21st Century Ministry and 2 Corinthians (Part 4)

Many Christians feel tired and worn out. 2 Corinthians 3:1-6 contains an important reminder that the incredible change one experiences as a Christian is not an act of the will but an act of Jesus through the Spirit of God.   Great_Books.jpg

This means that being an effective Christ-follower in the 21st century is not a matter of you being smart enough, witty enough, or even insightful enough. Rather, the essence of what it means to live in Christ is produced by Jesus through the Spirit of God. Furthermore, this means that the essence of ministry is found in what Christ is doing through the Spirit of God. Our ministry is not based on ourselves and our ingenuity.

Jesus, through the Spirit of God, is writing a masterpiece.

Think for a moment about tattoos. What are they? Ink underneath the skin. The tattoo artist works for a while and then leaves the customer with the picture or the image. He may make a mark on the skin but it never goes beyond anything that is skin deep. When Jesus lives in you, he works on you through God’s Spirit. His work isn’t limited to the skin. No, what he is writing is not on stone or flesh but on your heart.

He is creating a masterpiece. Think for a moment about some of the masterpieces in the western world.   

·      To Kill a Mockingbird

·      The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

·      Hamlet

·      Gone with the Wind

·      The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

·      The Lord of the Rings

·      Winnie-the-Pooh

·      The Black Stallion

·      Charlotte’s Web

·      War and Peace

So let us think about this reality:

·      Jesus is writing a masterpiece: you. In fact, this is something that will be read by all who have the opportunity.   You won’t find this at Barnes & Noble or on Amazon. You will find this masterpiece by looking in the mirror. Don’t get distracted by your ears, skin, height or weight. I am not talking about self-esteem, either the lack of it or the importance of it. Rather, I am talking about you and me not minimizing what God is doing in our lives. You are God’s masterpiece because it is God who is writing on your heart. Once God through his Spirit begins to write on your heart, you will never be the same.

What can others read? The question is not just what are we telling. What are we showing? Our mission requires speaking and incarnation (Jesus living in me and in us).

·      Let us be cautious about telling truth while we neglect doing truth.

·      Our ministry is an incarnational ministry that displays God’s masterpieces. This means that we believe that Christ really does live in us individually and as a church.

·      What makes a church is not a building but a mission.

·      Our mission is expressed in both words (2:17) and transformed lives (3:1-3).  

·      Knowing that God is preparing a masterpiece gives us confidence.  

Question

Why do some Christ-followers seem to often feel overwhelmed, worn out, and exhausted than energized and refreshed?


“But What about Me?” The Curse of Self-Consciousness

It was an interesting moment.catandmirror-281x300.jpg

I was a freshman in high school. A photographer was present to take school pictures. That morning, he was taking pictures of our high school basketball team. I was in the gym and for a few minutes watched as the photographer first took a team picture and then took individual photos. Off to the side was an older kid waiting his turn, along with several others on the team. He took a jump shot and then turned to one of his friends and asked:

“How did I look?”

It struck me that not only did he want to have his picture taken but that he also wanted to have a certain look. He was self-conscious.

Yet, self-consciousness can actually work against you. Jesus said that to follow him meant that one must “deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). He reminds us that “whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it” (9:24).

In fact, it is possible to think so much about myself that I actually lose or forfeit the self in the process. Again, Jesus says, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self” (9:25)?

When I am overly self-conscious, I am very, very focused on what is happening to me. Being overly self-conscious is a skewed way of looking at one’s self.

Am I preoccupied with what another thinks about me? (I am not really focused on that person but on myself.)

Am I preoccupied with the image that I am projecting to others? (I am more concerned with what that person thinks of me than on loving that person.)

Am I preoccupied with keeping score in my life, comparing myself to another? (I am thinking about whether or not that person has a bigger home, better car, than me, etc.)

When I first started working in my role as a minister, I felt behind. I felt as if other ministers knew more, had better skills, and were probably doing better work than me. Now I had no reason think this way. Yet, I did. I was overly self-conscious. Consequently, receiving a compliment or a word of affirmation meant far too much to me. It was almost as if receiving these words validated my existence. If no one expressed a word of affirmation or encouragement after I preached, I would sometimes wonder what was wrong with me.

Whether or not I received invitations to speak at special events or at other churches meant far too much to me. If I received an invitation to speak somewhere, it seemed to validate my existence. However, if I did not, I would again wonder what was wrong with me. Or, I would simply assume that I was lacking or did not measure up in some way.

Now I realize that I was finding my identity and sense of well being in some source other than Jesus.

Today, I want to remember:

I have been called to love others rather than constantly be preoccupied with myself.

My greatest sense of well being and completeness comes from Jesus.

Human affirmation is nice but it comes and goes. The most consistent and meaningful affirmation that I will ever experience comes from God himself.


Question:

What helps you to be more God-conscious and less preoccupied with yourself?

Guest Writer: Connie Lard

coffee46.jpgThe following was written by today’s guest writer, Connie Lard of Florence, Alabama.  Connie has served for many years as a health-care professional.  She also is an avid reader and a good thinker.  On a number of occasions, I have read her reflections, poetry, etc. and have come away moved and encouraged.

