Kaleo San Diego Church
Transformissional Calling Part II
"By calling I mean that God calls us so decisively in Christ that everything we are, everything we have, and everything we do is invested with a direction and a dynamism because it is done in response to His summons and His call."-Os Guinness
1 Corinthians 1:9: "God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord."
Mark 2:17: "And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.'"
Ephesians 4:1-2: "I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love"
(Play "What is your calling?" clip.)
Last week we talked about our need for purpose and meaning as creatures, and without purpose, meaning and value we easily slip into boredom and apathy. One causes us to feel indifferent to things around us, another causes us to feel indifferent to ourselves or someone else, but both leave us with a desire for desires.
This quest to find meaning in our lives is one few are willing to take on because of the great weight of such an endeavor and the great fear that creeps up our spine when we think of not finding such an answer. Most choose to entertain themselves to death to keep these questions muffled under the noise of our radio, iPod, movie, X-box, recreation, or anything else that will drown out what our hearts yearn to know.
Yet we are made for so much more than cheap thrills. As Augustine said:
"You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You, O Lord."
You can see from this clip how irritating this question of purpose or calling can be. Some offer quick pseudo-philosophical statements while others choose to ignore the question all together. Some are honest enough to simply say, "I don't know."
But this is frustrated by the sad truth that we are the 20th of the world's great civilizations we know of through history, yet this is the first of all civilizations that has no agreed-upon meaning for what the purpose of life is. In other words, we have yet answer to the most profound question asked for thousands of years.
Why are we here? Why do we exist? What is our purpose?
There was an episode of the television series Everybody Loves Raymond a few years ago, and the typically dumbfounded Raymond attempts to answer his daughter's questions about the origin of life. However, when he begins to ask more questions, he finds that Ally isn't as interested in how babies are made as much as she is curious as to why any of us exists. She presses Raymond and asks, "Why are we born? Why does God put us here? If we all go to heaven when we die, then why does God want us here first? Why are we here, Daddy?
Of course, caught off guard, Raymond puts aside his books on the birds and the bees and grapples with this more fundamental problem. After several awkward moments of fumbling and confusion, he finally blurts out that God put us here on earth to ease the congestion in heaven. It must be crowded up there, so God created this planet as a temporary measure until he could free up more space for everyone. Raymond recognizes the silliness of his response even as he's saying it, and finally aware that he has no answer, he pretends to have a sneezing fit and runs out of the room.
The interesting part comes when Raymond shares this embarrassing encounter with the rest of his family. His pragmatic wife, Debra, doesn't know what to say either, but she's furious that her bumbling husband left their daughter with nothing more than a lame response about celestial overcrowding. She orders Raymond to go tell Ally that "God put us on earth to help each other. It's simple and direct. It's a good way for her to live her life."
Raymond realizes that this doesn't really answer the question, "Why did God make us humans in the first place?" When the rest of his family learns of Ally's questions, they adopt various positions. Speaking from a naturalistic position (there is no God, for nothing exists beyond this world), Raymond's father pushes the questions aside. He suggests that all this talk about the meaning of life is non-sense. He concludes, "Here's what life is: You're born, you got to school, you go to work, you die. That's it. That's all."
Raymond's brother, troubled by such an easy dismissal, takes a nihilistic view (there is no meaning in life). He wonders why there is anything at all. Why is there something rather than nothing, and why is he one of those somethings? He observes that a fruit fly lives for a single day. Where is the meaning in that brief life? And if there is no meaning for a fruit fly, perhaps there is no meaning for us either. In the end, all this gloomy talk about the purpose of life leaves him depressed.
Raymond's mother plays the naïve Christian. She quickly skims through the Bible and eventually pulls a verse out of proverbs that has no relevance to the question. Debra loses patience with her approach and reminds her mother-in-law that "religious scholars spend their entire lives trying to answer this question. You're not going to just flip through the Bible and find the meaning of life."
The episode ends when Raymond and Debra, frustrated by the silly suggestions of their family, decide to go upstairs together to take their best shot at Ally's question. However, when they enter her room, they immediately see that, unlike the rest of the family, Ally isn't terribly disturbed by her question. She forgot all about it, and now she's wrapped up in a tickle-fight with her younger brothers as she giggles loudly. Ray and Debra watch their children play for several moments and then smile knowingly to each other, content that they have finally discovered the answer they were seeking.
