For Freedom: A Resolution for Ministry

As I wrote about nearly 6 months ago, I once worked as a barista at Starbucks. You may love Starbucks. You may hate Starbucks. But one thing you cannot deny about Starbucks is that people know why they’re going to Starbucks.

There is a tangible value people receive by going. They also are immersed into an experience when they go.

Whether you like it or not, this is the world of today and it is the world of the future. The places of impact in our society are places where the value is clear and consistent.

No wonder the church is having  a difficult time finding its place in today’s society.

Experiences in Evangelism

About a year and a half ago I started tabling at Cal State Fullerton. These experiences changed everything for me in my perspective on how college aged adults view church. And while there are some students who are decidedly hostile to any organized religion – especially church – most students are simply confused by the idea of church. In a world that competes to be clear and consistent in the value they provide, the church has not done a great job of communicating the essential good it provides on a weekly basis.

I remember talking to a certain student at Cal State Fullerton named Jameson. I tried doing my usual shpeel on him – one that at least got an assuring nod or polite thank you. But for Jameson he paused, looked at me funny, and asked simply: “Church? Why would I go there?”

Jameson’s response is not uncommon.

As the Christian worldview and the church have become more unrecognizable to our surrounding culture, the impulse by most evangelical leaders has been to buttress theological discussion with an emphasis on apologetics. While this has been helpful for those eager to have an extended conversation on what’s true, these tools fall short of addressing the real breakdown between church and culture.

The real breakdown has been an unclear and inconsistent value that the church tangibly provides people on the weekly. People come and go to church, sit in pews, sing some songs, hear some decent teaching, and go along there way (note: usually without taking the tangible experience of grace: communion). No wonder people are baffled by our belief system. Our denominations may have articulate ecclesiology, but by and large the execution of this ecclesiology seems currently too tied to antiquated forms and misdirected in its focus.

Evangelicals are known for being born again and people devoted to the message of the Gospel. And yet, much of this devotion is executed in ways that are too tacit, intangible, and otherwise impractical.

Ministry as It Currently Is

Missionaries come back overseas all the time with stories about how witch-doctors, shamans, demons were overcome by the name of Jesus and by the power of the Spirit. The majority of the world has been won over by power encounters. In spite of the push by evangelicals to insist on their cultural relevance, most of the world is won over by proven claims of authority. Prove your ability and nobody will question your relevance. Calls for relevance strike one as hollow as a LeBron James post-game interview. Dallas Willard has long argued that Jesus ought to be considered the “master of life.” But this still remains too tacit a confession for most Christians.

What remains is an unstated belief that the people who walk through our doors ought to be about what the leaders, the elders, the staff are about. This may take the guise of a stuffy Calvinist (and yes – there are unstuffy Calvinists) who say, “It’s important to belong to a church,” or a megachurch builder who brags about the numbers of new members, new communities, or new teams.

The resulting and deserved reputation most leaders make for themselves is of egomaniacs who cannot stand being said no to. The church is awash with personalities eager to make a name for themselves and, because of the cultural confusion of the times, the church has handed these types the keys to the kingdom.

All the while the real ministry to be done goes unsaid, undone, and unaddressed in either the pulpit, the pew, or the prayer closet.

The Value of Church

Imagine the scenes that Paul describes throughout his letters:

“When he ascended on high,
he took many captives
and gave gifts to his people.” (Eph. 4:7)

“And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” (Col. 2:15)

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor principalities, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:37-39)

This is real story of the triumph of God, not only throughout all of history but in the lives of individual men and women. Triumph over sloth, greed, wrath, pride, envy, gluttony, lust. It is the real story that we live – and it is the real thing at stake.

But too often the “public spectacle” that Paul envisions is nothing more than a private show, tucked away in the confines of controlled spirituality. We whisper here and there of the ways that Christ has set us free. And so our Sunday services are never the parade that could be – that should be.

The message of the Gospel is that by Jesus’ triumph on the cross he has, at the very fundamental level of who we are before God, taken away our sin, our proclivity to death, and our condemnation. As a result, this has taken away any power that shame, fear, and guilt may hold over us – not only with God – but any person, institution, community, or otherwise.

Concerning the old Jewish customs of clean, unclean, holy, and unholy, Paul wrote: “It is for freedom that Christ has set you free… do not let yourselves again be burdened by a yoke of slavery,” (Galatians 5:1). This same liberty that involved the Gentiles in with the Jews is the same liberty that now washes over previous stratifications of society, over previous divisions of gender, over any oppressive prestige and influence that the world produces.

