In the “Divine Summons” series, I am sharing an exciting season of obedience and Revolution ministry in Mound from 2005-2007.
All Things to All People
The Apostle Paul was willing to wear a lot of hats and learn to navigate many worlds in order to be a more effective servant of the gospel. As he puts it: “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Cor 9:22). Or, as Eugene Peterson’s The Message puts it: “I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it!”
I could identify with Paul’s many-hatted lifestyle as I accumulated jobs in my hometown community of Mound. To paraphrase Paul: To the student I became a teacher; to the athlete I became a coach; to the 15 year-old I became a terrified driving instructor in the passenger seat holding on for dear life! I had become all of these things to all of these students if only to save some. Really? Is that where all of this was going? Was God opening up all of these miserable doors of thankless part-time jobs for some higher purpose?
I have always imagined the apostle Paul spending every waking hour of his life teaching in a synagogue or preaching on a street corner somewhere. I doubt I’m the only one who has drawn this inaccurate assumption.
I mean, this is the impression the writings give us — especially the adventure-filled pages of Acts. Neither Luke nor Paul himself say more than few words about Paul’s day job as a tentmaker. And can you really blame them? This was hardly glamorous work worth wasting precious ink and papyrus to write home about! Yet, R.F. Hock has shown that, far from being peripheral to Paul’s life, tentmaking was central to it:
“More than any of us has supposed, Paul was Paul the Tentmaker. His trade occupied much of his time. . . . His life was very much that of the workshop . . . of being bent over a workbench like a slave and of working side by side with slaves” (Hock, The Social Context of Paul’s Mission, 1980, p. 66).
This fact is worth pondering a bit further. Think of how many waking hours Paul spent in the dirty, grimy, hum-drum work of leatherwork when he wished he were out sharing the gospel. Acts 18 seems to suggest he worked with his hands all week and only preached in the synagogue on the sabbath.
I have a hunch Paul frequented the ancient equivalent of Starbuck’s often and shared the gospel with many of the folks he encountered day to day. But I wonder how he could contain himself, keep himself sane in a hot, sweaty workshop surrounded by dead animal skins when he knew living souls out in the streets still needed to hear the life-giving message of the gospel. Continue reading Divine Summons 9→
Paul had direct orders to bring the gospel to the Gentile world. Aside from a short period of preparation in Arabia, Paul didn’t waste time in getting at it.
I, on the other hand, had absolutely no direction for my future. Sure, I was investing years of study and thousands of dollars into my theological education and ministry training. But for what? I hadn’t a clue.
What I did have was a desire to be part of something faith-stretching and Kingdom-impacting. I wanted to be part of an adventure as unpredictable and exciting as the apostolic ministry of Peter and Paul. But seminary seemed to leave me in an uncomfortable tension.
On the one hand, I loved classes that allowed me to study and explore the ancient New Testament church — especially Acts and Pauline Epistles. But these classes tended to treat the engagement of these ancient narratives and letters as a dry, detached academic exercise void of any real application to ministry today.
On the other hand, all of the classes I took related to practical church ministry, leadership, discipleship and evangelism for today seemed to be void of the reckless and unpredictable spirit of Paul’s apostolic all-or-nothing ministry approach. Continue reading Divine Summons 8→
But when God, who set me apart from birthand called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus. Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem…
After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them. Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.
It’s 5:05 a.m. My phone is ringing again. I know who it is. It’s the same automated calling system that called yesterday at this time. I roll over to pick it up, wondering where I’ll be working today. Welcome to the unpredictable, day-by-day life of a substitute teacher.
Will I be in teaching second graders at Watertown Elementary School or trying to survive seven hours locked in the Brooklyn Center Alternative High School for teens with criminal backgrounds? Some days those second graders were far harder to keep in line! Another day, another dollar. One hundred bucks isn’t bad money to handout worksheets, pop in a movie and read a book until the 3:00 bell rings. But that’s an ideal day.
There were many days when the clock seemed to move in reverse and 3:00 would never come. But that’s not unique to this job. That’s the rhythm of life in the nine-to-five world of punching in and punching out, just hoping to make ends meet at the end of the month. Continue reading Divine Summons 7→
This is my version of the story after years of reflecting back upon that night in the dining center with my new Bible. I have not tried to embellish it or exaggerate the claims. Though, truth be told, you might get a very different story if you asked someone who was close to me during this time what they saw different in me.
You see, outwardly I looked the same when I got back to my dorm room as when I left. Yet, an inward shift had taken place deep within me, and the long, slow, painful process of rearranging my new of the world and my place within it was only beginning.
But few, if any, could see the evidence of the wild interior journey I was now experiencing. To quote the words of C.S. Lewis in Surprised By Joy my “imaginative life began to be so important and so distinct from my outer life that I almost have to tell two separate stories…Where there are hungry wastes, starving for Joy, in the one, the other may be full of cheerful bustle and success; or again, where the outer life is miserable, the other may be brimming over with ecstasy.” Continue reading Divine Summons 6→
I was no different than the two disciples on the road to Emmaus as I walked across the Bethel campus through the cool spring rain to the dining center toting my new Bible. My future was filled with uncertainty. The story I had been living in — one of my own making — was leaving me empty and longing for renewed hope and greater purpose for my life. The Christ I knew merely provided me with a ticket to Heaven, but I had yet to encounter him in a way that left my heart burning inside — especially through the reading of the Scriptures. That is, until tonight.
Take a survey sometime of Bible reading Christians and ask them if they’ve spent more time reading the Gospels or the Book of Acts. The answer is will always be the Gospels. And it’s not even a close contest. But why is this?
I think the answer is quite obviously because the Gospels introduce us to Jesus, the focal figure of our faith and the object of our devotion. The Old Testament Scriptures point forward to the coming of the Messiah, and the Gospels tell us of his glorious arrival. Thus, we should indeed spend the majority of our time studying the life, death and resurrection of our Savior Jesus.
But here’s the rub: Luke’s story of Jesus is a two-volume set. There’s a part one (The Gospel of Luke) that ends like a cliffhanger, and leaves the reader on the edge of their seat awaiting the sequel (The Acts of the Apostles).
Luke opens up his sequel saying that “In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven” (Acts 1:1). In other words, the work Jesus began to do in Luke’s Gospel continues on in the Book of Acts. The teaching ministry he began in Luke is carried forward in Acts.
This raises the curious question: How is Jesus’ work and teaching continued in Acts when Jesus appears to leave the scene before the end of the first chapter? Let’s just say that you and I are part of the answer to that question; and a large reason I’m writing this memoir! Continue reading Divine Summons 4→
In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized withwater, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
You can still see the spots of dried drool on the pages. Yes, I was raised a good Lutheran boy and have my gold covered Good News Bible to prove it; you know the Bible with the little stickmen drawings inside. It was presented to me in Third Grade and was still in near perfect condition when I packed it up to go off to Bethel College in the fall of 1998.
It’s unblemished condition was due largely to two factors: first, my mom has carefully preserved nearly everything from my childhood, and, second, I very rarely took it off the shelf and cracked it open all those years. Continue reading Divine Summons 3→