Those were prophetic words spoken to me by an elder who wasn’t happy with me. Trust me, he didn’t mean that as a compliment. He said that because I was royally screwing up his country club. His nice little church who loved their closed circle of friends and hid behind and glass walled lie of, “We just want to protect our kids from the world” had been exposed to the realities of some radical transformation that can occur when you challenge students to read God’s Word uninterpretted.
“What does a plain reading of this tell you to do?”
As I taught middle school and high school students how to do that in a Christian school and the church that hosted it, kids started asking questions that freaked their parents out. And those freaked out parents called the elders. And the elders told me to stop teaching like that.
Before you can change the world, you better change your block
This has been a turn in my understanding of that phrase, of late. I can point to specific things that happen in my world and say, “Yes, I had a hand in impacting that. Those things have changed because of my being here.”
But my conviction is becoming that none of that matters if I don’t love my neighbors enough to help them discover the truths that those middle school and high school students discovered way back when. If I don’t love my neighbors enough to royally mess up their lives by introducing Jesus’ insurrection of the heart, I say I love my neighbors but I really don’t.
That’s my terrestrial calling. I can think and dream in planetary terms. But in reality? My calling is really, really local.
[Abram bounces his head to the song as he pulls the phone out of his pocket.]
[Abram’s glances at the caller ID and stops cold. He raises his eyebrow for a brief second, thinking about letting it go to voicemail.]
Abram: Ah, man. I don’t really have time for this today. Give me a break… OK, whatever.
[Abram swipes to take the call]
Abram: [With a little frustration in his voice] Hello?
God: Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
Abram: You don’t even say hello anymore? For once it’d be cool if you would at least say who it is. [pause] OK, OK… what do you want me to do? Leave the country and go somewhere? What do you mean by “leave?” You mean go for a little trip? Or do you mean I need to pack up my house, quit my job, and move? Are you OK? Have you been creating planets again? A little more clarity would be nice here.
God: I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you.
Abram: [pausing, looking inquisitively at his dog, who just raised his leg to pee on a bush.] What does that even mean? You don’t even say hello, you tell me to leave the country…. and now, a great nation? All I ever asked you to do was to help me be a better dad. A great nation? I’m not into politics. I don’t want to become a great nation… I just want to now how to talk to my kids about the tough stuff… you know… sex and why the Cubs suck. Stuff like that. [Pause, catching up to the reality of who he’s arguing with.] Any way we can talk a little bit more about the blessing part of it and a whole lot less of this moving somewhere else bit? I mean… I’ve got my kids in a great school. There better be one heck of a blessing for me to talk about pulling the kids out of school. You know, I’ve got a wife. I’ve got to sell her on this idea. Blessing, yeah… talk about the blessing some more.
God: I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.
Abram: [Letting out a little doubtful snort] You want me to tell that to Sarai? Have you met her? [raising eyebrows and envisioning getting punched when he tells her.] She’s pretty comfortable in our neighborhood as it is. She loves our house. She’s got a whole bunch of girlfriends. Our kids our happy. We’re safe. And you want me to go home and tell her that leaving all of that is going to make our name great? She’s gonna throw that back in my face, you know? And I don’t think I like the sound of “you will be a blessing.” I can’t sell that to her. She’s going to want to here that you are going to bless us. Not be a blessing, get a blessing. Work with me here, G.
God: I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse.
Abram: [turning his heart from despair, slowly to more of a realistic tone.] Well, now we’re talking. Sarai’s gonna dig this part of it. So when our kids start at a new school and the other kids tease them because they don’t look right, don’t dress right, and live in a neighborhood they clearly don’t belong… you’re gonna have their back. And you’re going to make it pretty obvious that people are getting blessed because they bless my family, right? I’m getting the idea that you aren’t asking me if I’m willing to do this… so you’re starting to speak my language.
God: And all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.
Abram: [long pause, having been stunned into thinking deeply about those words] Whoa. OK… so what’s you’re saying is that if I go home and convince my wife to move from a house we love to a place to be determined later… that every person on the planet will be blessed through me? I’m not even sure how to respond. I guess I get to respond just by doing it, right?
[Abram realizes that God has hung up]
Abram: Hello? You still there? Yeah, I’m out here walking the dog… this canyon must have a dead zone or something. You’re breaking up.
[Pulling his phone down, he sees the screen displaying “Call ended.”]
[By this time, the dog has gotten tired of standing on his walk. So he’s laid down on his side. Abram puts his phone back in his pocket, stares off into the distance some more.]
Abram: [under his breathe] Yeah, easy enough for God to call me like that. Now I’ve got to go home and try to convince Sarai. How would God know? Not like He has a wife.
[Pulling on the leash and getting the dog going.]
Abram: Come on. Let’s go. Good dog.
Narrator: So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.
Yesterday, I spent some time thinking about the calling of Abraham and Moses. (Genesis 15; Exodus 3) I was comparing the discomfort those men went through as a result of their calling to a community and the relative ease with which I question my calling to the community I live in and the work God has clearly called me to do at YS.
Why am I so quick to question while they spent decades grinding out their calling?
I’m glad I spent time with Moses and Abraham yesterday. I somehow associate “being called” with “being easy.” It reminded me that being called somewhere brings great pleasure, but also involves sticking it out through times of doubt, turmoil, angst, and pressure.
A few week’s ago I ruffled some feathers with a post called, Youth Workers: Don’t Punk Out. I’ve known too many people called to a task but have given up for a different task. They will wrestle with the guilt the rest of their lives. They will work out justifications that make it sound like they weren’t “running to Ninevah” but in their hearts they know they are just trying to save face when they need to repent.
God may bless them in other capacities but the guilt of their mistake will always haunt them.
When I think of Moses and Abraham I think about their contemporaries. Certainly, God called other men and women living at the same time to do things. But their stories didn’t get recorded in history. Why? Did they cower? Did they hide from their calling? Certainly, they didn’t outshine Moses or Abraham.
The thing about being called to a task in life is that you know you are called. Hence the phrase calling. Calling implies that their was an invitation and a RSVP to that invitation. It was sent and it was received. You know you’ve been called because you answered the phone! God asked you if you’d do it and you willingly (and maybe with much trembling) said “Yes, Lord I hear you. I will do that.”
You will know you have been called when the power of the calling exhibits itself
Calling haunts you.
Calling wakes you up early in the morning and lays your head down late at night; it provides more energy than sleep.
Calling and vocation are two different things. Calling isn’t about a paycheck its about the reward.
Calling applies in every context you find yourself in. You can fulfill your calling living next door to your mommy, and you can fulfill your calling living in a third world country.
Calling and longsuffering are kissing cousins.
Calling can release you; it can spit you up; it can drive you to madness; but it is unchanging and seeming unchangeable.
Calling is affirmed by people in your life and by results measured in Kingdom impact.
Calling is about short-term suffering and long-term rewards. Abraham’s descendants are numerous beyond belief. Moses faithfulness to God was only surpassed by Jesus.
Calling looks like foolishness to some.
Calling isn’t something soft. If you’ve been called you know it. You might not be able to articulate how you were called but if you were called you would know it.
There is general calling, we are all called to love God and love others. And there is specific calling.
Calling releases energy, resources, and results that defy the laws of economics and physics.
Note:I’m on vacation this week. My family has a rule for daddy– It’s not a vacation if daddy brings a computer. Each day this week I’m highlighting my favorite post from the adammclane.com archives. These are oldies but goodies.
“Who Are You Anyway?”
Confession #1: I’ve gotten wrapped up in being called a leader. I fall into the mistake of thinking people want to know what I think. Instead, a true leader defers to the ultimate source of wisdom, thinking, and counsel. The most appropriate thing I can do as a leader is point someone to ultimate truth found in the Bible. And I recognize that sometimes I do that and sometimes I depend on my own talent, experiences, and personal preferences. I used to be so good at saying, “This is what the Bible says: _______. And this is what I would do if I were in your position: ______________.” It seems that the more people want to recognize me as a “leader” the more I want to emphasize the latter instead of the former. The result is that I’m not always the best leader I can be. Ironic, eh?
