About Me

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I am married to my lovely wife (Shasta), and we serve in the ministry together. We both love the Lord, play sports, love to travel, and we love the outdoors. I serve as the Campus Pastor at Liberty Fort Oglethorpe in Fort Oglethorpe, GA.

Monday, February 12, 2018

How to Make the Most of Valentine's Day

     To be honest, marriage is hard. Marriage isn’t hard because of who I married (she’s an angelic blessing), marriage is hard because of the war between my flesh and the Spirit. My flesh wants to please me, but the Spirit wants me to die for Shasta. The pull to my Heavenly home, though my final destination, pulls against my desire to live for myself here on earth. When I see days like Valentine's Day on the calendar, those are obvious days where I should sacrifice for my wife, but the thirteen days of February leading up to the fourteenth can be days I mismanage, making that special day a stumbling block for our relationship. So, how do we as men love our wives in a way that makes the most of special days like Valentine’s Day?

           1.     Live Ephesians 5:25-33 as Often as You Can

     “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the Church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”

     A man’s role in marriage is to represent Jesus in the way Jesus loves the Church. Loving like Jesus is painful, sacrificial, selfless, but redemptive. The goal of a husband is not to blindly sacrifice for his wife, the goal of a husband in a Christ-honoring relationship is to love her like Jesus and sanctify her in the Lord. That means praying for her, serving her, leading her closer to the Lord, spending time with the Father, spending focused time with her, and making the most of opportunities for unconditional love. Days like Valentine's Day should not be epitomes of love; they should be milestones in love.

           2.     Feed Your Spiritual Life

     No husband can be the husband they should be without spending time with the Lord. The goal of a husband is not to woo his wife to have more intercourse with him, the goal of a husband is to feed her spiritual life, and that means feeding his first. For a husband to feed his wife, he has to live on more than an empty spiritual tank. Husbands must spend time in the Word, worship, serve, say no to sin, and lead her down a path he is willing to walk. Husbands need the wisdom to walk this path, and Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” Husbands, feed your spiritual life by fearing the Lord, gaining His wisdom, and use God's insight to guide you and your bride.

            3.     Make the Most of Today to Start a New Chapter

      Every day is an opportunity for a new start. A new start does not mean a dramatic difference, but it can mean a different outcome. Valentine's Day offers a chance to sow good things into your marriage if you haven’t the other 364 days of the year. I encourage you, make the most of today by starting a new chapter of being the husband your wife needs, the husband who honors God in your marriage by leading your wife to the Lord more and more every day.

     Marriage will have its ups and downs, but stay faithful to sow things of the Spirit into your marriage, so you reap Godly things in your marriage.

Galatians 6:7-10 “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”

Monday, May 1, 2017

An Open Letter to People Who Experienced a Ministry Closure

Ministries sometimes close, and when ministries close, the people who were a part of the ministry are often hurt and discouraged. My prayer is that the letter below will bring comfort and encouragement to those who have experienced a ministry closure.   

Dear Fellow Follower of Jesus,

I am extremely sorry for your loss. Although Jesus told the disciples in Matt. 16:18 that the Gates of Hades (death) won’t prevail against the Universal Church, you likely feel that you just had the funeral for your church. You may question why Jesus's words in Matthew 16:18 didn't apply to your church, and to be honest, I don't have an answer, but what I do know is that you are still a vital part of the Universal Church. Sure, you might feel amputated from the Body of Christ, but you, are still as vitally a part of the Body of Christ as you were the day the Father called you, Jesus saved you, and you were filled you with the Holy Spirit. Things might not have turned out how you wanted them to, but you are still God’s Plan A.

As a part of the Body of Christ, I hurt not just for you, I hurt with you. You may rightly say that I don't know you and I can't experience your pain. You would be correct. I am still your brother in Christ, your partner in ministry, and someone who wants to help shoulder your burden. I know that words cannot adequately express the pain of seeing the lights turned out for the last time, and to hear the doors that once made way to laughter and joy close for the final time to the sound of tears and hopelessness. I am truly sorry for what has happened, and I am truly sorry I could not have helped you. 

Even though the day came and went when your place of ministry closed, a closed place of ministry does not mean God is done with you. We serve a God who can do incredible things with humbled and hurting people—and guess what? You are in the perfect place to see God do incredible things. Please, I beg of you, don’t give up on the Lord, His Church, and on serving Him! 

I hope these seven points are encouraging to your soul:

1) You are a part of the Church, not the vacant building

The doors may never reopen and the lights may never come back on in that building, but remember, you are a part of the living the Church, not that vacant building. Sure, that building may hold a lot of memories, but you house the Holy Spirit within you! Because of that, we can’t lose sight of the Great Commission that always takes us outside the four walls of a building! Christ purchased you a long time before someone purchased your building. Christ died for your soul, not a vacant building; so, live in the abundance of the life that Jesus died and resurrected to give you. In your search for hope, know that your greatest hope is not confined to a street address. No, your hope is in the resurrected Christ.

