A great opportunity is not God’s calling

It’s a story you’ll hear too often… I’ve been offered this great opportunity; It must be God. They’ve offered me a promotion; It must be God. They’ve asked me to go overseas for a contract; It must be God.

How do you get from “opportunity to do x” to “God wants me to do x”?

Sometimes, people look at the probability of x ever happening. “It’s so rare they’d offer this to a graduate”, “It’s so unlikely they’d offer this to me”… and since it’s so rare, it must be a miracle-type thing, right? So that’s God?

Sometimes, people look at how much they’ve wanted it. “It’s exactly the type of thing I was praying for”, “It’s like God knew just what I wanted”. And so because they were coveting this thing, and now it’s within their grasp… it must be God saying “yes”, right?

But what always seems to get lost in these views are the responsibilities that God has ALREADY called the person to; The guy who gets offered an “amazing opportunity” 600 miles away from his wife. The integral youth leader who gets offered a position that means they can’t keep that team running and loving all those kids. The pastor who feels called to another church where there’s less grumbling and feels more exciting.

I have a suggestion… before you claim that opportunity is from God, ask yourself if God might have allowed Satan to offer it to you. Because remember the great opportunity Jesus got given…

“Again, the devil took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. ‘All this I will give you'” (Matt 4:8-9)

It’s a great offer, a once in a lifetime chance, it’s the almost the exact thing that Jesus came for (all creation under one head; Jesus). It’s just not God’s way.

A great opportunity is not necessarily God’s calling for your life.

Predicting the future of… parenthood; bearers without basis

I can’t help but wonder if the future of parenthood is looking grim.

Should parents be able to choose their child’s school? Should they be able to choose whether their child gets Ethics Education or Religious Education, or neither? Should they be able to choose what they teach their own kids about the world and religion?

I’m assuming you’d say “yes” to all these…? Ok… now try and answer the question, “Why?” Why should parents, rather than say, the Education Dept., or some other independent – though socially acceptable – group? On what grounds, or on what basis do you think a couple who has sex and conceives a child should have ANY say in that child’s life? Defend that opinion.

[Seriously… try and come up with an answer before you read on.]

One of the pressing issues that’s involved here is marriage. See, a large part of the reason we think parents SHOULD have these responsibilities is because we’re coming out of an age where marriage is still partly considered a social commitment between a man and a woman for the good of society and for the raising of children (however, we’re moving into an age where marriage is considered a social experience while it seems good for the couple). The idea parents would take responsibility for their children flows out of a prior commitment to one-another. That commitment is the “norm” which suggests all parents (married or not) SHOULD take responsibility for their offspring.

But if marriage is not a commitment which our society upholds, and if marriage is no longer for the proper raising of children, then that “basis” is gone.

But, to answer the question…

As far as I can tell, apart from the temporary laws of the State, and the ever delicate “consequentialist” argument, the only basis for parental responsibility is God’s Word. God appoints people to roles. God “gives” children to their parents, in the same way God then “gives” those children (when they’re older) to others in marriage.

And because of this, on judgement day, many men will stand accused for failing in their fatherly responsibility toward the children they didn’t even know they had because they slept around and saw no basis for why they should be held responsible. And many women will stand accused because they terminated the child they were given responsibility to care for.

But… there is always Jesus, who is not only our brother, but he’s our better-Adam. He’s humanity’s new father. He acts as our true parent and takes responsibility for our actions, our murders and our failures. He bears the punishment we deserve, like a parent paying for their children’s mistake. He offers forgiveness to his children.

Another thought on explaining why God only asks men to preach to men

A while back I wrote my response to someone who wants to submit to the bible’s teaching on men only teaching men. It used the metaphor of men protecting women in the event of a machine-gun attack. I thought of another illustration… why I prefer to drive our family car.

There are probably heaps of reasons guys like being the driver while their family is in the car; they’re arrogant, they think they know the way, they’d get scared if others drove them, I don’t know. But here’s my reason… I don’t want my wife to have to deal with guilt and the potential responsibility of killing someone… if I could bear that instead.

See, if something terrible happens… say one of our kids dies in an accident – a real accident – no one’s fault. Whoever was driving that day would have to live with the burden of being behind the wheel while their child died. That would be a horrible burden to carry (and I do hope I’m not offending anyone who’s been in this scenario).

