Sunday, January 24, 2010

Authentic Gospel Ministry: Tough But Tasty

Penne and Meatballs Cheese-Fruitcake Experiment
Mark Coffee and Cookies

There is something deliciously and transformingly wholesome about true gospel ministry; like from-scratch pasta sauce with its layered texture and complex flavour that inevitably prompts the singing of (silly) songs late into the night thereafter. Or that could have been the pinot noir.

Bad simile, bad bad simile. Go sit in the naughty corner.

Right.

Authentic gospel ministry is deliciously and transformingly wholesome. It concerns the authentic gospel of course (1 Thesslonians 1). But mainstream Martha Stewart fans would snub it, as would the editors of the most niche food or shelter magazines. It's just not pretty enough. It does not rely on effective technique or any display of human power.

(Jesus, who displayed more out-of-this-world power than any human in history, was not keen on making it the cornerstone of his ministry. He did not seem to think that healing and driving out demons were great evangelistic tools to draw the crowds (though they did in droves so he could not enter a town openly (Mark 1:45) or even eat (Mark 3:21)). Instead, he was far more concerned about preaching the gospel of God (Mark 1:39) - the fulfilment of Scripture (Mark 1:14), the repentance of sins and the good news that he had come as king (Mark 1:14, 2:17), the promised Son of Man who would have the authority of God to, inter alia, forgive sins and give real rest (Mark 2:9, 2:28) and usher in a new era (Mark 2:22ff).)

Paul arrived in Thessalonica beaten black and blue from his reception at Philippi. It would seem that both he and Silas still had the dust of shame of failure on their cloaks (1 Thessalonians 2:2) and could be sure of more of the same in Thessalonica. There was no triumphalism in their coming nor anything impressive about them as messengers. Boldness in continuing to preach the controversial gospel required more than human courage - it required the power of God and for us today it will always depend on the power of God (1 Thessalonians 2:2). For if the gospel belongs to God, then the courage to proclaim it will come from God as well.

Because it comes from God and is all about God, authentic gospel ministry also always seeks the approval of God(1 Thessalonians 2:4a). God is not hoodwinked by the doing of seemingly right things with impure motives for he knows and tests men's hearts (1 Thessalonians 2:4b).

And since it is God's gospel and depends on God's power and seeks the approval of God, then it would be smack-forehead silly to use deceptive methods to get people to believe in Jesus, no matter how desperate we are for the salvation of those we love. It would completely miss the point to flatter men or become the nice, tame religious person they would prefer, allegedly to win souls. Jesus, who wept over Jerusalem and died for the sins of the world, did not hesitate to alienate those of his hearers who were opposed to his gospel (not his personality) (Mark 3).

The authentic gospel, because it must have already transformed its messengers, is communicated with the love of God (1 Thessalonians 2:6-12). Like a nursing mother thoroughly committed to her child, Paul and Silas' whole lives revolved around sharing the gospel and their very beings with the Thessalonians without wanting anything in return and concerned not to burden them. Only God could have given a love that was/is not content with the mass spraying of the gospel but was/is eager for a long-term commitment to sharing lives. Like a father with his children, this love is keen to nurture: to come alongside, to put strength in and to demonstrate how to walk in a manner worthy of God.

Do we minister to each other depending on God's power (not relying on the latest sure-win-others-for-Christ technique), for God's approval (not to demonstrate to the Evangelist Idol panel that we are godly or effective workers for Christ), with God's love (not just human interest)?

Do we minister with the authentic word of God? For the authentic gospel carries authority of God, not of men. And it will work in authentic believers so that after they have accepted the objective truth of what has been proclaimed, they will have faith in God and in the message and turn to the living and true God and serve him, waiting for his son from heaven whom he raised from the dead who is coming oto save from coming wrath, and because of this hope, be prepared to suffer as Christ did and as church always has rather than deny truth of gospel or to desist from proclaiming it. (1 Thessalonians 2:13-16)

Are these very basic requirements part of our church leadership selection criteria?


Someone was demonstrating a guitar technique with this song yesterday and now its a earworm.

Everlasting God (Lincoln Brewster, popularised by Chris Tomlin)
Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord
We will wait upon the Lord
We will wait upon the Lord

Our God, You reign forever
Our hope, our Strong Deliverer
You are the everlasting God
The everlasting God
You do not faint
You won't grow weary

Our God, You reign forever
Our hope, our Strong Deliverer
You are the everlasting God
The everlasting God
You do not faint
You won't grow weary

You're the defender of the weak
You comfort those in need
You lift us up on wings like eagles

It's just crying out for an 80s drum machine. Anyway, horrible paucity of lyrical substance made up by embarrassing riches of 1 Thessalonians 1-2, Mark 1-3 and Acts 10-12 (see the St. Helen's Bishopsgate series on The Advance of the Gospel). Yums.

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