2) You have a lot of wisdom to offer to other ministries

During the process leading to the closure, there were things that you learned that can help other ministries avoid the same mistakes that led to the closure of the ministry you were a part of—and to never share those lessons with other ministries is a grave mistake. Instead of allowing other ministries to go down the same perilous road yours traveled, you could be an integral part in helping a ministry to revitalize. After experiencing all the heartache of your ministry closing, wouldn’t it be wise to help other followers of Christ avoid this heartache? Please, don’t be a critic, but help steer ministries in the right direction based on what you’ve learned. You could be the deciding factor in helping to save another ministry because of what you’ve experienced.

3) Your testimony right now matters more than ever

Some people have said that when we are hurting, people pay more attention to how we act, what we do, and what we say. Sure, there will be the critics who come out and make fun, ridicule, blaspheme, and act sinfully about the closure of your ministry, but through the blood of the Lamb and your testimony, you can overcome! As people who have never believed in the hope Jesus has to offer, your testimony during this time of despair can speak so powerfully that some people might come to faith in Jesus. Because we possess an eternal hope, this momentary struggle is not the end of your faith, but it can be the lead to the start of someone else’s faith. Please, remember that because the Gospel includes the pains of Christ, often the greatest messenger for the Gospel is someone in pain that holds on to the Solid Rock for hope. Your testimony right now matters more than ever, so please, struggle unto the glory of Christ.

4) Your soul needs a healthy local church

The worst thing that can happen in painful times is that we forget the fellowship we have with the Savior when we suffer, and the hope we have from our Savior’s suffering. There is no greater fellowship with Jesus than to know His sufferings because through knowing His suffering, we will know His comfort. (2 Cor. 1:5) This painful time is a time you need comfort and the truths of the Gospel, so I encourage you to not only find and attend but plug into a healthy local church. Why? In times of pain, the best medicine is the Gospel, and healthy local churches preach and live out the Gospel. Please, plug into a healthy local church to feed on the Bread of Life and drink deeply of the Living Water and enter a Sabbath rest for your soul.

5) Your gifts are needed in a local church

Your ministry may have closed, but the Holy Spirit did not remove your gift(s). Although it may feel like you’ll never be needed in a local church again, you are still as vital to the Kingdom as you were the day you launched or joined your previous ministry. In these times when you feel insignificant, remember what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12:22-26, “22On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” You’re needed somewhere, so search diligently for where God would have you to play a vital role.

6) God is still sovereign in your suffering

I think that one of the saddest things that happen in Christian culture is that we maximize the stories where God radically healed someone, delivered someone, or raised someone up, but we minimize the stories where God walked through Hell with someone. How many Christians would have highlighted the stories of Paul and Silas in prison, but neglected to include the story of Jesus submitting to the Spirit in the Garden of Gethsemane? What about the part about Jesus weeping over the death of Lazarus? What about the rugged cross and the suffering of Christ? Should we have jumped to the empty tomb and left out the stories of suffering for the Gospel? Because we have minimized the stories of Jesus walking through troubled times with us, we have made Jesus Savior of certain circumstances and neglected to profess Him as Lord of all and our companion in our deepest pain—something that I believe pains the heart of our Lord Jesus Christ. The truth is that sometimes in God’s sovereignty, He allows us to suffer so He can show us that His grace is sufficient for us. Sometimes He doesn’t heal, but He walks through a situation with us. Why do we not marvel at the fact that the God of the universe wants to sometimes walk through things with us so we know a deeper fellowship with Him than we would have known if He had healed everything like we asked? Take time to remember that God is still sovereign over your most profound suffering, and He can and will use you again if you will again submit yourself to His plans.

7) God’s Word is a lamp in dark places

You may feel like darkness is creeping in around you, but the Word of God is still a lamp to your feet and a light to your path. (Ps. 119:105) Although it may appear the shining city on a hill that your ministry sought to be lead you to the valley of the shadow of death, God’s Word can comfort, guide, strengthen, mend, and revitalize your soul unlike the literature of this world. Turning to writings outside of Scripture will not fan the flame of the lamp lighting your path. Instead, turn to the Word that blazes with the authority of our Living God to find all you need right now. I pray for fresh insights for you as you encounter God’s Word from where you are now, and I pray the Word will ignite a new fire in you for serving the Lord!  

