God Dragged me Kicking and Screaming or Facing My Fear of Vocational Ministry (Part 1)

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My mother tells me that when I was five years old she asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. After listing several of the typical things little boys aspire to–a superhero, a policy officer, a fireman, etc.–I suddenly grew quite.

“You know what Mommy,” I said, evidently in the most serious tone, “what I really want to be is a pastor.”

When I was twelve I remember, during a time of private prayer and reflection, feeling very strongly that God was calling me to be a pastor and this filled my heart with joy. It gave me something to look forward to and to prepare for; a goal in life.  But, then, something changed.

When I got to high school I began to challenge this calling (big surprise I know). I became enamoured with art and music and spent all of my free time drawing, making independent films, and playing music. Leading up to graduation I became obsessed with being a professional rock star and dedicated every waking hour, outside of school, to an alternative/punk band I played the drums for. Touring the world and playing music was the only future I could imagine. The idea of being a pastor seemed increasingly irrelevant and positively boring.

This obsession carried on after high school as well. I moved back to my home town in Texas and began writing and recording my own music. Soon I befriended another young aspiring musician and we formed a band that played in venues all over Dallas and Fort Worth. Much to the consternation of my beautiful new bride, my friend and I spent nearly every waking hour rehearsing, writing, recording, and even choreographing our show.

Over time we began to see success. We performed at a local ‘battle of the bands’ and, within minutes of starting our set, had nearly half the auditorium crowding the stage and screaming. We lost the competition because we hadn’t brought enough people (part of your score was based on how many people bought tickets specifically to see your band play); yet, were swarmed by throngs of ‘fans’ asking for our autographs after the show. Even the band that won praised our performance. Soon we were offered a regular spot at a club in Deep Ellum Dallas and receiving invitations to play at other popular clubs as well.

In spite of this apparent success, I was a failure. I was neglecting my wife, neglecting my school work (yes, somehow I managed to stay enrolled at Tarrant County College), and performing poorly at work (surprisingly, playing in a band didn’t bring home the bacon). Most importantly, I was ignoring God.

For in the midst of everything I knew, deep down, that I was not meant to be a rock star and that, in truth, I was simply running away from vocational ministry. Music had become a false god in my life.  You see, there is nothing wrong with music, or art, or working hard at doing these things well. In fact, these things are GREAT goods that MUST be pursued to the best of our abilities for the glory of God. No, the problem wasn’t music; the problem was me. I was behaving like Jonah; I was fighting the Lord, running away from His direction, and had made an idol out of my song writing.

When this finally sunk in, I begrudgingly quite the band and began to focus on my studies at seminary. I had enrolled before the band broke up in a somewhat half hearted gesture at obeying the Lord.

While my experience at seminary was enriching and instilled in me a love for learning, it also opened up a new temptation. I began to obsess over philosophy and theology. Again, these things are GREAT goods and MUST be pursued. The problem was not with academics or learning; it was with me. I was still only half-heartedly serving the Lord and trying to find anything more interesting and important than fully embracing vocational ministry. Soon all I spoke about was philosophy and I began to obsess over the idea of earning postgraduate degrees and becoming a professor.

After graduating with a bachelor of arts in humanities I determined to apply to the University of Dallas to pursue a masters degree in philosophy. During this time my family and I (we now had two beautiful girls!) lived in a run down apartment and I worked as a manager at a homeless shelter in one of the most dangerous streets in the US. My wife was not comfortable with my decision to pursue further studies at that time, reminding me of my calling to vocational ministry. I knew she was right, but was too stubborn and selfish to admit it. Something was holding me back; something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I believe it was partly because I had a distorted view of what being a pastor actually entailed. I thought it meant abandoning my love for music and my love for learning and scholarship; and being someone I wasn’t.

Two incredible things happened that changed my life.

First, I literally lost my ability to write. I had visited the campus at UD, gotten references from former professors, and filled out most of the application. All that remained was a personal statement, expressing why I wanted to study philosophy, and containing a brief intellectual history. Only a few short paragraphs; easy right? Except that every time I sat down to write nothing happened. This went on for several weeks and I began to get stressed (as did my wife, who wondered why I hadn’t completed my application with the deadline quickly approaching). I remember spending six hours at a Starbucks and only typing one sentence. Something was desperately wrong.

The second thing involved alcohol . . . lots of alcohol.

At the homeless shelter I worked at the residents and guests were required to attend chapel before each meal. Most of the time local pastors would lead the service but, on occasion, someone would cancel or a spot would go unfilled. In the case of a vacancy I would often step in to preach the sermon and lead a prayer. Accordingly, I was known as being a preacher among many of the homeless men and women we served.

One evening, just before the sun went down, I walked from the main building to a storage facility directly across the street. Suddenly I heard a voice screaming my name, “Joshua! Joshua!” I turned and saw one of our regulars stumbling down the street, obviously inebriated, and headed in my direction. “Joshua!” he cried again as he came up to me and grabbed my shirt, “Don’t fight God’s calling! Don’t fight being a preacher! You must preach!” I put my hand on his shoulder and thanked him. Soon he drifted off, stumbling down the street and shouting random things at passers by.

