I am one of those pastors who came into the Christian ministry a clear sense of call. I could point to a particular moment in my life when I sensed God’s calling on my life. It was both surprising and overwhelming at the time. But, over time, it became the settled conviction of my heart that God was calling me to preach the Gospel in some way. And, I need to make that clear: in the earlier stages of my life the call I felt was toward preaching. When I started out I had very little conception of what pastoral ministry was and what it might entail. I had come to Christ at the invitation of an evangelist at a holiness camp meeting. The message of Christ had made a profound change in my life for the better. And, I wanted to share that message with others. I felt that a great favor had been done for me — a message of hope had been given to me — and I wanted to extend that favor to others. My attitude was the same as that expressed in the often quoted line from D. T. Niles: ““Evangelism is just one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.”
Biblical preaching had been crucial in re-directing my life. So, it was something I assumed would be the focus of my future ministry — and it was something I wanted to learn to do well.
I sure have met a lot of people over the years for whom evangelical Christianity — and, I might add, holiness Christianity particularly — was an oppressive reality in their lives. It was something imposed upon them. It was a almost-constant threat of Hell. It was legalism. It was a rigid authoritarian mindset from which they later emerged with relief.
I get that. I have heard the story so often — in so many different forms. I understand.
But, that is not my experience. (more…)
Oddly enough, Christians often have a difficult time talking meaningfully about spirituality. It is as if words fail us at this point.
We are at the edge of a mystery. We are talking about the ways of God — and the ways in which humans find connection with God. We are not used to thinking of this as something which is open to analysis and investigation. After all: “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8 NRSV).
I certainly do not wish to deny this. But, this does not mean that the experience of human spirituality is beyond discussion or analysis — at least to some degree. Yes, there is a mystery to the way God works. But, truth be told, we are surrounded by mystery continually. there is a mystery to the way the world works. We are often unaware of this — but, still, it is true. There is so much about life and the world that we do not — and apparently cannot — fully understand. But, this does not stop us from talking meaningfully about the things we can understand. (more…)