I continue to learn more about Worcester and recently came across interesting statistics on wealth and charitable giving by state. While Massachusetts is ranked among the top five for income (depending on “per capita” vs. “household”) it is in the bottom five for charitable giving. Residents of Massachusetts give 2.8% of their annual income to charity1.
I hope to see this statistic change. One of the incredibly challenging and freeing aspects of Christianity is its teaching about money. Ultimately there is nothing we own. All is simply entrusted to us for a brief season. Money will not save us, provide security, give meaning, or open the doors to lasting pleasure, influence, or success. God is the one who richly provides all good things for people to enjoy, yet we are to hold money loosely and use it for eternal purposes. Jesus says we will serve God or wealth, and does not leave a comfortable middle ground.
My hope in beginning a church in Worcester, MA is to particpate in a larger work of gospel renewal in New England. As I think about the many ways that a resurgence of biblical Christianity would affect New England, I think about money. I think of the 2.8% doubling to 5.6% or tripling to 8.4% or more. What would this mean for the post-industrial cities that struggle with poverty and economic development? What could this sort of giving do on a global scale if we used our money to fund aid, development, and Christian mission in the “third world?”
This weekend I took our son to his swim lessons at the YMCA and had a blast watching him, along with the other students, throw a ball into the water then jump in to retrieve it. The last time I saw Wesley in the water he was reluctant to get his face wet and definitely didn’t want to go under. This time though he leapt off the side, going fully under as he desperately tried to chase down his ball and return to his spot before the other kids. One of the big factors was the foam flotation device strapped to his back. I think he has realized that he won’t drown and can therefore jump in with a smile on his face even when the water is too deep and he can barely swim.
This is a helpful metaphor for me as we move further along the path of uncertainty and unknown that is necessary to starting a new church. There is the temptation to fluctuate between excitement and anxiety as we cycle between positive developments, disappointments, and the expanding series of hurdles that lie ahead. But when I stop and think what faith looks like the word “expectancy” comes to mind. If God is behind our work I should expect that he will provide for us and lead us, as he has through other times of difficulty. If I believe that there is someone with infinite power lending his strength to my feeble efforts I can do the various aspects of my job with expectation. So I think of Wesley jumping off the side of the pool, not knowing how to swim, knowing the water is too deep and I am pushed to leap with a smile. What if God does work through weakness? What if my sleepy prayers, day late emails, and timid conversations are the means through which he will display his goodness and strength? What if the cross, an event of horrible evil and apparent absurdity reveals the wisdom of God and breaks the stranglehold of sin and death?
“We now have scientific proof that the mind can heal the body,” the chapter begins and in the tilt of my head, the downward cast of my eyebrows, and subtle shifting of my posture my skepticism makes itself known. All sorts of questions come to my mind alongside the more far fetched images associated with “mind of matter.”
Yet the integration between the mind and body which forms the basis of Relaxation Revolution should not provoke so immediate and severe a response. Integral to the Christian perspective on the human person is our mixed composition of body and soul. Both are present, essential, and intertwined in ways we can’t easily sort out. So these authors (and doctors) help me see a blind spot in which I embrace a view of human persons that is poorer and simpler than that of the bible.
Rewind a dozen years and I distinctly remember a college class on Reformation era history. The professor asked the class what we thought made up reality. This was an exercise to help us identify the points of connection and dissonance between our world and the 16th century. There were a few Christians in the classroom that I recognized and one of them raised his hand, “I believe that angels and demons are part of our reality.” Though in theory I agreed with him a condescending grin would not leave my face. “Are you serious,” my mind silently asked and again I saw how I believed less than I thought.
In these situations and others God humorously opens my eyes and helps conform me to his truth. Maybe this is happening as you think about the reality of the supernatural breaking into an undergraduate history class.
The short story is that we’ve been given the green light by the leadership of Trinity to plant a church together in Worcester, MA. This was our hope in entering the church planting fellowship and we are excited. Read below for the fuller picture.
All through the Christian life there is the tension between God’s activity and ours. At the center of the Christian story is a God who takes the initiative to rescue people and yet this rescue always involves a human response.
In my life a significant area in which I have felt the tension between God’s activity and the human response has been my call to be a pastor. Through seminary there was a growing sense of confirmation that I was meant to enter the ministry. However, after eight months of looking for a place to serve, it seemed like I was going no where. A few years later when I was in a similar position of looking for my next pastoral role it was over a year of waiting. In these and other instances God has continued to say to my heart, “Yes, I want you to serve me as a pastor.” But the internal sense of calling and the external reality of being offered a position, don’t seem to run on the same track.
When I came to Providence to serve as a church planting fellow part of the position was to ascertain whether I was supposed to work with Trinity and start a church somewhere. Through the time of fundraising leading up to our arrival in Providence and over the four months we’ve been here there has been a growing awareness that God wants us to go forward in beginning a new church. The big question, was whether the leadership of Trinity would feel the same. And just recently they said yes.
This endorsement is important in that God works through people to lead us. There is a great passage in St. Paul’s letter to Timothy (a younger guy he was mentoring) that follows these lines. Paul says, “Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you.” In Timothy’s life is a gift and call to ministry that comes from God but is somehow confirmed or conferred by man. Here we see agreement between God’s supernatural working and the discernment of Christian leadership. This mutual confirmation is meant to propel Timothy forward in service to God.
Ultimately our call to beginning a new church comes from God but it is essential that it be confirmed. Going forward there will be great challenges so I need to know that I did not enter this path simply by my own decision. Our movement towards church planting was not pursued in a vacuum but under the guidance of the leaders of Christ’s church. God wants me to have great confidence in his call and so strengthen me for a more vibrant ministry. Without such confirmation we would not go forward.
With all the benefits of the confirmation of God’s calling, I also need to guard myself against an inordinate desire for the endorsement of people. There are important ways in which I cannot look to the endorsement that comes from man. In politics you look for the right groups to stand behind you so you gain power. In sports endorsements come with incredible financial payback and a sense of personal aggrandizement. On the back of books the positive reviews of important figures cement your reputation as a person of intelligence and sophistication.
I must not look for such endorsement. As much as I need the confirmation of my calling to come through God’s appointed leaders, I can’t look to any person or group of people for a confirmation of my worth, for some sense of importance, or for an identity outside of what God has already given me in Jesus. I need to have the right perspective of listening to others for confirmation of God’s direction without listening for a substitute of God’s love and validation.