Although this is a painful time for you dear brother and sister in Christ, I pray these seven suggestions are helpful to your walk in the Lord. I pray you find healing, restoration, and a place of service soon. Most of all, I pray that you would remain faithful to Jesus through this and in time you can hear, “‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’” (Matt. 25:21b)

In Christ’s Love,

Ryan Ralston
1 Corinthians 9:16

If you found comfort and encouragement through this letter, please like, comment, and share this post so others can find comfort and encouragement as well. Thanks for reading!

Friday, October 2, 2015

How Christians Should React to Mass Shootings

How Christians Should React to Mass Shootings

      I long for the day when Christianity will become more about following Christ than about following a political agenda. I long for the day when Christians will drop politics and pick up a cross to carry. I long for the day when Christians will value the lives and souls of individuals more than our own comfort and desires. I long for the day when all the words and actions by Christians converge to form a Gospel-centered response to sin. After all, in the Christian worldview the root of all evil is sin, not a political agenda, not access to an object, not a philosophy, not a geographical area, etc., but sin—sin is the great demise of the physical world and our spiritual lives. Sadly, instead of focusing on the sin which initiated these mass shootings, many Christians take to social media and personal conversations to engage in dialogue about inanimate objects, philosophies, geography, culture, etc. and never speak to the thing that every part of Creation is truly at war with: sin. Christians MUST react differently and Christians MUST have a Biblical Christocentric reaction to these mass shootings.

1.       Put Down the Keyboard and Pick Up Your Sword

Our first reaction to tragedy is to combat the tragedy through our keyboard—we want to speak into the tragedy before allowing the Lord to speak to us. Instead of picking up our keyboards and writing, we should first pick up the Sword (Word of God) and allow it to shape us before turning it towards others (Matthew 7:1-6, Hebrews 4:12). The most foolish of speech is the speech that is guided by man’s thoughts and desires in rebellion or ignorance to the Word of God. We should constantly be full of the Word of God, and our speech should reflect that. (1 Peter 4:11) The world needs to hear from God, because only He can save, redeem, make new, heal, comfort, etc. Be faithful to your own discipleship to be faithful in speaking into the lives of others

2.       Focus On the Spiritual to Change How We Handle the Material

Throughout my newsfeed on Facebook and Twitter, Christians have already engaged in the debate about gun control, even though these Christians know the problem isn’t a material one but a spiritual one. Here’s an idea: quit focusing on material items and focus on the spiritual problem that causes people to sinfully abuse material items. Quit focusing on objects that fit in our hands and focus on the heart and soul that causes the hands to act. For a Christian to solely focus on dealing with political reforms focused on handling materialistic objects while neglecting to deal with the spiritual brokenness of our world, is to push away Christ in order to make our own desires, agenda, and idols a priority. People don’t need to hear from you about your political stance, people need to hear about the hope found in Jesus. The call to follow Jesus is synonymous with sharing with others about Jesus. Jesus did not say in Matthew 4:19, “Follow me, and wait till it’s politically advantageous to fish for men (share the Gospel).” No, he said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” These mass shootings and other tragedies are a perfect time to “fish for men,” and to reveal the glorious story of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Only Jesus can change the spiritual nature of a man in order to change how he handles the material. Don’t blow these opportunities! Talk about the Gospel, it impacts both today and eternity—politics does not.

3.       Pray Before You Speak and Write

Prayer not only unites us with God, but when we pray for people, God gives us love, compassion, sympathy, and the right heart to both speak and act towards them in a situation. Before we respond to any mass shooting, ask yourself, “Have I prayed about what to say and/or do? Does what I want to say and/or do glorify and magnify God?” Chances are, if you haven’t prayed about it, it’s not going to be Godly. Why? God says in Isaiah 55:10, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.” Chances are, if you have not united with God in prayer, your words and actions will also not be united with God. Our sinful hearts can often cause us to say and do things which are either wrong or done in the wrong method, but when we pray for the right words, actions, and heart to say them, God makes us more able to properly minister in a situation. Above all, pray for God to move regardless of what you say or do.

4.       Make Little of You and Your Opinion and Make Much of Christ

For some reason, God decided to use you and me to spread His glory across this world, but that does not mean that you or I may make more of ourselves than of Christ. John the Baptist, in preparing the way for Jesus’s ministry said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30) In case you don’t know the story of John the Baptist, he was beheaded because of his continual witness for Christ. His life did not make much of himself (he lived a tough lifestyle) or his opinion (he was too busy talking about Christ), and it cost him—but his reward was far greater than his self-esteem or praise from men. Yes, making much of Christ costs us, but it costs us and others far more to make little of Christ. (Luke 14:25-33) Make sure whatever you say and do points to Christ and not to yourself or your opinion.

