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Christian Living

The Prize

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.”  ~ 1 Corinthians 9:24

Ah, the prize! I am wired to win the prize. Well, sometimes I am.

Can I be honest? I’m better at running really hard than I am at knowing what the prize even is! Paul continues, “No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” Yeah, I’m certainly not beating my body about anything. (In the literal sense.)

I’ve never met anyone who is truly up to that challenge. Sorry Paul.

This passage, as familiar as it is, confuses me. It’s really clear what Paul’s prize is– winning souls. (v. 19) But that passage isn’t prescriptive and the language isn’t inclusive to assume that the prize/goal for every Christian is to preach to win lost souls.

It’s confusing because it is so direct yet so ambiguous.

Yet for the rest of us. For those who aren’t apostles. For those of us who aren’t hard-wired as preachers or evangelists… we want a prize, too!?! 

Get Your Prize!

I’ve learned to love Paul’s ambiguity. While 1 Corinthians describes this prize, Paul life had times where other prizes were his muse. The point wasn’t that his prize was THE prize it’s that God gave him a pursuit and he went after it with his all.

Let’s us cast off the silliness of prescriptive, exacting prizes and recklessly chase the prize God has laid on our hearts for today.

Don’t chase Paul’s prize. Chase yours.

Photo credit: Daniel Coomber via Flickr (Creative Commons)
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Church Leadership hmm... thoughts

The Peak of the Christian Life

pinnacle-of-christian-life

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.