Have you ever noticed that in our lives some truths that seem to grab us more than others. It becomes a passion, a cause, a crusade in our life. For me one of those truths is the personal ministry of the each Christian. I deeply believe that each of us has been called as a minister of Jesus Christ. Now you may be wondering, when I say the word “minister” what do I mean? In the Biblical language the word “minister” means servant. Each of us is called to be a minister or to serve God out of our own uniqueness. Unfortunately the term has been lost in today’s church. We no longer think of “minister” in the terms of everyone’s role as a “servant” of Christ but instead relegate the role of Minister to that of a Pastor. That is a person who has a “special call’ who has been to seminary and oversees a church. But this is far from what God intended. Now certainly God has called Pastors to ministry. We all know and deeply believe that God has ordained Pastor Howard to be the shepherd of this church. In fact Paul says in Ephesians 4: 11-12
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers,
Here is the interesting point, the verse says; to prepare God’s people for works of service,
Paul is saying that a Pastor has the role of helping equip members of the church to be ministers! Yes, God created you and I to be His representatives here on earth. In Romans 12:1-8, Paul again is writing about that fact that each of us should be ministering in the unique way that God has wired us. He writes:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
IN VERSE SIX Paul continues:
We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.
God has created each of us to minister differently. Let me ask YOU… Have you come to a point in your life where you really believe that God has called you to be a minister or servant of His?
The fact is that most of those attending Sunday services in churches across America do not really grasp this fact. Yet the secular world understands it. As more and more people do not attend church people are doing good deeds through their work. A group of us went to the Greater Chicago Food Depository and had a wonderful time. It was interesting, we worked side by side with a group from the Chicago Tribune. Max Dupree, Chairman Emeritus of Herman Miller, Board Member of Hope College and author encourages secular people to get involved doing good. In his book, Leading Without Power Max Dupree writes:
Make the choice to serve others, for it is truly is a choice we all have. Make the choice to subordinate personal desires to a common good. Make room for spiritual matters, for more and more people in the United States are realizing just how necessary a spiritual dimension is to becoming a complete person. Nonprofit organizations and their spirit-lifting work have become a vital source of understanding. Non-profits and their commitment to moral purpose are strategic instruments of hope in our society and our world.
Having been in secular fundraising I have seen this non-profit rhetoric become more and more prevalent. The world is becoming of the mindset that it doesn’t need the church. In their eyes we aren’t making a difference. Many times when the world sees a problem the church is not their first choice in looking for a solution. It is ironic that the world looks to service as a way to get in touch with their spirituality while many who have true spirituality in Jesus Christ will not serve!
Part of the trouble is that we aren’t sure what we should do, so today I want to share one easy way that each of us can get involved in life-giving ministry. Each of us can minister to others by being God’s messenger. We can simply share with those around us how God has helped us in our life circumstances. God wants you and I to bear witness that He is real, that He helps us with real problems and has real answers to our needs. This is reaching out and helping others in need in the same way God reached out and helped us.
Look at today’s passage in Psalms 71. In this chapter we read about the real problems that the Psalmist is having; yet there is hope given in the middle of all the turmoil in life.
In verses 10 and 11 he writes;
For my enemies speak against me; those who wait to kill me conspire together. They say, “God has forsaken him;
And yet listen as the Psalmist shares about God’s faithfulness.
But as for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more.
He continues by writing:
My mouth will tell of your righteousness, of your salvation all day long,
though I know not its measure. I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, O Sovereign LORD; I will proclaim your righteousness, yours alone. Since my youth, O God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.
Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come.
This is our call. This is the quest that God has for us, that we might be that life giving community that gives the next generation that chance to know, grow, serve and share Christ.
Here is the question: Are we reaching to the new generation with the story of God’s love? Are we sharing like the Psalmist, about the wonderful relationship we have with Jesus?
The fact is that most of us struggle with sharing with others. It’s not because we don’t know how to share.
We know how to share and express ourselves.
We can share all about sports.
We can talk about business.
If you want us to share, just ask us about our children or grandchildren.
We can recommend automobiles to complete strangers with confidence.
We can defend our political view and please don’t even get us started about our favorite foods.
We can share about all kinds of topics but when it comes to talking about Jesus we don’t know what to say. We aren’t experiencing the freedom that we should in sharing about the love of Christ.