Confession #2: I get wrapped up in being called a pastor. I’ve never been comfortable with that title. But as the year’s have gone by I’ve gotten much less diligent in blushing it off when people call me “Pastor Adam.” I don’t know if it’s that I’ve gotten comfortable with what God has done and others recognize that in me or if I just like being called a pastor? Now, it’s true. That is what/who I am. And I am not ashamed of the title. I am not ashamed of my position. And I am not ashamed of my church. It’s not about shame. I recognize that its a sign of respect for my position yet I’ve always been uncomfortable with being labeled any title. Since I entered full-time ministry I’ve always self-reflected and laughed at God’s slapping me… ME… with the title of pastor. Sure… since I was little… even before I was a Christian… I always knew I’d be in ministry. But I also know who I am. I am biblically qualified to be a pastor and yet I know who I am.
Above reproach? As far as I know
A one woman man? Heck yes!
Temperate? I do my very best to not lose it
Self-controlled? To the best of my knowledge
Respectable? You tell me
Able to teach? Check
Not given to drunkenness? Been good on that one since early teens
Not violent but gentle? By the grace of God
Not quarrelsome? Not my thing
Not a lover of money? How could I be?
Manage his family well? Could always do better
Not a recent convert? Check
Good reputation? Let me know, OK?
Confession #3: I want to get more wrapped up in my identity as a daddy and husband than as “Pastor Adam.” Closing in on 6 years of working in churches full time and I know well why some denominations don’t let their pastors marry. The demands on the position are over-the-top hard to balance with a family. People think nothing of about calling me late at night or early in the morning to talk to me or ask me to do something. And I’m always tempted to work every day and most nights for youth group, small groups, meetings, and other stuff that lands on my schedule. I really don’t think this is biblical and I should be more disciplined about saying “Can we talk or do this tomorrow?” In the past 6 years we’ve had countless family meals interrupted, countless dates disrupted, dozens of movies put on pause, play time put on pause for other people so many times my kids hate it when I take a call, times with daddy missed for this and that. Spending quality time with other people’s kids while missing the same with my own. Honestly, I hardly ever noticed. But my wife and kids did. It’s tough being married with kids and being married with kids to a church. Only recently have I been doing some studying in the New Testament and I realized… “Wait a minute! These guys weren’t nearly as available as I am and God still thought they rocked as pastors and leaders.”
This is one of those blogs posts that has stuck with me. For the last two years I’ve been unwinding myself from being “Pastor Adam” to going back to being “just Adam.”
I’m thankful for my new life and friendships. And I’m thankful that most of those people know me as Adam and not Pastor Adam. I still don’t know/think that I’m done with being on church staff… but I do know that if there is a next time, I won’t let people call me Pastor Adam. You can have a title with your job. But you can’t ever allow yourself to be that title more than you are yourself.
The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. Genesis 12:1
Can you imagine? 75 years old you hear from God loud and clear– leave, start a new life, leave everything behind.
Abram’s entire life was judged based on this one decision! Would his life be defined by faith or by fear?
The first thing that comes to my mind as I try to put myself in Abram’s shoes is fear:
How will I make the trip?
How will I start over?
My wife will kill me.
I’m 75 years old, the only move I’m making is to Florida
Yesterday, I was doing a little check-in on Tash’s morning radio show in Auckland. (You know, I’m huge there! Well… er, probably not.) And she asked me the one question I don’t have an answer for right now, “So Adam, what is going to change as a result of your trip to do relief work in Haiti?”
It is the question I’m afraid of. I don’t really have an answer for that yet.
If I tally the faith I exhibit in my life I see a difference in the reconciliation. Fear is winning over faith.
As I talked to the Lord about it I kept coming back to that central question… right back to the defining moment in Tin Cup… “Will your life be a life defined by radical faith, or will it be defined by an avoidance of fear?”
What about you? What are ways you a living a life driven by faith and not fear? Teach me!
Question One: What is the chief end of man?
