Testing Your Callings

December 1, 2022

Is there a good way for a Christian to know if something is a good idea and likely in the will of God? This is a question I ponder frequently, as I strive to live a life within the will of God. I accept my continuing imperfections and periodic missteps (kinda have to as they don't seem to be going away), but I do want to be pleasing to the Lord more often than not, so the bigger the task that I feel that I'm called to, the more certain that I want to be that it is within the will of God.

Some smaller tasks can be evaluated using what I like to call the "Stoneking Test". This is advice given by evangelist Rev. Lee Stoneking, who explained (paraphrasing) that if you're unsure about whether something is from the Lord, if it's good, do it anyway as it's extremely unlikely that the Devil will ask you to do something that positively benefits the kingdom of God. This has always seemed to be a good and pragmatic heuristic for most people, most of the time and I strongly recommend it. After all, the worst that can happen is that you do something good and that's, well, good.

Back to the question of big tasks, the kind that involve uprooting your family or changing churches. These are a bigger deal and deserve a more careful consideration. Just as the small to medium tasks can easily be evaluated with the "Stoneking Test", I propose that the larger callings can be easily analyzed by what I'm going to call the "Pastor Test". The "Pastor Test" is pretty easy, considering the importance of the outcome. You talk to your pastor, explain what you feel the Lord is calling you to do and then wait for their response. If they say that it's awesome and that absolutely you should do it, then the prospective calling has passed the "Pastor Test". If their response is no or "hmmmm, I'm not sure about that", then the prospective calling has failed and you should resume being helpful at your local church.

The problem with the "Pastor Test" is that it is easy for people to think that their pastor is trying to hold them back and prevent them doing the amazing spiritual thing they are convinced they're supposed to do. This is usually an ego thing on the part of the person feeling called. Overcoming our own ego is an important step in our Christian growth journey. Those who seek ministry should desire to minister and grow people. If someone specifically desires the limelight potion of the ministry they claim to be called to, then likely they aren’t ready for it. As a pastor I preach in front of a congregation, but I do it because I want to minister to them and preaching is more efficient than sitting down with them individually. If I could minister without ever having to preach in front of multitudes, I would take that option in a heartbeat. Not that I’m uncomfortable with preaching, but getting behind a pulpit was never my goal and I think that's a significant part of the reason why the Lord felt I was ready to pastor.

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Mid-West Weather

November 30, 2022

So, I was watching this video about British people not realizing how cold it gets in the United States and found it funny and inspiring at the same time, having lived extensively in both countries and understanding where each side was coming from.

Allow me to share a few of my winter temperature stories.

My first exposure (no pun intended) to the Mid-West winters was a week back in January 1994, during a work trip to our new office that was starting in Chicago, IL. It was seriously cold, extra windy and snowy. While the nickname "the windy city" for Chicago originated in the hot air produced by it's very active politics, the name fits well with its winter storms. Even though the temperatures were colder than typical for the United Kingdom, we British generally layer well, so with plenty of layers of warm clothing, and the warmest gloves I owned, I survived. I did so well, that I even accepted an offer to come back and have lived here over 28 years as I write this.

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Judging Books By Their Covers

November 25, 2022

An interesting dichotomy is that we are told that you cannot judge a book by it's cover, but every book publisher's marketing department wants you to do exactly that. Back in the day all books were hardback and their covers were typically drab earth tones with the title and author embossed on the spine. It was indeed a truth that you could not judge a book purely by it's cover and the spine was required to be able to identify it. But these days, the publishers strongly desire that you should be able to judge their books by their covers. Great effort is taken to ensure that every aspect of the cover (pictures, typography, text, color scheme etc etc) will grab your attention and tell you that the book is interesting and you should purchase it.

Of course, you still can't really judge a book by it’s cover, because while that cover may be colorful and intriguing, covers are generally designed by someone other than the author. The quality of the cover is not connected to the quality of the internal material. An exciting story could have a drab cover, while an exciting cover could be wrapped around a shallow and meandering story. No matter how much a marketing department would push you to do so, be wary of judging a book by its cover. Let's expand that to a more general life principle and be careful before judging anything and more importantly anyone, by initial external impressions. I'm pretty sure there's a spiritual principle that goes along with this. Oh, look, James, ever the dispenser of wisdom, enjoins us on this exact topic:

For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?

