Originally published on Sep. 30, 2020. License: CC BY-NC-ND 4.0
I am an outsider. That’s how I’ve felt — in regards to my relation to the Church — most of my Christian life. Rejected by the world but loved by Jesus, I thought that my only chance of finding a place where I could truly belong is within the community of believers. After all, that’s how it’s supposed to be — an upside-down Kingdom, where the poor, the weak, the broken-hearted, the outcasts, the slaves, and the nobodies are given priority. But guess what? I’ve been rejected in the Church too. Many times.
Is it me? Am I just too different? Too weird? Too deep? Or maybe I’m just too talented. Too gifted. Do I arouse intense feelings of envy in others? Or maybe I’m just too committed to God. Too passionate. Too honest. And too unpredictable. Do I convict them of their lukewarmness? Of their sins?
God knows how long I’ve waited to find the right people… and God knows how much I’ve tried to belong. But it’s clear to me now that, no matter what I do, and no matter how much love I give, I might never be truly accepted in the Church. And that is because of my vocation itself, my calling. You see, my friends, God has ordained it that I, Arjay, would not stand among them — other believers — but to stand a bit separated from them. On the boundaries. At the gates.
I am a Swordsman of the Word, and I stand at the gates — between the Church and the world, and between them and God.
This essay is part of this ministry’s new founding documents, and it’s my second answer to the question, “What does Swordsman of the Word mean to me personally?”
As I have explained in my previous essay, A Hard-Won Triumph of My Faith, which is my first answer to this question, I’m writing about my answers only in a straightforward manner (and I’m leaving much things unsaid). And that is because thinking about these things — especially reliving the stories behind them — is very hard for me. Writing about my first answer was a struggle; coming up with this one even more so.
But before I continue, I just want to explain something. People may think that, because I write about the bad things that happened to me, I have not yet forgiven the people involved. I have, and though the wounds may still hurt, I don’t hate them. But the truth is, those bad things had already become a part of my life — and their consequences a part of me — and so they will continue to influence my actions, particularly my writing, now and in the future. That’s just the way it is, especially with us writers. Contrary to the popular motto, forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting (that’s simply impossible), and love doesn’t equal trust. For example, I love the Church, I really do, but I don’t trust it much. You can count within the fingers of my hands the people who have my trust right now, and even fewer than that are those whom I can talk to unreservedly.
That is sad, you might think, and it is. But what can I do about it? It is God who brings people together, and no matter how much I may want to belong, I can’t force relationships. Besides, as I’ve said, this already has something to do with my calling — I am called to stand a bit apart from the rest.
There, I’ve said it… acknowledged it… accepted it. Now, would I be always alone because of it, or would somebody now open their doors and welcome me, despite it?
My first answer to the question of personal meaning of Swordsman of the Word is about the ministry itself. This second answer is about the role I play. And so, what does it mean to me, being a Swordsman of the Word? My answer is, it’s a vocation that is like no other.
Reasons for the Job
It’s not the purpose of this essay to try to know what is really on God’s mind why he has given me this vocation. That knowledge belongs only to him. All I can do is to try to make sense of the things I’ve been through and of the things I see around me, and then, with much prayer, come up with sufficient reasons that will give me peace. After all, if I’m going to do this, I need to understand enough about it, so that I can withstand the hardships.
There are four main reasons that I see why God would give me this job. The first one is the decline of Christianity and the Church in general. We are now living in the post-Christian era, and the world needs to be reminded of the good and wonderful things that the Church of Jesus Christ still has to offer.
The second one is the rise of these many cults and false teachers claiming to be Christians. The third one is the corruption of the Church itself on the inside, particularly on its doctrines. In both these cases, the people need to be shown what is real Christianity and what is not.
And the fourth one is the divisions within the Church, especially the discrimination against the weak and the poor. In a time where the Church has become much politicized, Christians need to be reminded that God still chooses the humble and the nobody to shame the proud and powerful.