I have struggled with this for many years. Part of the problem is that we have made witnessing so complicated. I believe it is because we are trying to be something we are not. We feel we have to be “perfect” in order to share. We think, “Who am I?” or we think, “I’m not moral enough, they would think that I am a hypocrite.” The problem is that we have this image that in order to “share” about Christ we have to be on a pedestal. A Christian without flaw, imperfections or struggles. Where did this come from? We come to God as a sinner and get gloriously saved but over time something happens. We forget about God’s grace and start to live a life of an imposter. For many of us we were raised in the faith and we often take God’s grace for granted. Instead we have an internal scorekeeper. We keep track of our life using the distorted belief that real Christians don’t sin or have any troubles. We have illusions that everything must go the way we plan and that nothing will ever go wrong. Worst yet we try to live up to what we believe are other people’s expectations. We know that our salvation was by grace but when we do sin, or when something does go wrong in our life we end up feeling defeated. We die to the daily joy that Christ has for us. We begin to harbor deep dark secrets. We put on a false self not just toward others but soon toward God himself. Week after week we come to services with our “church face” on. We smile and pretend that all is well in our life and don’t dare share about our struggles. Well if we have a hard time sharing here at church how would we ever share to our neighbors or people we work with?
The truth is, there are no perfect people in the church! No you, not I! We are not and never will be perfect, so let’s quit pretending. Instead we need to be authentic.
What do we need to do to be an authentic witness and minister of Christ? There are at least three things. First we must recognize and embrace our brokenness. Second we must accept and apply God’s grace to every one of the wounds in our life. Finally, we must then go forth as wounded healers into the world ministering to those around us.
The first thing that we need to do to become an authentic witness and minister of Christ is to recognize and embrace our brokenness.
In Romans 7:21 – 25 Paul shares his own struggles between living in his broken carnal state and the Spirit-filled life. Paul writes:
So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Paul recognized the struggle with his carnal sinful nature, but he did not stop there. In the very next verse Paul shouts out his marvelous declaration of independence. He writes:
There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Notice that Paul didn’t say victory came in sinless perfection.” There are no perfect people in the church. No he admits his struggles. Instead He shares about the solution He finds in Christ. Paul writes that there is no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus.
He explains why He can say this in verse 15: Paul writes:
For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.
You see Paul could accept his brokenness, because He embraced His belovedness.
Paul did not shrink from writing about his struggles. Instead he shared about them and then described how he gets victory. This is the model of ministry that we see over and over in Paul’s writing.
Brennan Manning in his book, Abba’s Child shares a story of Mike Yaco-nelli, the cofounder of Youth Specialties, who struggled with this very issue.
Mike Yaco-nelli went on a retreat to come to grips with his spiritual staleness. After time spent in solitude Yaco-nelli writes of his soul’s realization of his brokenness. He writes;
God had been trying to shout over the noisiness of my life and I couldn’t hear Him, but in the silence of solitude I heard Him and my slumbering soul was filled with the joy of the prodigal son. My soul was awakened by a loving father who had been looking and waiting for me. Finally, I had accepted my brokenness. – I had never come to terms with that. Let me explain. I knew that I was broken. I knew I was a sinner. I knew I continually disappointed God, but I could never accept that part of me. It was a part of me that embarrassed me, I continually felt the need to apologize, to run from my weakness to deny who I was and concentrate on what I should be. I was broken, yes, but I was continually trying never to be broken again – or at least to get to the place where I was seldom broken.
Now it has become clear to me that I had totally misunderstood the Christian faith. I came to see that it was in my brokenness, in my powerlessness, in my weakness that Jesus was made strong. It was in the acceptance of my lack of faith that God could give me faith. In was in the embracing of my brokenness that I could identify with other people’s brokenness. It was my role to identify with others’ pain, not relieve it. Ministry is sharing, not dominating; understanding, not theologizing; caring, not fixing.
To be effective ministers of Christ we must recognize our brokenness. Paul was a real example of this. Throughout his ministry he suffered and faced many struggles. In writing in I Corinthian church he writes:
I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I have received from the Jews thirty nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea., I have been in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles, in danger in the city , in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep, I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.
Paul certainly knew what it was like to be broken; to live a life that was less than pristine, yet this did not negate him from the ministry. All the more he was able to identify with others and witness to them.
In Hebrews 11 we read of all the victorious living as a result of faith. Noah, Moses, Abraham, Joseph and others trusted God for great things and yet when we read the accounts of their lives we see hardships, difficulties and often times sin. You see God did not promise that this life was going to be perfect, that we would be without sin or any difficulties. What he did promise is that he would never leave us or forsake us. In Romans 8: 34 – 39 Paul writes:
If God is for us, who can be against us?- Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The fact is – all of us have struggles, non of us are perfect.
When I think of those who will be reading this I know that some of us will represent unimaginable suffering, pain, and heartbreak. The death of loved ones, personal illnesses, bankruptcies, divorce, addictions. How many of us have cried over our children, have had nights of terror or wrestled with anxiety and depression? In the midst of all of this, many of us have experienced the Peace of God that passes all understanding. And yet we ask,
How can I minister, how can I be a witness?
To answer that question all we have to do is to look around us.
In every street we passed, every house that we saw from the road on our way here this morning there were people looking for the same answers that you have. They have similar struggles that you and I have struggled with. At work we have fellow employees who are looking for the peace that we have. At our children’s soccer games the bleachers are full of parents who are suffering with many of the same problems that we have. Yet we do not share. Why is this?
Perhaps it is because we have not really made our peace with God. We have not embraced that in this life we will be broken. Instead of peace there is shame, guilt, anger, or remorse. We have not come fully back to Christ.
It was early on a Saturday morning that my twin brother called me. I will never forget the pain in his voice. “He’s gone” he screamed. “My Paul is gone.” In an instant Paul who was thirteen was swept away from this earth in a car accident. The pain that my brother experienced only a few of you in this audience can understand. For almost ten years my bother wrestled with God. He could function. He went to Church; he still prayed and even read the Bible. But deep in his heart he was broken and wounded. Year by year the pain was more bearable. When my own boy was hit by a car it was Rod who was the first to come to my comfort. He was able to enter into my fears.
I was speaking about a year ago in Detroit on Every Christian is a Minister and my brother Rod was there. He got up in the middle of the message and came back in about five minutes. Later that night he told me what happened. He explained that he was moved deep in his heart and that he had to get up. He went downstairs to the bathroom and cried out to God. “Finally He looked up to God and said, “I want back, I want to serve you again. It is time.” Rod allowed God to work deep in his heart and he is once again involved in live-giving ministry. He embraced his woundedness and moved toward his belovedness.
Not only must we embrace our brokenness, the second thing that we need to do in order to become the kind of witness that will reach out in the community around us is to accept and apply God’s grace for every one of the wounds in our life.
Brennan Manning has written a wonderful book on this very subject. It is called Abba’s Child. In his chapter called, Beloved, Brennan Manning shares the reflections of a teacher from Milwaukie who kept a marvelous journal on his walk with Christ. In his journal the teacher Eagen writes,
“The basis of my personal worth is not my processions, my talents, not esteem of others, reputation…not kudos of appreciation from parents and kids, not applause, and everyone telling you how important you are to the place – I stand anchored now in God before whom I stand naked, this God who tells me, “you are my son, my beloved one!”
Brennan continues with his own commentary. He writes:
The ordinary self is the extraordinary self – the inconspicuous nobody who shivers in the cold of winter and sweats in the heat of summer, who wakes up unreconciled to the new day, who sits before a stack of pancakes, weaves through traffic, bangs around the basement, shops in the supermarket, pulls weeds and rakes up the leaves, makes snowballs, flies kites and listens to the sound of rain in the roof.
While the imposter draws his identity from past achievements and the adulation of others, the true self claims identity in it’s belovedness.”
The trouble is that many of us have a hard time believing that God loves us. I mean really loves us.
Oh we believe that God so loved the world that He gave His son that whosoever believes has eternal life. We believe God can love us enough to die for our sins, but once we become a Christian we soon forget about His unconditional love. We know nothing of the everyday celebration of being a broken, sinful, human who is loved by God in spite of our imperfection. Brennan Manning continues in his chapter by writing:
“Our controlled frenzy creates the illusion of a well-ordered existence. We move from crisis to crisis, responding to the urgent and neglecting the essential. We still walk around. We still perform all the gestures and actions identified as human, but we resemble people carried along on the mechanical sidewalk of an airport. The fire in the belly dies. We no longer hear the inward music of our belovedness.
My friends, this is not the way Jesus wants us to live. Instead He says to us
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
We need to come to Jesus knowing our woundedness and accept His daily love and assistance in our lives.
Paul shares another example of this in I Corinthians 5:5, 7 – 9. He writes;
For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.
Paul admits that he has struggles. He admits that he is suffering, but he doesn’t leave it there. He also experience the grace and love of Christ in his life. He shares of God’s power that even though he is pressed in on every side he is not crushed. Even though he admits he is perplexed, Christ helps him overcome being despaired. Finally, he shares that he is persecuted but not abandoned, struck down but not destroyed. This is what people are looking for. They are looking for a God who helps us in the nitty-gritty of life.
The author of Hebrews shares in chapter 4: 14 – 16 how we can accept our brokenness and belovedness:
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Paul goes farther and shares how the struggles that you and I face, the brokenness that we experience in this life can actually allow us to minister more effectively for Christ.
Paul writes in Romans 5: 3-5
We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
Again Paul shares in II Corinthians 12: 7 – 10
To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Paul also warns us that our struggle not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Paul then admonishes us to put on the full armor of God. Two of the best books I have read on this subject is Victory over Darkness and Bondage Breaker by Neil Anderson. These books can help you walk with Christ and experience freedom in many of the difficulties that we experience. We are looking forward to doing some indebt study of these books. If you are interested please let us know.
This brings up our third point. We are to share with others as Wounded Healers
Yes we are broken and sinful even as Christians, but it is Christ’ love, the fact that we are His beloved that gives us hope. It is His love that moves us into this point number three. Christ sends us forth, not as perfect, pious, holier than thou crusaders but rather as wounded healers showing others who are wounded how to be healed. It is one beggar showing another beggar where the bread is.
Again, Brennan Manning in his book, Abba’s Child. He writes:
In a futile attempt to erase our past, (or I would add our presence) we deprive our community of our healing gift. If we conceal our wounds out of fear and shame, our inner darkness can neither be illuminated nor become a light for others. Instead we need to become what Henri Nouwen calls Wounded Healers. The wounded healer implies that grace and healing are communicated through the vuneralibility of men and women who have been fractured and heartbroken by life. In Love’s service only wounded soldiers can serve.
The Holy Spirit gives each of us the ability to be wounded healers. Paul shares in
Romans 8: 26 – 28
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. – And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, whohave been called according to his purpose.
This passage give us comfort. God wants us to share this comfort with others. In
II Corth. 1: 3 –5 Paul shares:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in our troubles, so we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.
Again Brennan Manning shares:
Our impulse to tell the salvation story arises from listening to the heartbeat of the risen Jesus within us. Telling the story does not require that we become ordained ministers or flamboyant street corner preachers. It does not demand that we try to convert people by concussion with one sledgehammer blow of the Bible after another. It simply means we share with others what our lives used to be like, what happened when we met Jesus, and how Jesus is affecting our lives now.
In I Peter 3:15 Peter writes;
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.
One of the best wounded healers I have ever know was Mr. Van. I was fifteen when I first met him. I was speaking at a church and he asked if we wanted to bring our Christian Club to come and help him with a children’s mission. I was overwhelmed by this man’s love, can do attitude. For two years I took ten to thirty-five young people to minister there every Wednesday and Thursday evening. When I started at Wayne State University I decided to live at the mission and work for my room and board. This is when I really saw him in action. I also learned about his life. He was a successful accountant but had become an alcoholic. He caused his whole family to suffer. One day he became gloriously saved and was free from the pain of alcoholism. Unfortunately he had so severely alienated his family he was not able to win them back. He lived along and ministered to all the hurting and suffering children in one of the most destitute sections of Detroit. God had taken his woundedness and allowed Gil to see his belovedness. In this realization he went out and ministered to hundreds of families in the same way God had helped him.
When we would lead singing at the children’s mission we would often ask them to shout our their favorite song. I remember so many times that Mr. Van would compete with the children shouting “ No One Ever Cared For Me Like Jesus”
The author of that song, Charles Weigle was an itinerant evangelist. One day after preaching at a gospel crusade, he came home to find a note from his wife. She did not care for the life she led because of being an evangelist’s wife and she was leaving him. The next few years were a time of despair for Weigle. He wondered if anyone really cared for him, let alone God. After a time, his faith was again restored and he became active for the Lord again. During this time he wanted to put to paper a song that would share the feelings he had experienced while during his despondent days. From his heart came the words and the tune for this hymn. It goes like this:
I would love to tell you what I think of Jesus
Since I found in Him a friend so strong and true;
I would tell you how He changed my life completely –
He did something that no other friend could do.
No one ever cared for me like Jesus;
There’s no other friend so kind as He;
No one else could take the sin and darkness from me –
O how much He cared for me!
Let me ask you, are you willing to be a wounded healer? Are you willing to share with others the way God has helped you? Today, surrender yourself to Jesus to be His minister. All you need to be is a wounded healer!
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