This is the Gospel and, rather unsurprisingly, it is the value that the church provides. Do you want freedom from shame, from fear, from guilt? Do you want it at a level that no amount of self-acceptance can provide? Do you want it (literally) staked in something outside of yourself? Do you want it buttressed up by the very promise of God – the being that cannot go back on His word – that he will never leave you?

Then come to church.


6 Things I’ve Learned About People as a Barista

For the past year I’ve been bi-vocational at EvFree Fullerton. At one moment I’m helping out in our College & Young Adults ministry: serving on college campuses, getting coffee with members of our community, coordinating with our team leaders, and on-call for anything else that needs to get done.

But for the remaining 20 hours in my week, I’ve been serving coffee at Starbucks (or at least coffee related drinks). It’s been a great break from my church related responsibilities and has done a lot to change my perspective.

My attitude going into the job was piss poor. But I’ve since come around to recognizing the great significance and opportunity in interacting with people I would’ve had no other reason of getting to know.

While the entire job has been a learning experience in more than one way, here’s six things I’ve learned about people in my time at Starbucks.

1. We’re all looking to belong.

It’s incredible how people respond to a stranger wishing them “Good Morning!” For some, Starbucks is the place they first interact with other people in the morning. To have a team of people that make the extra effort to smile and greet you is enough to set the tone of the morning for the rest of the day.

Even those who at first don’t respond begin to grow accustomed to – and enjoy – the friendliness! This is the whole genius behind the “regulars” vibe that Starbucks seeks to enculturate.

Those who understand and feel that they belong to a certain place will continue to come back. The sensation is addictive.

We’re strangers in most of the spaces we spend our time.

We sit, drive, eat, drink, walk, party, even work shoulder-to-shoulder with complete strangers. For some of us, we may not even feel at home with our family or friends.

Our culture struggles deeply with disconnection. Which is part of the reason social media continues to dominate the lives of young people. If you provide space for people to feel like they belong, they will almost certainly continue to come back.

For those who are looking to make an impact in the world, ask yourself: “Am I making people feel valuable when I interact with them?” Your ability to influence them positively depends on this.

2. A lot of us think of ourselves as both weird and Inadequate.

Despite the impressive effort people invest in making themselves presentable in the morning, they will go above and beyond in putting themselves in awkward situations.

We all have quirks of personality, but do these really make us a liability? Celebrate your differences! Don’t punish them.

Inadequacy plagues most of us. The day begins and we’re immediately hit with thoughts and beliefs that we don’t have what it takes to rise to the occasion, to meet our responsibilities, to connect with the people life throws our way.

What would happen if those of us who think too little of ourselves were to rise with a little more faith in the day and in the God who calls us from nothing to something?

3. A lot of us take ourselves too seriously.

Whether it’s an iced tea shaken twelve times or a latte prepared at a specific temperature, a lot of us need our drinks made exactly right. And while I am, like many of you, pretty particular, I find the sense of self-importance to be a bit tiresome.

I can’t tell you how many times a person has lost it when they realize that I or one of my co-workers has made a mistake with their drink. For Starbucks, an emotional outburst from a customer is treated with respect. And while this is good customer service practice, it is ultimately detrimental to those people who deeply believe they’re worth the privileged treatment. What would normally be a teachable, pastoral, or otherwise correctional moment in a different space is treated with reverence and care.

Consumers are some of the most respected and coddled creatures on the planet. It’s part of the reason we all love being consumers!

But whereas businesses profit from the self-deception of self-importance, it is a detriment to think too highly of yourself, both for you and for those in your life.

What would happen if those of us who took ourselves too seriously became a little more grounded?

4. We’re dependent on habits.

There are some people who, despite not having any real relationship with a barista or fellow customer, continue to come in to Starbucks like clockwork. For these customers, it’s the raw habit of getting a drink that enables them to go through the rest of their day-to-day duties.

We live by habits.

In a particularly inspiring quote from his The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg writes:

“Champions don’t do extraordinary things. They do ordinary things, but they do them without thinking, too fast for the other team to react. They follow the habits they’ve learned.”

The point ought not be that we never develop habits, only that we develop habits that point us in the right and constructive way.

What sorts of things do you find yourself relying on to keep yourself going? How can you leverage these practices to keep yourself going in a constructive and positive direction? What sorts of habits ought you to eliminate?

[If you’re looking to inform and develop some positive habits, take a look at buying The Power of Habit or Celebration of Discipline. Together, the two books offer a lot in the way of Christian maturity and general success in life.]

5. We naturally lack self-control.

From angry outbursts, to tears of embarrassment, to compulsive I’m-buying-a-frappuccino-every-couple-of-hour customers, Starbucks is an environment of no self-control. Not only is there a high cultural demand for coffee in America, but as people we don’t naturally do a good job of controlling our emotions or desires.

For those of us who have aspirations for a self-controlled lifestyle, this is a particularly difficult thing to accept: we’ll need more than just raw willpower.

We’ll need a change in desire.

If you find yourself splurging and indulging in destructive habits then you ought to ask yourself: is it really a matter of self-control or is it a matter of changing the desires themselves. While the answer might be a combination of both, we often overestimate our ability to follow through on commitments.

To change our desires doesn’t come easy. In fact, the Bible would claim that such a change requires a complete transformation of the heart.

In conjunction with a change in heart comes a change in vision.

What life do you want for yourself? What sort of things do you find your mind and heart yearning after? What sorts of dreams do you have?

Allow yourself to dream and envision enough to motivate a deeper change. Contrary to what you might tell yourself, you do have what it takes: sweat, blood, and tears will get you there.

6. It’s Possible to Talk Faith With people we have almost nothing in common with.

Narratives of a post-Christian world have filled us all with a sort of doomsday diffidence in talking about Jesus. Don’t believe the headlines. Jesus is as real today as he was two-thousand years ago.

Jesus will always be relevant for those who have the eyes and ears for him.

I used to behave as if faith wasn’t something I could talk openly about with those who were outside my community of faith. But if you remain open, relational, and altogether confident in who you are and what God has done for you, you will be surprised by the doors that can open up.

To pass along a piece of advice that my supervisor at church gave me: talk from the heart in what the local church has done for you.

This has turned out to be great advice! By talking about what the local church has done and meant for me, I’m able to talk in tangibilities that topics like apologetics or philosophy aren’t as beholden to. People are more interested in stories than speculation.

Avoid pretense; speak from the heart.

Peter exhorts us,

“Always be prepared to articulate a defense to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But respond with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15, NIV)

If you take the proper steps to prepare and posture yourself rightly, you’ll find that the opportunities to have some life changing conversation can happen rather seamlessly.

Don’t buy into the belief that your co-workers or clients wont understand you. The authority with which Jesus spoke should clue you in: the message of resurrection life is wildly relevant, simple, and comprehensible.

If you’re having a hard time thinking of something, try:

I’ve found that the life Jesus invites me into is one that is life-giving.


My church has enriched my life with direction and relationships.

Depending on your context there may be better options, but these are only a couple of ones that I’ve found to be effective.

If you continue to keep your eyes and ears open you will be surprised not only by what you learn about the people around you, but also the opportunities God is placing right in front of you to be an influence for His Kingdom.

4 Practical Tips to Kick Pornography

Pornography became a part of my life when I was 15 years old. I knew immediately it was wrong. But that didn’t stop me from going back to it time and time and time again.

And while I’m happy to say that today porn is no longer a part of my life, it has affected me and almost everyone in my generation. My years in high school and college would have been happier times had I been free.

Porn has become not only accessible; it has become both mainstream and tolerable. It has become socially and culturally acceptable; practically packaged online and economically feasible. It has become integrated with everyday life for modern men and women. Nowadays it’s almost a given that everyone has seen (or is consistently seeing) sexually explicit media.

The Sexual Revolution of the 60s, along with the industrious work of the porn industry, has metastasized into anything but a free society for those living in today’s world.

Ask most who are either suffering from a porn addiction themselves or married to someone who is struggling with porn and you’ll quickly discover: there is nothing free or life-giving about this stuff. My generation is enslaved to pornography – and even actively enslaving others for its propagation.

For those seeking freedom from the clutches of pornography here are four practical tips I’ve found helpful.

1. READ’s E-Book for Recovery

There are a lot of resources out there for those looking for meaningful recovery from porn. However, not all of them are truly helpful.’s walkthrough is not only practical, but powerful. The author shares firsthand how his own addictive tendencies extended far beyond the actual behavior of going back to pornography – even (especially?) after he was married!

