Archives For November 2005

Jeremiah 1:4-8; 20:7-10
Coastal Community Church, Virginia Beach, VA
© Andy Campbell, 11/27/2005

Ever since I was in high school, I was aware that God was calling me into ministry. And ever since high school, I have resisted that call. I thought that if I told God I’d go into ministry, he’d send me to some far off country where I didn’t know the language and I’d have to live in a hut out in the middle of nowhere. So I ignored God. My two chief excuses were “I’m too young” and “I’m not educated enough”.

When I thought of missionaries, I pictured people who were much further along in life than me and who had a vast knowledge of the Bible, had been to seminary, spoke several languages, and were naturally drawn towards other cultures. I didn’t fit those criteria so, I reasoned, I could not possibly serve God in that way.

But, I was also selfish. I wanted to live a comfortable life. I wanted to get married, have some kids, make a lot of money, retire early, and spend the rest of my days relaxing and having fun. I was ashamed to admit that to myself, and I dare not admit it to anyone else. I felt a lot like Manny the Mastodon. I could see very plainly what I needed to do, but I wasn’t going.

The prophet Jeremiah found himself in a similar situation. In the very first chapter of the book that bears his name we read,

The word of the Lord came to me, saying,

“Before I formed you in the womb I

knew you,

before you were born I set you

apart;

I appointed you as a prophet to the

nations.”

“Ah, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.”

But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.

-Jeremiah 1:4-8 (NIV)

Jeremiah used one of the same excuses I was found of: his youth. But God already had a response for that. He told Jeremiah that from the beginning, He had been preparing Jeremiah to do what He was calling him to do. That is true of us today, too. So what was Jeremiah being called to do? Who was it that God wanted him to go to and what did He want him to say?

Jeremiah lived about 600 years before Christ in Jerusalem. By that time, the people of Israel had split into two kingdoms. The northern kingdom was called Israel, and it’s capital was Samaria. The southern kingdom was called Judah and it’s capital was Jerusalem. About 120 years before Jeremiah began his work as a prophet, Samaria and the whole northern kingdom of Israel had been taken into captivity by Assyria. Now, the Assyrians had been conquered by the Babylonians. The popular school of thought was that God was denouncing the hostility of the Assyrians by using the Babylonians to overthrow them and that soon Israel would be returned from exile and allowed to retake Samaria. The people in Jerusalem and the whole southern kingdom of Judah were feeling pretty smug and confident that they held the right interpretation of those recent events.

What God was telling Jeremiah to do was to bring some unwelcome news to Judah. God had raised up the Babylonian Empire to bring judgment on Judah, just like the Assyrians had sacked Israel. Things were about to get real tough for God’s people. They had been relying too much on their own means, forgetting that they’d made a covenant with God to worship Him only, to be His people. Instead, they had pursued wealth and popularity and that was about to bite them. They would be uprooted from their homes and made to travel far away from Jerusalem where they would live as captives to the Babylonians. The Temple would be destroyed and Babylon would rule for the next seventy years. Not exactly the bearer of good tidings.Hearing all this, it is understandable the Jeremiah was reluctant.

I knew that I wasn’t being called to give that message. But for me, what God was calling me to was just a scary. When I was in college, I majored in acting. I loved it and felt that I had been given a gift for entertaining people. I sought after excellence in my craft and in my faith. I saw that time as an opportunity to be a light in a dark world. But it was hard.

I felt like I was the only Christian actor at my school. Everyone else was into partying, drinking, drugs, the whole bit. Then there was me. Straight edge and lonely. I started rationalizing that to reach those people, I had to be accepted by those people. “When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” right? So, I started going to the parties to hang out and grow closer with the people who I knew needed to hear about the hope that I had. But I went too far. I was quickly sucked into the drinking and drugs. I became more concerned with being accepted and with honing my skills as an actor than with the task that God called me to.

When I began to feel pangs of guilt for the way I was living, I got mad at God. I was upset that He had called me into a place where I was assaulted on every side. Where my words seemed to fall on deaf ears. I had slipped only because He had put me on a slippery slope to begin with.

Jeremiah felt the same way. Although he held fast to his message, he resented God for the life that it was giving him. Jeremiah became angry at God. Listen to this:

“O Lord, you deceived me, and I

was deceived;

you overpowered me and

prevailed.

I am ridiculed all day long;

everyone mocks me.

Whenever I speak, I cry out

proclaiming violence and

destruction.

So the word of the Lord has brought

me

insult and reproach all day long.

But if I say, “I will not mention him

or speak any more in his name,”

his word is in my heart like a fire,

a fire shut up in my bones.

I am weary of holding it in;

indeed, I cannot.

I hear many whispering,

“Terror on every side!

Report him! Let’s report him!

All my friends

are waiting for me to slip, saying,

“Perhaps he will be deceived;

then we will prevail over him

and take our revenge on him.”

-Jeremiah 20:7-10 (NIV)

People didn’t like hearing that they were in store for destruction. Can you blame them? Plus, there were other religious guys out there claiming to be prophets that were saying that everything was fine, God was happy with them, they would be blessed, they were God’s chosen people, they could do no wrong. Faced with a choice of which prophetic message to believe, they chose the happier sounding one.

After a couple of years of living life exactly opposite of how God was calling me to live, God finally got me alone and reaffirmed His call for me to be a beacon of light into that otherwise dark corner of the world. So, after a short hiatus, I went back into theatre and began proclaiming God’s news of hope and joy for all those who call upon His name. I still felt like what I was saying fell on deaf ears. I had many people who I’d considered friends distance themselves from me and my religious kick.

