant had gained five. The final servant hid his only talent in a cloth and did nothing with his master’s money. He played it safe because he was scared of his master.

The telling reason Jesus gave this parable is all the way back in verse 11. Luke says “he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the Kingdom of God was going to appear at once.”

So it’s possible the people had a penchant to play it safe since they thought the Kingdom coming in power was imminent. Maybe the underlying attitude among the followers was one of complacency or worse–safety.

Aslan, the Lion in C.S. Lewis’s classic children’s story The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe represents Jesus. As the inquisitive children ask about Aslan, Mr. Beaver replies, “Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

Lewis got that one right. Jesus is anything but safe. Following Him is anything but playing it safe. As a matter of fact, Jesus Himself said, “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross every day, and follow me. (Luke 9:23)” Does carrying your own method of execution sound safe to you?

It’s not time to play it safe. It’s not time for the Victory Formation. There’s still a war over men’s souls. There is still a battle to fight. There’s still a devil loose.

Yes, we already have ultimate victory. But truly following the King is anything but safe.

Joel A. Barker is a worship pastor, minister of the Gospel, blogger and church-planter-in-training from Chattanooga, Tennessee. Follow his Kingdom Voice Ministry blog at joelabarker.com.

Chained Yet Free

We have been told since day 1 of Jesus’ ministry that following Him would not be easy. Jesus was very frank about that. In John, He says that the world would hate us because it first hated Him, that we would be persecuted just as he was first persecuted. We see this very present in the early church: Paul was jailed and put under house arrest. Of the 12 disciples, only John died a natural death – in exile on the island of Patmos. The church as a whole endured persecution from the Roman government up through Constantine. From that day onwards, Christians have been persecuted at almost every time in every corner of the world, whether it be Christian missionaries to the Norse, Japanese, Soviets, or, currently, Muslims.

We will be persecuted. It’s not a matter of whether we will be, but when. even today, in the USA, ideological persecution is well under way. But we must remember, God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of courage and a sound mind. In sending out the disciples, Jesus told them to stand firm and be courageous:

What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but not the soul.

Matt. 10:27-28

Peter encouraged the early church with similar words, encouraging them to rejoice in their sufferings:

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering as though something strange were happening to you, but rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed … [If] you suffer as a christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that  you bear that name.

1 Peter 4:12-16

Finally, James, the brother of Christ, encourages us to take joy in our persecution:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James 1:2-4

He also reminds us that we who persevere are blessed:

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.

James 1:12

So then, let us be encouraged. Let us not be fainthearted. We serve a God who brings salvation into the world. He is the light in the darkness that shall not be hidden. He is the truth, the life, and also the way. Let us not be ashamed of the Gospel, but be encouraged by the life it brings, boldly going to the front lines, knowing that to live is Christ and to die is gain.

Let us remember and commend those who have gone before us, laying their lives down for the sake of the Gospel, who fixed their eyes on Jesus, casting aside sin and entanglements to boldly run the race marked out for them.

Let us remember our brothers and sisters still living who, even today, are the targets of persecutions. Let us praise God for their boldness and obedience and pray earnestly for their freedom.

Let us also be willing to say, “Wherever you lead, I’ll go,” to be obedient to the Lord’s command regardless the risk, for we know that to live is Christ and to die is gain.

A current medical school applicant, James grew up on the missions field in Cape Town, South Africa. He graduated from Liberty University in May 2014 and is seeking, ultimately, to serve as a missionary doctor.  Read more from James at Third Culture Musings.

Doing “Less” to Do More

If you’ve never been there, you will. It will happen. You’ll feel the slow and steady hand of spiritual exhaustion gradually suffocate your fire to be on mission. You’ll feel yourself going through the motions of being “professional” in ministry and, yet, cold-hearted in your zeal for it. Your state of mind will be a breeding ground for doubt, insecurity, and apathy, and, yet, you’ll be inundated with a million churchy things to do.

I’m talking about burnout.

It has happened to every minister I’ve ever known at one point or another and I’ve seen ministries thrive or fall on the basis of how they handle it. For my small, but faithful, outpost church on the skirts of an otherwise forgotten trailer park in Chester, Virginia, burnout has reached our front door. I hope you don’t think I’m jaded when I say that the church is far from barren in its spirit to serve. In fact, I’m often flabbergasted at how much this small and humble church of less than 100 has accomplished on the mission field when neighboring megachurches, with seemingly unlimited resources, stay within their four walls with hands permanently fixed in their pockets.

However, burnout is an unwelcomed product of our ministry context, and there are, as far as I can tell, four broad-sweeping contributing factors—limited man-power, considerable budgetary restraints, exceedingly hard soil to till, and a pliability in trying anything to fulfill the Great Commission. They are all intertwined. To increase our budget, we know that the money is in reaching families with stable households and good jobs. Yet, the Lord hasn’t given us a church full of such people and many of those families are drawn to white-bread churches with a more respectable location and more impressive facilities. Thus, the same 20 people—those who are being discipled and growing steadily—are the ones who faithfully serve in every area of need. When coupled with hard ministry soil, (overly?) ambitious programming, and a resistance to more popular seeker-sensitive movements void of Gospel substance, this ministry context will inevitably take a toll on those who shoulder the burden.

Let me be honest—I don’t have the solution to these problems.

My suspicion is that many of you can relate. If not corporately, you may relate on a personal level. How easy it is to get spread too thin and feel overwhelmed by our circumstances! That fire that drives us and that feeling of being sustained by the Spirit can sometimes feel quenched in times like these. While I confess our leadership team has not come up with an end-all, be-all solution, we do believe we are on a trajectory toward a solution.

