Ministry for the Sake of Christ and the World

By Joe LaGuardia

I had a conversation with a Navy veteran yesterday who served as a flight-deck officer for nearly 25 years.  I thanked him for his service and was grateful that he had sacrificed his safety in order to protect our freedom.

He reminded me of the time I wanted to serve in the armed forces too.

I was a senior in high school when recruiters visited our classes and encouraged us to make a sacrifice for our country.  They visited on behalf of the Marines, the Army, the Navy, the Coast Guard.  My uncle had served in the Air Force, and I felt compelled to look into serving in that particular branch.  I am afraid of heights, but since I wore glasses I figured that they would not let me fly airplanes anyway.

When I came home to tell my father, he was not happy.  I did not understand why he was frustrated, and I began to explain all of the great things that can result from serving our country, and Uncle Joe served so why not?  Dad wanted me to go to college instead.

Although I trusted and followed my father’s advice, I still remember clearly–more clearly than ever when I spoke with that Navy vet yesterday–of the feelings I had in wanting to serve in something bigger than me, to make a sacrifice on behalf of a nation I loved and people that I longed to protect.

Since then, there were only two other times when I had that profound feeling of being called to something so profoundly inspiring.  One time was when I worked as a teacher assistant for an online college course through Ashford University.  It was a writing class, and many students I assisted were in the military or just released from the military.  Educating our troops and vets was my way of helping our nation yet again.

The second time came in college when I heard Christ calling me into the ministry.  I had gone through a litany of career options, praying for the right job that would allow me to serve others while supporting a family.  When it came down to either vocational ministry or practicing law, I met with my New Testament professor, and he gave me the lecture most of us ministry students receive.  Its the advice from the old Buechner adage that says that your calling is found where your deepest passion intersects with the world’s deepest needs.  I plunged headlong into ministry.  My father was happy.

Although I love church and ministry–I know I’m called to this because I cant’ do anything else–I often forget why I got into this business in the first place.  Yes, the Holy Spirit swayed my heart and Christ compelled me to serve His church as a full-time minister.  But there was also that profound feeling of serving others, the very same feelings I had when I spoke with those Air Force recruiters in the halls of Stoneman Douglas High School.

I think that when we ministers forget the source of our inspiration and the emotional reasons why we responded to God’s call–logic aside!–we forget the joy and passion that we are to bring to our vocation in church.

And I wonder if one of the reasons why churches plateau or die is partly because of us: We somehow lose that feeling of joining God at work for the sake of the world, and we fail to inspire others as our own passion dies a slow death under the weight of sermon preparation, balancing a congregation’s expectations with being true to yourself, and doing the busy administrative work that churches require.

I figure that if you do not have a love for every aspect of church and forget to rely on Christ’s love to fill you–whether visiting someone in the hospital or making a copy of your time sheet for your church administrator–then you might as well close shop and go home.

I enjoyed my conversation with that old veteran yesterday, and together we enjoyed a good meal as we celebrated a newlywed couple whose wedding I had just performed.  More significantly, I enjoyed what the conversation reminded me of: That we who call Christ Lord are to give of ourselves, and that there is no higher calling than to serve Jesus…To give one’s life for the sake of others, for there is no greater honor and privilege.

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This Memorial Day, commit to waging peace

I was delighted when my parents told me that they had finally joined a Mennonite church in Pennsylvania.  I was glad, but one thing was on my mind: I wondered how my dad managed to join a church known for its pacifism.

“Seriously, Dad,” I said, “Your answer for every conflict in the world is, ‘Nuke ’em.’  How did they let you in at that church?”

Dad's answer to many a conflict...

Although there are times when I think my father is a rare breed among men, I do realize that his worldview is representative of so many Christians in our nation.  He, like so many others, has always been one to reconcile his faith with America’s gung-ho foreign policy.

My question to Dad, however, was about the deeper issue related to Jesus, who not only practiced nonviolence wherever he went, but urged his disciples to be peacemakers in a conflict-ridden world.

“Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus said in his sermon on the mount, “For they will be called children of God” (Matt. 5:9).

There was a time when I thought that warfare was the most effective means in combating evil in the world.  After all, I did grow up with my father, and we talked politics ever since my childhood.  But the more I got into God’s Word, however, the more I see that violence and war do not get us any closer to realizing God’s redemptive intentions for all creation.

This October will mark an entire decade in which America was at war with terrorists in Afghanistan.  Osama Bin Laden is dead, but politicians are still finding every reason to occupy a nation that has yet to become self-sufficient.  One more year of fighting, and Afghanistan will rival the Vietnam War in length and cost.

The impetus of Jesus’ peacemaking agenda is that violence only begets violence.  Forgiveness and diplomacy are not only effective measures for building networks for reconciliation, they are also means of breaking the cycles of violence in our midst.

Kim Phuc, caught on camera as a young girl in South Vietnam running from Nepalm bombing, will speak on forgiveness at this year's Baptist Peace Fellowship's conference

Just consider the possible implications of Bin Laden’s death: Yes, we rid the world of an evil mastermind, but there will be others who will take his place.  Our nation, like any other, is called to defend itself with military might, but I pray that the days of unilateral, preventative war are over.

Thankfully, we still live in the shadow of the empty tomb, a reminder that violence does not have the final say. Jesus’ resurrection was the subversive nonviolent resistance that broke the chains of violence forever.

In one of his memoirs, pacifist leader John Drear writes: “The nonviolent Jesus has risen above injustice, poverty, and violence.  He is risen despite war…Christ is risen above the culture of death.  A bold announcement–and we’re called to prove it.

“We prove it with the boldness of our own lives, our faith, our nonviolent resistance to the forces of death.  Which is to say, we must share the peacemaking life of the risen Jesus.”

This Memorial weekend, we invite you to worship at Trinity Baptist Church tomorrow at 10:30 AM.  Ours is a church that celebrates the bravery and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform.  Ours is also a church that challenges people to live in obedience to God’s Word, whether they be folks who think like my dad, folks who think like me, and the plenty of folks who find a home somewhere in between.