The Call to Ministry

A lot of people get confused by the idea of a “call to ministry.” I was talking with some friends recently about how God called me out to California, and then how he called me into full-time ministry. My daughter overheard the conversation and blurted, “It’s like the Force.” Hmm. Not exactly the analogy I was looking for.

But if the call to ministry is not like the Force in Star Wars that binds all things together, what is it like? I would define God’s call as an intense desire to serve the Lord in a specific area that aligns with one’s gifts and is increasingly affirmed by the body of Christ. We should not be seeking some mystical experience as much as a spiritual prompting accompanied by great joy and an affirmation of godly people.

A few verses that come to mind:

1 Timothy 3:1 “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.” Paul speaks of aspiration or earnest desire (Gk. epithumia, often translated “lust” or “strong urge”). Far from ambition being a bad thing, Paul says it can be a very good thing, as long as the focus is on the Lord and not our own reputation. When evident in a young man’s life, this holy flame of desire should be fanned, not extinguished.

Romans 12:3 “Everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” Here the Bible says we need to take a sober, honest reflection of our gifts and long-term usefulness to the Lord. The question is not if we have a gift, but what gifts God has endowed uniquely to us, and how we can best use them to glorify God and build up his church (Eph. 4:11-13; 1 Cor. 14:3, 26).

Acts 6:3 “Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.” Here we have a great example of biblical qualifications, congregational consent, and God’s providence all working together. God gave clear requirements to the church, then led them to select certain people who met those qualifications and who joyfully served. There was freedom in decision making, but all within the boundaries that God had set. As a result, “the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly” (Acts 6:7).

If you are interested in learning more about the call to ministry or God’s calling on your life, I recommend the book “Am I Called?” by Dave Harvey.

The Firing of Paige Patterson

Yesterday morning, I woke up to the news that Paige Patterson, President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, was fired overnight by the school’s board of directors. He was not personally accused of any sex abuse, but still, he made some very crude comments toward young women and took a controversial stance on gender roles and domestic violence.

Scrolling through social media, I can see that friends and ministry partners are all over the map on this one. D.A. Horton tweeted “Dear #SBC18, I’m deeply grieved how power & privilege inside our convention are used to build walls of self-preservation & systemic protection.”

And a former student of mine wrote, “For months now I have been praying about this seminary and whether or not I should consider applying. Paige Patterson remained the biggest stumbling block in my decision, originally because of his disdain for the doctrines of grace, but more so now because of his more recent scandals. I am very happy with the decision that has been made.”

Meanwhile, other Christians cry foul at this decision by the Board of Directors. One seminary professor wrote, “The timing and tactics in this situation are those of the Left. This is how they take out good men and they’ll continue to do this. It’s just getting started.”

Without a doubt, there is a double-standard in morality between what the world expects of Christians, and what they expect of themselves. The left claims love and tolerance for all, yet silences intelligent design theorists and anyone with a Judeo-Christian worldview on sexual ethics. Yes, there is hypocrisy on the left. But when they identify legitimate failings on our part, we must not be guilty of the same hypocrisy. We must be swift to admit wrongdoing and model biblical repentance, not play the same cover-up tactics they are used to seeing.

This is a messy issue. Both sides need to avoid knee jerk reactions and visceral posts that social media engenders. We are not privy to full details of what went on in that Board meeting Tuesday night. I believe those board members sought God’s wisdom, and made a Spirit-led decision that would show a balance of grace and truth — neither condoning Patterson’s actions, nor ignoring his many years of faithful service.

I close by reposting what I wrote yesterday to a friend on Facebook: “Amidst a long and faithful ministry, Dr. Patterson made some unwise and offensive remarks that hurt our gospel witness and came back to bite him. He was no Larry Nasser or Harvey Weinstein, and it’s questionable whether he should have been fired for his remarks, but it’s a sobering reminder that ‘Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness’ ” (James 3:1).

Hosting Friends

Last weekend, Jeff and Jenny Thomas drove out to Yucca Valley to visit our family and the church. Jeff has been out before – back in December 2011 — but Jenny and the kids had not been able to join him. This time, both of them were here, along with their youngest daughter.

The Thomases arrived Saturday afternoon and we had a chance to do some early catch up as we grilled corn-on-the-cob and hamburgers. The kids immediately hit it off well and played in the other room.

After dinner on Saturday night, we all headed out to Blackrock Canyon for an evening hike on the High View Trail. The sunset over Mount San Gorgonio was spectacular. By the time we got back to the van, it was fully dark, and they were able to enjoy our dark night sky, including a nice view of the crescent moon and Venus in the western sky.