As we move forward on this journey, my intention will be to suggest movements both in ministry strategy and discipleship focus. In relation to strategy, the lesson we’re learning is that sometimes less is more. Since we already know our people have a heart for mission, we need to cultivate consistent excitement in ministry, at least on the whole, and the value it brings. We need to maintain a willingness to do anything for the sake of the Gospel while also balancing that with guarding our own affections for Jesus and people. Thus, there can’t be any sacred cows allowed in our church. Whatever fat that does not satisfy these requirements, must be trimmed. Programs can die and that’s ok. We may end up with fewer services, but we believe those services will be all the more impactful.

I’ve got to tell you—in my flesh, doing “less” doesn’t always sit well with me. It’s quite counter-cultural in a secular environment which views the notion of protecting margin in our time and services as a death wish for an organization wanting to expand its reach. What’s more is that church culture has adopted far too much from the business world’s paradigm such that cutting services is often assumed to be indicative of a dying church. The motto is usually “Bigger, Better, More People,” not “Less Programming, Fewer Events, and Strengthen Your Core.”

Yet, it’s in just this way that our discipleship focus may need to be tweaked. Dependency on Jesus is always the most accurate perspective when dealing with such problems. Abiding in the Vine is trusting in Him to produce fruit. It is most assuredly the only way the branches will bear fruit anyway. And it is exactly this grounding we need in our discipleship efforts. In this way “less” becomes more if doing “less” means helping the branches to stay wet with the blessed sustenance that flows from the Vine.

My prayer is that as we implement these changes, we will discover a new meaning for the idea of satisfaction in whatever the Lord decides to do in the place He has given us to serve. On the one hand, it is bright-eyed and Gospel-centered ambition that propels us into the Great Commission with vigor and stick-to-itiveness. I never want to lose that. Indeed, it too needs to be cultivated. On the other hand, we need to learn to temper our drive with the satisfaction of knowing that the Lord brings the fruit. We are obedient and He decides what may come of our obedience. So, may we celebrate even the smallest of victories as they come from “less” programming and more affection for our Vine.

Josh Waltman is a preacher, writer, and evangelist at On Truth and Love, a preaching and teaching ministry based out of Lynchburg, VA. He is also a worship leader with The Worship Collective, an alternative worship band from Chester, VA.

From Point A to Point B

Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them everything I have commanded you.
Matt 28:19-20

Looking at Jesus’ last words before His ascension, we can see how the great commission tells us our goal, what we need to do, and what we should do once that is achieved:

  1. Make disciples
  2. Baptise them
  3. Teach them to do the same

I find it rather funny that Jesus never expanded on that first point: “Make disciples.” It has always remained that very direct end goal with no real how-to ever given. There’s no 12-step program, Romans road, or Evangi-cube exposition given to the apostles. Instead, He leaves it rather open-ended and, honestly, I’m glad He did. You see, by not giving us a roadmap to discipleship, Christ emphasized the work-less, God-focused nature of salvation; He forced us to look back on His example; and He gave us freedom to evangelise in the way best fitting our personalities and talents.

Throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus mentioning and alluding to the fact that there is no way to salvation except through Him (cf. John 14:6). He is not telling the disciples to seek salvation through the law, as Paul would later admonish the Galatians against, but that He is the only true source of righteousness and the only source sufficient to cover a lifetime’s worth of sin.  All of this culminated on the cross when, as Christ died, the temple curtain tore, signifying that the barrier of sin between man and God was now broken. It was not the law that brought salvation, but Christ.

Christ also drew many to him and proclaimed the coming of the Kingdom of God. His is the example we follow, when we evangelise and disciple those around us. Christ showed evangelism in a number of ways, all tailored around the individual he was meeting with. When talking to Nicodemus (John 3), Jesus spoke as an academic, with well-worded arguments and reasonings. When He was speaking to the woman at the well (John 4), however, His approach was loving, yet confrontational of her sins, ultimately offering rescue and salvation from the burden of it all. These are just two examples; there are countless more showing “how to evangelise.”

With discipleship, however, we see a more consistent theme running: Christ calls, Christ teaches, then Christ sends. Note that those whom He called already knew of who He claimed to be. They didn’t necessarily know Him, but they knew of Him and were expecting Him. So, we can say that discipleship follows evangelism, which makes sense. Yes, it’s true you can disciple someone to salvation – that happens often in churches, especially in Sunday school or youth group – but for true discipleship to develop, it must be with a current Christian. That doesn’t mean that the great commission is telling us to forgo evangelism. No, Christ said to make disciples, so we need to evangelise before we can even get to that step, as though it were a step 0.5 of sorts.

Which leads me to my last point, Christ gave us freedom in evangelism. Christ gave examples during His time on Earth, true, but He also gave us very unique skills and personalities in order to reach the disparate peoples of this planet. I, for one, am terrible at conveying the Gospel to a feelings-oriented person, but I can talk evolutionary theory and philosophy while tying in basic theology till the cows come home. God made me able to reach specific types of people very well and He gave me the passion and desire to evangelise to them as well. Now, that doesn’t mean I forgo evangelism to all people – I am to be preaching the Gospel to everyone I meet and, often, God uses my deficiencies to act in ways that blow my mind. Rather, it merely means that I am well-equipped in a specific area.

Bringing everything back to the Great Commission, Jesus didn’t give us an explicitly worded roadmap to get from point A to point B. Instead, He gave us a list of checkpoints. How we reach those checkpoints is up to us and we have been given the tools to do so. So, with our skills in hand, let us evangelise to and disciple those we come across, to the best of our abilities, in in the way that means most for them, bringing God the glory at their salvation and subsequent obedience, bringing in turn more disciples to further the work assigned to us.

A current medical school applicant, James grew up on the missions field in Cape Town, South Africa. He graduated from Liberty University in May 2014 and is seeking, ultimately, to serve as a missionary doctor.  Read more from James at Third Culture Musings.