Two Unlikely Enemies of God-Honoring Ministry

Enemies

Last week, my reading plan took me to Mark 14:3-9, which describes a woman (identified as Mary in John) who anoints Jesus using a very expensive jar of perfume. It is a passage I have read and heard many, many times. Mark reports that some at the gathering were indignant that a three-hundred-denarii jar of oil—worth 300 days of wages for a day laborer—was wasted on such an elaborate display of affection toward Jesus. They would have rather, we are told, the “ointment of pure nard” be sold and spent on the poor.

When I have encountered this story in the past, my attention has typically been on the hypocrisy of Judas Iscariot. John tells us that his reason for protesting the “waste” of the oil was not because of his concern of the poor, but because he made a habit of lining his own pockets with money from the disciples’ common treasury. (We are not told whether the other disciples’ motives were pure or not.) For me, it has always been a simple story of Mary choosing to honor Jesus in a significant and sacrificial way, something that we need to remember is just as important as loving the poor in word and in deed.

But this time, I saw something else in the story. As I read it and re-read it, I could not shake the feeling that I have far more in common with the disciples in this story than I would like to admit. Clearly they did not have the right attitude, especially in comparison to Mary’s. But what was it about their attitude that wasn’t right? As I thought about it, I realized their negative reaction to Mary’s act of worship revealed two road blocks to Christ-centered ministry. These road blocks are so significant, I think, that we really ought to call them enemies of Christ-centered ministry. Here they are:

1) Practicality

It’s human nature to be practical. I love talking about theology and philosophy of ministry, but at the end of the day, I usually choose the course of action as a leader that I think will “work.” And that’s not usually a bad thing. When you read the accounts of Paul’s ministry travels in Acts and his epistles, there is a very practical side to his planning. In ministry, it would be unwise for me to not try to develop a strategy that I think is practical. This fall when we planned our fall Small Group Connect event where people can get into a new small group, I chose the date and time I thought would allow the most people to attend possible.

But I also know that I’m often guilty of only being practical when it comes to ministry. When I focus just on what is practical and what “works,” I start to rely on myself and my own wisdom rather than God’s. In addition, I also forget to step back and ask God to show me what he is doing from his point of view. I think that’s why the disciples were so upset—at least those not named Judas Iscariot. When they saw what Mary did, they only could see what ministry could be done for 300 denarii. But Mary was doing something different. This wasn’t just an act of worship; Mary was preparing Jesus’ body for burial, foreshadowing the suffering he was about to experience for her and for the others in the room. Mary’s move was anything but practical; but from God’s point of view it made perfect sense.

The way this usually shows up in ministry is when we try to copy what’s working for other churches and ministries, or when we try to recreate past successes. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not trying to say it’s bad to learn from the wisdom of others who have been there. However, when we try to replicate something that someone else has done only because it “worked” for them, we’re really only thinking about the results of ministry, rather than asking God what he wants to accomplish through us.

2) Efficiency

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines efficiency as “the ability to do something or produce something without wasting materials, time, or energy.” In other words, efficiency is getting from Point A to Point B using the fewest resources or the least time.

Most leaders love efficiency. Since I live in the nonprofit world, anything that can be done in less time for fewer financial resources is usually considered a positive. Being a good steward of resources in this way is a part of pastoral leadership. However, there are times when being efficient isn’t necessarily the best—or right—thing to do.

Those who witnessed what Mary did considered her act a waste of resources. Her choice to use expensive perfume in such a way scored pretty low on the Return on Investment scale. If she wanted to honor Jesus in some way, surely she could have chosen a different method that was a more efficient use of resources!

But sacrifice isn’t always efficient.

There are times when following Jesus means not taking the shortest distance from Point A to Point B. And there will be times when loving others involves spending all day with one person when you could have used that time to tackle several other ministry-related tasks. Faithful ministry rarely resembles pinpoint precision or a well-oiled machine.

I’ve found that efficiency is often an enemy of ministry. This isn’t a call to be disorganized or careless. Rather, it’s a call to rely on God’s roadmap and God’s plans rather than our own. Perhaps the reason God’s plans don’t always seem very efficient to us is because he has all the time and resources he needs to accomplish his will.

The True Meaning of Christmas, by Linus (and Charlie Brown)

A Christmas Eve tradition in our house is to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas and reflect on the true meaning of Christmas. This scene gets me every time.

Merry Christmas from the McVeigh family!

What Does It Mean to Preach the “Gospel”?

TheGospelImagine for me a preacher who is about to step onto a platform with a microphone over his ear and a Bible in his hand. A couple of friends approach the preacher, asking if they could pray for him. The preacher, grateful, nods solemnly and says, “I need it; I’m going to give them the gospel.”

Pause that scene for a moment. What do you assume the preacher is going to be preaching about? For most of us, what comes to mind is likely a message that centers around our sin, our need for redemption, and Jesus’ crucifixion. And such a message is absolutely the gospel, a message that we all need to hear, understand, and agree with in our own lives.

But is that all the gospel is? Or is there more that we sometimes leave out? The “gospel” is multi-faceted, able to be viewed from a variety of angles, each with its own beauty and magnificence. Each angle is important, though none gives us a clear picture of the gospel on its own. When we boil the gospel down to one simple message, we miss out on a large part of it.

