Yesterday at HBC, I encouraged the congregation to spend time contemplating their calling in life by reflecting upon personal moments of crisis and pain. I tried to explain how Esther and Mordecai (good guys), two Jewish characters from the Old Testament, were motivated to rescue their people from the impending crisis of Jewish eradication called for by Haman (bad dude). I then attempted to show how their crisis led to passion and then that passion led to calling.
As I was engaging family and friends this weekend at a birthday party, I was reminded of my passion. If you were to ask me point blankly, “Gibson, what is your calling in life?” Or “What are you passionate about?” My answer would come quickly, “My calling is to help people grasp their truest identity in Jesus Christ through relationship and teaching.” In other words, I am passionate about helping others see and accept that they are treasured Children of the Most High God.
Why was I reminded of my passion and calling at a birthday party? I ran into some of my former college students who recently had a difficult week. For a few of them, their passions and theological beliefs were devalued and dismissed. From what I understand, the devaluing and dismissing were attached to theological conviction. This post is not being written to question or even devalue or dismiss the person who critiqued my former students. That person was simply standing for their theological beliefs. I applaud a person who takes a firm stand in what they believe. Those are the types of people you want around to remind you that Jesus is secure and never-changing.
However, what stirred my passion and reminded me of my pain was seeing college students who were hurting. They needed an advocate and a comforter; someone who was willing to not necessarily rescue them, but care for and cheer them on as they muddled through a very difficult past two weeks. They do not need rescuing because being rescued would rob them of an opportunity to grow. But, they do need care and encouragement because they need to be taught that their opinions and passions matter as they shape their world for Jesus Christ.
What if their opinions and passions are unbiblical? Thankfully, Jesus took a group of Jewish fisherman who knew very little about the Torah and through coaching and teaching, used them to change the world. If someone has, what a leader deems to be, unbiblical theology, coach and teach with “great patience and careful instruction.” (1 Peter 4.2) Peter, who wrote those very words, was one of the fishermen who did not know very much Torah. Yet, Jesus proclaimed that Peter would be used to start the church.
Can you read it in my writing? My pain and passion are coming out. I once was a student with a lot of opinions and passion. Some of those opinions were Biblical, others were Quixote-like as I chased windmills and causes that really did not matter. Thankfully, I had a mentor who came along side of me, coached me, taught me, and more than anything, embodied Jesus’ love to me. He showed me that God loved me regardless of my theological convictions and it was because of that love that I believe my developing passions and convictions turned out to be more Jesus-like and Biblical.
So, where are the moments of pain in your life? Have those moments been translated into passion? Are you channeling that passion into serving others so that they can avoid the same types of pain or maybe even learn how to grow through that pain? Want to know your calling? Spend time reflecting upon crisis and pain in your life and see how that translates into passion for a specific cause.
(Rant: I have seen way too many pastors and theologians use the idea of “truth” as means to prove that their theology is Biblical. I get it. I am a pastor and do that often. However, I believe we must always remember that Jesus, while truth, did not stay just truth. Thankfully, the truth became flesh and made his dwelling among us. Proclaiming the “truth” without proclaiming “Jesus in flesh” is only promoting a half-Gospel. Vice versa, promoting Jesus as cool or hip or a promoter of life change, without proclaiming his “truth” as King and Messiah also promotes a half-Gospel.
Bottom line, the full Jesus is “truth” and “flesh.” He made his dwelling among us and that dwelling was amongst people who were extremely messy and sinful. In the midst of such mess and sin, Jesus was patient, truthful, loving, and held people accountable. Again, a difficult and messy process. It even led to his death. If we lead people with truth and with relational dwelling amongst them, the process will be messy and painful. It might even lead to what feels like death. However, the process can also be redemptive because the combination of truth and relational dwelling is the catalyst for John 8.32 life change; “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Knowing Jesus is about relational truth. If I or any other pastor hope to promote truth without getting into the messiness of doubt, hurt, anger, and rejection, truth will never be known. But instead, wading into the messiness means caring…
…with love although that love might be rejected,
…with joy even during times when joy feels impossible,
…with peace in the midst of what feels like over-whelming conflict,
…with patience although it feels as if we are talking to a wall,
…with kindness even as every fiber in our being cries out for revenge,
…with goodness in a world of badness that feels unjust and wrong,
…with faithfulness because people need friends who are faithful to each other and the truth,
…with gentleness because there is too much abuse in the world, and
…with self-control because we often focus too much on what we cannot control.
As we pastor, may we be pastors of both truth and relational dwelling. Let’s do our best to embrace the messy and sinful process of ministry. And, as we do, may we always remember that it was because of relational truth dwelling among us that we have new life and hope. Rant over.)
Paul is the husband to Tara, father to Natalie and Isaac, has an average jump shot, and enjoys running. His secret wish is to one day become a Jedi Knight. Paul holds a doctorate in marriage and family counseling from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and currently serves as senior pastor of Hardinsburg Baptist Church. Paul desires to help young couples navigate the early crucibles of marriage, especially when one or both of the spouses are engaged in vocational ministry.