***

“Lord, teach us to pray…”  Wistful words from an unnamed disciple.  Jesus had many requests from people while He was here.  Especially after the miracles started.  Often the request was for healing, sometimes for an answer to a religious question, or simply for food to feed a hungry crowd.  He always listened intently and answered in a way that was appropriate to meet the needs of the person asking.  But this request really caught His attention.  And, I imagine it made Him pause and smile broadly before He answered, “This is how you should pray…”

We today are no different.  We ask many things of Him.  He listens carefully and answers each of us in just the way we need.  Then, often only after life has driven us to our knees, we make the most important request, the one He’s been waiting to hear.  “Lord, teach me to pray.”  He pauses….. and smiles…..and He answers.

ON PRAYER
I think, with awestruck wonder,
Of how it all began –
God wanted me to know Him,
So, He became a Man!

It’s quite beyond all reason
That such a thing could be…
I could not go to Him,
Thus, He came down for me.

He wanted me to know His heart,
To see inside His mind,
To discover truths, which on my own
I’d never, ever find.

Because He came to me like this
With many things to share,
Now I can also go to Him –
He gave me wings of prayer!

Sometimes I take these wings,
And I am feeling strong.
My prayer has words all tumbling out
In rhythm like a song.

At other times I cannot phrase
Just what I need to say.
I can only ask Him in,
Within my heart to stay.

I cannot understand it all,
It is too much for me.
I only know I dwell in Him,
And that He dwells in me!

Question: What Do We Actually Practice?

23rd_Psalm.jpgThis week I’ve been reading the Sermon on the Mount as well as much material about the Sermon on the Mount.  I have also been reading Dallas Willard on discipleship.  I heard him speak twice today at Truett Seminary (Baylor University).  So—I am giving a lot of thought to the words of Jesus this week.  If a disciple is a person who learns from Jesus and lives by the teachings of Jesus, then his words carry much weight. 

I have two questions that I want to ask.  Your thoughts will be valuable as I reflect on the words of Jesus and our acceptance or our neglect (usually not a spoken neglect but a passive neglect).

1.  In your experience with various congregations, what teaching of Jesus is either ignored, dismissed, or often just disobeyed?

2.  In your own life, can you point to a particular teaching of Jesus which you regularly ignore, dismiss, or disobey?

(This will help as I think through the teachings of Jesus–not just in understanding them, but in reflecting on our actual practice.)

What Jesus Said That Christians Neglect

ignoreI have been spending much time in the Gospels the last few months.  I continue to hear Jesus say a number of things that are either being overlooked or neglected.  In some instances, I think we have overlooked some things for so long that we no longer even see them.

 

For example, this week I have been reading Luke 6.  I came across these words, which I have read many times:

 

"But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you …"

 

Now these words are not new to me.  Again, I’ve read them many, many times.  I may need to ask, however, "Am I serious about living out these words?"

 

I’m curious.  As you read the words of Jesus in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, what does Jesus say that far too many churches and individual Christians ignore or neglect?

What Would Jesus Say? (Part 2)

puzzle.jpgWhat would Jesus say?  I asked that question the other day regarding the church (see part 1).  What might he say to a congregation of Christians on a Sunday morning?  (I was thinking about the specific congregation of Christians that I am a part of.)  

 
Now I wonder, what might Jesus say to the leadership of that church?  What might he say to those in our congregation who have leadership roles?  (You might think about your own church here.)

 
Suppose he were to meet with our key leaders.  Perhaps he is going to sit in on a regularly scheduled meeting.  He has requested that we go on with our agenda for the meeting.
 

  • What might he think about the subject matter of this meeting?  What might he think about the overall discussion that took place in that meeting?
  • Would he hear anything about the mission or the kingdom? 
  • Would he see leaders who are broken hearted about the conditions of people, families, children in their city? 
  • As these leaders talk, what do you suppose might thrill Jesus?  What might sadden him?
  • What might Jesus say to this group?  Would we feel encouraged, saddened, or embarrassed?
  • What would he think about the way we talk about the community and the church?  What would he think about the way we talk to one another within the group?  Would he sense the love that we have for one another? 

As I think about these questions, I am trying to not distance myself from this group.  Rather, I picture myself being there and experiencing this, together with the others.

 
What might Jesus say?

What Would Jesus Say? (Part 1)

coffee39.jpgI wonder what Jesus might say if he preached at our church one Sunday?

 
What would he say?

 
He would be walking into our cultural context.  He would walk to our podium, I suppose.  Perhaps he would use the wireless mic that I normally wear.  He might hear the baptistery occasionally gurgle behind him.  He might hear the air conditioning come on as he speaks (yesterday the temperature got up to 107 degrees here).  Hopefully, one of those crows outside would not come to the window and caw.

 
I just wonder what he might say to our church?  What would be the tone and substance of his message?  

 
I just wonder:

 
1.  Would the subject of his message be similar to what I have been preaching to this church?  Or, would it be very different?   Is there an aspect of the Gospel that he would emphasize that I really haven’t been emphasizing?

 
2.  What about his style, tone, etc.?  Is there anything about either the style or tone that might be "different"?

 
3.  How would the people in this church receive his message?  Would his message be surprising or shocking, or would it be something they expected?  Would there be a real appreciation for what he said?

 
4.  What about the application of his teaching to our church and to our lives personally?  How would we respond?

 
Do I know the answers to these questions?  No.  But it is interesting to think about this in the context of the congregation of people with whom I am most familiar.

 
As you think about Jesus preaching to your own faith community, whether small or large, are there other questions that surface?