So, the point of the episode seems to be that there is no point in worrying about the meaning of life. If you do, you'll only become distraught like Raymond's brother. There is no answer to the reason why, so we might as well follow the example of our children and learn to enjoy ourselves. As Raymond says to his wife as they kiss goodnight, "We've learned a lot from them (the kids) today. There is something to be said for childlike innocence."
This story is a great representation of our current view of the question. In the absence of any meaningful response, we are left only with a distraction to the question as our answer. The characters conclude there is no answer, and they pass off this non-answer as if it were an answer. This might satisfy a child's temporary curiosity, but it can not calm the troubled heart that is wrestling with why they should remain living.
Thankfully, God does not leave us without an answer. His Word shows us that we were created in His image so that we would enjoy three deeply satisfying and productive relationships: with God, with other people, and with the earth itself.
Nowhere in the 22 minutes of Everybody Loves Raymond does anyone mention that perhaps the reason God has placed us on this earth is to know Him better. If, as most of the characters assume, "God has put us here," then our purpose in life should certainly involve Him.
Everything in our life is a signpost to God's transcendence. We are made to know Him and all that this life has to offer isn't experienced in a vacuum. We are to experience this life, and through our experience learn more of our God. Of course, there is the problem. Since we are made for His glory, and since everything we are, everything we do, and everything we think and feel is to relate directly to Him, we realize quickly that because of sin we don't always relate to all things in this way.
But we were made to hear His voice and come to Him. When Adam and Eve fell, God calls them and instead of coming to Him and confessing their sin, they run and try to hide from Him and cover their nakedness by their own hands.
Jesus says, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me" (John 10:27).
For many of us, we sense our longing for God in subtle ways. It may be a beautiful song or piece of art. It may be a movie which gives you a longing for more of God. For me, it's when my daughter comes running when I get home and jumps up to hug me and tells me, "I missed you, Daddy," or when she says, "You're the best Daddy ever." It is when my wife tells me how much she loves me and how happy she is that God gave me to her. There is a wave of gratitude that flows over me, gratitude to God that he would heap upon me such kindness and joy. The hugs and embrace reminds me that God is the goal of our love, and it makes me want to love Him more since I know it is where I can find my deepest longings met.
These moments fill us with intense pleasure and profound sadness. When we grasp the sheer joy and delight of being made by God for His glory and joy, our hearts swell with gratitude, yet at the same time we ache for something more. We love the temporary joy these moments bring, but in the end they only make our yearning more intense, reminding us that the true meaning of life must be found in something beyond them, something higher up and further in. The joys and wonders of life are merely scratching an itch.
But rather than pursue this itch to the source, many would prefer to just continue scratching. Even if we know it will never leave to a satisfied life until they rest in God. As long as we're alive, our constant scratching disguises the itch at the center of our lives. The moment we stop scratching and take a moment to think about our condition and all our activity, there is a dull ache that returns. Once again we're forced to choose: Shall we continue scratching, or shall we return to God, the one Person in the entire universe who can satisfy our cravings?
Defeating the God first, all things second notion
When our lives hit a patch of ice, we tend to over-steer. In other words, we jerk the wheel to the other side and this spins us out of control and into a ditch. We try to correct the problem by going in the complete opposite direction and end up wrecked.
As it relates to our meaning and purpose, our need for being called, this is certainly true as well.
Too many of us think that this life is nothing more than batting practice for our future, heavenly existence, so the only things that matter here are those few objects we can take with us into our real life that is yet to come.
This "spiritual" approach typically declares that the only things that matter in life are objects that last forever, such as the Word of God and souls. Since everything else will eventually burn up when the earth passes away, wise Christians will avoid too much contact with these earthly things and instead will invest their time, energy and resources in the only two things that really matter. As most believe, "The only reason we are still on this planet is to lead more souls to Christ."
Personal evangelism is a vital part of the Christian life. We should look for opportunities to share the incredible news of Christ with people who don't know Him. However, it isn't true that this is the only reason we exist. If we exist for His glory, and all things are to be done for His glory, then we need to rethink what "all things" means.
Think about this, we spend most of our time on tasks that we don't consider "spiritual." We brush our teeth, we take a shower, we mow the lawn, buy groceries, take our children to the park, read the newspaper, bake cookies, wash the car, iron our shirts, watch a movie-all of which we do, not so much because we are Christian but because we are human. Even those who get paid to be holy have to do so-called "menial tasks."
We're in deep trouble if leading souls to Christ is the only reason we remain on this planet, for most, perhaps 99.9 percent of what we do, is not that.
