Thursday, April 06, 2006

Ministry Matters 2006: The Heart of Christian Ministry 2

Dreary Piano
Perseverance brings to my mind the dreary image of an upright Japanese piano with a horrid thin timbre. Blessed with that unhelpful gift of a very short-attention span, practising the piano (or worse, scales!) was the bane of my childhood. I made it painfully to Grade 8 only by memorising the scales and the set pieces on the way to the exam room. Fortunately (or unfortunately), Christian perseverance (and thus, confidence) isn't based on desperate last-minute cramming in the back of a car.

This is the second talk by David Jackman on "The Heart of Christian Ministry":
The Servant's Confidence (2 Corinthians 4:1-18)

Introduction:
The story is told of 2 cows who are looking over the farm yard gate. And they see a milk track passing by on its way to town, and on the side of the milk truck it reads "Our milk is sterilised, pasturised, modernised". Then one cow says to the other,"Do you ever feel inadequate?"

One of the perils of Christian life is feeling inadequate. How do we keep our hearts on things that matter most?

Keep on keeping on(2 Corinthians 4:1,16; Luke 18:1; Galatians 6:9; 2 Thessalonians 2:13)

2 Corinthians 4:16 tells us that we do not lose heart. But the peril is that we will lose heart; that we will fall into the clutches of despair. The Bible tells us to keep on keeping on. Persisting is used in several other occasions: Luke 18:1 - "then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up", Galatians 6:9 - "let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up", and 2 Thessalonians 2:13ff.

Never tire, never lose heart in doing what is right.

If Bible frequently exhorts us not to do this, must be a real danger.

Keep on keeping on is a wholehearted assertion. It is not gritting your teeth and bearing it. It is not pretending not there aren't any problems or difficulties but applying the real Christian solution.

It's easy to start out in Christian life keen to serve God. It's one thing to start well, it's another thing to end well. KOKO - keep on keeping on. My life's motto.

Oswald Saunders said,"All God's giants have beeen weak men who did great things for God because they reckoned on God's being with them". God wants us to have that humble confidence.

As we look at this chapter, let us pray that the Holy Spirit opens this up to us.

Earlier we saw that it is a ministry of service, a ministry of the Spirit, a ministry of life, of righteousness. Ministry reflects God's glory. It is designed to do nothing else but to change men and women into the likeness of Christ.

How could we ever lose heart?

When it doesn't ever seem to work. Anyone who has been involved for more than 5 minutes in Christian work will tell you. When youth you have been praying for and teaching turn their backs on the faith, when people cherish grievances and bite each other. Or when one fellow worker suddenly says the cost is too great, it's not for me. Won't you wonder if it's worth it all, when the church you founded under God in Corinth turns on you? Won't you lose heart?

Why not lose heart? Why KOKO?

The test is whether we have really got the Christian message. If not, then we'll be tempted to change the message.

This is the heart of the good news (2 Corinthians 4:1) that it is through God's mercy that we have this ministry. Having a part to play in God's service is entirely dependent on God's mercy. When you think of God's mercy, you think of Christ's cross isn't it? Mercy at Calvary. It is the mercy of God that firstly puts us right with God, then commissions us as agents in this message.

1. The Pattern of Gospel Ministry (4:1-6)
(a) Our motives
The "rather" at the beginning of 4:2 means that our motives were wrong. The gospel demands by its very nature that we too be motivated by that mercy. Our motives are to make the word of God known as clearly and plainly as we can. The alternative is in 4:2. Deception is like an unscrupulous politican. The word we use today is "spin". Distort is no longer "spin" but an ingratiating salesman in a shop who distorts the truth in order to make a sale. Go in and try on an item of clothing, step out of the changing room and they say,"Ooo, I can see you in that" – which is really a statement of fact.

One of the marks of a sub-Christian cult is that they won't tell you the whole story. Until you are inside.

We are completely open, says Paul. Everybody's conscience is able to judge whether what we say is true.

(b) Our methods
The Lord who demands our obedience in showing mercy because he is the one that shows us mercy. The real Christian preacher in his method demonstrates his message. The clarity of the gospel is because of God's mercy. Christ writes the agenda. And it is not to point to ourselves. It is to show that the Lord Jesus is to be worshipped and praised. This is what keeps the preacher confident even if there is no response. Perishing people reveal their own state by refusing the good news.

No good teacher will say,"O dear, I must change the message or I must use deceptive methods to get them to believe in God". No, they will recognise that these people have been veiled and blinded by the god of this world and only God will be able to change them.

When you became a Christian, it is as great a miracle as creation. The God who said let light shine out of darkenss has shone a light in you. The God who created light will shine the glory of God into our hearts. As we hear his words and see his mighty works, the light of God will shine in our hearts.

2. The Paradox of Divine power (4:7-9)
(a) Modelled on the incarnation

4:7 starts with "but". There is a contrast here. But...we have this treasure in jars of clay. "Jars of clay" are little understood today. The treasure is the gospel, knowing God in the face of Jesus Christ. It is the most glorious and precious treasure imaginable. What you usually do with your treasure is to put it in a safe or in an ornate box etc.

But here the gospel is in cheap clay jars – fragile, disposable. Like plastic cups. heap, easily got rid off.

In jars of clay there is an immeasurable treasure. That's what servants of Jesus are. We are to become like jars of clay – fragile, easily disposable, but the light shines out of us.

And Paul says, isn't that a great pity... No, he doesn't say that. He says this is the plan so the power is in God not in us. This superlative power to turn the world upside down. No comparison can be made. Supreme, all surpassing power of God in the gospel. Nothing else can make us into new people.