Now, having identified these reasons does not mean that I have some grand ambition to solve any of these problems. I’m only a servant of Jesus, and whatever difference I’ll make in these areas, that will be because of God, not me. I’m just here to serve my Lord, and I’ve only shown you the context of my service. What I’m saying is:
This is the situation, this is where I’m needed, and this is where I’ll stand. At the gates. Between the Church and the world. Between true Christianity and false Christianity. Between honesty and hypocrisy. Between true love and partiality. And between people and God — to show them what’s it really like to walk with Him.
I am a Swordsman of the Word, and I stand at the gates.
Simply Being Who I Am
Just what is a Swordsman of the Word anyway? Just what is this ministry? What makes them so special?
Right now I’m only a blogger, and Swordsman of the Word is only a blog. However, someday God will lead me to do other works for him, and when that happens, I will still carry this identity with me and play this role. This is now part of who I am.
In my essay A God-Centered, People-Oriented Blogging, I already described in detail what this ministry is and the things I’m going to do. I will just quote a few passages from that essay to remind you of the things that make this ministry (and this vocation) one of a kind.
First, the meaning behind the title:
Implicit in this statement [Hebrews 4:12] is the potential for destruction if God’s Word is used carelessly. And so rightly wielding the sword of the Spirit — that is, being a Swordsman of the Word — involves more than just knowing the truth. It also involves wisdom, caution, love, and expertise in proclaiming it, so that the truth builds up rather than tears down — brings people freedom rather than piles more burdens on them.
Second, the purpose of this ministry:
As a God-centered ministry, Swordsman of the Word has only one overriding purpose, and that is, to help people know God more. Through his Word. And through my own life.
…Writing about my personal life, especially about my own walk with God, is what I do best. I am not afraid to dig deep… and to reveal much. Also, to know much more about God and his Word is my consuming desire. And so my writings for Swordsman of the Word will bring these two together, for God’s glory.
And third, this ministry’s one distinctive characteristic:
My willingness to go beyond the facts and statements of truth in the Scriptures — to not only expound on the Word of God and its possible applications, but also to let you see how these truths are applied and lived in one particular life — mine. There will be no hypocrisy here, my friends. I write about the things I personally know and practice.
There’s nothing mysterious about my work here, my friends, and there’s no complicated plan to follow. Except with God, I’ve made no consultations with any ministry experts; and except for those in God’s mind, there are no timetables, no chart projections, no performance evaluations. In this ministry (and in this vocation) I need only to express myself through my writing — to simply be the person that God has molded me into — and he will do the rest. As I said in my introduction to that essay,
Swordsman of the Word is now the culmination of two separate works: (1) the work that God has been doing in my life all these years, and (2) the work that I’ve done for it so far. That is, I’ve been redefining the ministry in the light of who and what I am now as a Christian (the result of the Holy Spirit’s sanctification of me), and also in the light of my experiences and the results of my efforts since I started this blog a year and a half ago…. Consequently, as the outcome of this redefinition, Swordsman of the Word is now an even more vivid expression of my Christian life and faith.
And so, what makes this vocation like no other? And what gives it any chance of making a difference in the battlefields I’m in? It is these: My passions for truth, love, and honesty, and my hatred for hypocrisy. You see, my friends, I have this great hunger to really know God’s Word (which is the truth), and to be able to teach it and preach it in ways that people, even non-Christians, can understand and appreciate. I also have this perhaps rare propensity for honesty, and I’m not afraid to talk about the details of my own spiritual life. Most of all, because the laws of God are food for my soul, I have high standards. For myself. And for others. (When I say I hate hypocrisy, I’m not being self-righteous, because that hate includes any signs of hypocrisy that I find in myself — which is why I always acknowledge my sins before God, and why I always strive for excellence.)
Inevitably then, because I am driven by these things, I stand at the gates. To proclaim truth to both believers and unbelievers in the best and loving ways that I can, and that is, by being honest, vulnerable, and genuine. But also, to speak against hypocritical Christians, especially leaders. Let me just say this — my heart burns against those who have taken the roles of shepherds, but have failed to do their jobs.