5.        Serve Needs Instead of Only Seeing Needs

Mass shootings cause a humanitarian need for comfort, counseling, a shoulder to cry on, food, security, etc. and the Church should be on the frontlines providing these things. The old saying is true, “No one cares what you say if they don’t know that you care.” Taking care of people’s physical needs is also a part of the Gospel as God is not just seeking spiritual renewal and healing, but to restore everything back to the Garden of Eden’s status of well-being and wholeness in physical and spiritual. Serve in love to share Christ’s love.

Christians are commanded by the King of Kings to be His witnesses to the world, and for us to do any different is to rebel against His commands. Every day there are opportunities to share the life-altering Gospel of Jesus Christ with others, and these mass shootings should be a clear opportunity for us. The world does not need us to make more laws for them or to debate current laws, the world needs us to share about the way out of “the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2) and how to obtain the perfect law of freedom in Christ. (James 1:25) Will you pick up God’s Word before you speak? Will you focus on the spiritual need of people? Will you pray before speaking and writing? Will you make much of Christ? 

Please comment on and share this blog.

Thanks for reading!

Ryan Ralston

Monday, June 22, 2015

Six Things First Time Ministers Need to Know

Moving from the seminary classroom and into his first ever ministry position at Random Baptist Church, John is excited to use his new knowledge from seminary in a local ministry context. Although once excited, weeks into the position, John feels that things aren’t going as well as he initially thought they would go; the congregation seems disconnected from his teaching, there seems to be little transformation in the lives of the congregation and community, the church won’t follow his leadership, and he feels like he is all alone since he has no ministry friends in combination with the friendship breakdown between the church members and him. 

As he struggles in this ministry position, he begins to ask, "Why aren’t things going the way the professors said they would go? Why does the congregation not care about the Greek, Hebrew, historical context, and essential meaning of the Scripture? Why is there no positive spiritual transformation in the lives of the church members? Why won’t the church follow my leadership? Where is a close friend when I need one? Why won't people connect to ministry opportunities? Why can’t I make a friend in the church? Is this really what ministry is like? Am I really called to be a minister?" John’s thoughts have turned from excitement on his first day to thoughts of despair, failure, and leaving the church—after all, if God’s plan for John is to be at this church, why are things so hard??

Unfortunately, many seminary students and young ministers enter situations just like John’s, but here are six ways to avoid or overcome John’s plight:

      1.       Preach, don’t just Teach

With my undergraduate degree in teaching and the abundance of information about Scripture that I was learning, when I started serving in a local church, my preaching time was filled with great exegesis but little takeaway for the congregation. Sure, I helped them learn about the Bible, but in doing so, I did not help them connect the Bible to real life. Great preaching does not just teach, it applies and directs hearers to live Scripture in their daily lives. Too many seminary students want to teach, but they seldom share how the hearers should live out the Scripture. Teach the essential meaning, but don’t forget to explain why this Scripture matters to life and how to apply Scripture to life.

      2.       Pray, don’t Prey

Prayer is humiliating. Why? There is nothing more humiliating than realizing that we can’t do something and having to depend on someone else. Prayer is the mode by which we tell God that we are insufficient to run our lives and that we need His guidance and intervention because He is sovereign. Prayer is also the way that we focus less on ourselves and more on what God would have us to do. Tragically, many ministers compare their positions, abilities, congregations, etc. and instead of praying to God, they prey on the needs of the congregation for the minister’s acclamation and fame. A minister who prays for himself and his congregation is a minister who stays close to the Lord and is humble enough to give glory to God, not himself. Pride feeds off preying on others and will always lead to a minster’s fall, but a minister who is humbled in prayer feeds off the Holy Spirit and is stronger than any of the works of the evil one.

      3.       Pull, don’t Push

Because leadership involves people following, it is impossible to be a leader and push people towards a goal—a leader has to pull those who follow him towards the goal. That means that a leader has to consistently be closer to the goal than his followers. If a leader falls even with or is passed by his followers, he is no longer a leader, but the people will pick someone else to lead them. Many inexperienced/ignorant leaders think that they can command or dominate a group of people to a goal, but these leaders are not leaders, they are dictatorial individuals who will only accomplish goals on the back of burned-out coworkers. Save yourself the struggle and pull people along with you towards a goal that you are pursuing: pull, don’t push.

     4.       Slower, don’t Scurry

Most ministers go into a church with a goal for creating a more Christ-like environment that provides an atmosphere for ministry to flourish, but many of these ministers move too fast for their congregation to feel a part of and understand the change of the church’s environment. Ultimately, the church and minister begin to have problems, and if not addressed quickly, the minister and church may never see eye to eye again. How does a minister prevent this? Instead of scurrying to work and just doing something, a minister should go slower and strategically pick which things are best to change by using the right people for the task. In the same way that a minister must study his congregation to understand the people he is leading, a minister must study his people to understand how quickly they will both fall under his leadership and buy into his vision. Scurrying to do something does not always work best, generally, being patient and strategic while progressing slower is better. Go slow, don't just scurry to do something.