See, getting in the drivers seat is making a decision to bear the responsibility/guilt/pressure for whatever happens from then on. You are holding the life of your passengers in your hand.

That’s why I prefer to drive. It’s not that I’m a better driver than my wife (I’m not sure I am). But if someone’s going to live the rest of their life with the burden of guilt and remorse, I’d rather it be me than her. Even the day we reversed over our cat… I’m so glad I was driving and not my wife. It would have happened exactly the same way… none of us could know the cat wouldn’t move like it did every other time. She would be even more distraught than she was if she was the one behind the wheel.

So, the same is true when you walk up to the podium to teach the bible. You’re taking on the decision to bear the responsibility for the souls of the people in the room. That’s a big responsibility. That’s a responsibility that God’ doesn’t want women to take on for men.

That’s what’s behind 1Cor3:12-17

If anyone builds on that foundation with gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or straw, each one’s work will become obvious, for the day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire; the fire will test the quality of each one’s work. If anyone’s work that he has built survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, it will be lost, but he will be saved; yet it will be like an escape through fire. Don’t you yourselves know that you are God’s sanctuary and that the Spirit of God lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s sanctuary, God will destroy him;

My response to “Why shouldn’t women preach to men?”

(This would be one of the way’s I’d respond to someone who wanted to accept the bible’s teaching on male and female roles in ministry, but struggled to understand why God put them there.)

If a gunman ran into your church meeting and started spraying the crowd with bullets, in that split second, how would you hope to see the Christians react?

I’d expect to see adults of all ages jumping in front of kids to protect them. And I’d expect to see men jumping in front of their wives and other women to protect them. I’d also expect to see guys rush the gunman to subdue him. They’re both things you’d hope to see guys do, aren’t they?

Now, imagine that same scenario, but instead you see men ducking behind their wives. You see men using their wives as human shields. You see single men jumping behind young women and children for safety… what would you think of those men? Not much eh?

There’s something that tells us that the second scenario is not ok. Guys are meant to protect girls, take the bullet for them, die for them. That’s actually what Jesus does for his wife; the church. Jesus steps into the firing line and takes the punishment to save his loved one. That’s his job, that’s his purpose in coming to earth… to be responsible for his wife. To do what Adam didn’t do; because remember Adam was “with” Eve while she was being tempted, but his great crime was that he “listened to his wife” rather than stepping between Satan and his wife and dealing with the lies and bearing the brunt of the temptation. Adam’s crime was shirking the responsibility he was appointed to.

It all comes back to God and who God holds responsible. Women teaching men is not an issue of skill or talent or cultural perspectives. It’s an issue about who God wills to be held responsible for what. You see God do this in Ezekiel 3:17ff

“Son of man, I have made you a watchman over the house of Israel. When you hear a word from My mouth, give them a warning from Me. If I say to the wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ but you do not warn him—you don’t speak out to warn him about his wicked way in order to save his life—that wicked person will die for his iniquity. Yet I will hold you responsible for his blood. But if you warn a wicked person and he does not turn from his wickedness or his wicked way, he will die for his iniquity, but you will have saved your life.”

God chooses who he will hold responsible, and he appoints them to have certain authority to match that. Again, Jesus is a great example. Jesus is responsible to reconcile “all things” to God because he has supremacy over “all things” (Col 1:15ff).

Along with this we are reminded that “not many should become teachers, my brothers, knowing that we will receive a stricter judgment” (Jam 3:1). Teaching God’s word is a very very dangerous profession. Teachers will be judged more harshly. Every word spoken will not only affect us, but how others will stand before the throne of God (1Cor 3).

Teaching other people is like going to war on their behalf. It’s putting your hand up and saying, “I will dare… I will take the risk of telling you what God says. I will bear the potential danger of teaching God’s word to you. I will take the bullet.”

So, men, would you dare hide behind a woman if a gunman burst in? No? Then why would you let a woman be held accountable to God for what other men are taught?!? Yes, God will hold women accountable for what they teach children and other women (Titus 2:4). But God does not want to hold women accountable for what they teach men!

You see, the whole idea of “Women not teaching men” is not an attempt to restrict women or keep them in their place… rather its an attempt to protect women from a judgement that God does not want to hold against them. It’s a command filled with mercy and love and protective intent.