I graduated and wondered what to do next. I still felt like I was being called to minister in the world of theatre. My plan was to get an MFA so I could then teach at a college and influence students through my position. However, God had other plans. He wanted me to go to seminary. Again, I resisted that with all that was in me. I didn’t want to be a preacher. I didn’t want my life to be like that TV show Seventh Heaven.

Eventually, I conceded. I went to seminary and while attending seminary, ended up here at Coastal. In my time here, I was given the opportunity to lead a small group. Then my wife and I left Coastal to help plant a church in Chesapeake. I found that I still gravitated towards college students and many of my friends that were still in college began to attend that church.

As graduation from seminary came closer, I began searching for a job that could pay me to do ministry. Our little church plant was nowhere near self-supporting, so I would have to look for employment elsewhere. In my search, I had a conversation with a friend who told me about Youth With A Mission. She had recently accepted a position on a project that was going to travel across the US starting ministry groups on college campuses. I was immediately intrigued. But then she told me that you have to raise your own salary. My immediate response was “no way”. I had a wife, and newborn, a mortgage. I needed a guaranteed salary.

So I kept searching. But the idea of doing ministry to college students was so attractive. Then I received an email from a woman recruiting for the Coalition for Christian Outreach. I’d never heard of them, but they’d come across my resume online and wanted to offer me a position doing college ministry. As the details came more into focus, it was obvious that this was the job for me. The job description looked like I’d written it myself for my ideal job. I would get to work at an art school, ministering to artists and art students in Philadelphia.

However, there was a catch. Like almost all missionary positions, I’d have to raise my own salary. It was scary, but obvious that this was the job for me. So, a year and a half ago, we sold our house in Chesapeake and moved to Philadelphia.

Despite his anger and resentment towards God, Jeremiah still obeyed God. He’d been entrusted with a message for the people and he was faithful to deliver that message, no matter what personal pain he had to endure.

I wish that I could tell you that having submitted to God’s call, things were working out like a dream. That’s not always the case. As you might expect, raising a salary from private donations is difficult. But so is doing ministry in the northeast. The overall spiritual culture is much different from the south. People don’t go to church and they don’t talk about spirituality. If you do, you’re either a religious nut or you’re just really simple minded.

Compounded with that is a negative stereotype held by many artists and art students towards the church. Many of them feel marginalized by churches because of their pursuit of art, which is not a lucrative pursuit and is seen by many as, therefore, frivolous. And they feel marginalized by their appearance. Many of them are pierced, tattooed, and wear clothes that are not seen in department store catalogues.

The gap can seem so wide that many churches and missionary organizations overlook them as a mission field. But God had been preparing me before I was formed in the womb. I understand artists and their passion. I understand that they are deeply spiritual and yet deeply individual. I see tattoos and piercings as beautiful, otherwise I wouldn’t have them myself. I look and sound familiar to that culture and as a result, they are open to listening to the message I have to bring.

And what is that message? That God loves them. In their ability to create something from nothing, they are bearing the very image of God who spoke beauty into existence. There is no more obvious imprint of the Creator than an artist who creates. And what God requires of them is that they love Him and love others in return.

God is calling each one of you to a mission as well. Some of you are well aware of that. You’ve been ignoring that call for years. What God is calling you to may not be a conventional ministry position. He may be calling you to minister where you work right now. As I wrap things up, let’s go over three things that God is calling each one of us to, even when we don’t feel like it.

First, God is calling you to love Him. When Jesus was asked by the religious leaders of his time what the most important commandment of all was, he replied that it is to love God with all your heart (Mk 12:30). That’s an easy enough thing to say, but what does that look like? Is it coming to church? Is it praying daily? Or is it having a quiet time? Above all, it is acknowledging that Jesus is the Son of God, who was crucified, buried, and resurrected to atone for sin, making it possible for us to commune with God as He intended. Once you can say that you believe this, you can begin to love God in the way that he requires.

The Apostle John gives us a foolproof indicator of our love for God. And it is the second thing that God is calling us to: God is calling us to love others. John writes that if anyone says that he loves God, but hates his brother, he must be lying because it is not possible to hate your brother, who you can see, and yet love God, who you can’t see (1 Jo. 4:20). Loving other people is the tangible expression of our love for God. It requires dedication, understanding, and in many cases sacrifice. Those are all ways that God has expressed His love for us. We are commanded to do the same for the people we interact with all the time.

Finally, God is calling us to spread His love. Just before Jesus returned to Heaven after his resurrection, he instructed the disciples to go all over the world, baptizing people and teaching them all that he had commanded them (Matt. 28:19-20). Jesus himself had summed up all his commandments into loving God and loving one another. Those are actions, not abstracts. It takes much more than a savvy knowledge of the Bible and a prayer of repentance to lead others into a life of following Christ. It takes a whole life dedicated to loving God and loving others. That is the basis for the ministry that God calls each of us to.

As for me, I continue to find joy in helping students realize that they have been created to do exactly what they are doing, to make art. And together we are discovering how to use their gifts in a way that is faithful to their talent and to the message of the One who has gifted them.

What about Manny? Watch this.

5 minute Video Clip: Ice Age – Ch. 18- 1h 08m 09s – 1h 13m 26s

Let’s pray. God, thank you for loving us and calling us into a relationship with You. Before we were formed in the wombs of our mothers, you had a plan for us, a calling to be laid upon us. We confess that at times we have ignored that call, preferring instead to live a life of comfort where we feel like we have more control. Father, even in the times when we don’t feel like serving You, we ask that you remind us of your everlasting love and compel us to live a life that shows that to others, thereby bringing them into relationship with You. Amen