      5.       Connect, don’t just Communicate

This part has two important aspects to it: First, a minister must connect with other ministers. Ministry can be the loneliest place you ever are- even though you are constantly surrounded by people. A minister needs close friends to be a support group, accountability partners, and fellow ministry companions. A minister without ministry friends is prey for discouragement, sin, burnout, and failure. Second, a minister must connect his church to ministry. A minister cannot do everything; a minister should not do everything. Connecting people to ministry is as easy as asking one or two people to join with you on an evangelism outing, asking people to help with an event, discipling and training a core group of people, placing people in ministry roles that they fit, and encouraging them to pursue their God-given calling. Connecting with people and connecting people to ministry goes beyond communicating through a sermon to communicating with others on deeper spiritual levels—a work every minister should be about.

      6.       Pursue, don’t just ________

Most of the other parts had a contrasting word to the first word of each point, but this one does not. I did this intentionally because in ministry there is nothing more important for a minister to do than to pursue after his relationship with God and his family. My dad has always told me, “God is first, and family is second.” My dad’s statement does not discount having strong family ties, but rather, his statement builds up family ties through having a primary focus on God. As I pursue God, God will place in me the desire for me to pursue my family, as well as the way to correctly pursue them in Christ-like love. Our first calling is to God and our second is to family; if we do not square away our pursuit of God and family, all else is lost. Chances are, we will find ourselves at other churches, but we only have 1 God and 1 family. Pursue them.

Obviously there are other things that would help new ministers, but these are just a few that come to mind. In your experience, what are some things that a new minister or minister fresh out of seminary should know? What are some things that a struggling minister should look to do?

Feel free to comment and share.

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Call to Ministry and Vocation

     Currently, a full-time ministry position is hard to find. Why? More and more, ministers are either moving from full-time ministerial positions to bivocational ministerial positions, or their first church employment is a bi-vocational position. Although these bivocational ministers may be paid on a part-time scale, rarely do these ministers do part-time work. “A recent survey of Louisiana Baptist Bivocational Pastors revealed on average 119 hour work week of the pastors that participated including a 40 hour secular job schedule. That left 7 hours a day to eat, sleep, and family time. This survey was very similar to two other SBC State Convention surveys.” (http://www.bivocational.org/BIVO/Job_Description/BivoDescription.htm)

Interestingly, even though churches are moving away from full-time positions, the church culture still promulgates ministers to announce their call to ministry as a call to “full-time” ministry. Think about it, when was the last time you heard someone announce their surrender to God’s call to the ministry and the person said, “I am announcing my call to part-time employed ministry!” Personally, I believe that we should redefine the call to ministry by separating the call to ministry and the call to a ministerial position because too many young ministers believe that their ministry and ministerial employment are to be in full-time ministerial positions at a church. Because of this terminology, I believe that we will see fewer and fewer ministers will accept bivocational positions because their understanding of their calling and their work do not match.

I believe that there are 4 areas that we can use to clarify the calling to full-time ministry. In seeing these 4 areas, my hope is ministers will better understand and fulfill the calling to full-time ministry. In doing so, I hope that more ministers will see bivocational ministry as a viable means of fulfilling their calling to minister full-time, and that ministers will not shy away from bivocational employment opportunities which God can use to make a difference in the world.

Here are the four ways that we can clarify the calling to full-time ministry:

      1.       Full-time ministry does not mean a full time ministerial vocation

All too often, we associate ministry with a title or position at a church. Interestingly, our go to passage for the call to ministry, The Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20, makes no mention of positions inside a church. The call by Jesus to His followers to minister is something that is to be done in every minute of every day, not just in a position at a church. A person who does ministry full time may not be an employed member of a church, but they are an obedient follower of Jesus. God’s call upon an individual’s life to ministry is not based on employment, but it is based on obedience to the Spirit’s bidding. A vocation is a way to do ministry, a vocation is not all the ministry we are to do. Likewise, vocations change as individuals age, their gifting changes, and God places them in unique situations to minister, but the call to minister never leaves the individual.