The day will come when Jesus returns and all the bible teachers are judged, and men and women will look and say, “Oh my… I now understand why God didn’t want women to teach men… God was looking out for them… God didn’t want to subject them to this level of judgement.” Remember what God said to Ezekiel… the wicked person will die for his iniquity. Yet I will hold you responsible for his blood.

Debunking the small-church-is-better myths (part 3)

There seems a common argument that small churches are – not just a valid alternative, but – a better alternative to big churches. Some of the arguments go…

  • Myth: “Small-churches are more needy… Big churches have heaps of people!”
    Really? This is an argument that small churches are “better”?!? From a church-leader’s point of view, surely you’d want to be in the less needy option?
    But there’s an error in this perception about “neediness”… Big churches are in fact more needy that small churches. Big churches have more programs, more people, more gaps that need filled, more budget that needs to be met. They might not be as visible, but they are much greater. It’s like saying that a sparrow’s body is more needy than your body… because it doesn’t have a fridge. No. Your body needs more than the sparrow’s. The fact you have a fridge is a right reflection of that.
    So, the large-church is harder to lead and it has more needs.
  • Myth: “There’s no room for exceptions in big-churches”
    Really? I’d say this is true of all church sizes, and just displays itself in different ways. If the ESL family arrives in a small church, and there’s no-one with gifts or time to welcome them and pastor them well, there’s no room for the exception they bring. However, in a large church, there’s a greater chance of already having people who have those gifts and time and can invest in that family. In fact, there’s a greater chance that you’ll have a structure or program especially set-up for those exact type of people. Its a simple fact that the bigger your church, the more “types” of people you can welcome better.
    What about people who just don’t fit the mould? Again, I would suggest that the small church has just as much problem with these people as the big church does. A small church will usually handle the issue through one person (or family) bearing the full weight of responsibility to look after that person. A large church will try to encourage that person into existing structures that are slightly modified to suit their issues. Both options have pros and cons; the small church looses one of the their best people for (sometimes) years as they look after that person. The big church can struggle to modify existing structures enough.
    But… I don’t mean this to sound unloving, but… in my experience, even after years of faithfully loving the “don’t fit the mould” people, many of them deep down just like the attention they get and resist changing and self-sacrifice for the sake of others and the church. It can regularly end up with one church member who’s very very exhausted after years of loving the “don’t fit the mould” person, and the “don’t fit the mould” person leaves to find another small church where they’ll get the one-on-one attention they want.
  • Myth: “Only certain people can “do” big church – like extroverts. Introverts need small churches.” (here)
  • Myth: “Small churches grow faster” (here)
  • Myth: “Small churches see more conversion growth” (here)

Do you agree with the line, “I’m only responsible for my actions, but I’m not responsible for people’s reactions”?

It’s a commonly repeated idea, particularly in Christian circles. The last time I heard it, it was phrased, “we should only measure the things we do, we shouldn’t measure the things other people do – because we can’t control it.”
So, first of all, yes. I am responsible for my actions. No amount of circumstances or “you made me do it” takes away from the fact that my decisions are mine, and I wear the responsibility for what I say and choose to do. Even if I didn’t mean to act that way–even if what I did was unintentional–I have to wear the responsibility for it.
Ok, what about the idea of being responsible for other people’s actions?
I think the best way to answer this is to say that we are “reasonably responsible” for other people’s actions. I do not believe this is a on/off idea, but rather a spectrum from “in no way responsible” to “significantly responsible” but never “100% responsible”.
If I do a bad job as a salesman, I’m partly responsible for you not buying the car. If I do a good job pitching and convincing you of the value of the car, then I am partly responsible for you buying it. I could do a terrible job selling it, and you might still buy it despite me–in which case there was probably some other factor partly responsible for your decision.
We ought be careful not to over-spiritualise Christian ministry away from this idea completely. If I do a bad job preaching, I’m both responsible for my words, and I’m partly responsible for the poor response it gets. If I do a good job, I’d be using the gifts provided by God as a good steward, and would be partly responsible for the results.
Isn’t this why Paul regarded the Thessalonians as his “reward”? They were the ones God used him to save, and Paul busted his gut to do it clearly and well. Not saved by Paul, but certainly saved through Paul’s actions to some extent.