In reading through Matthew 3 a few weeks ago I saw a paradox I have struggled with on both sides throughout my life. A struggle that vies religious standing with the divine gifting of the Holy Spirit. Let me explain:
The Pharisees and Sadducees were coming to see John, not to repent and be baptized, but rather to criticize him and at the same time show off their worldly religious credentials. John had none of these credentials and yet his ministry was booming. This unusual man clothed in camel's hair, who ate locusts and honey, did not have the high credentials these so called “learned” men did. But, God Himself had set apart this desert living nomad who daily changed the lives of the men and women who he helped bring to repentance.
It was a confusing situation to all those who looked at John's ministry from the outside with no change of heart. These men of religious standing had to be completely aghast as to what they were witness to as they approached John at the river. To them, John was not following the proper chain of command – the religious “laws” of the day. A law they had been told all of their lives would gain them proper recognition in the community as a man of God. And yet, here John was drawing in multitudes of people and changing their lives in ways each of them had probably only dreamed about when starting along their own path of religious devotion per the rule book.
Following the “rule book” is of course a loose term that does not apply directly to the bible or the Torah. Of course there were a lot of traditions within the Jewish community, as there is in the Christian community today, which were the basis for the rules they sought to follow to please God. But also over the years of fervently living for the Lord there were things added to the daily routines of these religious people which attempted to regulate faith, thus becoming a check off list developed for good measure. Unfortunately these men were so blinded by their religion that they didn't realize that the trade off of living by a list of rules ruled out living in faith each day with the God they said they were so devoted to. So that day when these men came to John, all that was left in their lives was the list of rules they lived by - which had become their god.
It is hard to watch people in Christian ministry today do the same thing. They jump through all the hoops the world says will make them effective in reaching people for Christ. But when they actually go out and try to make those methods effective, they fail sooner or later because they left God in the dust in the pursuit of applying the proper steps to do good ministry. As a backlash then you see these same people condemning real ministry, ministry which God is orchestrating not by human credentials but by the work of His Spirit. In their condemnation these men and women who feel they have hearts set on God, get their minds completely off the work of God so instead they can make some sort of level playing field for how they feel things should be working out per the rules they were taught to follow.
One minister's work I love to read, but who never went to seminary, is Jim Cymbala. I believe Mr Cymbala is one of the most effective men on God I have ever had the chance to hear speak. If you have never read any of his books on the work that God has allowed him to be part of at the Brooklyn Tabernacle I believe you are really missing out. This man's life is inspiring to say the least, just as I believe John the Baptist was to those who came to him and witness God at work in his life. A a man completely sold out on living for the Lord without any pretense.
As I thought about all of these things regarding credentials and effective ministry, I was drawn back to my own life and how God has worked in and through me in some rather unusual ways in areas I was not trained to work or do ministry in. I remember praying on and off over the years as to whether I should pursue further schooling in one area or another so that I would have more worldly credentials to put next to my name when moving forward with the plans God set before me. But, each time I did pray and listen, God would always lead me away from any formal education to yet instead minister through the opportunities He sent, solely gifted by the Holy Spirit for the task. Tasks I must admit were impossible on my own merit.
What about you? Do you find yourself challenged by a calling God has put in your life that you would not consider yourself capable to do on your own merit? Or, are you a rule keeper who is determined to make your life for God fit nicely into a specific list or plan you have been told is the foundation to effective ministry and the pursuit of God? I would challenge you today to seek God in faith alone and be willing to throw off those hindrances. God alone can give kingdom effective credentials. God alone promotes each one of us at the right time if we live for Him and follow Him alone in faith. And, God alone gives us the ability to be His mouthpiece, His hands, and His feet to a world that is so desperately seeking to see Him and hear from Him apart from religion – just Him alone...real Truth...real Light...real Love.