      2.       Full-time ministry is a call from God to always be on mission

You have probably heard someone say, “Let the missionaries do evangelism, that’s their job!” If you are anything like me, you want to fashion a Jesus-at-the-temple-whip and run that person out of the church! Although I get frustrated with their statement, I have to think about their statement and its importance to understanding why people do not minister as they should. For instance, their statement comes from an understanding that paid ministry equals an opportunity to do ministry. Tragically, somewhere in their Christian-life, someone sold them the lie that they can avoid ministering because there is someone paid to do said ministry. The Biblical evidence that contradicts this thinking is too abundant to mention here, but one example, the Apostle Paul did ministry in everything he did, rather he was making a tent or preaching, Paul’s obedience to God’s call meant that he was always on mission for God, rather employed or not. If we wait to do ministry until we are vocationally full time, we will miss the opportunities to be obedient to Jesus’ call. People need us to minister to them rather we are paid and employed in a full-time position or not.

      3.       Full-time ministry is more about a lifestyle than a situation

Doing ministry in everything we do means that our lifestyle is different than those who only do ministry because of a church position. People who live the lifestyle of ministry will share the Gospel with their waiter/waitress, see opportunities during their day to minister to people, create a Gospel culture around them, and take the Gospel outside the walls of the church. The person who makes ministry a lifestyle can take any situation and with the Lord’s working, make an ordinary moment into an extraordinarily Gospel-filled situation.

      4.       Full-time ministry is outside the walls of the church

No matter if someone is vocationally full-time or not, the call to ministry serves both the Church and the lost world. There are many ministers who view their ministry as solely to the Church while they are at church. Tragically, when the minister leaves the church, the minister acts no different than an average member of society; there is no attempt to minister to the community; there is no continuation of living out what they studied; there is no urgency to fulfill the Great Commission; there is no love for the lost person they will later meet. We would consider it a faulty marriage for a husband to neglect his marriage when he is away from his wife, but many ministers consider that they only have to minister when they are at church. A faithful minister ministers inside and outside the church because He is wed to both Jesus and the ministry.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Easter Eggs and Redemption

Easter is this weekend, and for many churches, they will invariably encounter the debate over just how much they will celebrate Easter. In one camp there will be the group that protests the Easter Bunny and eggs by saying that these two things are too pagan for a church to get involved with; while, in another group, they will say that the Easter bunny shouldn’t be at church but hunting eggs in harmless. The question always arises, “Should our church do an Easter egg hunt at the church?” Although this seems like a simple question, it is a multi-faceted question and does not just apply to Easter, but it applies to every Christian holiday that somehow associates itself with pagan holidays and practices. In fact, this question boils down to ask, “How much should Christ's Church be a part of and share in the practices of the sinful community and world?”

First, the concern for church members who see certain practices as sins, must be accounted for in our decisions as to how to the Church should choose to operate. As Paul told the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 10:23 ESV “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.” Paul said this in the middle of talking about the concerns some Christians had in how other Christians were participating in pagan practices (eating food offered to idols). Paul instructed the Corinthian church to be sure to not cause a stumbling block for other Christians, but also that they should, “…whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31 ESV)

Although this message from Scripture applies to this circumstance, the situation is slightly different. Because the issue was among believers and not among believers and the lost world, the implications of 1 Cor. 10 apply in a slightly different way in this circumstance. For instance, Easter Egg hunts have huge potential for reaching the lost world, while 1 Cor. 10 dealt with the issue of fellowship among the Believers. Although we should prioritize our fellowship with Believers, we should also be about the Great Commission; although some churches prioritize discipleship over evangelism (spoiler alert: there should be a balance of evangelism and discipleship). In saying that, the mission of the church comes into question. For instance, how willing is a church to penetrate a lost community with the Gospel? In the church’s mission statement, is there mention of needing to prioritize missions outside the church, or is the church intentionally focused internally on its members? If the mission of the church is a Biblical one, then the church will likely look for opportunities to share the Gospel, despite some Believers seeing pagan practices as only sin. There must be a transition to seeing things through a Gospel lens so that individuals can baptize pagan practices into being used as an opportunity for Christian ministry. Again, our priority in sharing the Gospel should not direct us to break ties with Believers, but it should lead us to, in Christ’s Spirit, redeem a pagan practice to attempt to redeem a pagan in the community to give glory to God. A group of believers cannot allow the complacency of a few individuals to stop the group of believers from sharing the Gospel- the priority of the Church.

Second, there are pagan issues in the holiday we call Easter; but, the most important part of the Gospel is also proclaimed on Easter (the resurrection). Although the Bible does not command the celebration of the resurrection, without the resurrection we are still under the Old Covenant and the Christian Faith is false (1 Cor. 15)- something to celebrate! In our celebration of the Gospel’s truthfulness, we should seek to transfer things that were once Spiritually Dead to Spiritual Life. (Eph. 2) Even though there are obvious pagan practices on this day, the children of God should not shy away from living for and celebrating an act of God. Ceasing to celebrate an act of God due to sinful practices associated with a certain date, minimizes the act of God and shows our fear of sin that compromises our victory in Jesus.

Despite the pagan sides of Easter (that only a few individuals know about, let alone practice), we should always see pagan activities as an opportunity to redeem them to a Christian meaning. Because sin is a deprivation of all things originally created to be good (Gen. 1), everything pagan has the opportunity to be redeemed and should be redeemed to a God-centered purpose so as to glorify God. God has the Holy Spirit working in connection with His Church to act to redeem and transform everything into something God-honoring. For instance, the early church sought to do so by creating Easter to replace pagan holidays with Christian ones (even though Easter coincides with the actual time of the Resurrection)! The Bible also contains several instances where Godly men used pagan practices and stories to share God with others: Joseph and Daniel interpreted dreams (a pagan practice) but did it to the glory of God, Paul often turned pagan beliefs into opportunities to share the Gospel in his missionary journeys (Acts 17), and John, in the book of Revelation, took pagan stories and Christianized them to share Gospel truths. In following Biblical example and Church tradition, I think that we should always be ready to redeem a pagan practice to be used by God; after all, what shows a greater picture of the Gospel than to take something pagan and redeem it to God’s glory?

Is it possible to redeem the practice of Easter egg hunting? Sure! Although the eggs were a originally a pagan symbol depicting fertility, they could easily be made into a Christian message. For instance, one could share with the children that originally the eggs were celebrated by pagans to be signs of fertility, but God can use them to share a message too. In fact, just as the eggs are placed in different places, so men are in different locations all over the world in need of finding. Each person who finds an egg represents the Gospel going forth to find and save lost men and women. In order to truly cherish someone, we have to see the beauty of God in their lives in the same way that we excitedly search for treasures in the eggs. By sharing a message like this through the once pagan activity, the church now uses it to share the Gospel with those from the community who came to the church for the egg hunt (assuming the church was missional minded and invited the community to the church for the egg hunt).
            My personal answer and conviction, as you’ve probably already guessed, is that churches should choose to open their doors to the community to allow the community to be a part of a Christianized pagan practice—even Easter egg hunts. I’ve been a part of churches and under ministers who preached against Easter’s pagan sides, and in their desire to be holy and set a part, they missed great ministry opportunities. Interestingly, I’ve seen a greater Gospel proclamation in the churches and pastors who desired to be holy and set apart while being a part of the community in sharing the Gospel (through things like egg hunts), allowing them to speak into the community by being a part of the community through opening the church for community activities. I am a huge proponent of doing everything possible to turn pagans into Christians and pagan practices into opportunities for evangelism and discipleship.

In summation: If Jesus can redeem my life, Jesus can redeem and transform a pagan practice like an Easter Egg hunt for His use and for His glory.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Kim Kardashian, the Worth of Women, and Ephesians 5

Confession: No I have not seen the pictures of Kim Kardashian in Paper Magazine, but the headlines on my Facebook News Feed and the posts from my friends about the pictures leaves me not wanting to imagine anything to do with these pictures.

Culture says, "A woman has the right to do with her body as she pleases." Yes, we hear this statement in the context of abortion debates, women being supported for their roles in pornographic material, and other sexual contexts. Is there anything inherently wrong with this statement? Yes, Contemporary western culture promulgates this statement that does not build up women, but rather, this statement objectifies women to the place where women are only viewed as a discardable object. Every time women are objectified, they are shackled to the sexual desires and worthlessness of a man seeking his pleasure at her expense. This shackles women to the sexual desires of a man, while relegating a man's relationships to seeking a man's desires at the expense of another's humanity.

For men who do not have the best interest of the woman at heart, these men only desire to make a woman into an object for their own selfish desires.

At the core of this idea are abuses to women. Instead of respecting a woman's body, culture says to  show-off her body so as to desecrate her body to the selfish-abusive desires of a man. In doing so, culture also says that a woman should do as she pleases by being able to decide when she carries and does not carry a child in her womb; and at the core of the idea that women can be made into a sex object, there stands a coward of a man who decides not to love and cherish a woman, but to rather use up her beauty, purity, and fantastic qualities to only throw her away when he has so discredited her that she is worthless to him, even as a sexual object.

Let me ask you, "What happens to Kim when the next sex object catches the eye of the public? What will happen to every woman who is objectified into a sex object when another sex object catches the eye of her pursuer? These men will discard Kim and every other woman like a piece of trash to trade for a new "figure" and a new "physique" that satisfies these men all the more Are you really comfortable that men desire to use up a woman and throw her away so that he can move on to his next conquest?" Should we accept people as disposable?

Any man who views women as only meeting his needs will move on and leave women broken, looking for love that she will likely never find, looking for wholeness in an environment broken by false hope and false assurance, and she will be left to live with the mindset that her worth is only in what she can do and not in who she is.

