I hate trying to play games when I don't know the rules. I have painful memories of trying to play euchre while still not being totally sure what the point was or what "trump" meant. No, I like to know what I'm doing, what the rules are, what the point is. So lately, as ministry has become complex and sometimes troublesome, I felt the same pang of not knowing exactly what the rules are anymore.
Thankfully, several providences have conspired lately to remind me of the point, to remind me that the gospel ministry is the _gospel _ministry. That is, if I am pursuing my calling faithfully and if our congregation is pursuing our calling faithfully, we will proclaim Jesus as the answer. And the next week, we'll proclaim Jesus again. And then we'll proclaim Jesus some more.
Here's how God reminded me:
- Recently, our elders asked me to prepare and preach a series of sermons on our identity as a church. The front of Immanuel's bulletin reads "Worshiping, Serving & Proclaiming Jesus Christ, God With Us." So it worked pretty well to preach a sermon for each: worship, service and proclamation. For the sermon on proclamation, though I was pretty set to preach on evangelism, through my Bible reading the Holy Spirit reminded me and re-convinced me that proclaiming Jesus is not just the heart of evangelism, it's the heart of all ministry. Particularly helpful was the reminder of Paul's ministry to the Corinthians, for whom he resolve to know and preach Christ crucified (1 Cor. 2:2) and to whom he saw himself as a permanent ambassador, always seeking to reconcile people to their Creator through Jesus (2 Cor. 5:20).
- Second, our small groups are working this year through Paul Tripp's book Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands. As God would have it, our first lesson was pretty much on point:
We must not offer people a system of redemption, a set of insights and principles. We offer people a Redeemer. In his power, we find the hope and help we need to defeat the most powerful enemies. Hope rests in the grace of the Redeemer, the only real means of lasting change. (Paul Tripp)
- Finally, this week we're diving into a new sermon series in Ezekiel. In reading a lot of commentaries for the background and outline of this amazing prophet, Iain Duguid's comments on how to interpret the book of Ezekiel were especially helpful. He noted that while many in the past were fairly creative (to put it nicely) in their interpretation of Ezekiel, the right interpretation will always result in Jesus being proclaimed. And to those who might criticize, wanting to hear "ethical imperatives" and more specific, right-now application, Duguid writes:
The gospel (the good news about Jesus' death and resurrection) is not merely the power by which dead sinners are raised to new life, it is also the power by which God's people are transformed. The gospel is not merely the starting point from which we move on to ethics; it is the heartbeat of our lives as Christians.
So that's it: we have nothing of ultimate worth to give to people, whether believers or unbelievers, apart from Jesus. Our preaching, our counseling, our evangelism, our discipleship, our encouragement, our parenting, our friendships--wherever we are put to help others, we only ultimately help by giving people Jesus.
And a final note: though proclaiming Jesus is wonderfully simple, it's never simplistic. We don't deny the complexities of life and that God's Word gives help--but we give that help through, with and _from _Jesus.