While I’d recommend anybody to read it all the way through, there is one central concept that is tremendously empowering for recovering addicts.

One thing the walkthrough argues that your addiction is a separate entity from your true identity. It has latched itself on self-destructively to your psyche and fools you into thinking that you and it are synonymous. This is how it continues to justify your self-destructive behavior. But as the e-book rightly identifies, addiction is actually a separate entity than your identity. In fact, your addictions are your true self’s worst enemy.

To combat this threat from dominating you from the inside out, the book suggests thinking, repeating, meditating on a central phrase:

“I never masturbate or look at pornography now.”

This phrase uses two of the few words that your addictive mindset truly understands: never and now. Never means never. As in your self-destructive behavior will never take place in the future. You see, oftentimes we give ourselves license to perpetuate bad habits by fooling ourselves into thinking that our rhythm of life is not possible without it. We also often think of our commitment to abstain from pornography against the backdrop of our whole lives, and the weight of it crushes us. While this is a sinister lie in its own right, the word never attacks the addictive mindset head-on. The behavior is done with. End of story.

The other word, now is one of the only other words your addictive mindset understands. It always lives in the now, to the detriment of everything else, both past and future. Remember that disgusting feeling you had once you came out of the now moment of pornography? The addictive personality has no concept of that moment. It only lives for the now of a rabbit-hole lapse in consistency when it can binge on anything to sate its desire.

By saying that the now moment will never be given over to porn, you can successfully fight it from invading the present time.

I personally have found this to be devastatingly effective. That’s not to say that I don’t ever face temptation. Only that I when I do come face-to-face with temptation I’m armed with something that keeps my perspective grounded, even when the fight is most difficult.


Another thing that is indispensable in the fight against pornography is accountability.

It’s in our nature that where there is no accountability we are inclined to cut corners and to compromise. Having a close friend, sibling, or even a parent to act as your accountability partner will go a long way in your fight against pornography.

Personally, I recommend two accountability relationships: one, with an older member of the same sex; two, with a close friend you consider your peer. This avoids two dangers. Firstly, it prevents your accountability relationship being purely about empathy, which peer-to-peer accountability relationships excel in. However, they also stagnate by being only empathetic. This is a mistake, as the fight you’re in doesn’t just require acceptance, but it requires a constant resolve to fight.

This is where an older mentoring relationship is helpful to exhort, challenge, admonish, correct, and appraise; the things upon which the integrity of your fight is built on.

But even relational commitment will only get you so far. You need software to keep you honest.

The Internet is truly, unavoidably a part of everyday life now. Even if you’re a die-hard opponent of social media, your web presence is an indispensable extension of your life. To think of it in any other way is to fool yourself.

I personally recommend CovenantEyes, which is a great option for those looking for an accountability software that still leaves it up to you to lapse or not. There is a subscription fee involved but it’s very manageable.


This is an item that most wouldn’t add to the list of practical tools to recover from porn, but for me listening prayer has been the most powerful thing I’ve encountered in my ability to hear the voice of God both in the moment as well as throughout my whole life.

For those of you unfamiliar with the exercise, listening prayer is a discipline in which a facilitator guides you through a prayer exercise revolving around a series of passages of Scripture and crafted questions meant to bring you into contact with how the Spirit is speaking to you through the passage at the specific point in life you find yourself.

For me, I went through a listening prayer exercise with my mentor that revolved around my struggle with pornography. I was met powerfully by King Jesus in that moment, and I rank it as one of the most significant spiritual experiences of my life, not only because it was full of out-of-body experiences, vivid images and words received, but also because it gave me very practical and tangible takeaways that have come in the clutch when temptation and compromise seemed unavoidable.

The kind of transformation that comes by the grace of God is more than conceptual. It is potent. And it is very real.

I do plan on blogging more about my experiences in listening prayer to help those of you who have no experience in it get a better idea as to what the practice looks like.

In the mean time, I would recommend beginning a read-through on Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. He not only discusses multiple forms of prayer (the chapter on “Meditation” is most similar to what I am describing as listening prayer), but expounds on other disciplines that help mature the Christian lifestyle. If you don’t have anybody in your life who is familiar with the practice, slowly begin building towards a sense for the voice of God through meditation in particular.

Eventually, you ought to find someone you respect and trust as a mentor to facilitate listening prayer for you, preferably someone who has experience of doing this sort of thing and it could just blow your mind.


