Monday, March 29, 2010

Gone bananas

I've been watching this hand of overripe bananas for a few days. Seven-year-old Gabby chose them on a trip to Costco and I knew at the time they wouldn't all be eaten in time. Gabby had chosen a large hand of perfectly ripe bananas. They started getting spots the next day, and kept getting riper. I finally confronted Gabby asking her, "When are you going to bake me banana bread?" She replied, "I don't know how." I asked her if that was a good excuse. She smiled, turned to her mom and asked, "Mom, will you teach me how to make banana bread?" Lisa produced a folder containing several banana bread recipes, and asked Gabby to study them and decide which one she wanted to make. Gabby came up with chocolate bottom banana squares. After dinner, I asked a question about the dessert, and Gabby answered me as an expert. I'm sure we'll see more banana desserts in days to come.

As a home school family, we are trying to teach the girls that not knowing is merely an opportunity for learning. Twelve-year-old Claire, not content with the work I had assigned her, used my email account this weekend to send herself an assignment she wanted to do. I'm pleased when the little girls are eager learners.

Sometimes we're tempted to operate within our realm of comfort. We don't feel competent to do what we have not been trained to do. Friday night, Claire was at a preteen event with Lisa, so Gabby and I went to Wendy's on a "date." As I was driving, Gabby asked me if she could get her ears pierced. Poor, Claire. Her ears weren't pierced until she was eleven. From the time she was five, every time she asked to get her ears pierced, I answered her the same way, "If you think you can handle the pain . . ." This unknown deterred her for about six years. Gabby has the benefit of seeing that Claire's pain was minimal, and she doesn't want to wait until age eleven. I suggested that Gabby wait a few days until her oldest sister, Cara, came home. Gabby was excited by the idea. I told her, "I'm sure Cara will want to pierce your ears." Gabby, exclaimed, "Not her, I want someone with talent!" Until that moment, I had never thought of ear piercing as a talent.

In the spiritual realm, Christians often look at themselves and others making judgments regarding qualifications for ministry. We train a professional clergy that the laity is then expected to pay. This so-called clergy produces résumés listing their theological credentials. Among themselves, they specialize as counselors, administrators, "pulpiteers," among other operational silos. We want people with talent, and we're willing to pay big bucks to recruit them! What does God want?

The notion of a professional clergy is un-Biblical. In Revelation 2, Jesus condemned the practices of the Nicolaitans, those who would rule over the laity. Likewise, when Jesus spoke with Nicodemus ("ruler of the people"), he told him, "You must be born again" – you have to start over from the beginning – your credentials get you nowhere. Jesus warned us against trusting professionals to lead God's people; just ask the Pharisees and Sadducees of the first century!

For his disciples Jesus chose unlikely candidates – fishermen and tax collectors – certainly no scholars. The Apostle Paul was religious, a Pharisee, but Jesus turned Paul's world upside down. After Paul's conversion, he retreated to Arabia for three years to unlearn all that he had been taught his entire life. It was another fourteen years before Paul even met Peter and John. Paul was no man's protégé. Nor did Paul boast of his credentials; he considered them to be excrement according to Philippians 3:7. English Bible translations are often a little more genteel, but Paul used a vulgarity to describe his personal qualifications. In 2 Corinthians, Paul explained the way it is supposed to work,

Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

2 Corinthians 3:4-6 (NIV)

The word translated in the NIV as "letter" can also be translated "contract." In other words, Paul did not see his competence coming from human credentials or certifications. Paul didn't even rely on papers of ordination. He told the Galatians that Peter, James, and John added nothing to his ministry. He called them "those who seemed to be important," saying, "Whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance." Galatians 2:6 (NIV) Paul's competence didn't come from some man-made ecclesiastical hierarchy, it came from God through faith in Jesus Christ. Paul knew that this departed from human reason; in 1 Corinthians 4 he described himself as a "fool for Christ." He had, in a manner of speaking, "gone bananas," but by so doing, he became a man that God could use.

The church, of course, has drifted far from this belief, but this needn't impact the way the individual lives and serves. If we believe in Christ, we are competent as ministers of his New Covenant because he makes us competent. Of course, rather than relying on diplomas or other letters of commendation, we instead have to rely on him. He is our talent. The work of the ministry does not belong to the professional; rather, it belongs to the ones acknowledging their insufficiency and dependence on Christ.

In a sense, we need to approach Christian ministry with the faith of a child confident she can make banana bread as long as she has guidance through the process. Our guidance does not come from moldy pages of church doctrine and stale traditions. Our guidance comes from the Holy Spirit who opens our eyes to the Holy Scriptures and empowers us to do what God wills.

We begin this process by acknowledging not our qualifications, but our incompetence! Then by faith we trust Christ to be competent through us.

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