I’m not a front-line soldier — you should know this by now. I’m an artist, and given the depths of my thoughts and emotions, conflicts tend to drag me down. And though I care about these many social, ethical, political, cultural problems that plague the world and the Church, I’m not passionate enough about them. However, when it comes to church leadership — to shepherding God’s people — it’s not only a passion with me, but a heavy burden as well. And I admit it, my bad experiences with church leaders have something to do with it. But like I said, those experiences are part of me now, and because God had allowed it that I should go through that kind of suffering, then he must have good purposes for it. One is for me to speak against such leadership problems, of course, especially hypocrisy. But also, for me to have this consuming desire to become a very good shepherd (or pastor) myself, that is, when God appoints me to be one.
And if you’re wondering how speaking against bad church leadership fits into the purpose of this ministry — which is to help you know God more — let me show you. More, I’m telling you that in this aspect of my work you will truly find out how much God really cares about the well-being of his people. In Ezekiel, God had written this prophecy:
“Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel. Prophesy, and tell them, even the shepherds, ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh: “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! Shouldn’t the shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat. You clothe yourself with the wool. You kill the fatlings, but you don’t feed the sheep. You haven’t strengthened the diseased. You haven’t healed that which was sick. You haven’t bound up that which was broken. You haven’t brought back that which was driven away. You haven’t sought that which was lost, but you have ruled over them with force and with rigor. They were scattered, because there was no shepherd. They became food to all the animals of the field, and were scattered. — Ezekiel 34:2-5 WEB
Therefore, you shepherds, hear Yahweh’s word: Thus says the Lord Yahweh: “Behold, I am against the shepherds. I will require my sheep at their hand, and cause them to cease from feeding the sheep. The shepherds won’t feed themselves any more. I will deliver my sheep from their mouth, that they may not be food for them.” — Ezekiel 34:9-10 WEB
This matter of me standing at the gates — and so stand (a bit) separated from other believers — has been on my mind for several months now. It’s been hard for me to recognize it for what it truly is, but the fact is, I’ve already been living its reality for a long time now. This essay only makes it official. From the time I became a Christian up to now, I’ve never been truly accepted by the Church. And most probably, I never will be. Because someone who is standing at the gates and speaking about things people would rather not hear, no matter how gracious the manner of speaking, is not going to be very popular. I only hope that there would be enough friends who would love me and accept me to make these sacrifices of my vocation worth it.
A Clay Pot for His Glory
There is this passage in the Bible that aptly describes my situation:
But we have this treasure [the gospel] in clay vessels, that the exceeding greatness of the power may be of God, and not from ourselves. We are pressed on every side, yet not crushed; perplexed, yet not to despair; pursued, yet not forsaken; struck down, yet not destroyed; always carrying in the body the putting to death of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. — 2 Corinthians 4:7-10 WEB
Because I write personal essays, some people might think that Swordsman of the Word is more about me than it is about God. But that is just not true. I write personal essays because that is simply my way of serving God: I glorify him by sharing how he’s been working in my life. And whatever it is about me or about my writing that you find attractive, well, that is because of the fruit of that work. The truth is, I’m a sinner like everyone else (though I’m also forgiven), and I have my own faults and weaknesses.
In the words of Paul, I’m only a clay vessel, or a clay pot, chosen by God to proclaim his truth. And to make this picture even more vivid, consider how unlikely I am for this job that God has given me… for this vocation of being a Swordsman of the Word.
Here are the facts: I have few friends, very limited resources, and no influence to speak of that will make the idea of starting a ministry such as this sensible and not just plain crazy. I’m also a college undergraduate, which makes it even crazier. In today’s corporate-minded world — a mentality that exists even in churches — who would consider me for any serious undertaking? Any serious ministry? Especially one that would put me in the spotlight?
And ironically, for someone who writes very honestly about his personal life, I’m also a very private man. I’m not gregarious, I don’t make friends easily, networking for me is a chore, and except for maintaining connections with the people that matter to me, I could happily live without social media.