James 2:2-4

There is much to unpack here, but this time I'm going to only chase down the one point. No matter how someone arrives in your life, you're going to notice their metaphorical book cover. Perhaps it's flashy, maybe it's drab, some may like wearing more black than you believe a human being should have in their wardrobe and others may walk stylistically to a drummer of their own beat. Regardless, these people have souls and Jesus loves them and wishes to love them through you as well. We are to receive them identically and equally enthusiastically. The eternal destination of their soul may be affected by how you receive them. Sure, you may believe that the well dressed person will be more able to give generously to the church and that the drab one will be a net drain on the coffers, but I can assure you that I have seen the opposite so often, that I have long dropped such expectations from my reactions. Reacting to surface level evidence is the least loving response we can give someone. Get to know them and only then judge them on their character.

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Names

October 22, 2022

Names are important to God. (Trust me that it's an entire sermon to just work through the scriptural principle of the progressive revelation of the name of God, consider that saved for another day.) We see that in bible times people also took names very seriously, sadly not something that has survived the passage of time, with modern names selected for the most random of reasons and from the most random of sources.

In his interactions with humanity, we see that God influenced many names, changing some and re-emphasizing others. The classic example of name changing would be that of Abram and Sarai who he renamed to Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 17:5, 15-16). As God changed the directions of their lives, he gave them new names that would match their newfound standing.

The foremost example of a re-emphasis of names is often wrongly thought to be a renaming. People often believe that Paul was renamed from Saul to Paul, as we see him called Saul up to a point and thereafter known as Paul. He already had both names (Acts 13:9), so it was in fact a re-emphasis. The reason for this is that while Paul was a Hebrew (Philippians 3:5), he was also a Roman citizen (Acts 22:27). As a Pharisee, his Hebrew name of Saul was his first choice. The dislike, bordering on hatred, of the Romans among the Jews would have limited his ability to operate as a religious leader of the Jews if he had gone by his Roman name Paul. Upon his appointment as the apostle to the Gentiles (Romans 11:13), many of whom were Roman or highly influenced by Roman culture and who often disliked Jews as much as the Jews disliked them, Paul found more acceptance of his teaching when favoring his Roman identity. Interestingly, the switch of usage from Saul to Paul was not God ordained. Paul chose the emphasis change for the afore-mentioned reasons.

The switch of emphasis of Simon to Peter was directed by God (Matthew 16:16-18). Simon's full name was Simon Peter and he did in fact use that name in his second epistle, but Jesus emphasized Peter because it means rock and corresponded to Peter's revelation of the messiahship of Jesus, which is the rock and foundation upon which the coming church would be built.

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Marriage

October 18, 2022

Marriage is an amazing thing. That two strangers with completely different backgrounds, personalities and goals can come together, become one, share everything, raise mini versions of themselves and live together in (mostly) complete harmony is a miracle.

After the creation of everything else in the universe, God created Adam and provided living accommodation, food and an abundant supply of pets. Even with all of this the Lord found that Adam was still lonely (Genesis 2:18). He took a rib from Adam, fashioned Eve from it (Genesis 2:21-22) and presented her to Adam, who promptly exclaimed “Wo! Man” and thus were half of the human race labeled. This God ordained relationship was the first marriage and sets the pattern that we would do well to follow (other than guys rightly being cautious of unexpected offers of fruit from their wives).

The scriptures offer no explanation of why God chose to fashion Eve from one of Adam's ribs. Upon careful reading and contemplation there appear to be two possibilities, but as one of them is a very bad joke with the punchline of "What can I get for a rib?", I'll skip over it and go to my preferred sensible answer.

I believe that God used a rib because he firstly wanted Eve to be of the same substance of Adam. Everything else in the universe was spoken into existence during creation, but Adam was specifically hand made by God from the dust of the ground and provided life by the breath of God (Genesis 2:7). This alone made him unique in the universe and a compatible mate would need to be similarly constituted. Secondly, a rib is from the side of the body. Eve was neither intended to be above nor below Adam, but to be his help meet who would be by his side all of their lives. And finally, a rib's purpose in life is to protect the most vital organs of the body: the lungs and especially the heart. Adam's rib shows that Eve was under his protection and that she was a vital part of his being that he would defend with his life.

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