There’s a scene in the Gospels in which Jesus simply places the decision before a rich, young man,

“Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:21-23)

Jesus places the decision before the man, giving him the option for which life to live. One devoted towards self. The other devoted to the life that Jesus offers.

In our self-deception we often convince ourselves that another life without these self-destructive practices is impossible. By doing so, we ironically give ourselves license to continue wallowing in terrible patterns. Freedom is much nearer to you than your addiction would ever want you to believe.

Do you truly desire to change? Then take the necessary steps to do so. A fundamental decision acts as the backbone you need to get up! You’ll most certainly slip along the way, but as Rocky says:

“It ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!”

Not only is an actively abstinent life without the practice of pornography possible – but it is preferable.

Keep moving forward. Fight the good fight. Keep the faith. No matter what.

In an age in which relational and sexual dysfunction has become an epidemic, commit to becoming the kind of man or woman who could be the catalyst for healing in their relationships and communities.

Facilitating a Successful Small Group

There isn’t really anything like a healthy small group. Your church could have Biblical teaching and Spirit led worship, but if there isn’t a vibrant, grassroots network of healthy small groups existing in your church then it seems pretty obvious that it’s missing an integral piece of discipleship.

However, many small groups I’ve been a part of are not that great to be a part of. Oftentimes, it’s because the person facilitating doesn’t have a good idea as to how to go about it.

And who could blame them? It’s a difficult thing to facilitate anybody let alone a group of people.

Here are a couple of thoughts on what it takes to lead and facilitate a successful small group. It should be said, this is based on my own experience and limited perspective. If you have a style that works then by all means stick with it! This is only me offering a few suggestions if you’re looking for help.

What Does a Facilitator Do?

First off, it might be helpful to write down a “job title” of a facilitator. Here’s one I would offer:

facilitator is responsible for initiating, directing, and landing a successful discussion.

If we agree on this simply definition, let’s talk about what each of these three spaces look like: initiating, directing, and landing.


beginning a discussion worth having.

The first step in any discussion is getting it off the ground with some introductory comments or questions. If your discussion is going to be a success, this section has to transition from the undirected social time to the more focused section of actual discussion.

This is arguably the most uncomfortable section for an inexperienced facilitator. I’ve seen (and experienced) a lot of train wrecks as the facilitator feels the unexpected shift in the dynamic. If done poorly it can be a jarring and really awkward experience. Trust me – I’ve been there!

But with the right tools, it doesn’t have to be awkward! Here’s a suggested blueprint for navigating the initial sections of a discussion:

  1. Thank everyone for coming.
    (i.e. “Thank you all for coming tonight and making space in your schedules for this.”)
  2. Reiterate the vision for the group and why you’re gathering.
    (i.e. “We’re on a journey to continue connecting together as family.”)
  3. Go around the room and have people provide a short update on their weeks.
    (i.e. “Before we dive into our reading for this week, let’s go around the room and rate our week 1-10.”)
  4. Connect the week with the group’s vision.
    (i.e. “Again, thanks for making space for this in your schedule. Whether we’re coming from weeks full with good things or bad, we are in this together to grow as disciples in the context of family.”)

The above is just a standard example on how to initiate a successful discussion. It comfortably takes the group from the unstructured social time most small groups have at the beginning. It also demonstrates off the bat that you know how to handle the dynamic in a responsible and effective way.

Facilitating a group of people is not naturally easy, especially if they’re your peers. Proving yourself and connecting with the group on the initial makes it easier to lead the group through the rest of the discussion. What are some specific things your community group or your style as facilitator needs to make this happen?

My experience shows that following something like the above paves the way to having a smooth and dynamic small group discussion.


ensuring the discussion is worth having.

There are a couple of things that are needed of a facilitator poised to ensure the discussion is a good one. In order to hone in on those practices, let’s take a look at a standard set of practices of the way our church does small groups:

  1. Read the book out-loud together. (optional)
  2. Pause at natural section breaks. (recommended)
  3. Start by asking general questions, progress towards a specific direction. (essential)
  4. Ask questions that are textually based as well as attentive to previous comments or questions. (essential)

There is a reason we have these practices. They work! But even if you don’t decide to go in this direction, any facilitator ought to know which direction they want to take the discussion. “Just showing up” doesn’t really work, especially if you don’t have a preexisting relationship with the people in your group to fall back on. You should know what your starting point in the discussion is, and what your ending point is. Knowing how to direct the discussion is instrumental in finding a good landing.


bookend the discussion with a conclusion and action steps.