The next evening at precisely the same time, as I crossed the street to go to our storage facility, I once again heard a voice shouting my name, “Joshua! Hey, Joshua!” I looked up and, to my great surprise, saw the same inebriated homeless man stumbling down the street in my direction. He caught up to me and grabbed me by the shirt again, the smell of alcohol nearly overwhelming, and stared at me in the eyes, “You must not fight God’s calling! You must be a preacher!” he shouted in a raspy voice. Once again, only this time somewhat shaken, I put my hand on his shoulder and thanked him. This time tears streamed down my cheeks. He then carried on down the street in his drunken stupor.

The following evening . . . you guessed it! . . . it happened again, only it was  a completely different man. Just as drunk and smelly, but delivering the same message, at the same time and in the same place as the other two incidents.

That night I cried. The tears I shed not out of sadness or fear or anger but from the overwhelming feeling of love. The love of a God who cared so much for me that He took time to speak directly to me; and through the most unlikely people in the most unlikely of places. I also felt extremely humbled. I told my wife what had happened and we agreed that I should stop pursuing an MA in philosophy at that time. Instead, I was going to apply to become an ordained minister in the C&MA*.

I contacted the District Superintendent (i.e., bishop) and went for an interview a few weeks later. After that I submitted a formal application. In the application I had to write several pages explaining why I wanted to become a pastor and provide a brief account of my spiritual history. Astoundingly, after months of writers block, I wrote everything with ease.

This, however, is only the beginning of my story. It has been five years from the day I was accepted into the C&MA’s ordination program but I am not yet a fully ordained minister. I am now living in the UK and about to begin my studies to become ordained as a deacon in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.  So, what’s up with that?

I’ll explain in part two . . .

*C&MA does not stand for ‘Country Music Awards’, or ‘Christian Mormon Association’, and is not some kind of cult. It stands for ‘Christian & Missionary Alliance’-an evangelical denomination which originated in New York in the 1800’s after a Presbyterian minister broke from his church to reach out to Italian doc workers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On the Limits of Science with Alvin Plantinga

“Of course we don’t expect science to give us the answer to just any question. Science can’t tell us whether slavery is wrong, for example, though it might be able to tell us about some of the social or economic consequences of slavery. We don’t expect science to tell us whether, say, Christian Trinitarianism is true: that’s not its business. (Nor does it make much sense to suggest that since we now have science, we no longer need any other sources of knowledge–religion, for example. That is like claiming that now that we have refrigerators and chain saws and roller skates, we no longer have need for Mozart.)”

There is no “Us or Them”

Originally posted on The Christian Watershed:

“We reject the either or
They can’t define us anymore
Cause if it’s us or them
It’s us for them
It’s us for them”

– Gungor

Last year Gungor released a delightfully dark, lyrically deep, and musically sophisticated album entitled I Am Mountain. Michael Gungor, the band’s founder and front man, also wrote an honest and insightful blog exploring his doubts about biblical literalism and fundamentalism. As a result, they were heavily criticized and even anathematized by many conservative evangelicals (Cf. Ken Ham, Q90 FM Radio, & Al Mohler).

On a personal note, I was living in Wake Forest at the time the controversy broke out and very disappointed when, at the last minute, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary canceled a Gungor concert I had been planning to attend for six months.

Gungor recently released a new song entitled “Us for Them” (which is embedded above). I find the…

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Let the Little Children Come Unto Me …. Why Noisy Children in Mass Are a Good Thing.

(Here’s an excerpt from my wife’s new blog This Beautiful Dust. She’s an amazing writer, a deep thinker, and one of the most godly women I know. For the full article just follow the link to her blog . . .) 

I was sat in Mass today. Well. I use the word sat liberally … i was squatting, standing, kneeling, wrestling, rocking , shhhh’ing and sighing and sometimes sitting. I saw many smiles as I endeavored to maintain peace among my brood.

I had a feeling our mid – Mass circus was not amusing or endearing to a lady in the pew behind me. It became evident when the command to offer the sign of peace was given, and she merely glared at me and didn’t offer her hand … but to everyone else she did.  Every mishap, saw a more intense pursing of the lips.

There would have been a time when this broke my heart … in a I’m never going back to Mass until my children are 18 kind of way  … but something I have learnt is how much Jesus delights in His little children and instead, I smiled, because I knew our little busy family’s antics were a little thread in the sanctifying work in the hearts of every soul that heard the cries or observed the perpetual movement and so I smiled, and crossed for the lady of pursed lips, for I knew that Jesus would be working in her hardened displeasure . . . KEEP READING  

The Real Battle for Marriage

J. Matthan Brown:

This is a short article I wrote for the Christian Watershed back in 2012 but it still seems applicable today . . .

Originally posted on The Christian Watershed:

The real battle for marriage is not taking place in the political arena.  It’s not being waged on the street corner with ‘colorful’ signs and bull-horns.  It’s not occurring at your favorite chicken restaurant  with a side of waffle fries.  The real battle for marriage is being waged on an entirely different front: our homes.