It’s not that one can’t have a saving relationship with Jesus without a full understanding of each angle. In fact, no one this side of heaven could possibly have a full picture of the “good news.” Just as we grow in our understanding of who God is, we can grow in our understanding of the gospel. And doing so should give us a fuller appreciation of the beauty of a God who rescues us. Here are a few angles we can view the gospel from:

God planned

Ephesians 1:4 says, “…even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” Before we ever were born — indeed, before the creation of the world — God planned to rescue and redeem us.

In fact, throughout the Old Testament God points to Jesus and the redemption that would come through him. Abraham was counted as righteous not because of his actions, but because of his trust in God (Genesis 15).Continue Reading

Video of the Week: Quit Outsourcing Your Kids to Youth Group

Another awesome conversation on youth ministry from the Gospel Coalition. The full article (found here) highlights the Rooted conference, which looks really cool. Check it out:

Quit Outsourcing Your Kids to Youth Group from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

Video of the Week: "Don’t Rob the Youth" from the Gospel Coalition

I love this conversation about the role of youth ministry in the local church, especially the question of how to integrate students into the broader church. Well worth five minutes of your time:

Don’t Rob the Youth from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

Video of the Week: Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell – The God Debate

Comedians Jamie Kilstein and John Fugelsang square off in a pop debate about the existence of God. This video could be a really good discussion starter on apologetics, the existence of God, or simply popular views about Jesus and Christianity. Check it out:

Video of the Week: "Though You Slay Me" (featuring John Piper)

Love, love this from Shane and Shane. And the message excerpt from John Piper just completes it. Great song on God and suffering:

Video of the Week: Sermon Series on the Apocalypse

Roy, our lead pastor, started a sermon series this past week on the Apocalypse. I really enjoyed the first week; check it out and follow along in the coming weeks:

“The Great Tribulation”_Aug. 11, 2013 from The Heights Community on Vimeo.

A Theology of Tragedy in Youth Ministry

There is something about a high-profile tragedy that brings to light the fact that our world is very, very broken. Yes, on some level, we understand that the victims of violence at the Boston Marathon yesterday represented but a fraction of number of victims of the violent crimes that occurred yesterday in our country and our world. But when the violence occurs on such a large stage, we cannot avoid the news and we are forced to grapple with the questions that inevitably enter our minds when we see such brokenness. At our church office, we paid special attention to the news, as Roy Gruber, our lead pastor was running in the marathon. After about twenty minutes of tension, we finally heard he was safe, having finished the race almost an hour before the explosions turned a scene of joy into a cloud of chaos.

When such events force us to pick up the rock of our humanity and see the dark underside, as youth workers we need to be prepared to help teenagers–and their families–navigate through their emotions and questions. This week, your regularly-scheduled-plan will likely be interrupted with questions about yesterday’s tragedy or others like it, such as the Newtown shooting that occurred only months ago. Any youth worker worth his or her salt needs to have worked through a theology of tragedy. Otherwise, the words we offer may be empty, irrelevant, and not based in Truth. Here are some ways to help frame the conversations you may have with teenagers this week:

This world is broken because of sin. Yes, this one seems obvious, but it’s an important piece of groundwork to lay in any conversation about tragedy. There is good, there is evil, and it’s healthy to distinguish between the two. Even in the case of natural disasters, we can conclude that sin is what broke our world.

God is present, and he is good (and this can be seen in the people he created). When we see pain, it’s natural and logical to ask where God is and whether he is truly benevolent. Of course, there is no “silver bullet” answers to those questions, but I appreciated what John Piper tweeted yesterday: “In the looping video of Boston’s explosion ponder the reflex of empathy of many running toward the wounded not toward safety.” Even in the midst of pain, God’s mercy can be seen.

Evil of this magnitude exists each day in our world. Forty-four people in the U.S. are murdered every day, not to mention the violence, abuse, and slavery that exists around the world. This is not to diminish tragedies that do happen to catch our attention. My point is that in a month or so, the tragedy of the Boston Marathon will be forgotten my most people and media outlets, and we will also be lulled into forgetting we live in a broken world. A proper view of the world will see that things are not as they should be in our world, and it’s okay to grieve.

Jesus came to heal, mend, and reconcile. I was already preparing to speak this Sunday on Luke 4 in which Jesus says he fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy of a Messiah who would come to heal, mend, and reconcile:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
    and recovering of sight to the blind,
    to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Jesus came not just to save us for some far-off world called Heaven. He came to heal, to mend, and to set us free by reconciling us to himself through the cross. Our brokenness will mend, and Jesus is healing our world even now. One day there will be a day when “He will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

Jesus calls us to do something. We are not saved so that we can be arm-chair theologians who can’t take our eyes away from the TV screen every time a tragedy strikes that warrants 24-news coverage. We are called to do something. Perhaps there is nothing practical that the teenagers you work with can do to help in Boston, but there are plenty of hurting people in our world and in your community that need to be loved and served. By all means, answer the questions teenagers will ask you this week to the best of your ability. But at some point we have to say, “I don’t have all the answers, but I know there’s something I can do to love someone in Jesus’ name, and I think that’s what God is asking us to do.” If the teenagers you work with want to respond in some way, help them find a way they can serve others.