Sunday, March 17, 2019

"A Community Calling" (2 Timothy 1:1-14)


Rev Dr John Smith went to be with God a week or so ago. He was an international speaker, author and founder of God’s Squad Christian Motorcycle Club International, Concern Australia and St Martin’s Community Church in Melbourne.  He wrote these autobiographical words:

Early in 1972, my wife Glena, myself and a few others attended the Sunbury Rock Festival as an informal “mission” group. Some Christians were scandalised — that was no place for a minister! There, among that drugged-up, hedonistic crowd of around 35,000, we found people willing to chat with us. Many responded to the gospel and wanted to be baptised. One was a biker, a hard-drinking, hard-fighting member of an outlaw club, now transformed through his encounter with Jesus Christ. He stood knee deep in the muddy river that flowed slowly through the site to be baptised, while onlookers who had been skinny-dipping lounged around on the banks adding their colourful comments. After his baptism the biker, standing in midstream, explained exactly what the gospel of Jesus meant, using simple, non-religious words. The audience was silenced by his sincerity and passion.

Bikers, hippies and anti-war activists had first grabbed my attention a year or two earlier. I was then an “orthodox” minister on the outside, although beginning to feel drawn towards people on the fringes of society. While driving towards Bendigo, I passed a bunch of menacing-looking outlaw bikers parked by the side of the road. Oddly, I felt a surge of compassion for these guys who no one really wanted to know. I couldn’t see the local minister making much headway with people like that. So I began to pray that God would raise up someone able to get alongside such outsiders and show them something of the love of Christ. I sensed a reply, “Why don’t you answer your own prayer?”, but initially doubted the call. I was far too straight for the job.

Soon afterwards at a Christian family camp, I met Eddie Pye, a youth worker and first-rate stunt motorcyclist. He said, “If you really want to grab the attention of teenagers, you should get yourself a motorbike.” He persisted until, hesitantly, I took his advice. I then began to chat with a few bikers, some of whom became believers. Despite their apparent toughness, I found they were often vulnerable and lost but searching for a better life. Also the more I dug into Jesus’s life, the more I was challenged by the way he ministered to the outcasts of his day. I reckoned the bikers had to be the “lepers” of our society. I was becoming increasingly convinced of God’s call to be “the answer to my own prayer”.


In the opening verses of 2nd Timothy, we see how Paul is mentoring the young Timothy in his ministry. Paul commends Timothy, and uses himself as an example of running the race well to its conclusion. Paul refers to this ministry, in verse 9, as a “holy calling”. This simply means that Timothy, has been ‘set apart’ (the meaning of the word translated “holy”) by God … under a particular “calling”. NOT, of course, ‘set apart’ from the community, BUT RATHER ‘set apart’ for God in community!

A “holy calling” is always a ‘community calling’, for it always involves service to others, and the betterment and redemption of society. Paul was wanting to nurture this “calling” … so that Timothy would be the person, and fulfil the role, that God had placed within him and before him, for the sake of the Gospel. Many years earlier, Paul himself had been affirmed and released in his very ‘particular calling’ of apostolic church planting (Acts 13:1-3).


Once we accept Jesus, and begin to follow him in the power of the Holy Spirit, we all have a ‘general calling’ – to become better disciples, to grow and mature into the image of Jesus, and be witnesses such that we ‘make’ other disciples. But we all, also, have ‘particular unique callings’, a certain contribution to make, a special role through which to participate in the mission of God. This comes to us, I believe, in four ways:

(i)                  how we have been created (our personalities, interests and natural abilities),

(ii)                our various experiences in life (our history – including any pain and suffering),

(iii)               the circumstances, or the needs of others, surrounding us,

(iv)               the gifts of the Holy Spirit we have been given.

Who we are, what we have learned (in good times and bad), the context we find ourselves living in, and the spiritual gifts that we carry – these are the best guides to prayerfully discover our particular ‘calling’. John Smith [of God’s Squad fame] received the same gospel as us, had the same faith as us, witnessed in the normal ways we can witness to Jesus; but his ‘special calling’ – was based on (i) who he was born to be, (ii) the experiences he had along the way, (iii) the needs that presented to him, and, (iv) his spiritual gift of evangelism. John Smith’s ‘calling’ was tailor-made for him! For, he had a unique way of connecting with the type of people, specifically bikers, that most of us could NOT have – and he was often able to direct these hardened people toward Jesus.

Having mentioned spiritual gifts, we should note that every spiritual gift is given by a God of community for the “common good” of our community (1 Corinthians 12:7). Likewise, the ‘calling’ that God has for us to fulfil, comes from a God of community, is discerned in the midst of life in community, and becomes active in the context of community. As we see in verse 9, Paul draws Timothy into an understanding that all “holy callings” operate in conjunction with one another.

Verse 9: God has saved us, and called us (with a “holy calling”), according to God’s own purpose and grace given to us … in Christ Jesus … before time even began! Our calling begins in community, and functions in community. As already said, a “holy calling” is a ‘community calling’! Your ‘calling’ compliments my ‘calling’, and each of these connects with the ‘calling’ of every new disciple. For John Smith’s ‘call’ to evangelism on the edge to matter, he needed those called to disciple, nurture, love and pastor … to also step up. Generally speaking, the God of community is seeking to re-build community … communities like ours … through us being community.


We should also notice in verse 9, this close connection between salvation and ‘calling’. Christians are ‘saved’ NOT ONLY from a life of ‘sin’, BUT ALSO into a life of purpose (Guthrie)! Salvation is yet the beginning of finding our ‘calling’ in life. The activation of our ‘calling’ comes simultaneously with our salvation (Stott). We are saved to engage!! Yet, our ‘calling’ does NOT always get served up on a platter – it is NOT always obvious – we have to meet God half-way, and figure this all out together. This always involves prayer, may involve fasting, and could be acknowledged through commissioning and the laying on of hands.

