Introduction: Who Is Equal to Such a Task?
As another week goes by our news continues to focus on the efforts to help those who suffer following the tsunami in Asia. This week our elders considered the best ways that all of us could participate in relief. One of our local news channels hosted an all day telethon that raised nearly $200,000. Some of you helped out with that. That news channel spoke to Kevin Vaught about CURe and their work to supply material for other relief agencies. On our website we have listed four different Christian agencies that are working with people in Asia. We encourage you to lend your support to them.
Partners In Progress
P.O. Box 150
Little Rock, AR 72203
White's Ferry Road Church of Christ
3201 N. 7th Street
West Monroe, LA 71291
402 Blue Smoke Court West
Fort Worth, Texas 76105
Healing Hands International
455 McNally Drive
Nashville, TN 37211
Theres a lot of great work going on. It is heartening to see the compassion of good people and an incredible sense of unity. And yet, I have one recurring thought in all of it: Is it enough? Can all our efforts match the scale of this disaster? Will we be able to do enough soon enough? Dont misunderstand! This isnt a criticism of the work and efforts that all of us are involved in, its just an expression of humility in the face of a daunting mission. Alone none of us could do anything to make much of a difference. United we have a chance at making a difference and it is still a lot of work. Who is equal to such a task?
It reminds me of the churchs mission to evangelize the world. Faced with the realities of a lost world, a church that is often stymied by conflict and lack of resources, how do we think that we can make a difference? Perhaps we are emboldened by the impossibility of it all. Like Don Quixote we dare to dream the impossible dream and we fight windmills in the misguided belief that they are dragons and we are knights. Perhaps we decide to leave mission work for the experts and those with the resources to do it. Perhaps we decide to leave local evangelism to the professionally trained and those who have the gift for it. The rest of us get to work providing the support structure and the organization wherewithal to indirectly support the Great Commission. After all, "God has no hands but our hands" to do His work on earth." Really? But who is equal to such a task?
The Apostle Paul posed that question to the church in Corinth. He wants them to know that his ministry is no easy thing. He and his fellow messengers of the gospel are pleasing to God, but there are some who receive him like a welcome fragrance and others who reject him as the stench of death. Service to God combined with reception and rejection - "Who is Equal to a such a Task?" (2 Corinthians 2:15-16). So how does Paul do it? How does he continue in the face of such rejection and uncertainty?
By ourselves we are not qualified to claim that anything comes from us. Rather, our credentials come from God, who has also qualified us to be ministers of a new covenant - (2 Corinthians 3:4-6).
Pauls answer It isnt OUR mission. Because Gods mission has placed us where He wants ...
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Lords Spirit is, there is freedom. 18 As all of us reflect the glory of the Lord with unveiled faces, we are being transformed into the same image with ever-increasing glory by the Lords Spirit. Therefore, since we have this ministry through the mercy shown to us, we do not get discouraged. 2 Instead, we have renounced secret and shameful ways. We do not use trickery or pervert Gods word. By clear statements of the truth we commend ourselves to everyones conscience before God. (3:18-4:2)
We are not the initiators of the mission; we are the targets of the mission just as much as anyone else. We are not the rescuers, we are the rescued. We are not the healers, we are the healed. We are not the senders, we are the sent.
We are just vessels and containers for this good news treasure. We are just clay pots, vessels, garbage bags filled with treasure. (4:7)
For we do not preach ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as merely your servants for Jesus sake. For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of Gods glory in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in clay jars to show that its extraordinary power comes from God and not from us. In every way were troubled but not crushed, frustrated but not in despair, persecuted but not abandoned, struck down but not destroyed. (2 Corinthians 4:5-9)
Pauls answer to the question "Who is equal?" is that none of us are; but rather than drive us to despair, this honest realization that the mission and the power behind the mission belongs to God gives us new hope. Think about it like this, when we thought that evangelism, the mission, the Great Commission was all up to us we get frustrated and feel guilty. One writer noted that this has been the case ...
"Too often calls to evangelism overlook the most important element: the empowering of God. We are asked to operate in our own power. When we find that we lack that power, we become frustrated and guilt ridden." Tony Ash
When we consider, as Paul does, the empowering of God, then we shift the focus and locus of mission off of the church, off of ourselves. This not only relieves us of our burden of guilt and frustration, it empowers us and primes us to do more as participants of that mission than we ever could have imagined. Notice that we actually do more, not less; this isnt simply checking out and saying "Its all in Gods hands." But neither are we saying that "God has no hands but our hands." Maybe a better way to put it is that we see the hand of God at work among us and around us. We believe it and we are telling others about it. (2 Corinthians 4:13-14) ...
As we look ahead to 2005 and consider the mission of God that has become our mission I could start the year by telling you what we need to do. I could even try and cast a vision for what we can do FOR GOD. (As though God has no hands but our hands.) But none of that would be appropriate. Rather we should 1) have a vision for what God is doing (what He has done, is doing and will do) and we should 2) pray that God will work within us. Rather than state that God has no hands but our hands, it is better that we should say that "we shall have no mission but His Mission."
Since this is true, then all that we do and all that we are is God at work among us. We are the visible evidence of His mission. We are an example of His work. We are the model home for the heavenly mansion estates that are under construction and will be completed soon. Our efforts to maintain an organizational structure must never eclipse the mission. One of the identifying marks of the church is its "sent-ness." You can tell the church by its "sent." "Being here" must never overshadow "being sent." In fact, being here is part of being sent. The distinction between those who stay and those who go is false. The distinction between internal programs and external programs/nurture and outreach is false. If the mission is initiated and controlled by God, then everything is mission. Everything we do is a part of the mission. Every member, every program, every budget, every minister, every ministry is just another clay jar, plastic tub, metal can, or paper bag holding the same glorious gospel treasure.
Here is the one thing that we affirm today and for 2005 and beyond. May this be so in all that we do: Christ must become greater with no emphasis on us. If we really believe that we are the church of Christ then we must believe that this is Christs church not ours. This must be our core belief at West-Ark: that everything we do is in the name of Jesus and it flows from the precious treasure that we carry within us the treasure of the gospel. Everything from our worship and preaching to the coins, checks and bills we drop in the plate must be about Christ and His power to save. We must believe and speak like we know thats the real power around here; were just a cardboard box to carry it in. Every program from education to budgeting for new carpet must be about Christ and His power to save we mustnt give in to the worldly thinking that there is secular business and religious business around here. Rather we must believe and speak that it is all about Christ and we are just a burlap tote sack for carrying His powerful gospel.
The mission is Gods. God so loved the world that He sent His only son and whoever believes in Him will not die but have eternal life. Jesus Christ was crucified, He was buried, but God raised Him to eternal life on the third day and exalted Him. He is Lord, and just as the Father sent Him, He sends us (John 3:16, 1 Corinthians 15, John 20, Acts 1:8).
This is what we believe. This is what we speak. I want to share with all of you who hear this message and read this message the treasure that was shared with me. It is not something that I or even this church can hoard we are just the container. God can fill you with the treasure of hope and the gift of the Holy Spirit. He can raise you just as He raised Jesus. Trust Him. We believe that if we have buried with Him we will also be raised with Him. Give everything to God believe it, speak it, submit to it in baptism and let God fill you with new life.
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