Saturday, June 14, 2008

Finding and Fulfilling One’s Calling in the Lord

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10)

Every person is a unique creation of God. Besides outward physical differences, each person inwardly reflects the image of God uniquely, in the combination of personality traits, gifts, motivations and talents they have received. God does not allot His gifts arbitrarily, and the way He puts each one together has purpose. He means for each individual He has called to Himself to fulfill certain God-given works, and accordingly, in His design of each person, He bestows gifts and talents that will enable each to fulfill their God-given callings.

At the same time, God’s purposes in and through mankind are not realized through individuals working alone and separately. God has called us to Himself as His body. When each member of the body plays the part he or she is designed to be and do, the entire body benefits and the purposes of God are achieved (1 Corinthians 12). In writing about Christian calling and vocation, Os Guinness has differentiated between "a primary call, which is by the Lord, to the Lord, for the Lord" and a "secondary call, which is what we do as we follow the Lord- meaning, we do everything as unto him. And, of course, the secondary should never become the primary." In this article I am in agreement with Guinness' definition of calling-- that first, we are called by the Lord to Himself, and that what we do for Him is important but secondary.

If we lived in an ideal world that had not fallen into sin, God’s distribution of gifts among His people would likely have produced a harmonious working together according to God’s purpose. But we live in a fallen world, and so the fulfillment of God’s purpose in His people and through His people involves not only, as we have briefly discussed, gifting them with various natural and spiritual talents, and binding them together in community, but also, the spiritual transformation of the character of each person. This process, called sanctification, involves everything God brings into one’s life, which God uses to test our faith and to perfect our souls in the image of Jesus Christ. We are called to be a holy people, and someday God will complete the work He has begun in His people, bringing us to full maturity and glory (1 Peter 1:3-25, James 1:2-4, Eph 4:1-16). In his letter to the Ephesians the Apostle Paul writes about the marvelous privileges the children of God have through Jesus Christ, that we have been forgiven of our sins and adopted by God, all as part of His marvelous plan of redemption through Jesus Christ:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth (Ephesians 1:3-10)

In searching out the will of God for our life’s vocation, and seeking to fulfill the role(s) God calls us to play, several questions should be asked. One might begin by asking, "What are my unique talents, gifts and motivational patterns? What am I naturally good at doing? What do I like to do most? Also, what kinds of needs in the world drive me? What am I motivated by?" The answers to these questions reflect things about us that are not accidental, but are indicators and clues to one’s God-given calling, because they are within us by design.

But how do we develop and use these God-given gifts in a God-honoring way? Does He hand out gifts and talents just so that we can pursue "self-actualization" and maximize our own potential? Certainly as we have been saying, God gives gifts that He means for us to enjoy, develop and use. But to what end? The Bible states that "the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45)." Likewise, we will find the fulfillment of our gifts when we use them to serve others, and not only for our own benefit.

We must remember too that our identity in God is made up of more than just the sum of our gifts. Our value is not in what we achieve, but in who we are and to whom we belong– for we are people made in the image of God; and we are those who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. We are being transformed into Christ-likeness by the mighty hand of God working in us by His very own Spirit, and we have nothing in life that we have not received by God’s provision. Anything that we are able to achieve in this life is from God, who gives the talent, the opportunity and the strength. We belong to God, and we are called to the staggeringly amazing privilege of being not only His servants, but friends of the living God, because He knows us and we may know Him (Philippians 1:6, 2:13; 1 Corinthians 4:7, 6:19-20, 2 Cor 3:18, Ecclesiastes 2:24, John 15:15).

Keeping in mind all these wonderful biblical truths, we recognize that to discover our particular callings we must get busy using and developing our gifts in service to others. For whether or not we have a specific career or arena of service, we already have a commission: to preach the gospel and to teach everything that Jesus commanded, to make disciples and to be ambassadors for Christ (Matthew 18:19-20; 2 Cor 5:20). So in whatever circumstances we find ourselves, we can take action through which we'll gain real-life experiences that will provide useful feedback, confirming and encouraging the talents we possess. We'll discover through this valuable process which gifts and talents are our best and strongest, and this will give us direction as to which gifts ought to be further developed. At the same time, we will be blessing others by using our gifts, rather than just trying to figure out what they are in a theoretical vacuum.

So the process of discovering one’s particular calling involves being a good steward of that which God has given, and remembering that in our service our ultimate purpose is to exalt and glorify God, and not ourselves (1 Cor 10:31; 2 Cor 5:13). For this reason it may be that although God has given us certain gifts that we enjoy using, sometimes the needs of the kingdom may outweigh one’s particular preferences for the "where, what and whom" of our service. The Lord may "close a door", and open a new path of opportunity in its place. As we see from various examples in Scripture Moses, Jonah, etc.), we may be challenged by needs God presents, to go and serve in ways we would not have expected nor would we have chosen. Even then, with the call comes an equipping that comes from the Lord. Generally however, we can still expect that the gifts and talents, the inner motivations and burdens we find consistently within us over time, are good indicators of the direction God has designed for our lives.

Let us get busy then, developing the gifts we’ve discovered, through training (school and study if necessary) and through practice, that we may grow those gifts in fruitful service and gain confirmation of our calling. Let us remain confident that God is overseeing our lives, reigning over past, present and future circumstances. We may feel frustration that we are not achieving more, or that we can only do so much at present, but let us be faithful in the little things, that the Lord may increase our opportunities. Our ability to truly bless others in a lasting way is in proportion to who and what we are as people. Remember that being a godly man or woman is the highest priority in a life of service to the Lord. Let us not then, neglect our personal walk with God as we seek to serve in His kingdom. The Lord will faithfully reward each one for his service to Him, and the reward will be just and fair, measured out on the Lord’s scale of perfect wisdom and righteousness. We may not be as gifted as others, but we can serve with a heart that is pure in its devotion to the Lord, and this is what the Lord really desires from us. Serve with excellence, and to the best of your ability, and never stop striving to improve. But remember that your godly character, reflected in service to God and man that is motivated by love, is the most important thing to God. So whether in your service to God you are granted the opportunity to touch many lives or just a few, the critical component is humble dependence upon God for the love and power to serve Him rightly.