It's no reason most of us feel either worthless or bruised when we think about how we spend our time. So, we feel like we are unable to put into practice glorifying God into all our "other" tasks throughout the week.
Is there any way out of this cycle of guilt and irrelevance? Is Scripture really this unrelated to daily life, or does it speak to our normal routines in powerful ways? The meaning of life, according to Scripture, certainly includes reading God's Word and leading others to Christ, but it also includes much more than these "spiritual" activities. Scripture casts its vision for life so wide that it requires a broad structure, what we are calling a worldview, to comprehend it all.
God first, everything else second?
Most Christian leaders assume that we are to make God the Lord of our lives by making everything else unimportant or insignificant. We are told to spend all our time reading God's Word (though important), prayer (important), missions (important), evangelism (important), discipleship (important), and church attendance (important). Then once we have all these duties completed, we can use any left over time for other, secular matters, such as family, work, friends, recreation, the arts and sports.
Why is it that we must make so-called "spiritual values" in opposition to our earthly concerns? Rather than view life as a struggle between "spiritual" and "secular" values (which we talked about last week), why not view our all our endeavors as opportunities to pursue God's glory and kingdom values?
Then, activities like family outings, camping, golfing, football, and gardening are more than merely "not wrong," neutral escapes for those seeking diversions from spiritual values. Instead, they provide fresh opportunities for believers to extend God's kingdom in the world.
Except for a few monks in a monastery, most of us are setting ourselves up for failure if we fail to reorient our lives in this way. To be called by God means that our primary calling invades all other areas of our lives. It frees us from the feeling of failure and guilt because everything we do is under God's calling.
Every activity in all areas of our lives is an opportunity for His kingdom to be shown and treasured. Seeking fist the Kingdom of God will not mean that we ignore daily matters to focus upon evangelism or Bible reading, it will mean that in every area of life we are to live passionately to honor Him in all ways.
God the Creator has made every area of our lives; His preeminence includes rather than excludes each aspect of our existence.
"Instead of thinking that God's preeminence means that nothing else matters, it is precisely because God is number One in all we do that everything matters."
This is what it means to "walk worthy of the calling with which you've been called." In includes our relationships, our work, our recreation, art, gardening, reading poetry, watching movies, eating meals, vacationing, etc.
God's primacy is no longer located at the top of a list of duties to check off. God's primacy means that He alone is at the center all that we are and do. On the one hand we're saying that we need to keep the things of this world from choking our love for God, on the other hand we're saying that to rightly demonstrate our love for God means to actively participate in the world.
We are exercising our calling when we care for our families, work our jobs, and swing a golf club. Not because we're called to that, but because we're called to Him!
Our calling doesn't need to be a supernatural, special calling to a task; it needs to be a supernatural special calling to God. Then all our tasks are ways of working out our primary calling to "Follow Me" in every sphere of our existence.
Our Primary Call
Our primary call is, "by the Lord, to the Lord, for the Lord." Calling is always to someone, not to somewhere or to something first.
Our Secondary Call
Is what we do with our gifts in our primary call. The secondary is not primary, the primary is always first. We are to be always His is everything we do.
‘Call' in Scripture
Kale_ (to call, summon forth) and Kl_sis (calling, vocation) are used frequently in the NT.
In the Gospels, Jesus used ‘call' to describe His invitation to repent, turn to him and live for God's Kingdom. Jesus uses ‘call' for the summons of the Twelve to be with Him and to be sent out.
It's easy to misunderstand these call narratives as a change in occupation similar to what happens today to leave your ‘secular' occupation to go into ‘the ministry.' This was not the Gospel writers' purpose.
Calvin Seerveld's story:
My father is a seller of fish. We children know the business, too, having worked from childhood in the Great South Bay Fish Market, Patchoque, Long Island, New York, helping our father like a quiver full of arrows. It is a small store and it smells like fish. I remember a Thursday afternoon long ago when my dad was selling a large carp to a prosperous woman and it was a battle to convince her. ‘Is it fresh?' It fairly bristled with freshness, had just come in, but the game was part of the sale. They had gone over it anatomically together: the eyes were bright, the gills were in good color, the flesh was firm, the belly was even spare and solid, the tail showed not much waste, the price was right...Finally my dad held up the fish behind the counter, ‘Beautiful, beautiful! Shall I clean it up?' And she grudgingly assented, ruefully admiring the way the bargain had been struck, she said, ‘My, you certainly didn't miss your calling.'