All this provides another reason why the church, engagement with the church, participation in the church – being the church, and NOT trying to survive or act in isolation … is all at the heart of our discipleship. Research has shown (e.g. Cacioppo – Uni of Chicago*) that withdrawing from community into isolation can only increase self-centredness. Conversely, we can only turn the world upside down or right-side up … by belonging, being, living, worshipping, believing, praying, trusting, and working – together! [* Source: Eric Geiger – “How Community Combats Self-Centredness”.]

We sometimes avoid community because it reveals our shortcomings – yet without community we will remain stuck in those same problem areas, never gaining the tools or encouragement, the insight or love … through which to break free or move forward. We need to see God’s handiwork – examples of how God is working in others. God works … by raising a body of people, albeit fallible, into a modern-day body of Christ, living effectively through the Holy Spirit – that can then point people to the possibility of hope, peace and salvation.

God wants to redeem all creation, drawing everyone, through Jesus, into the new creation (just like communion demonstrates)! So, we huddle together here in worship, prayer and teaching … breaking through any personal or collective obstacles – NOT losing the potential of the future because of the failings of the past. Thereby, the local church becomes a missionary training centre, so everyday missionaries can be released into every sphere of life in the community. We would pray, and then act, so that NO corner or crack of our community would be without a witness to Jesus. We gather and then engage – from community to community … making Jesus visible.


It is the most effective team that makes the biggest impact. When one of the biggest miracles took place, the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus asked all of his disciples to go out into the crowd and distribute the bread and the fish (Mark 6:34-44). Despite the meagre rations to begin with, Jesus prayed, the disciples moved out, and everyone ate their fill, with twelve basketfuls left over. This was obedience to a ‘general calling’, that would later pave the way to each of the disciples’ (bar Judas) more ‘particular calling’ as they dispersed around different people groups.

In community, faith is built, or, if necessary stirred-up again (v 6)! In community, potential can be recognised and released. It is within spiritual community, our local church, that our unique calling or ‘sweet spot’ (of ministry opportunity) will be best discovered or discerned; and if it be already known, then nurtured, encouraged, stretched, applied and released – with helpful feedback given and received, with proper forms of mutual accountability. {BTW: We shouldn’t ever call this a ‘personal calling’ … because it is never really ours – but more of an ‘endowment’ for the benefit of others.}

Bob Buford writes: “Everyone needs permission and encouragement to be who God made them to be”. It is within a loving caring community … that a little trial and error can be safely undertaken – on the road to ultimate success. We often, from this platform, talk about moving out of our comfort zones – for this is the biblical story – heroes who had to get past their perceived shortcomings or failings – Moses (who thought he couldn’t speak well enough) or Jeremiah (who thought he was too young) or Peter (who had failed in denying Jesus) or Paul (who had a debilitating ‘thorn in the flesh’) – those who had to obey, and trust that God would take up the slack.

In faith, we change our thinking … from worst-case scenarios, toward great outcomes. Isaiah was one, who when hearing the call, got past his negative feelings about himself, and replied, “Here I am, send me” (Isaiah 6:1-8)! When we step out … we will NOT be alone, for this is God’s mission after all! It is actually when … we sense and activate our “holy calling”, that we begin to see our story … as part of God’s bigger story. We need to make sure … that we don’t taper back the more radical or challenging nature of our ‘calling’ … back more within our comfort zone. Our danger does NOT so much lie outside our comfort zone, but rather inside a set routine that cannot respond to the Holy Spirit’s inconvenient leadings (and eliminates God’s best for us).

Callings (again)

Matthew Barnett in “The Cause Within You” (page 34) writes as follows:

When you were born, God instilled … a great cause that He wants you to embrace. … He created a universe in which the cumulative effect of all people faithfully pursuing the cause within them would result in a transformed world – one in which everyone’s needs would be met and every servant’s heart would be filled with the joy of blessing others. Unfortunately, we live in a traumatised world – in part because so many people fail to identify and pursue the cause [God] has given them. … It is always about using the resources God has given you – skills, relationships, experiences, money, time, intelligence … to make a positive impact in the lives of others. … I get such inspiration from the ordinary people I meet who are doing extraordinary things because they have devoted themselves to the great cause God has custom designed just for them. … When they figured it out and committed themselves to that cause, they found that God partners with them in amazing ways.



Our passage culminates (in verse 14), with the concept of guarding what has been invested in us by God – it shouldn’t be wasted, it shouldn’t be allowed to lay dormant, we can’t let it fizzle out! This is very much our obligation to God, humanity and all creation – in this sense, our debt is still to be paid. I owe it to others to fulfil my ‘calling’. Or, at least, that’s how Paul felt about it (e.g. Romans 1:14). We should be good stewards of God’s investment within us. This is possible, totally, for we are actually in partnership with the Holy Spirit … Who is living in us. Our endeavours and the Holy Spirit (can very well) … “consist together” (Henry).

Let us appreciate the opportunities before us! Together, we await great outcomes. For our God is great, and the Holy Spirit is active and effective, and Jesus is the best friend a person could ever have! We just have to give ourselves to God’s cause, to God’s will, and then be visible and available … joining up the dots for people, working as a team, encouraging one another to fulfil our ‘callings’ – based on who we are, the experiences we have had, the circumstances we face, and the spiritual gifts we have been given. Amen.


Ephesians 4:1-6

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. Amen!

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