The Way of Love

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13)

For further reading and study:

Calling, Postmodernism, and Chastened Liberals/A Conversation with Os Guinness

Thank God For Work, Pt 1 by Justin Taylor
Thank God For Work, Pt 2 by Justin Taylor

Misc links on Vocation -Insights from Gene Veith

Teachings and links on Vocation at

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Thoughts on GodTV and the Lakeland "Revival"

In Discernment, Revivals, and Godly Common Sense Dan Edelen over at Cerulean Sanctum has done a very good service for the Christian community by writing a piece that carefully analyzes, according to biblical standards and common sense, the current so-called "revival" happenings taking place at a series of meetings at "Ignited Church" in Lakeland, Florida. The "Lakeland Revival" meetings are being helmed by Todd Bentley, and Ignited Church is pastored by Stephen Strade.

I am in in complete agreement with Dan Edelen when he reminds us that "real miraculous works from God are often imitated by the Enemy". The mere fact that some kind of supernatural events and even healings may be taking place is no proof that the things taking place in Lakeland are of God.

Underdeveloped, unexamined theology
Personally I think that the reason many Christians flock to such events and/or look to them for hope of revival is because of the lack of discernment that comes with having an underdeveloped and/or unexamined theology. I have observed GodTV many times before the current broadcasts featuring the Lakeland "revival". It seems every time I turn on GODTV I observe people seemingly lost in trance, rocking back and forth, swaying as they listen to a worship band, waiting for God to "show up" in some kind of tangible way. The preaching of the word of God is rarely to be heard, and when it does come, it seems all kinds of theological nonsense is spouted. I realize I'm not providing specific examples, but what I'm saying is that the teaching and preaching I've heard does not seem to be based on systematic, thorough examination of scripture, in its grammatical and historical context. Rather, verses are quoted to prove points, but the context is neglected of who the verse was originally to and why is not taken into consideration, as if all verse in Scripture can simply be plucked out at random and be considered relevant to us today or as promises to the modern believer. In other words, this is typical Christian TV fare-- light on substance and theology, heavy on entertainment and emphasizing experience above all. And how can we know that something is of God, according to God TV? Well, we know that God is moving because people are falling down, "slain" by the power of the Spirit; or people shake uncontrollably, allegedly as a result of the power of God coming upon them, and other such experiential manifestations.

It's Time to Wake Up
Brothers and sisters, when are we going to wake up? This clamoring after signs and wonders is not faith, it is a sign that we have not yet become free of fleshly notions about what it means to be spiritual. When I hear Todd Bentley going on about how an angel named Emma speaks and directs him, I'm reminded how different the New Testament attitude is towards such revelations. Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, had a genuine heavenly experience. But unlike modern day preachers who build entire ministries based on their alleged heavenly encounters, and go on in great detail about such encounters and write books about them, Paul only mentions his experience to make the point of its relatively unimportance to his mission for the Lord. In 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, Paul writes of his own personal supernatural and heavenly encounter, though in humility, he refers to himself in the third person:

... Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven— whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise— whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. Though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Was Paul a success or a failure?
But notice that Paul's heavenly experience did not thereafter turn him into someone who was blessed of God with great finances or with perfect health. Unlike teachers on GodTV and at the Lakeland revival, Paul does not portray the Christian life as one where the most important thing is an "experience" of God that proves itself by financial prosperity and healing for the body. If one were measuring the success and genuineness of Paul's ministry by the measures used today-- that when God "manifests" Himself He always brings signs and wonders that provide healing and prosperity to those "hungry" enough to reach out for God-- well, then Paul was a dismal failure!

For it would seem Paul didn't know that he was supposed to pray to be delivered from "weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities" and instead walk in the "FOG" (favor of God), and claim his "birthright" as a "child of the king". But Paul knew what he was talking about, while these false teachers today don't know what they are talking about.

Hear Paul speak to this age, with words of profound heavenly wisdom, as he tells believers about their true riches in Christ:

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. (Colossians 2: 8-19, emphasis mine)

Growth that is from God
Do we want to grow with a "growth that is from God"? Let us pay heed to Paul's counsel then-- and not lose sight of what our true riches are and how they come to us. Is it wrong to seek healing for the body? Of course not. Is it wrong to seek to improve our financial situation, particularly if we are struggling to make ends meet? Of course it isn't. But let us seek the counsel of Scripture on how to go about finding healing or making money, and at the same time, trust in the Lord's grace and provision. Let us learn to think spiritually, by being careful readers of the word of God, and so be able to know what is most important as believers-- our connection to Christ, our Head. Let's be discerning so that we don't get taken in by those who are re-defining the Christian life to make it into something that it not-- a "magical" experience whereby money fills our pockets and we don't know where it came from, or saying the "touch of God" is equivalent to rolling around on the floor like a dog and barking.

When there are true riches to be had in Christ, through communion with Him that comes through abiding in His truth and practicing it, why "spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy (Isaiah 55:2)? I certainly don't claim to have experienced the depth of this communion myself. But that's the kind of experience with God I think is worth striving after-- the kind that makes us mature, full of the fruit of the Spirit, more godly, more compassionate and yes, wise and discerning, able to judge correctly (Romans 12:2, 1 Corinthians 2:14-16, 1 Corinthians 14:20).