People need to be given a reminder why they came in the first place to your community group. If you don’t give them a tangible, practical, and clear conclusion by the end you wont fully capitalize on what the Spirit intends for your community group or your discussion.

Usually, a conclusion will summarize the central takeaways of the reading. It’s ideal if the facilitator knows exactly what these are before the discussion even begins and is able to intuitively direct their group in that direction. A clear conclusion can even cover the multitude of sins of an unclear discussion. As long as people are able to walk away with a clear understanding by the end of the night a discussion is never really a failure.

But beyond a clear conclusion, it’s best if you give your group something to do or try outside the community group. For instance, at EvFree Fullerton we’re going through Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline. As such, a clear assignment is to try our hand at any number of the disciplines he showcases in the book.

Your action steps should match whatever theme or book your group is going through. If it’s not on topic it’s not worth doing.

Hopefully the steps above help equip you in whatever small group community you’re a part of. What things have you found helpful in your context of ministry?

The Night Sky of Genesis

I’ve just started something I’ve failed at many times: re-reading through the whole Bible.

While I’ve gone cover-to-cover several times, I’ve only succeeded a handful of the many times I’ve committed to doing it. As such, to help me succeed, I’ll be holding myself to blogging on a series of scenes, characters, thoughts and concepts as I journey through the narrative.

Those of you familiar with the Bible would know that the first book lined up is Genesis. It’s a book rich in imagery, symbolism, thematic repetition, and prophecy.

The book deals in vivid word pictures. The very initial chapters explode off the pages with declarations of light and darkness, eruptions of plant life and creatures, and names and assignments given in rhythmic poetry. Man enters the scene in immediate and intimate contact with God and tasked with a divine mission to rule as God’s steward at the apex and most central piece of His created domain.

There are a host of exciting things to trace throughout the narrative, but a truly compelling and often missed thread begins with what Genesis says of the stars.

Take a look below:

He also made the stars. God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate (וּֽלֲהַבְדִּ֔יל) light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning – the fourth day. (Genesis 1:16-19, NIV) 

The sun is given its domain over the morning and the moon as a lesser light over the evening (1:16). The two are separated and given a degree of ownership over each space. The sun is indicated as a “greater light” whereas the moon is a “lesser” light.

But the stars are talked of in different terms. Whereas the sun and moon are given two respective spheres of influence, the stars are given a governing role in both the domain of the light and in the domain of the darkness. Beyond the obvious referent being that stars are visible during both day and night, there is a deeper significance to this governance and separation when we connect this image to a similar scene.

Between Good and Evil

Unlike the sun and moon, the stars are set to “govern” both day and night. And they are tasked to separate (וּֽלֲהַבְדִּ֔יל) that which is light from dark. Another translation of the verb would be “and to distinguish”, a translation often opted when the same verb is used in Leviticus 10. The passage is from a scene in which Aaron and his sons are commissioned by Moses and the LORD in their priestly duties:

Then the LORD said to Aaron, “You and your sons are not to drink wine or other fermented drink whenever you go into the tent of meeting, or you will die. This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, so that you can distinguish (וּֽלֲהַבְדִּ֔יל) between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean, and so you can teach the Israelites all the decrees the LORD has given them through Moses. (Leviticus 10:8-11)

 As the passage says, the priestly duties of the Levites were to distinguish between what it meant to be obedient or disobedient to God. Just as the stars were meant to separate between the light and the dark, so too were the priests meant to distinguish between the ways of right and wrong, righteousness and unrighteousness.

By incident of the serpent’s deception, man ends up with the knowledge of “knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5) at the expense of his intimacy with God. Though this sets him up for the later evil that culminates in Babel – and beyond – it does also begin to prepare him for the arbitrating duties between right and wrong of his priestly office.

Man will always be the rightful leader of creation. He is familiar with the chaotic forces within himself, the evil and dysfunctional inclinations that he has, as well as the better part of him that still yearns for righteousness. When he opts to relinquish his stewarding office, he becomes the most dysfunctional member of the created order. But when he rises to take the mantle for which he’s destined he becomes its crowning achievement: a steward able to tend to the upkeep of creation and – remarkably – its improvement.

Paired with the imagery of Genesis 1, a word picture develops of those who follow God as a set of stars meant to govern and commentate over both that which is good and of the light and that which is evil and of the darkness. They stand at a cross roads between the domain of light and darkness and stand to separate the good from the wrong.

