ministry

Zion: the player, the city, the kingdom

Come fathers and mothers,
Come sisters and brothers,
Come join us in singing the praises of Zion.
O fathers, don’t you feel determined
To meet within the walls of Zion?
We’ll shout and go round
The walls of Zion. – John G. McCurry

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I have thrown three of my recent experiences into a blender and have come up with a blog post called Zion: the player, the city, the kingdom. There are three parts to this post: the first being a player named Zion Williamson, the second being a a city called La Mision, and the third being the Kingdom of God as depicted in the book of Psalms. I think that’s enough eclecticism to get a bunch of people to look at the post and just three of you to finish reading it. But those who finish will find just what all the buzz is about Zion: the player, the city, and the kingdom. So, here we go!

Zion: the player

Zion Williamson is expected by almost all parties to be the number one pick in the NBA Draft coming up Thursday, June 20th. He is the most anticipated player to come into the draft since LeBron James was drafted in 2003, 16 years ago. We had the normal process of NBA teams being bad on purpose in order to get Zion, though a new percentage distribution for the bad team made it less certain this year that it would result in landing the number one pick.

What makes a team lose on purpose? The belief that what is coming next is better than what they have today. Teams have placed their hopes on future promise becoming reality today. In this respect, Zion is sure to answer these hopes. The team that gets Zion Williamson will immediately be better than they were before getting him. He’s that kind of player, who will instantly make his team better for the foreseeable future. He won’t disappoint. And he will help a team (now probably the New Orleans Pelicans) make there future promise a reality today.

Zion: the city

I saw something similar to this in La Mision, BC, Mexico over the weekend. I was there on a mission trip with the men’s group from my church, La Habra Christian Church. We connected with Jim from Strong Tower, DJ from the Orphanage, Brendan from Siloe, and Eddie from Calvary Chapel Liberty Ranch. Here, I saw future promise becoming a reality today. Though, there was a stark difference in the process. The people we connected with in La Mision weren’t losing on purpose to win later. They weren’t hoping things got really bad so that the could luck out with a draft and be better next year. They weren’t waiting for a Savior to come. They already have one. As Brendan’s dad shared in a message at Calvary Chapel, “You don’t need a deliver. You already have one.”

The people that we connected with in La Mision believe that Jesus Christ has already come to deliver. He is the key to making future promise reality today. In fact, Jim, DJ, Brendan, and Eddy have already started to realize future promise in the here and now. Hope isn’t far off! Instead, through work at Casa de Mana, Door of Faith Orphanage, the Siloe Clinic, and Calvary Chapel Liberty Ranch, the people in La Mision are seeing God’s reality become our reality today, not some day in the future! And the city is being changed.

Zion: the kingdom

The idea of God’s reality becoming our reality is what is behind the Biblical teaching of Zion. Zion is mentioned in the Bible over 150 times, sometimes referring to the specific city of Jerusalem and sometimes referring to the heavenly city of God. In fullness, Zion refers to both. It is, as N.T. Wright says, “the intersection of God’s space and our space, of heaven and earth.” In other words, it’s the place where God’s reality becomes our reality.

The encouraging teaching from the Bible about Zion is that we don’t have to tank for God’s reality to become our reality. We don’t have to get worse and worse in order to luck out for the draft some day. We already have a deliver, whose name is Jesus. 2 Peter 1:3-4 says, “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” We already have everything we need to live in Zion, for God’s promise to be reality today. 

Zion is the place where God lives and people thrive with Him.

Zion is the place where God reigns as King and people benefit from His commands.

Zion is the place where God builds His Kingdom and we are placed brick by brick.

We change. The city changes. The world changes. And all of it happens today.

So we say with John G. McCurry,

Come fathers and mothers,
Come sisters and brothers,
Come join us in singing the praises of Zion.
O fathers, don’t you feel determined
To meet within the walls of Zion?
We’ll shout and go round
The walls of Zion.