Unwittingly she spoke the truth. My father is in full-time service for the Lord, prophet, priest, and king in the fish business...When I watch my dad's hands-big beefy and with broad stubby fingers, each twice the thickness of mine, they could never play a piano-when I watch those hands delicately split the back of a mackerel...when I know those hands peddled fish from the handlebars of a bicycle in the grim 1930's...twinkling at work without complaint, past temptations, always in faith consecratedly cutting up the fish before the face of the Lord-when I see that I know God's grace can come down to a man's hand and the flash of a scabby fish knife.
You see, this doesn't mean that we are destined to do that which we hate. This means that as we use our gifts to their fullest potential, our work may not make headline news, or receive awards, but if we are called by Him, the Caller, then our work is full-time ministry, everyone, everywhere, in everything!
This is how Luther could make this incredible statement:
Now you tell me, when a father goes ahead and washes diapers or performs some other simple task for his child and someone ridicules him as an effeminate fool-though that father is acting in the spirit just described and in Christian faith-my dear fellow you tell me, which of the two is most keenly ridiculing the other? God, with all His angels and creatures, is smiling-not because that father is washing diapers, but because he is doing so in Christian faith.
This passage comes after Paul has laid out for three chapters the beauty of God's grace, that it is all of grace. Keep in mind who we're talking about. This is Paul whom we've been discussing over the last couple of weeks, the man Saul who held the cloaks of the men who picked up stones and murdered Stephen, the first martyr, for His faith in Christ and his announcement that it was all of grace. Stephen declared to the Sanhedrin council, the ruling religious party in Israel, that their ways of relating to God were all wrong. They didn't know the Scriptures, they didn't know God, and their hope that by keeping God's Law and being moral and religious people not only would fail to save them, they became God's enemies because they were willing to kill the only truly Righteous One, Jesus the Lord.
Saul, the one who heard the claims of Stephen and was so infuriated by it that not only did he give consent to have him murdered, he received approval to seek out and find all those who would dare claim to believe in Christ. But One was seeking Him. Jesus came to this man and called Him to Himself. This call changed everything for Saul. He didn't and couldn't stay the same. Christ's words crushed every religious trophy that Saul was so proud of and changed his heart so that he would see that incredible beauty and splendor of grace-unmerited, undeserved, unsought grace. Favor poured out upon the head of one who we're pretty confident was previously rejoicing over the death of Jesus because they thought they won. Christ, risen from the dead, comes to Saul and makes him a man of grace.
Saul, who was also called Paul, saw the rest of his days with one goal in mind, to hear the call of God by grace and make Him known to all.
I remind you Paul's background so that you don't forget what kind of change took place in order to lead others to live in response to their call. He is no stranger to working hard, calling himself, and laboring to gain his security and identity. When he writes the letter to the Ephesians' church, he's meditating upon the riches of the One whom he met and who called him.
Paul as the called man writes his letters consistently with this pattern: "Here is what Christ has done, now live out of that incredible truth." "Bask in the riches of God's love and acceptance of you because of what Jesus has done and let your life demonstrate this truth in everything you do." Ephesians is no different. He lays out all of the incredible declarations of God's riches at Christ's expense and then starts this chapter with his usual "therefore" statements.
Paul does this for 11 chapters in Romans, then begins Romans 12 with "therefore." He lays out two incredible chapters in Colossians then in chapter three starts his appeal to their life and calling. He gives some of the most beautiful truths of what Christ did in humbling Himself in the first two chapters of Philippians, then starts three with his appeal to them to live out of this truth.
You see, Paul realizes that if any of us are going to change in any way that is lasting and profound, it has to be because of the One who has done it all for us first. He focuses our attention on Christ and His work and then reminds us of who we've been called to be.
Ephesians 4:1 has a contextual problem in it not because the word is a poor word but because we read it with a particular lens. When we read, "walk worthy of the calling with which you were called," we assume we are on the hook again to live up and make ourselves worthy by our walk. Is this what Paul is teaching considering what he's been through and what he's taught in the first three chapters? No. The word "axios" which is Greek for worthy should really be translated "responsive to" or "suitable to" your calling. It is a call to live out of a response of the truth that you're already worthy not to live to prove you're worthy. This changes everything.
If calling means nothing more than to gain my favor, then we are back to Saul's previous life and we're ultimately not being called to Christ but to ourselves. The very fact of calling implies a Caller. You are not just called to something, you're called to Someone! The Caller has called you to Himself and given you His royal robes and divine favor. This means we aren't supposed to attempt to stitch together our own garments or make ourselves suitable. The fact that we've been called is the power that we are His forever and are always called.