Thursday, January 08, 2015

The Heart of Ministry (Ministry in Thessalonians #1)

"Paul, Silas, and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians, in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you." - 1 Thessalonians 1:1 (NIV 84)

Sometimes life's seasons change so subtly that we don't recognize a new one until we are months or years into it. Like the spring that comes ever so slowly after a long winter, one day we might realize the flowers are blooming and birds are singing and find ourselves quite uncertain when it all happened. Other times, the seasons change abruptly. Our November cold snap that took us from balmy 70s to frigid teens left no doubt: Old Man Winter had arrived in force. Occasionally though, we get the blessing of recognizing a season just as it's starting to change. The first jonquils tell me that spring has arrived, whatever the temperature outside.

I'm embarking on a new season of life - one that God has graciously made clear ahead of time. I'm excited to see the fulfillment of a ministry dream that has been close to my heart for years. As I saw the signs of this season, I sensed God calling me to prepare for it. My prayers consistently took me to Paul's letters to the Thessalonians. I've been studying these letters for a couple of months and I'm in the midst of memorizing them - not because I'm some great model of scripture memory, but because God has made it clear that He has much, much more to teach me from these 136 verses housed in 8 chapters.

Because I learn so much more when I write, my desire is to share with you what I am learning. This will not be an exhaustive study of these books. I will tell you upfront that while there is some deep eschatology here, that won't be the focus of my study. Instead, God wants to use Paul, Silas, and Timothy to teach me some important lessons about ministry, the church, the Word, the Gospel. I'm inviting you to join me on the journey.

Over the years the purpose of this blog has changed. It started as a way to encourage missionaries, became a prayer-centered blog as we prayed through Operation World in 2013, and along the way has housed random thoughts and lessons God was teaching me. Some of the blog posts have been compiled into an Advent devotional for my church; others fueled Bible studies that our women's group has walked through together. Undergirding everything, though, has been the verse from which the blog's name is derived: "But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us." 2 Corinthians 4:7. As I sought the Lord on the focus of this blog for this season, He impressed upon me that it's simply to encourage the church to actually bring forth that treasure - the Gospel - by the power of God.

We live in a broken world. You don't need me to link to news stories or reference cultural issues to know that. You just have to look around. Yet it's so easy for us to spiritualize complacency and apathy, to bury ourselves in our word study books and sermon notes and try to hide from the world. So many of us find ourselves in great churches with wonderful people and then realize we haven't interacted with anyone else in a significant fashion for years. It's a natural reaction, this tendency to group ourselves with like-minded people and avoid the "other". Sociologists document it. Even studies of social media show than rather than widening our circles, these sites have narrowed them - we tend to engage with people we agree with who reinforce our beliefs.

Don't get me wrong: The church SHOULD encourage and reinforce Biblical faith. The primary role of our spiritual gifts is to build up the body of Christ, to increase our faith and make us complete in Him. But the problem starts when we embrace the treasure that is within us - and then keep it to ourselves. When we get spiritually greedy, things start to fall apart.

So my purpose in this blog - and in this series - is to challenge myself and others toward a Biblically-oriented approach to ministry. I want to encourage us through Paul, Silas, and Timothy to meet the challenges of living "in the world, but not of it" head-on. I want to discover principles of ministry that can improve our discernment and sharpen our service. I want to live the thing out! These are books that deal with life after death, the return of Christ, and the coming judgment. But they also deal with the dailyness of life, with things like hard work and sexual purity. They are fully heavenly minded, but filled with much earthly good as well.

So join me on this journey, if you will. Together, we will discover the heart of ministry. Together we will learn what it can look like when we open the lid on the treasure within these earthly vessels and watch the power of God pour it out on a hurting, broken world. 

No comments: