New Covenant Ministry – Part 4

NEW2Continuing the thoughts in 2 Corinthians 3-5, so why is ministry glorious, yet so tough?

11. We should not expect our lives to match the glory of the gospel in respect to our strength, but rather  to manifest the glory of the gospel in our weakness. (2 Cor.4:7-12)  Others may look down on us because we are not impressive.  We may long for superhero strength in ministry – every spiritual gift, perfect life, abundant tangible blessing, being liked by everyone, etc.  But the treasure that we have is held in jars of clay.  Unimpressive, weak, fragile, often cracked and inadequate.  Life is worked into others as death seems to reign in our experience.  These are key verses for us in ministry.  How often do we feel afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, struck down, physically weak, struggling to sleep, discouraged from every angle?  Yet we are not crushed, driven to despair, forsaken, destroyed, or finished.  Just as Jesus was given over to death for the sake of others, so that is our privilege in ministry.

12. The challenges of life tempt us to be silent, but trusting we speak. (2 Cor.4:13-15) As we experience the trappings of death in our bodies, in our emotions, in our circumstances, in our ministry experience, so we are tempted to be silent, but instead, we speak.  Why?  Because we trust the God who raised Jesus from death to do the same with us.  We give ourselves as servants in proclaiming Christ, even at the cost of our lives, confident that God will raise both us, and those that He reached through our ministry.  What a day that will be!  So we may feel like we are being spent and extinguished, but God’s grace is extending to more and more people.  As more thank God for the gospel, so God is more glorified, and we are satisfied that He is worth it.

13. We are encouraged, not by externals, but by the lasting internal reality. (2 Cor.4:16-18) Sometimes we can grow discouraged internally because of all the struggles externally.  Many do burn out, and this is very different than be spent for Christ.  Let us pray that we can discern the wonder of what God is seeking to do in our inner selves day by day.  The expenditure and investment of life now is actually preparing an eternal weight of glory that will never bear any comparison to the cost to us in this life.  One day we will see the eternal fruit of our weak and simple ministry of grace in this life.  We will see the lasting treasure that is invisible now, but is more real than anything we see in this life.

Next time we will venture in to chapter 5.

New Covenant Ministry – Part 3

NEW2I am walking through 2 Corinthians 3-5.  The first two posts are here and here.

7. There will be many reasons to lose heart, but one main one. (2 Cor.4:1-6)  With the most exciting news, we will struggle with the apparent lack of response from many.   It will seem as if unbelievers have their thinking veiled so that they cannot see what is being offered – and that is exactly what is going on.  The god of this age is actively at work in the world, (and in the church), to keep people concerned with other things.  The lack of response will tempt us to force the issue . . .

8. New Covenant ministry will always face the temptation to trust something else.  (2 Cor.4:1-6)  Just as listeners struggle to see the gospel of the glory of Christ, so we will be tempted to force the issue.  We will be tempted to twist arms, force compliance, apply cunning, add to the message, etc.  But instead:

9. Our confidence is in the God who brings light to darkness.  (2 Cor.4:1-6)  The God who spoke light into existence across the cosmos is the same God who shines the light of knowing the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ into hearts.  He has awakened an appreciation, yes, a love for Christ in our hearts, so we will trust Him to do the same in others.  Our world is full of people blinded to the wonder of knowing Christ, the very image of the good God who they need to know.  In fact, our churches contain many people for whom the gospel remains a concept, but their emotions are driven more by life issues than life Himself.

10. So we proclaim Christ. (2 Cor.4:1-6) Anything else would be to proclaim our own wisdom (our clever plan to promote compliance), or ourselves.  As Paul will make clear moving on, our strength in ministry, or our lack of it, is not the focus – rather it is our weakness that makes it possible for the strength of God to be manifest.  So instead of promoting ourselves, we offer Christ.  We speak of Christ.  We present Christ.  And amazingly, by the mercy of God, the light will dawn in hearts and minds both in the pew and in the populace.  Jesus Christ is the image of God, he is the Lord, the supreme focus of all, and it is in his face – i.e. in relationship with him – that the riches of the gospel are to be found.

More ponderings on this coming tomorrow.

New Covenant Ministry – Part 2

NEW2Continuing on from the previous thoughts on 2nd Corinthians 3-5:

4. New Covenant ministry should generate boldness. (2 Cor 3:12-18)  Moses had to hide what being with God did to him.  Not so with us.  What happened to Moses was temporary and fading, but what God is doing in us is permanent and increasing.  It is so easy to think in terms of this life and fall for the lie of fading glory even today, but what God does in the New Covenant does not fade.

5. We cannot make people see, that is God’s work in Christ.  (2 Cor.3:12-18)  Israel experienced a hardening and a veil that would keep them from seeing the glory, and it is only by the work of God, through Christ, that it can be taken away.  We too minister to people who may still be unable to see the wonder of Christ.  We are not to focus on the veil and wrestle with it, but to boldly offer Christ so that the veil might be taken away from their hearts.

6. Transformation comes from beholding the glory of the Lord. (2 Cor 3:12-18)  Moses would enter the tent of meeting and encounter the Lord face to face, as a man meets with his friend.  Looking at that face changed him, but this would fade.  We too are transformed only by gazing on the face of Christ by faith, only now, under the New Covenant, the glory doesn’t fade.  Instead, we are transformed from one degree of glory to another.  (And one day, when we see him clearly, we will be fully transformed!)  It is the object of our gaze that determines who we are.  It is true for your listeners, so preach Christ.  It is true for you, so gaze on Christ.

New Covenant Ministry – Part 1

NEW2I want to walk through 2nd Corinthians chapters 3-5 as Paul describes New Covenant ministry and share a few thoughts.  This won’t be a full exposition of the passage, but rather a set of thoughts provoked by looking at the text.

1. We are called to minister Christ, not to defend ourselves in ministry.  (2Cor.3:1-6)  Ministry tends to create situations where we will be critiqued.  Sometimes, believe it or not, we deserve the critique.  Sometimes we don’t.  Either way, our ministry is to preach Christ, not to proclaim ourselves or defend ourselves.  Are you in a situation where you are tempted to defend yourself?  We are not sufficient in ourselves, our sufficiency is entirely of God.

2. We are given New Covenant ministry by God, who gives His Spirit. (2.Cor.3:1-6)  It is so easy to feel insecure in ourselves and therefore to seek to prove ourselves sufficient in life.  We are not.  Our sufficiency comes only from God, who himself has given us this ministry.  More than a mere past calling, He gives of His Spirit – the “key ingredient” of New Covenant ministry and so infinitely better than the old ministry “of the letter.”  Ours is not a ministry primarily defined by instruction and external pressure, but proclamation and internal transformation of the heart.  One way is death, but the Spirit gives life.

3. We must stop celebrating a glory now faded.  (2.Cor.3:7-11)  There is no question that Moses’ ministry was glorious.  After all, he glowed!  But that ministry of death, of letters, of stones, has no glory in comparison to what has replaced it.  A candle is wonderful in the dark, but walk out into the sunlight and the new glory far exceeds the old.  So it is with the ministry of righteousness rather than condemnation, and the ministry of the Spirit rather than that which is now passed.

10 Listener Fatigues – part 2

yawningman2Continuing our list of potential preaching fatigue that we might be able to avoid for our listeners…

(Yesterday we thought about genre, key text and main point fatigue)

4. Preacher Fatigue.  After a while your listeners might just get tired of hearing you.  You may try to vary what you do, but you will always be you and that creates some limitations for your preaching.  Don’t be afraid to share your pulpit. Develop other preachers, invite other local pastors, give yourself a break and your listeners too.

5. Illustration Fatigue.  One way we can be predictable is in the use of illustrations.  Do you often reference certain sports, or your own family, or the Napoleonic Wars?  Beware of tiring listeners with something that doesn’t mean as much to them as it does to you.  Some preachers default to the same category of illustration.  Others default to a collection of specific illustrations.  I’m feeling drained just describing it!

6. Vulnerability Fatigue.  Some of us don’t share enough vulnerability in our preaching.  But some of us share too much and too often.  When listeners start to feel like they are the counsellors for your self-disclosure, they will grow tired of hearing about your constant struggles.  Do be vulnerable.  Don’t be constantly sharing your struggles.  Remember that the spotlight in your preaching is not on you.

7. Contagious Fatigue.  If you are preaching fatigued, then it will be infectious.  Sometimes you can’t avoid being up all night with a child or a church member in crisis.  Be careful that you don’t get into a rhythm of preaching fatigued.  If your preparations are draining you, maybe you need to revisit your preparation schedule.  Perhaps you don’t get enough sleep, or exercise, or your sugary snacks while you work on the sermon mean you preach in a weekly sugar low?  Be careful that you don’t simply preach tired.  Listeners will pick up on your lack of energy, or your extra edginess.

Tomorrow we’ll finish the list, but feel free to add any more at any time!

Christlike versus Like Christ

Like2If the goal of sanctification is for people to become more like Christ, what is the best way for our preaching to help people get there?  Perhaps the obvious way is not the most effective way . . .