It is this distinction, between the light and the darkness that serves as the first image of the cosmic struggle between good and evil, of which man is a central character. But later in Genesis the stars take on an even greater and more specific significance.

The Number of the Stars

The middle section of the Genesis account follows the journey of Abraham. Called from relative obscurity in modern day Iraq, Abraham becomes God’s single champion in the confused years following the Flood. Taking him from Babylon on a journey throughout the Ancient Near East, God makes a series of covenants and promises to Abraham throughout the narrative, namely: that his descendants will grow into a great nation, and that one day they will have a land of their own – Israel.

The scenes in which God makes these promises are starkly illustrated.

It is often under the night sky that God speaks to Abraham in bold, dynamic, direct, and promising terms about the course that history will take. It is not in the “teeming” (Gen. 1:20, 21) activity of the day, but in the stillness of a lesser light (Gen. 1:16) that God whispers in declarative terms (Gen. 15:12-16, 17-21).

It is to the stars that God compares the number of Abraham’s descendants:

Look up at the sky and count the stars – if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be,” (Gen. 15:5).

I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars,” (Gen. 22:17).

The scene is dramatic: a lone man in the deserts of the Ancient Near East looking up in the full night sky and seeing the future generations promised to descend from him, shining against the darkness that not only occupied the night but also the world contemporary to him. What is at first as a single man’s struggle against the bigotry, ignorance, blindness, pettiness, and brutality of the world is prophesied to become the fight of an entire people group who bear the same assignment to fight as the light against the darkness.

And while it is the quantity of the stars that is significant in this scene from Genesis, it is later in the biblical narrative that God’s people are compared to their quality.

God’s People Glorified

Relying on the thematic backdrop we’ve surveyed, Daniel employs the stars when he prophecies:

Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.” (Daniel 12:3, NIV)

Just as the stars in Genesis shine brightly against the darkness of the night sky, so too do those who follow God shine brightly against the darkness of their own day.

The world is in need of people who that brightly, no matter the context or assignment. Without the leading presence of men and women who are aligned with God, the darkness that our world has altogether been familiar with since the beginning will blanket our spaces, communities, and relationships. Without the fire and genuine conviction of such people, phony religiosity will replace the spaces rightfully belonging to the life-giving presence of God’s people.

Paul’s words in Philippians summarizes it nicely:

“Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation. Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.” (Philippians 2:15, NIV)

Notice how Paul illustrates a united church community, one that does not “grumble or argue” as one that is shining like the stars.

An immediate takeaway is clear when we step back and survey what Paul says in light of the Biblical narrative: how well is your church community doing in remaining united in their mission to lead the community? What would change if you were to become a uniting presence in your space of ministry, work, or relationship?

Our mission as God’s people is one that is likened to the stars: blazing brightly in both the light and the darkness, separating the right from the wrong, and uniting those around us in a common mission to make God’s presence felt in every space on earth.

Mastering Ministry in the Public Places

One place I spend a lot of time at is California State University of Fullerton. Our church, EvFree Fullerton, has had a heart to reach that campus for quite a while without a strong sense of how to do it.

For some reason they figured I’d be a good person to try and figure it out.

To help in trying to make an impact, I try to have areas of consistent presence. One such area of presence I have is a table in front of the school cafeteria, the Gastronome. It’s a rare place of consistent traffic where the on-campus culture is beginning to grow. At this table we simply showcase water and candy. We do have flyers present for when the opportunity presents itself, but we take pains to be eminently relational.

By tabling, I’ve learned a couple of lessons about what it means to occupy a public space for ministry. Here are a couple:

Recognize you are a public figure…

It’s almost magic: as soon as you put up a table you become more than a standard passer-by; you become a representative, a person of influence either to receive or to reject. You go from just another person to a public figure. The difference is palpable and very real. If you are not intentional in that space you risk doing more damage to your cause than you would otherwise.

Be mindful of what you are broadcasting on a public level. This includes everything about you down to the way you dress. In a very real way, you are putting on visual display what it means to be a part of what you are representing. Are you presenting an image you want associated with your cause?

This dynamic alone can be intimidating for people. The temptation is to become withdrawn. But if you press into your role as a public figure with grace, humility, and confidence people will be drawn to you.

… But don’t obsess over your public image.