This is what I’ve learned from zion: the player, the city, the kingdom. It’s what Jim, DJ, Brendan, and Eddie taught me this weekend. I want to go to Zion. I’ll meet you there, where God’s reality becomes our reality today.

Draw Clearly, Draw Near, Draw Close

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It can be an interesting thing to pastor a church.

On the one hand, you see amazing things. God is clearly at work in your congregation and He is showing His handiwork in ways that are unavoidably beautiful. On the other hand, there is consistent opposition to His work. It is certain that the devil has come to “steal, kill, and destroy” (John 10:10).

The truth is that, in Gospel ministry you will see amazing things, but it will come at a cost.  Yes, God is good. And yes, life is hard. The pain that come from a tough life coupled with the opposition from the “thief” can be difficult to overcome.

But, there is good news. Sometimes this kind of opposition can be a clear sign that God’s work is in fact taking place. And, Christ Himself told us to take heart, for he has “overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Here are three things that you can do during tough times to partner with God in His good work! So, the next time that you face opposition in your life or ministry, draw clearly, draw near, and draw close!
(1) Draw clearly the picture of God’s goodness and His work. Let us clearly declare and proclaim the good work of God when we see it. There is power in testimony and praising God for the work he is doing. May we be a people who spend more time talking about the good things that God does than the difficulty that we face.
(2) Draw near to the Lord. God is already the victor, may we bring his work against the opposition/difficulty in this life. Identify that God’s good work does meet opposition with the Enemy, who wants to steal, kill, and destroy. With this, we should not fear the opposition, but in awareness of the opposition, bring God’s work on the cross and in the Spirit against the attack/difficulty (e.g. “I pray the work of Christ in this particular situation by the power of the Spirit”). James says draw near to the Lord and he will draw near to you. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. May it be so with us His body!
(3) Draw close to one another.  2 Timothy 2:23-24 warns us about what can happen in a body that is divided in the midst of conflict. Paul writes to Timothy, “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.” By contrast, Hebrews 10:24 invites us not to give up meeting together and instead to encourage one another all the more!
Let us bind together and encourage one another in the Lord throughout the various circumstances of life. God’s good work will continue to be done! In times of opposition, may we draw a clear picture of God’s good work, draw near to the Lord, and draw close to one another.

The Sweet Spot of Christian Ministry

“At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.” – T.S. Eliot

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Neither arrest nor movement. That phrase always troubled me, as I read Eliot for the first time. I was a student in the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University, in La Mirada, California. How could something not be still and not be moving at the same time? Neither arrest nor movement.

Today, as a Pastor of Worship Arts in the Denver area, Eliot’s words still ring true. Over the years, since my time as a student, I have at times oscillated from arrest to movement and back again. It’s an easy thing to do in life and an even easier thing to do in ministry.

In ministry, we often feel caught between two extremes regarding our work. On the one side of the pendulum is the goal of a fully reliant walk with God. After all, it was Paul who said, “it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (see Philippians 2:13). On the other side of the pendulum, is a healthy desire to impact the world for Jesus Christ. We work hard and feel like it is our responsibility to offer all we can to the Lord in His service. As James reminds us, “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (see James 2:17).

Could it be that Eliot’s riddle has a grasp on Christian living and Christian ministry that finds the sweet spot between arrest and movement?

In his book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Eugene Peterson argues that the Christian life falls somewhere between the Western Paradigm of working increasing amounts of hours in order to get ahead and the Eastern Paradigm of remaining absolutely still in letting go of the world. Peterson argues that, like most things, Jesus won’t that easily be put in a box. Instead, the Christian both takes up his cross (Luke 9:23) and has a burden that is light (Matthew 11:30).

It is there, cross in hand and with an easy yoke, that we find the sweet spot of Christian ministry. The Christian jumps into the river of God and joins Jesus in the work that He is already doing. It is both reliant on the work of God and offering our firstfruits. It is, as Eliot said, neither arrest nor movement. And there, we find the dance.