You say that Kim is beautiful and she should share her natural beauty with the whole world, but you too have bought into the lie that selling a woman's body for sex is not objectifying them and lowering the value of a woman. Do we see the emotional baggage Kim lies down in bed with every night (yes, that baggage can be Kanye)? Do we see the inner struggle she has for worth? Do we see the impact she has on women who suffer from not being loved and validated? No, we are too busy seeing her as an object and not a person; thereby, making her out to be an emotionless object that only gratifies our desires.

What do we expect though from a culture that does not value creation? At the heart of the pervasive atheistic worldview of many people in the world, people are only an accident and people have no purpose. Does this worldview account for the worth that we place in those we love? No. Does this worldview account for the need to love and cherish one another? No. How could this worldview account for these things if we are all accidents?

The Biblical Christian worldview accounts for men and women being created for a purpose and having worth: to glorify God through living a life that He gives to them. The relationship of man to woman is seen in few Scriptures better than Ephesians 5.

Ephesians 5:22–33 (ESV)

22Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. 25Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30because we are members of his body. 31“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

Many of us read this passage and only see that a man has authority over a woman, but is that the point of the Scripture? No. Here, Paul tells the Ephesian church that the relationship of husband to wife is the same structure as the relationship of Christ to the Church. Did you see that? 

As the leader of the Church, Christ does not push Himself onto the Church and He does not authoritatively tell the Church what to do, but rather, He serves the Church in order to lead the Church. Christ sacrificed Himself for the Church because the Church mattered to Him. Christ desires to sanctify, nourish, and cherish the Church because He loves the Church as the Church is in Him. Christ does not objectify the Church because Christ has the best interest of the Church at His heart, in the same way that men should not objectify women based on man's desires.

Look at how Paul talks about the relationship between men and women: this relationship is based on Christ and His Church. Before the Church was even the Church, Christ gave Himself up for her. Christ did not objectify the Church, plan to abuse it, plan to discard it, or even plan to move on to something different. No, by dedicating His life to the Church, Christ showed His love and commitment to the Church. Why wouldn't the Church want to follow His lead? In the same way, when a man gives up himself for his wife to better her, what woman would not trust and admire this man enough to follow his leadership? What man who would give up himself for his wife would look down on her instead of seeing her as his equal? A man who values Christ will see and tree women as Christ values and treats the church. This man will one day nurture, love, lead, and serve his wife because she is worth it to him.

Which way raises up women and prizes them more? Are women more prized individualistically as sex object like our culture promulgates or through the eyes of a Christian man who desires to better his wife to be more like Christ? Isn't it interesting that every woman desires to be loved, led and served? Shouldn't we say that these feelings are given to women by God so that they may fulfill their role as representing the Church in the marital context as the husband fulfills his role in the marital context? Shouldn't we spend more time teaching men how to love and prize women instead of objectifying women to only meet their needs? I think we should teach men to love and prize women as God's beautiful Creation.

Men should so prize women that men do not have to fulfill their sexual desires immediately in women, but rather, men should see their future wife as the only prize that they wish to be emotionally, physically, sexually, and psychologically bound to for the rest of their life. It is a shame that a whole generation of men only see women as objects and not prizes, worth of giving our lives for.

This is not just about porn, this is about the worth of women.

Ladies, do not let a guy talk you into "giving up" yourself to them unless it is your wedding night. Ladies, do not let a guy talk you into sending THAT picture to him. Only a husband who cherishes you as Christ cherishes the Church should be deserving of all of you. A boy who only wants to gratify his raging desires does not deserve the precious gift of your body because he does not truly care for you, but instead, he cares only for himself. Only someone who cares for you says something like, "Sweetheart, put the clothes back on and rest from trying so hard to be like the world. You are beautiful, prized, blessed, and God's perfect creation. I don't need your body to make me love you or even be happy. How can I serve you and lead you in a way to grow, nourish, and meet your needs?"

For those of you who are reading this and you still believe that Kim and other women should share their bodies with the world, sleep around, and give themselves as objects to others; are you willing to act like the magazine and crumple up every precious woman and throw her into the trash like a wadded up piece of paper? Are you willing to continue to objectify women as only flesh that sexually pleases others? 

Men, man up and cherish women, not for your own desires, but because every woman is worthy of being loved as Christ loves the Church. When men cherish women and women fall under the leadership of a man who loves, serves, and gives himself up for her, then the world will see how much Jesus loves His Church. 

Women, see that you are valuable as more than an object. See that your purpose is not to meet the desires of a man, but to worship and live for God.

We all have the opportunity to love and cherish each other in the relationship of Christ to the Church; don't crumple it up and throw it away like Paper Magazine did.