The obvious way to nudge people toward Christlikeness is to preach about Christlikeness.  You take a passage and then what do you look for?  You might look to find any instructions, derive some applicational points, determine how Christ’s character is presented, identify some kind of divine demand, etc.  Essentially, the obvious way to promote Christlikeness is to present Christlikeness and encourage Christlikeness in your listeners.  Focus on character, focus on us.  Apply, exhort, encourage.

There is a better way.

Turn the words around.  Do your listeners like Christ?  Do you?  Christ did not come to the world merely to show us a new way to live.  He came to give us life in union with Him.  The life of the Trinity is given to us in Christ.  This means that Christlikeness will not flow primarily from Christlikeness explained and demanded.  Christlikeness will come  from liking Christ, from loving Him, from knowing and worshipping Him.

Preach so as to present Christ.  Offer the person of Christ rather than a programme for self-improvement.  Invite people to know Him and to love Him.  As the Spirit draws people to Christ, they will grow to like Him and to live like Him.  As the text you are preaching presents instruction, then offer that faithfully in the context of relationship with Christ.

Christlikeness isn’t the goal of preaching for sanctification, it is the fruit.  The goal must be to stir greater love for God that results in greater love for others, and love will be stirred not by demand, but by presentation of God’s love revealed in Christ.  Inasmuch as we like Christ, we will grow to live Christ-like lives.

Tightly Woven? On Being Biblical

wovenfabric2Being biblical is like being a woven fabric.  Woven fabric can be very strong, or it can be flimsy.  Two sets of threads are woven together at right angles.  When the warp and the weft threads are both numerous and tight, then the fabric will have real strength.

Warp – imagine this to be your understanding of the Bible, book by book.  Each book is like a thread, and the more you know it the stronger the thread.  Know the structure, the flow, the situation, the purpose, the details that make it what it is.  To be biblical we need to be people who get to know Bible books.  (In fact, each Bible book turns out to be like woven fabric too, but pushing the analogy to woven fabric made up of the threads of woven fabric might become too complex for non-weavers like me!)

Weft – imagine this to be your understanding of the Bible, theme by theme.  Great themes are like a thread, and the more you know them, them the stronger the thread.  Know the themes and where they touch down in the flow of the canon.  Some touch down only periodically (think Melchizedek – Gen.14, Psa.110, Hebrews 7), while others are woven throughout almost every page (think sin and its effects, for instance).

Too many people in our churches have great gaps in the fabric of their biblical awareness.  Great blocks of books are untouched.  Thematic threads are unknown.  Sadly, too many preachers have bare patches and weak weaving in their biblical knowledge.  A collection of proof texts and favourite passages, combined with one or two key themes, will not make for biblical preaching, or even biblical living.

Three quick suggestions:

1. Be sure to be reading the whole Bible – sweep through it to get the big picture.  You will find that reading good chunks will captivate in a way that close study alone never can.  You will start to see how the books flow and how they flow together.  You will start to become familiar with themes that may have remained hidden in close study alone.

2. Be sure to study the Bible book by book – take a book and let it get to grips with you.  The building blocks, or perhaps, the warp threads of our biblical understanding has to be book by book for there to be any substance and strength to our being biblical as believers and then as preachers.  Get to know the fabric of each book: the sections as they build, the themes as they weave through.

3. Be sure to enjoy the biblical themes – start to identify and follow the themes of Scripture.  Some have done this exclusively, following threads without awareness of context.  This is a weak approach.  Others have ignored the themes and only focused on one passage at a time.  This also is weak.  We need both.  Start to enjoy the promise theme starting in Genesis 3:15 – I loved tracing the theme of both the promise and the presence of the Promiser in Pleased to Dwell.  What about holiness, or God’s heart, or themes of sonship, of marriage, of divine surprise, etc.?

Pray and ask God to show you where the fabric of your biblical awareness is threadbare.  Read and weave and enjoy.

The Discouraged Preacher

DownPreacher2Preachers get discouraged.  This post is not intended to offer any solutions, but sometimes identifying the issue or issues can be a start to addressing the challenge.  Perhaps this list can also help you pray for other preachers, or pastors in your church.

Here are some reasons preachers get discouraged:

1. Lack of fruit – Almost every preacher will receive comments of gratitude after preaching, but most will realise this politeness is not the same as genuine fruit from their preaching.  A lack of new life, or tangible growth can really get a preacher down.  A lot of time and emotional energy can be invested over the long haul with very little tangible return on investment.

2. Loneliness – Preaching can be a strangely lonely ministry.  It is easy to prepare in private and then process the post-preaching feelings in private.  It can also feel lonely to be aware of the next two items:

3. Criticism – After preaching it is a strange feeling to know that a lot of people will be enjoying “roast preacher” for their Sunday lunch.  Unless we have a big ego, most preachers don’t really want to be the subject of conversation.  We try to make Christ the subject of conversation, but we aren’t naive to the conversations that go on!  And then what if criticism is coming in from outside of our context?  That will only add to the pressure.

4. Expectation – Preachers are not a different class of Christian.  We struggle.  We don’t have it all together.  We can even say so in our preaching, and yet people still expect preachers to be “victorious” Christians.  Therefore when we are struggling with temptation, with tiredness, with family life, with financial pressures, with personal and spiritual dry times, we feel the expectation that we won’t struggle and so tend to keep the struggle hidden.  This circles us back up to number 2 again – loneliness.

5. Family Life – Preachers have real families.  Our children fight and sin.  Our marriages go through downs as well as ups.  Churches tend to place expectations on spouses and children of preachers.  Spouses of preachers tend to put expectations on themselves.  The complexity of church life can take a massive toll on families, and even when preachers try to put family first, there will still be times when we question whether the ministry we do is worth it.

6. Lack of sleep / health – A cycle of not sleeping properly will really take the energy and joy out of life.  This could be due to stress, to pastoral pressures, to family needs, to health challenges, etc.  Whatever the reason, when our tanks are empty then life will feel tough.

7. Depression – Preachers can get depressed too.  For those of us who don’t struggle with this it can be impossible to understand those that do.  But they do.  Famous preachers have struggled with extreme depression.  And preachers do burn out.  It is never a pretty sight.  And this is where we should all be aware – burnout can be avoided.

That is a starter list of seven reasons preachers get discouraged.  What would you add?

My Shepherd Today

ShepherdSil2Our church is in the midst of a season of transition.  The team of leaders who committed to starting the church are leading the church through a process of recognizing its long-term leadership as we move forward into the future.  Inevitably potential change creates opportunity for uncertainty.

Who should the pastoral leadership be?  One fact holds us steady.  The chief shepherd of the church is Christ.  And he wants to be our shepherd today.

Yet how easily we can view the work of Christ only in past and future terms.  In his days on earth we saw the Good Shepherd who would lay down his life for the sheep (John 10).  In the future we know that the chief shepherd will appear (1Peter 5).  But is Jesus our shepherd today?

The shepherd’s work is to lead the sheep to food, to care for them and protect them from harm.  This forms the start of a strong list for church leadership job descriptions – we are to lead, to feed, to care and to protect.  Perhaps we should add in “to equip” and we have a good grasp of the roles of church leadership in the New Testament, most of which are shepherding roles.

Jesus is our great shepherd today.  He is in charge of building his church.  He is the one most concerned to care for the sheep, including you and I.  It is a thrilling thought that Jesus desires to feed me, lead me, care for me, protect me, and even equip me, right now!

I was speaking with a friend about a tough time of loss he experienced last year.  He looked back on that time and his realization that only Jesus could really shepherd his soul through an intense season of grief and loss.

Perhaps we too easily look elsewhere and don’t spend time leaning into his loving care of our souls.  Perhaps some of us are too busy leading others to stop and be quiet long enough to hear his tender care of our hearts.

The Lord is my shepherd, today.

There are other biblical images we could consider in the same way.  My wife is expecting a baby and that means in a few months we will have another season of interrupted nights as the little one needs the care that only a mother can give.

In Ephesians 5, addressing the subject of marriage, Paul uses a pair of descriptive words.  After telling husbands to love their wives with a self-sacrificial love, and with a washing in the Word kind of love, then he adds the need for a “as you care for your own bodies” kind of love.

At this point he uses two words – nourishing and cherishing.

Cherishing is a term Paul only uses twice.  It speaks of a tender, warming kind of care.  It’s a bit like the way we put on a sweater when our bodies feel cold.  We cherish our bodies.  He also uses it in 1Thessalonians 2:7 of how a mother takes care of her little child.  There is a gentleness, an inclination to hold carefully and to protect.  (And in the Old Testament, the term is used twice to translate references to mother birds warming their eggs!)

Paul also tells husbands to nourish their wives as they naturally do their own bodies.  Again, the term is used twice.  It speaks of providing for and helping the growth of the other.   Husbands need to remember not only to put food on the table, but also to provide spiritual nutrition for their marriage.  Paul uses the term in Ephesians 6:4, in reference to bringing up children.

He also uses the shorter form of the term in the same phrase in 1 Thessalonians 2:7.  It is the nursing mother who takes care of her child.  This is a vivid picture, the giving of yourself that only a mother can do for an infant.

So Paul urges husbands to nourish and cherish their wives, just as they naturally do their own bodies.  And in his other use of the pair of ideas, as mothers nurse and care for their infants.  All very poignant images for the darkness we experience in the middle of the night.

But there is one more critical link to notice here.  What is he really speaking of in Ephesians 5?  Even after making the connection throughout the passage, we are still surprised at the end to discover he is actually speaking of Christ and the church.  Husbands, love your wives just as Christ nourishes and cherishes the church – what a thought!

I wonder if we more easily think back to the self-sacrificial love of Christ, which stands historically behind the launch of the church.  We look back to Calvary and rightly so.  But here Paul ties Christ’s loving of the church not to a past event, but rather to a present ongoing reality.  Maybe we don’t ponder that enough.  The present care of Christ for his own is such a glorious truth.

Not only did he give himself in self-sacrifice at the cross, but now he continues to tenderly give of himself to the church he loves so dearly, seeking to warm us and help us to grow.

Jesus is our bridegroom, nourishing and cherishing his bride, today.

It is no mistake that the Bible uses such relational imagery for the reality of our relationship with God.  We have a devoted bridegroom, a loving Father, a faithful friend, a good shepherd.  And we have them all right now.

Perhaps we need to pause for a moment in our leadership and our care for others, and thank Christ for his present care for us.  Let us ask God to tune our hearts to discern what he may be doing very quietly in our lives each and every day.

Jesus is our shepherd, and our bridegroom, today – exactly when we need him.

7 Ways to Guard Hearts at Church

Worshippers2We have thought about guarding hearts at a conference/ministers gathering, and at Bible school.  But what about the local church?

The church is a mixed group of people, and there will always be some who are feeling very fragile or weak.  They may not show it.  Nevertheless, we need to be people who guard hearts in the church environment.  Good music and good preaching is not enough.  Many a great church service was undermined by thoughtless comments in times of fellowship.  So, here are 7 ways to guard hearts at church.  You can certainly add more, and I might too!

1. Pray biblically for the church people.  Take a look at the prayers in Paul’s epistles, they are not full of “be with” and “just really bless” prayers.  Pray for people in your church to have the eyes of their hearts enlightened to know God more profoundly, to grow in their relationship with Christ, to grasp the richness of union with Christ, to be gripped by the hope to which God has called them, etc.  Bring people to God’s throne and you will find yourself caring for them more carefully at church.

2. Look for ways to serve, don’t just be a consumer.  The church is not a social club paid for by others and provided for your consumption.  The church is a gathering of Christ’s people who worship together, learn together, serve together, and grow together.  Consumers drain, but you can serve.  There are probably several ministries in your church that feel stretched for people, ask and you will find opportunities to serve.

3. Build others up in every conversation.  In one visit to church, or to home group, you might interact with 10 or 20 people.  Can you imagine the impact if you built up every one you spoke to?  Encourage.  Thank.  Smile.  Ask questions.  Show interest.  Share resources.  Share Bible highlights.  Celebrate people.  Value.  Well-handled conversations are priceless ministry in the life of a local church.

4. Be a dead end for gossip.  “Does he know you are telling me about this?”  That question tends to stop an evil report in its tracks.  Someone has to.  Gossip is like a cancer that can ravage a church.  “Please don’t talk to anyone else about this, please go to him.”  This is the best follow up with someone talking about a situation rather than doing the right thing. People should forgive and bear with, or forgive and lovingly confront.  Don’t let gossip be an option.

5. Trust people.  Many of us are great at assuming the worst and speculating about other people.  Andy Stanley nailed this issue when he preached a message about filling the gap between expectations and experience with trust.  When there is a gap between expectation and experience, fill the gap with trust.  If you can’t do that, then go to the person and ask them to help you fill the gap with trust.  Settling on distrust is not loving for them because either you are wrong (it does happen), or they need the opportunity to grow.  Settling on distrust is not healthy for you or the church, either.

6. Be sensitive to the Holy Spirit.  He is very alert to interpersonal relationships and wants them to be truly united.  Be sensitive to any comment that causes someone to pull back.  It could be humour, or criticism, or even a misunderstanding, but handle relationships and feelings with tenderness and care.  Ask God to help you love others well – the Spirit is very motivated to coach you in that.

7. Be thankful for leaders, and others, and tell them.  It doesn’t take any spiritual maturity, or personal skill, to be destructively critical.  You can do massive damage to your church.  Since God loves the church so much, being destructive seems inherently foolish.  Support and encourage leaders at every level.  Be a person who communicates gratitude to leaders, and to Sunday School teachers, and to children’s workers, and to people working the sound desk, and to the setup team, etc.

This is only a start, what would you add?