There is an interesting parallel to the weekly worship services that we have at Greenwood Community Church. There are some weeks in which I enter the services feeling like we have absolutely worked our tails off preparing for what will surely be an awe-inspiring worshipful time. And some of those same weeks, the congregation comes away with a resounding “meh.” There are other weeks in which I have entered the worship services feeling as though we didn’t quite have enough time as a band together to work out all the details, or I wasn’t quite sure that the “right” songs had been selected. And some of those same weeks, I have been greatly encouraged by the ways that God has moved in the hearts and lives of the people of the church.

So what do we learn?

There is a sweet spot of Christian ministry that lies somewhere between arrest and movement. It is not reliant on self; it is reliant on the work of God. But, it offers the best of what is available and it prayerfully asks God to do what only He can do and use what “we gladly bring” to the Newborn King.

It is, as Bob Sorge has written, the pursuit of jumping the very river for which God has created His children. Of the river, Sorge says, “We have been fashioned in such as way that the river of God alone will satisfy the deep longings of the human spirit” (See Sorge’s Following the River). Let us be clear that the river flows from God Himself at His very throne (Revelation 22:1). It does not originate from us, but we are invited by God Himself to take the plunge!

May each of us today, find the sweet spot, not only of Christian ministry, but of our very lives in Christ as we offer ourselves freely to work that Jesus has already begun!

 

What Does the Pastor Do the Rest of the Week? or The Top Five Tasks of the Pastor

“Shepherding animals is a semiskilled labor. No colleges offer graduate degrees in shepherding. It is not that difficult a job; even a dog can learn to guard a flock of sheep…Shepherding a spiritual flock is not so simple.” – John MacArthur

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The title of this article is “What Does the Pastor Do the Rest of the Week?” or “The Top Five Tasks of the Pastor.” I cannot tell you how many times I have been asked this question, sometimes in jest and sometimes with genuine interest. And, I suppose the question is understandable, as, often, people who attend church only on a Sunday have a difficult time imagining what the pastor does the other six days a week. So, a clear answer regarding the top five tasks of a pastor may be helpful.

The top five tasks of a pastor are: (1) to be a disciple of Jesus, (2) to make disciples of Jesus, (3) to shepherd and administrate the local church body, (4) to teach the local church body, and (5) to equip the local church body for ministry. John MacArthur notes that Titus 1:6-8 is the “standard for any pastor’s character and is thus the primary consideration in preparing for pastoral ministry” (John MacArthur, Pastoral Ministry: How to Shepherd Biblically, Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2050, 67). In other words, MacArthur argues that the primary task of being a pastor is to first be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Charles Spurgeon, likewise, says, “It should be one of our first cares that we ourselves be saved men” (Charles Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1979, 9). For this reason, Titus gives instructions to the character of the pastor as the first task of the pastor.

The second task of the pastor is to make disciples. In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus says, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20, NIV). This instruction is given to every Christian, as the missional purpose of the Church. In this way, the second task of the pastor is to make disciples.

The third task for the pastor is to shepherd and administrate the local church body. Thus, MacArthur states, “The basic function of a New Testament leader is overseeing” (MacArthur, Pastoral Ministry, 89). And so, the third task of the pastor is to shepherd, administrate, and oversee the church).

The fourth task of the pastor is to teach the local church body. As mentioned above, part of the Great Commission in Mathew 28:19-20 is that new disciples be taught to obey everything that Jesus had instructed. In other words, the teaching and preaching responsibility of the pastor is very significant in the local church.

The fifth task of the pastor is for the pastor to equip the local church for ministry. Ephesians 4:11-13 says, “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of services, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13, NIV). In this way, the pastor must be able to equip the church to participate in ministry as a body.

The list is hardly exhaustive, as there are countless other responsibilities that face a pastor on a weekly basis-correction and protection of the church body, just to name two more. But, the next time you here someone ask, “What does the pastor do the rest of the week?” here is a handy response.