Answer One: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
– Westminster Shorter Catechism
If you were to ask most preachers the question, “Practically speaking, what does the peak of the Christian life look like?” most of them would give an answer related to the answer given in the Westminster Shorter Catechism. (Even if you don’t come from that tradition.)
The theologically correct answer to that question sounds like this, “You are in God’s sweet spot when you follow God’s call wherever that is. So it’s different for each person. For me, being in God’s sweet spot has meant being a pastor at this church. But for you, the pinnacle of the Christian life could be ____. Anything less than following God’s call to that is not the pinnacle.”
But if you listened to their preaching you’d hear a much different message.
A lot of preachers accidentally lift themselves and their calling to an unhealthy place. Preachers, in their messages, often imply that their calling to become a pastor is a higher calling than anyone else in the church. (Read 1 Peter 5:1-10) They use their obedience and their life as an example of getting into God’s sweet spot. Sitting there, listening to them preach and use themselves as the pinnacle of the Christian life week after week… you might start to believe that working for a church is the pinnacle of the Christian life. While I don’t think that most preachers really believe this to be true, it is easy to use themselves as an example to illustrate their sermon. And more often than not they use themselves as a heroic protagonist in the story… thus the implied status that they are the example of the peak Christian.
The truth is there are a lot of people attending and even working at churches that believe that lie. (Heresy) Even if the preacher never directly says that that working at a church is close to the peak of the Christian life and being the lead preacher is the peak, most people believe that a pastor must be somehow superior unless they are taught otherwise.
Next, you see this pattern emerge all the time! A person feels stuck in their spiritual journey. They desire something “greater” and decide that they need to take a leap of faith. Out of an earnest desire to experience the peak of the Christian life, they start pursuing something else. They follow the leadership example they hear year-after-year and walk away from where God has them in order to chase “the pinnacle of the Christian life” by serving at a church. And those people further perpetrate the lie by testifying, “I used to be an accountant, but God called me to become the Pastor of Finance at this church. Even though I am making much less money I am happy to be in the Lord’s service.”
Financial sacrifice does not equal a ministry calling. But listening to the testimony of a lot of preachers, you’d think it was. As if God was going to cosmically bless a ministry simply because you gave up earning potential?
The irony continues once you make that leap. Once you get on staff at a church you learn a dirty little secret. The priesthood of all believers is true.
You want to reach a majority of the community you live in for Jesus Christ? (I believe most churches do.) It simply will not happen through the church staff or its programs. [Even the biggest megachurches only have a tiny reach into their community.] It will only happen when the people in the congregation take hold of what the Bible teaches and takes the Gospel to the places they have access and influence. (Places 99% of pastors have no access or influence.) This mega-change in a community is just as likely to come from a house church of 12 as a megachurch of 20,000. Just like in Acts, God is not interested in the size of the Temple. He is interested in bringing the message of the Jesus to the people where they are. Did Peter, Paul, John, or Timothy grow endearing church organizations? I think not. It was never the goal of the early church to create a massive, efficient organization. The early church built no cathedrals, had no mega-meetings, and lifted nothing but spreading the message as far, deep, and wide as they could in their lifetime. This is a far cry from the little-church-kingdom building we see among clergy today.
I belive most Christians aspire the peak of the Christian life. It’s a good thing to aspire to! Let me encourage you with this. To reach the peak of the Christian life probably won’t mean an Abrahamic move. You likely won’t be called by God to sell your land and move your sheep, goats, and wife to a foreign place. Nor is it likely that God wants you to stop being an accountant, teacher, nurse, or business person to work in a church. The church needs more Christ-followers in the workplace and fewer business people dressed up as pastors.
More than likely you can reach the peak of the Christian life right where you are, in the career you are in, with the friendships you have.
“But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it–he will be blessed in what he does.” James 1:25
If you are seeking something more significant in 2010 I want to challenge you to first do your very best right where you are. Don’t forget to consider that God may have you in the right spot– it may just be you that needs to change.
Look at your life through the eyes of Jonah and ask yourself… what am I running from? That’s most likely what God is calling you to.