Truly, I don’t have the money and the clout, and I don’t have the temperament. And yet here I am, blogging. And yet here I am, making this much noise in Facebook. And yet here I am, pushing forward with Swordsman of the Word against all the odds, and with no thought whatsoever of turning back.
Am I doing things right, God? Are you getting all the glory for this?
I’m not here, though, to take pride in the fact that I’m a clay pot. That God does use weak people to shame the wise and powerful (1 Cor 1:27-28) doesn’t automatically qualify me to be used by him. I’m just grateful that I am able to serve him, and that I am indeed being used by him, and that my sufferings have meaningful and glorious purposes after all. Because that’s what it also means to be a clay pot for the glory of God — to suffer. Not just to proclaim the gospel, but also to suffer. To be molded by him from the dirt. And to be hardened into a vessel he can use through the fires of the furnace. Sanctification. I’m talking about sanctification. The lifelong process by which the Holy Spirit makes the children of God holy — to be like Christ.
My friends, I’ve been talking about simply being who I am to perform my vocation, and that is because of the work of God in my life — in molding me, in sanctifying me — to be the kind of person that he wants me to become. Indeed, with my talk about speaking against hypocrisy in the Church, I’ve shown you a glimpse of that process. And perhaps you’re wondering now if I can tell you more about it.
Well, to be honest, I still don’t know very well how this sanctification stuff works, much less how it’s being applied to me personally. All I can say for sure is that God uses our sufferings to shape us and to help us grow. And all I can do in regards to my own life is to point out some things in my past that best explain some aspects of who I am now. But even doing just that is already difficult. Because what am I but a fragile man with a very limited capacity for understanding? How can I really know the purposes and designs my infinite Creator has for me?
Still, there are three things I’d like to point out — those that are obvious to me — and I hope that by these examples you’ll understand more how God has been working in my life all these years to prepare me for this vocation.
The first one is the very reason why Swordsman of the Word even exists. Why am I so concerned about “rightly wielding” the truth? Why does it matter so much to me that I be gracious and loving, especially in sharing the gospel? And the answer is the bungled evangelism I received in college. No, I don’t want to talk about it now, but you can judge by the result — I nearly became an atheist. I denied Christ, and I denied the church (I was a Catholic). The only thing that was left to me — the one thing I could not deny — was the existence of God. But I did not know who he is.
The second one is the reason why, unlike most evangelicals, I am as concerned about non-believers as I am about believers. That is, this is the reason why Swordsman of the Word is geared towards both Christians and non-Christians. And that reason is the decade I spent without a church, not long after I fell in love with Jesus. Disillusioned by church communities I had in contact with — both Catholic and Protestant — I just left the church matter to God, trusting him to lead me to the right one. Consequently, the Christian subculture, and the prejudice that some Christians have towards the “lost” and the “unsaved” never became part of my nature. And because I read much, and watch movies and anime, I began to understand people and culture more and more.
And the third one is the reason why I’m so hungry right now for the Word of God, and why I’ve been studying Reformed theology… why I’m so concerned about true knowledge of the Scriptures and doctrinal integrity. And the reason is the rejections I received for Swordsman of the Word itself. You all know the stories, my friends, and you all have seen their profound effects on me. But what you might not have realized is that this experience has truly brought home to me that the only one I can absolutely trust with my life is God, and so I better make sure that I really know the things he said. And also, that I must find good and trustworthy Bible teachers and theologians who will guide me in those things.
Beloved, don’t be astonished at the fiery trial which has come upon you, to test you, as though a strange thing happened to you. But because you are partakers of Christ’s sufferings, rejoice; that at the revelation of his glory you also may rejoice with exceeding joy. — 1 Peter 4:12-13 WEB
I am a Swordsman of the Word, and I stand at the gates. It’s a difficult and lonely job, yes, but I’m committed to it, and I’m hoping that, as time passes and as I spend my life in this service, I would find true friends who love me and support me, and perhaps even stand by me. For I may have been specially molded by God for this vocation, but there’s no reason why others could not follow my example and be Swordsmen of the Word themselves.
Will you also take up this role, my friend?