Friday, July 06, 2007

Professional pressure

Hard to believe but I actually wrote these words on my blog one month ago yesterday:

I'm typing this late on the evening of June 5th. Yes, June 5th. The low temperature tonight? 49. The high tomorrow? 76. Humidity during the day? 19%. It is San Diego-like wonderful in the Valley, known for its unrelenting summer heat. The smog has eased, the snow-peaked Sierras to the east are majestic, and the mercury is perfect (if only it could stay this way for, oh, about three more months)!

What a blessed, beautiful time to be alive and to be a child of the Creator.

Yesterday, the mercury peaked at 110 degrees in Fresno and the 10-day forecast doesn't show a single day with temps below 103 degrees.

But you know what? It is still a blessed, beautiful time to be alive and to be a child of the Creator!

This morning, the girls (and that includes Mandy, she is a girl you know!) and I return to the Bay Area to take part in the wedding ceremony tomorrow of Cory Holman and Joelle Harrington. Cory just graduated from Cal Poly and Joelle finished up her second year at Harding. They have frequented my classes at Tahoe the last several years and have become dear friends to me. Thankfully, their wedding on beautiful Mare Island promises to be a little more pleasant weather-wise thanks in part to some cool breezes off the north bay.

Meanwhile, back in Fresno tonight, the undefeated Woodward Park church softball team takes on Sun River at 7:00 (if you can stand the heat). I have thoroughly enjoyed getting back in the groove with softball. With the season winding down and the post-season tourney looming, it would be great to get a church league championship in the first year back!


My buddy, Allan Stanglin, and I have been feeding off one another recently in the quest to better understand the place of the church in relation to culture. For over two months now, my email inbox has housed the following excellent article by John Piper entitled "Brothers, We are not Professionals" (May 14, 2007 from Desiring God Daily Devotional at It is a penetrating call to ministry leaders to stay true to their God-given calling rather than conciliatory to the crush of the culture at large.

We pastors are being killed by the professionalizing of the pastoral ministry. The mentality of the professional is not the mentality of the prophet. It is not the mentality of the slave of Christ.

Professionalism has nothing to do with the essence and heart of the Christian ministry. The more professional we long to be, the more spiritual death we will leave in our wake. For there is no professional childlikeness (Matt. 18:3); there is no professional tenderheartedness (Eph. 4:32); there is no professional panting after God (Ps. 42:1).

But our first business is to pant after God in prayer. Our business is to weep over our sin (James 4:9). Is there professional weeping?

Our business is to strain forward to the holiness of Christ and the prize of the upward call of God (Phil. 3:14); to pummel our bodies and subdue them lest we be cast away (1 Cor. 9:27); to deny ourselves and take up the blood-spattered cross daily (Luke 9:23). How do you carry a cross professionally? We have been crucified with Christ; yet now we live by faith in the one who loved us and gave Himself for us (Gal. 2:20). What is professional faith?

We are to be filled not with wine but with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18). We are God-besotted lovers of Christ. How can you be drunk with Jesus professionally? Then, wonder of wonders, we were given the gospel treasure to carry in clay pots to show that the transcendent power belongs to God (2 Cor. 4:7). Is there a way to be a professional clay pot?

We are afflicted in every way but not crushed, perplexed but not driven to despair, persecuted but not destroyed, always carrying in the body the death of Jesus (professionally?) so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested (professionally?) in our bodies (2 Cor. 4:9-11).

I think God has exhibited us preachers as last of all in the world. We are fools for Christ's sake, but professionals are wise.

We are weak, but professionals are strong. Professionals are held in honor; we are in disrepute. We do not try to secure a professional lifestyle, but we are ready to hunger and thirst and be illclad and homeless. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become the refuse of the world, the offscouring of all things (1 Cor. 4:9-13).

Or have we?

Brothers, we are not professionals! We are outcasts. We are aliens and exiles in the world (1 Pet. 2:11). Our citizenship is in heaven, and we wait with eager expectation for the Lord (Phil. 3:20). You cannot professionalize the love for His appearing without killing it. And it is being killed.

The aims of our ministry are eternal and spiritual. They are not shared by any of the professions. It is precisely by the failure to see this that we are dying.

The life-giving preacher is a man of God, whose heart is ever athirst for God, whose soul is ever following hard after God, whose eye is single to God, and in whom by the power of God's Spirit the flesh and the world have been crucified and his ministry is like the generous flood of a life-giving river.

We are most emphatically not part of a social team sharing goals with other professionals. Our goals are an offense; they are foolishness (1 Cor. 1:23). The professionalization of the ministry is a constant threat to the offense of the gospel. It is a threat to the profoundly spiritual nature of our work. I have seen it often: the love of professionalism (parity among the world's professionals) kills a man's belief that he is sent by God to save people from hell and to make them Christ-exalting, spiritual aliens in the world.

The world sets the agenda of the professional man; God sets the agenda of the spiritual man. The strong wine of Jesus Christ explodes the wineskins of professionalism. There is an infinite difference between the pastor whose heart is set on being a professional and the pastor whose heart is set on being the aroma of Christ, the fragrance of death to some and eternal life to others (2 Cor. 2:15-16).

God, deliver us from the professionalizers! Deliver us from the "low, managing, contriving, maneuvering temper of mind among us." God, give us tears for our sins.

Forgive us for being so shallow in prayer, so thin in our grasp of holy verities, so content amid perishing neighbors, so empty of passion and earnestness in all our conversation. Restore to us the childlike joy of our salvation.

Frighten us with the awesome holiness and power of Him who can cast both soul and body into hell (Matt. 10:28).

Cause us to hold to the cross with fear and trembling as our hope-filled and offensive tree of life. Grant us nothing, absolutely nothing, the way the world views it. May Christ be all in all (Col. 3:11).

Banish professionalism from our midst, Oh God, and in its place put passionate prayer, poverty of spirit, hunger for God, rigorous study of holy things, white-hot devotion to Jesus Christ, utter indifference to all material gain, and unremitting labor to rescue the perishing, perfect the saints, and glorify our sovereign Lord.

Humble us, O God, under Your mighty hand, and let us rise, not as professionals, but as witnesses and partakers of the sufferings of Christ. In His awesome name. Amen.