Making Jesus the Main Thing in Ministry

1 Corinthians 15:3

I had the opportunity to teach from Acts 3:1-10 this past Sunday at CCCTO. Throughout the morning, we asked ourselves the question: “do you see the lame beggar“? You can catch the recorded podcast on iTunes, or stream it from our website, where the PowerPoint is also available for download.

Often when we approach the scriptures we instantly make assumptions. For example, Walt Russell in his book “Playing with Fire” describes how we often read the gospels with a bit of a tilted lens:

…the increasing tendency in our reading of the Gospels is to reduce them primarily to sources of insight about ourselves. For example, we read about Jesus calming a storm on the Sea of Galilee, and we think it is about the storms of our lives…However, the Gospels were primarily written to tell us about who Jesus is, what He did, and why He is the only, true object of our faith. If we change this focus, we distort the very essence of the Gospels…In other words, instead of putting ourselves into Jesus’ place and learning how to disciple others as we read the Gospels (a secondary emphasis), we should put ourselves into the disciples’ place by identifying with them in their relationship with Jesus.

Returning the passage in Acts 3, when we ask whether we see the lame beggar, we probably jump to the conclusion that we are like Peter and John and that there is more we need to do to reach out to others. We assume that others are the lame beggar and that we are here to help them (there’s quite a bit more that we covered such as the lame beggar’s progression from sitting outside to not just standing but leaping and jumping – for the rest of that message you’ll need to download the sermon). We emphasize what we should be doing as Christians. Before we realize it, we begin rallying ourselves around a cause to try and do more. And slowly but surely the focus shifts to morality.

While this may ignite a bright flame of active engagement in “doing good”, I’ve found in my own life that that flame burns out quickly. To be clear, I am not advocating that faith is merely an academic pursuit of knowledge. James 2:17 helps us to see that faith and works come as a package. However one leads the other, faith comes first. Just as the wise man built his house upon the rock, we must make sure that the foundation we’re laying for ourselves and the future generation is one that is set upon a solid understanding who God is, our sinful nature, Christ’s death on the cross, and the implications for mankind. The wise man both knew where to build his house and actual did build his house on the rock. Never forget that on the outside both of those houses looked the same. When (not if) the storm came, one stood and the other crumbled.

Unfortunately, this emphasis on “right living” leads us to a place where our so called “faith” is just another thing we “do”.  We spend so much time talking about what we should be doing and how the world needs us to do more that we forget what has been done (by Jesus) and what every person’s true need really is (Jesus). We miss the big picture and see the Bible as a book about “right living” rather than the story of God’s plan of salvation, fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

Growing up, I confused “right living” with true faith. I felt that I was “in good standing” because I was inviting others to youth group. I lived a relatively moral life by my own standards (which were in some ways influenced by what I learned in church). I wasn’t getting into too much trouble. By my own standards I was a pretty darn good guy. The world doesn’t need someone to make life better for them by telling them how they should live. Jesus didn’t come to earth to teach us about community service, Jesus came to die for you and I. Remember that He came to rescue us.

The plea is for church leaders, Bible study leaders, Sunday school teachers, parents, and all believers to make Jesus the main thing in ministry.

Let’s consider how we can go from saying “let’s keep the main thing the main thing” to putting it into practice. May we all say as Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.

1 Corinthians 15:3-4

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Set apart, useful, and ready.

2 Timothy 2:21

As I have followed my Master for the past 9 years or so, I have come to see that my life is a daily learning of dying to self, and living in Him.  It has been a journey fraught with mistakes and sin and a daily falling short of His glory, but He has been faithful and ever picking me up and brushing off the dust from my knees and wiping the tears from my eyes… He continues to lead me forward towards His hope and completed promise.

Over the past 3.5 years as I have studied at Western Seminary and am finishing up my final classwork, I have been blessed with a wonderful season to learn and grow in the Word and to study and apply and practice the Gospel into different parts of my life and ministry.  Yet, the reality is now that I am about to be done… I am again at a crossroads of my life and unsure of the future.  Unlike the past, where I was not as well equipped or “trained”, the future is uncertain.  Perhaps I have more options now, but even with the education… the stories and experiences… I am not sure what the next steps will hold.  Do I wait and stay, or do I go? Where? When? How?

Lately, due to finishing up this final semester and some hard ministry experiences (external & internal), … my future seems to be even more cloudy.  As I pondered the advice of a few friends and mentors, and have been praying, I discovered Paul’s words to Timothy in 2nd Timothy near the end of Paul’s life.  In many ways, this epistle is not too far before Paul’s martyrdom and I cannot help but feel similar to Timothy at this time… Timothy…a gifted brother, but timid too… having problems with the church at Ephesus … yet Paul passes on the torch to Timothy in this letter, and is told to continue forth to “guard the good deposit entrusted to you.”

As my M.Div. stole was placed on my shoulder, Dr. Jeff Louie… my friend, teacher and mentor whispered to me: “Preach the Gospel, Helicon.” And I said, “I will.”  In many ways, how many generations of believers have gone forth and isn’t it awesome that we are able to participate in God’s work in this world?  I guess when I see Paul’s words to Timothy here in this book, it has greatly moved me to reflect and consider my life as I walk forward to do what has been passed generation after generation since Jesus entrusted His work to the Twelve… from Paul onto Timothy… and to all whom have passed it on to us today.

The words in Timothy that particularly caught my heart were these words:

20 Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. 21 Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.

Just from reading these words, I am sure there are quite a few ways to possibly interpret this passage… but rather than getting stuck in this at this point…I want you to turn to see that there is an element of a promise here… that if we cleanse ourselves from what is dishonorable… then we will be a vessel for honorable use.  We’ll be set apart as holy… useful to our Master… ready for every good work.

Let us avoid what is dishonorable … seeking to be cleansed from it… through the powerful work of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  We are cleansed by the Gospel, and our active cleansing is our part to play in our growth and relationship with God that is not done out of guilt, but first always in grace.  It is in this promise that these words so powerfully speak to me.  This promise…  of being set apart… useful and ready…  What will happen next?  I know it isn’t by my gifts/my personality/my intellect/the # of FB friends I have, but by the grace of God… that I can be a vessel for honorable use.  Set apart as holy. Useful to my Master, Jesus.  Ready for every good work.  These are the things that are on my mind these past few weeks. Would you please pray for me?