With every broken promise and broken heart, every adulterous wife and lecherous  husband, every abusive or neglectful parent, every struggling single mom, every distant and removed father, every argument or divorce . . . there you will find the real battle for marriage taking place.  Have you ever asked yourself why it is that the majority of young people are rejecting the traditional definition of marriage?  Certainly, there are many factors which are contributing to this trend–one of them being the overarching influence of Secular Humanistic, Nihilistic, thinking in our universities and in the…

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Sexual Identity and Cultural Revolution

Originally posted on Symposium:

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I would not normally comment on such things, but the recent Irish referendum on instituting same-sex marriage has brought out an ugliness of language that fairly compels any person of conscience to speak out. Indeed, the great irony of our time is that what was once the most liberal of causes has become a locus for the most illiberal of behaviours: Western society’s current obsession with human sexuality has, over the course of a very short period, mutated into a litmus test for social orthodoxy, and in so doing, become a stick by which those who fail the test are beaten.

I do not believe in conspiracies, which is why I detest phrases like ‘gay agenda’, as if homosexual people secretly gather someplace to plot the overthrow of society. As far as I know, the gay people I am privileged to call friends tend to want to get on with…

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On Atheists and Straw Men with David Bentley Hart

“I can see why a plenteously contended, drowsily complacent, temperamentally incurious atheist might find it comforting–even a little luxurious–to imagine that belief in God is no more than belief in some magical invisible friend who lives beyond the clouds, or in some ghostly cosmic mechanic invoked to explain gaps in current scientific knowledge. But I also like to think that the truly reflective atheist would prefer not to win all his or her rhetorical victories against childish caricatures. I suppose the success of the books of the ‘new atheists’–which are nothing but lurchingly spasmodic assaults on whole armies of straw men–might go some way toward proving the opposite. Certainly, none of them is an impressive or cogent treatise, and I doubt posterity will be particularly kind to any of them once the initial convulsions of celebrity have subsided. But they have definitely sold well. I doubt that one should make much of that though. The new atheists’ texts are manifestos, buoyantly coarse, and intentionally simplistic, meant to fortify true unbelievers in their unbelief; their appeal is broad but certainly not deep; they are supposed to induce a mode, not encourage deep reflection”

Duplicity

J. Matthan Brown:

So, I’ve started writing a novel . . .

Originally posted on How I Killed Nietzsche & Became the New Übermensch:

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The congregation raved about his eloquent homilies, his intellect, his moral fortitude, his perfect family . . . I remember their words as if it were yesterday:  “Just look at how well he manages his household. His children are so perfectly behaved!”

“Oh what a blessing it must be to have a minister for a father!”

“That man is a prophet.  You hear me boy?  A genuine prophet!”

How pathetic and blind they were.  They couldn’t see through his disguise, they couldn’t feel the truth as I did when he went into a rage.  My father, the great prophet . . . the great lie.  Let me tell you about his righteousness.

At church he could maintain the facade, he could preach about the judgement and fire of a holy God, he could pat the children on their heads and smile, he could quote you an encouraging scripture, he could…

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Mary as Mediatrix: An Incarnational View

Originally posted on The Christian Watershed:

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Many Christians find the notion that Mary played a role in our salvation extremely blasphemous. They particularly find the ascription of the title Mediatrix to Mary, found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, offensive.  In their eyes this ascription stands in direct opposition to Jesus’s role as the sole mediator between God and man. After all, Sacred Scripture is crystal clear on this matter:

“For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time” (1 Timothy 2:5-6 NKJV).

While I completely embrace these words from St. Paul, I deny that they constitute a defeater for Catholic Marian dogma. I contend that the aversion to Mary’s role in our salvation, endemic in so many Christians, is a form of Neo-Docetism. I further maintain that shedding this Neo-Docetist attitude, and embracing…

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Introducing . . . “Facebook” for Nerds!

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I recently joined “Facebook” for nerds (a.k.a Academia.edu)! I’ll be sharing my academic work in philosophy on my profile there. So, if you have nothing to do today and are feeling slightly nerdier than usual, I strongly recommend you take a look.

I uploaded the first draft of a paper I’m working on entitled Logicism, William Rowe, and the Mystery of Existence. Here’s the introduction to wet your appetite (the full paper can be viewed or downloaded as a PDF on the link below):

Why is there something rather than nothing? Theism is often put forth as an answer tothis question but is by no means the consensus view. One major opponent to the theistiexplanation is William Rowe who not only contends that theism is unable to explain the existence of contingent states of affairs, but concludes it is impossible to provide an answer. In so arguing, Rowe appears to have undermined the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR).
In this essay I suggest Rowe is guilty of logicism; i.e., employing logic to answer what is fundamentally a metaphysical question (Gilson, p8-16). More pointedly, I argue that Rowe has incorrectly formulated the theistic solution to the mystery of existence. Rowe expresses the mode of God’s existence in the form of modality De Dicto when theist’s express the mode ofGod’s existence in the form of modality De Re. By drawing attention to this error I hope to show (1) we need not abandon PSR and (2) theism can explain why there is something rather than nothing.