Murray McShane said,"What is the greatest miracle? Creation or redemption? No, that God goes on bothering with people like me." It's true- we are little plastic cups, cheap, disposable, but with the transforming power, the power of God in us.

The world's values are totally different. The world worships power. If you have a superlative power, then why doesn't the world fall at your feet, why aren't you on chat shows or on tv? Remember wise man in Matthew 2? Where did the wise men go? They went first to Herod but finally found Jesus in feeding trough. God came in vulnerable humanity, cradled in a feeding trough.

God deliberately did that to show a pattern. God despises human pomp. God takes the weakest to show his power so that the power may be seen by all to come from God.

Tony Campolo said,"God changes the world not by human power but by his personal authority", the ability to elicit the willingness of people to do his will because of their love for him. The power of God is seen in the willingness to die so that we might live.

(b) Manifested in the church
The church in our generation must learn this. For example, the prosperity teaching which has been devastating in Africa and South America. The prosperity gospel says if only you want something badly enough or strongly enough, God will give you what you want. It is a love affair with power.

Or in political lobbying, where the church influences with the sheer number of votes rather than persuasiveness, it is about power.

Or in style: whether there is enough marketing or advertising.

But look at 4:9 - the power is that only God can keep us going. They might be perplexed without means or resources, not knowing what to do. But they are not in total despair because they know the end. He allows his followers to be persecuted. But are we abandoned? No. We are struck down, knocked down but not knocked out.

It is difficult as the only Christian in a Muslim country or at home or at work. But this makes us dependent on him so that he can use our weakness to pour out his power. Who says that the power is not in weakness or great difficulty rather than worldly power and success? We must see in these times that it is not that something has gone wrong but it is how God is working in our lives.

4:10 - we always carry around in out bodies the dying of jesus. If we are saved we expect to carry around the persecution of Jesus. Not that we are martyrs, although some still are in the world. Not that we seek to be killed for the gospel. But we share in some measure the hostility. The dying of Jesus is experienced in our lives.

Look at 1 Corinthians 11:23-28. That's pretty humbling. That is the dying of Jesus.

Put that beside owning a Ferrari. Don't have anything to do with it. Expose it. That is to be on the side of man, not of God. Who doesn't feel that way, because we are worldly people aren't we? We like our comforts.

When I read that catalogue I wonder how Paul survived. An all-surpassing power. We have that confidence.

3. The Passion of Christian Living (4:10-15)
(a) Death for life
...so that his life will always be revealed in our bodies. Here is the passion of Christian living – death for life. As we die to ourselves, there is life in us. 4:12 is the summary - so we are willing to die daily so that Jesus' life will be revealed in us. So in Christian ministry we are willing to die little deaths by serving. He never expects us to do more than he calls us to do.

(b) Faith for testimony
4:13 is interesting. In that he quotes from Psalm 116:10. If you look that up it is from a hymn of thanksgiving for deliverance from death. Public ministry depends on his personal faith. It is wearing him out. He believes that the one who raises Jesus from the dead will also raise us. When we begin to experience the resurrection power, then we ability to keep on going so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. We see in 4:15 that the heart of the gospel is lived out in the gospel messenger.

4. The Prospect of Eternal Glory (4:16-18)
(a) Outward and inward
Faith looks back at the cross and then forward knowing that God is completely dependable. Paul taught in terms of contrast - outward and inward. Outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed. All that the outward man can do is only decay because that is all he can do. That is why people find it so difficult to accept it. Which is why people my age spend money on botox etc. I was once interviewing for a job in student ministry. It was quite a responsible job, and there was one candidate who seemed very suitable. But he was very young. The chairman said,"Youth is the one fault that time will infallibly cure.

It is true we are wasting away outwardly. Inwardly, we are being renewed. As we grow weaker physically, and we begin to know that we can't do what we are used to doing. The earthly cottage may be wearing out, losing its thatch, the windows getting cloudy, stairs getting creaky but inwardly we are being renewed day by day, every day if they are a Christian in living relationship with god.

There is no need for a Christian to go quietly. When Caleb was 85 years, he said he was as strong today as when Moses gave him this task. So give me this mountain, he said to God. How could he be as strong? He followed the Lord wholeheartedly.

Martin Luther said,"This life is not being but becoming. This is not the end but this is the road. All does not gleam with glory but all are being purified."

(b) Troubles and glory
Paul still endures pressure. Jesus said that in the world there will be troubles. Adjectives he uses to describe them are "light" and "momentary", compared to the glory eternal. This is how to get perspective on our troubles. It is difficult to translate 4:18. The future is sure and certain and it is happening now. When we see our troubles in this life, we must remember this.

(c) Temporary and eternal
What is seen is temporary but what is seen is eternal. All the things in this world are uncertain and fading but it is those who clearly embrace the eternal eventuality that are the most use. Some people say that Christians are so heavenly-minded they are of no earthly use. Don't take notice. If you're not heavenly-minded you're no use to Jesus at all.

On this April Fools' Say, let us remember Jim Elliot: he is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose. Not that you can gain salvation but you will be raised eternal.

As we go to bed tonight, let's pray to remember that we are the little clay pots that fix our eyes on the eternal realities, then God will sustain us. Where our treasure is our heart is also.

*************
Project Timothy: Ministry Matters 2006
Ministry Matters 2006: The Heart of Christian Ministry 1 (The Servant's Calling)
Ministry Matters 2006: The Heart of Christian Ministry 2 (The Servant's Confidence)
Ministry Matters 2006: The Heart of Christian Ministry 3 (The Servant's Convictions)
Ministry Matters 2006: Preaching and Christian Ministry 1 (The Necessity of Proclamation)
Ministry Matters 2006: Preaching and Christian Ministry 2 (Giving and Listening to Talks)

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