Sunday morning, Jeff preached on “The Majesty of God and the Meaning of Man” from Psalm 8. For the offertory, Jenny sang “His Eye is on the Sparrow,” a song I remember her singing at PBC, and that still touches me today. After the service, we had a potluck luncheon and Jeff shared about their new ministry with TLI. This organization was founded in 2009 and includes a respectable lineup of board members and advisors including DA Carson and John Piper. I was struck that 85% of pastors around the globe have no formal theological training. This is a recipe for doctrinal error and experientially-driven ministry to creep into churches. Right now, the Thomases are in fundraising mode to gain a liveable wage and begin training indigenous pastors around the globe. The whole day at church was a wonderful. I only wish more people had been there to enjoy it.

Later that afternoon, we drove the Thomases out to Joshua Tree to show them more of the National Park. We had a nice hike near Barker Dam, ate a picnic dinner in the van, scrambled around Split Rock, drove through the Jumbo Rocks campground, then enjoyed a look at the twinking city lights of the Coachella Valley from Keys View. Jenny admitted she was surprised by the desert. I think she had pictured something more like the sand dunes of the Sahara, and hadn’t imagined there would be such beauty, peace, and striking rock formations in the high desert.

Driving back to town Sunday night, we had some great conversation about pastoral ministry and missions work, and once the kids were tucked in, we continued to talk, share, and pray for each other into the late hours of the night.

It’s amazing how good friends and spiritual fellowship can lift the spirit. God has crossed our paths with the Thomases many times these past 18 years, and it felt like we picked up right where we left off. “Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel” (Proverbs 27:9).

Jerusalem

Looking over the Old City of Jerusalem. Dome of the Rock and Mount of Olives in the distance. (March 2000)

Monday was a monumental day for Israel, one that our kids will read about in their history books. On May 14, 2018 – exactly 70 years after Israel became a sovereign nation again – Jerusalem was recognized by the United States as the capital of Israel.

Fulfilling a promise he made during the 2016 Presidential Campaign, Donald Trump moved the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. He explained his reasoning last December: “Moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem is first a recognition of reality. A reality many, many years in the making. Jerusalem is indisputably, the capital of Israel. A capital chosen by a sovereign nation as the seat of its government.”

Israel is the only nation in the world that has its capital and seat of government in one city (Jerusalem), yet the UN General Assembly has refused to recognize and nations have been afraid to place their embassies. With the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem, that is finally changing. On May 16, Guatemala followed suit and moved their embassy to Jerusalem as well. “This is the beginning of something extraordinary,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The prophet Zechariah spoke of a day when the LORD “will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace” (Zech. 12:10). Although this promise awaits the second coming and millennial reign of Messiah, it is safe to say we are likely seeing God move the pieces on his prophetic chess board to prepare for the return of Christ. It is no accident that after 2,000 years of scattering, the Jews are finally returning to their homeland and the nation is being re-assembled.

Barry Horner is right when he says, “While there cannot be absolute certainty with regard to eschatological fulfillment in the present, the contemporary state of Israel, and especially its possession of Jerusalem, suggests a high degree of probability that eschatological fulfillment is in process before our very eyes” (Future Israel, p. 59).

Come, Lord Jesus!

Lost and Found

Yesterday, one of our church members gave us quite a scare. Thankfully, everything turned out OK, and it became a wonderful testimony of answered prayer.

Shortly after I woke up Wednesday, I received a text message from a woman in our church saying her husband had gone hiking the previous day, and never returned. Search & Rescue had been notified overnight and were already retracing his route with search dogs and helicopters.

Anyone familiar with the desert knows there are hundreds of square miles of remote land out here. Every year, we hear horror stories of people who got lost or injured in the desert. Sometimes, they are not found for weeks or years, after it is too late.

Immediately, I prayed for this man, and the Lord brought to mind Psalm 139. “You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.” Although we did not know where the man was at the moment, God knew.

Soon, many other prayer warriors in the church were praying and staying in touch by phone and text message. At noon, I checked back in with the wife, but still there was no news. At 5:45 pm, as I locked up the church and headed home for the day, I thought how every hour that ticks by, there is a greater likelihood this is not going to end well. But I prayed to God, reminding him that he is not bound by statistics, and that he still has the power to bring back this member without serious harm. I asked the Lord for his name’s sake, and on behalf of the many prayers of his people, if he would allow the man to be found very soon.

Then, at 5:57 pm, I received a text from the wife saying, “They just found him. He is alive. We are on our way to get him. Thank you for all your prayers.”

Praise God! What a huge answer to prayer. Apparently, the man is a little banged up, but things could have been much, much worse. We serve a God who cares for his people and protects us daily in ways both seen and unseen.

The blog of Stephen Jones