Earlier this week, I had an experience that I never expected.
Life is full of those, you might say. And you would be correct.
Walking with God means that He will surprise us at times, you might say. Again, you would be correct.
But there are times when something really, really is as unexpected as it gets – and I am not sure that we are simply supposed to go through such an experience without processing it properly. And on this occasion, I cannot set down all of the journeys my mind has taken since this experience – but I do want to share something of this journey with you.
Ravi Zacharias has said that a call to ministry is often discerned in hindsight. In my case, that has certainly been part of the story. I was called to music ministry first, and the weird thing was that I knew that God was calling me to something, but I didn’t get what it was (that’s a long story). Then, He called me to academic theology. This confused lots and lots of people – not least myself, and is itself a long story. But the last part of this initial tripartite call was to pastoral ministry. That was a public appeal, the first one of that particular nature to which I have ever responded, and there were seventeen others who joined me in responding to the call of God on that occasion.
Those calls all happened at two-year-intervals, but when I look back, I see just how so much of all three of them was interwoven into my life long before the first call came, and how God was priming me for pastoral ministry long before the third call came.
The challenges of responding to God have been entirely profound. For starters, not everyone has understood the nature of this call, and not everyone has accepted the terms under which I have expressed it. There are those who think that the Church does not need theologians, just pastors (and therefore administrators) and evangelists and Bible workers. There are others who can see precisely what God is doing with the academic side of theology in my life and ministry (including some who were initially skeptical) who now think that music is a complete waste of time and that I ought not to be bothering with it.
Of course, there are those for whom I will always (and maybe only ever, in some cases) be a musician, first and foremost.
Here is what all interested parties need to know: If I had to choose just one calling, after my experiences with God so far in 2012, I would have to say: academic theology. But as it is, the question is in every way a non-question. It is a non-question, because God Himself ordained that I should make music. And I did NOT call myself to pastoral ministry. So, why try to do academic theology as well?
Because I too can say with the Great Apostle that God had a plan for my life from before my birth. And this plan involved having two parents who brought some very, very contrasting sets of DNA into my life that has prepared me to be a questioning Christian – indeed, a questioning Seventh-Day Adventist. And this week, as I returned by coincidence to the university where God called me to pastoral ministry – the third and most public of the three calls, I got the strongest sense that I was on a pilgrimage of some sort.
I can’t really explain all that was in my head as I returned to that campus, but it was nothing to do with having a genuine spiritual or religious experience. That is why it was so unexpected. And then I realised that this trip I was making was not a coincidence. God had a plan for this one long before I even knew I’d be making that journey!
As I walked through the (beautiful) campus grounds, I re-thought my whole journey through all three calls. I realised all over again the staggering profundity of what God has done in my life. More than music, and more than working pastorally with people, it is the intensity of the theological task ahead for Bible-believing Christians for which my parents have given me the least raw material. In fact, they are confused as many of you guys at this thing that I do that is called ‘philosophical theology.’ And I intend to talk about all these things here on this blog, because Hosea 4:6 has NEVER been more appropriate than in these end times.
There, in the place where I received my third call, I found myself in a library where I saw some books that I have never seen before in the six years in which I have been reading heavy-duty theology. And what I read in some of those books has helped me to understand myself, my family, my church and the Church better than ever before.
But the news was not good. Not good at all. Today, on this Sabbath morning as I complete this post before heading to church, I want to stand up on the wall of Zion and blow a trumpet and say to my fellow believers that a complete revolution of THOUGHT is required before we can begin to win the battle for secular hearts and minds here in Anglo-European society, but even in Euro-American society (where atheism is rising faster than ever in very recent times).
But do you know the scary thing?
Before our minds can change, our bodies have to change. And as part of that, our hearts have to change. We have to become a different people. Why do secular folk not run to us to ask us about the hope that we have in our hearts (which should be in Jesus…)? Because they see very little evidence that this hope has made any difference in our lives.
As I continue to reflect on this situation, something else has come to mind. The circumstances of my life led me to spend the last two years of secondary school (high school) specialising in three subjects:
- Religious Studies – which was divided into New Testament Studies and Philosophy
- English Literature
Just over a week ago from the date of this post, I realised that I was being called to set up a proper little independent ministry enterprise that is designed to contribute to this revolution of thought that is required. This ministry is going to be based around this public writing that I do here on the internet. I have had some brilliant English teachers who must take some of the credit for my understanding of language and literature. All three of those areas are now integral to my identity – and therefore my ministry.
Truly, nothing in my life has been by chance or coincidence. God does not make mistakes. This is how the story continued:
- 2005 – call to music ministry
- 2007 – call to academic theology
- 2009 – call to pastoral ministry
Two-year intervals, like I said. Since then, this is what God has done:
- 2010 – confirmed that He wants me to be a pastor and take care of His sheep and lambs
- 2011 – confirmed that He really does want me to share faith in music to the highest possible standard
- 2012 – confirmed that academic theology – and especially philosophical theology – is EXACTLY what I’m supposed to be doing
So, in conclusion:
Personal Vision/Mission Statement: to share the gospel message (as an Adventist) to the highest standard of which I am capable using both words and music.
Is all this just too big for one weak human being?
But if that human being has died and Jesus Christ’s life is being lived instead, then actually, it becomes highly plausible. So for those of you who are genuinely confused as to why I don’t just do one thing and live a simple life – you should know that I’m not the only person in this life (and in ministry) doing more than one thing – and doing it well. These are not my gifts, this is not my calling and this is not my ministry. Only the ministry of Jesus Christ can truly be redemptive, and when humanity says ‘yes’ to divinity and Divinity itself takes over – it is Divinity who decides what is and is not possible.
That is why, even last night, I realised once again that allowing myself to doubt any part of this tripartite calling is doubting God. And those of you in my church who have unwittingly been used by the enemy to bring discouragement to my life and question this vocation – you have played your part in strengthening my grasp of this vision, so God used you too. So if you have read this and you are one of those people, nothing I do ought to surprise you. And please don’t be hurt or offended if you try to point me in any other direction and I refuse to take you seriously. Some of you good folks out there in my wider church community really don’t get what I’m about and why. I truly hope that this post can to help you understand that the things I do in ministry are what I am supposed to be doing and I can never fit into any other box.
For the rest of my life, I am going to live out my own vision/mission statement. I look forward to your continued company on the road!