At some point in every leader’s development, they begin to acclimate to the attention and begin to develop a thirst for it. This is a real danger, as you risk making yourself the center of your ministry rather than Christ or what the Spirit is doing in and through your community.

Obsessing over your image is as wrong-headed as obsessing over the wrapping paper on a present.

This is something I am beginning to relate with as I have begun to gain more comfortability in my role as a leader. Do not lose yourself in the publicity. If you obsess over the packaging of what you’re giving to people to the detriment of the substance of what you’re inviting them into you risk not only disappointing them but a real offense to God himself. Flashy showmen can easily become flashy con artists. Do not be fooled into believing that your reception as a leader is a matter of skinny jeans, a new haircut, and hip glasses.

Paul does talk about being all things to all people (1 Corinthians 9:22). But common sense alone is able to discern between the phoniness of shallow preachers and those who truly have a conviction that ties them to certain inflexibilities. In certain circles, Paul lacked presence (1 Corinthians 2:3). It is part of grandeur of the gospel to be spread and propagated by a ragtag band of misfits.

All that to say, be presentable, be yourself, but be real.

Prioritize relationship over anything and everything.

As a public figure you need to connect individually with those coming into contact with you. This is an absolute fundamental to ministry. If you are not able to connect with the people you come into contact with, even (and perhaps especially) if they disagree with you, you will not be effective in your context of ministry.

Have the faith to believe that in the midst of your interactions with everybody you are putting Christ on display.

Demonstrate audacious friendliness in whatever space you are in as a leader and you will be surprised by how the Spirit of God begins to work.

In fact, most contemporary examples you see popularized today are the exact opposite of this. Even in my own context of ministry at CSUF, there are a consistent showing of megaphone phonies who think they’re doing a good job by screaming condemnation at people.

Your public display of friendliness with an individual is not just a standard thing. The reception of your cause is at stake in your interaction. Every bystanders observing you will be inclined or disinclined to receive your based on the one-on-one interactions they see you engaging in.

Match your emotions with your message.

If you are truly coming with “good news” then wouldn’t you be excited, upbeat, and open whenever you shared it? And yet, we are often easily intimidated by the affront we might cause that we are cowed into being nervous, overbearing, or dour.

John writes with an energizing boldness: “he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world,” (1 John 4:4). Jesus’ triumph is something we can tap into in every space and time! The battle has already been won! We are merely telling people about it.

Prayerfully discern the Spirit’s activity in the person’s life and in the space you are in.

This might not be the most evidently successful practice, but it is the most essential posture to perfect. I admit to being really bad at this. But I am beginning to see how to discern. People are everyday either in a posture of rejecting God’s activity in their life or are moving closer towards the light that shines on all of us.

You cannot coerce people into the kingdom. In fact, the only thing you can really do is try to partner with what God is already doing in a person’s life, to draw focus to it, and to eliminate the other influences that war for priority.

Likewise, you have to gain a discernment of the space you are using. For instance, there are spaces I choose to avoid for the purpose of outreach. One such space is an area in which a couple of local, high-ranking cult leaders will approach students and seek to proselytize. It’s a very tense and at times combative space on campus. While I am still seeking the Spirit’s leading on this certain section of campus I have consistently received the impression that the Spirit has different things in mind for our ministry.

In all, be shrewd.

In a bizarre parable, an owner of financial assets discovers that the manager of his assets has been dishonest. The boss informs his manager that he’s fired. In a fit of self-survival, the manager smudges the books of those who owe his boss money in order to ensure that he will be in good favor, and therefore have a job, when his boss fires him. The boss, in response, praises the manager’s shrewdness. Jesus concludes the parable with a takeaway: “the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.” (Luke 16:8)

The takeaway becomes clear when you consider the source of the manager’s shrewdness: shrewdness is a quality that emerges when you care enough about your mission.

For the shrewd manager, this was self-preservation. He who cared enough about his own self-preservation was able to come up with a plan to ensure his future survival. It is this trait of shrewdness that the people of God have to learn to engender in themselves if they are to be successful in their mission

But how many of us (myself included) don’t really care enough to be creative, careful, or tactical enough to tap into the heartbeat of the people and communities currently outside the sphere of the Kingdom? Eyes that cannot see opportunity or improvement belong to a heart that has already given up.

Care enough about the Kingdom and the eternal work you are a part of to be shrewd!

Hopefully you find some of these lessons helpful in your contexts of ministry.