By: Ron Woodrum
Tri Valley Baptist Church has completed its first twenty five years of ministry. Over the years we have had many men of God lead us in the ministry of winning our community to Christ. I believe it has been the measure of every Pastor to lead this congregation in MAKING DISCIPLES (Winning the Lost); MARKING DISCIPLES (Getting them to join the Church and giving public testimony to being a new creation, dying to the old man, rising to walk in newness of life, and by the baptism of the Spirit being placed in the body of Christ the Church);MATURING DISCIPLES (the goal of all the preaching and teaching ministries of the Church) and probably the number one sign of maturity in Christ is following in the next step of MULTIPLYING DISCIPLES (every mature believer should be involved in sharing his faith and winning others to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, and teaching their converts to do the same). It all seems so simple when summarized that way…but somewhere-somehow-the process has broken down. We are losing ground-FAST! There must be some changes made in our methods. They tell us that to keep doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of INSANITY! Somehow we need to grow wiser about ministry to our ever-changing world.
Having said that I feel like Parsifal, a young lad in Richard Wagner’s play of the same name. It seems that Parsifal’s father had been an honorable knight who joined other knights in the mission of finding the Holy Grail. He had been killed in the pursuit. His mother kept the fate of Parsifal’s father from him, and forbid him to even own or use a sword. The drama is the story about how Parsifal discovers who he is; who his father was; what his father’s mission was; and he finally, and successfully follows in his father’s dream. Wagner’s characterization of Parsifal is “a good man growing slowly wise”. That was his key to success. Perhaps it is our key too. We need wisdom from on high to understand and love our community. Our world has changed. Old techniques. Old cliches. Old methods that used to work are quickly rejected by today’s post-Christian culture. What are we to do? One of my favorite authors, even still today, is Francis Schaeffer. His book True Spirituality is one of the most important books ever written on the Christian life. Another of his books, The Church At the End of the Twentieth Century, is extremely pertinent today as well. Two conclusions of his book that we need to understand are: (1) We live in a post-Christian world that neither understands nor wants what we have to offer in the Gospel of Christ. (2) Most of the world is desperately seeking love, as Johnny Lee said, “in all the wrong places”. Schaeffer stated that even though the world will change, (and he hit the nail on the head speaking very prophetically) the key to reaching them will not change. It is still the “love of Christ” fleshed out in his disciples that will be the magnet that will continue to draw the lost to the Christ and His Cross. Jesus words, “If I be lifted up I will draw all men unto myself” (John 121:32) is still true today. How long will it take us to learn that truth?
Leaving the winning of the world in the hands of an imperfect Church was a risk. C.S. Lewis wrote, “God seems to do nothing of Himself which He can possibly delegate to His creatures. He commands us to do slowly and blunderingly (is that a word?) what He could do perfectly and in the twinkling of an eye”. There is no greater illustration of that principle than fact that Jesus has delegated to His Church the task of winning the world before He comes back. How do we do it? Jesus is our PATTERN. We are to emulate Him. Helmut Thielicke describes the ministry of Jesus in these words, “What tremendous pressures there must have been within Him to drive Him to hectic, nervous, explosive activity! He sees…as no one else sees, with an infinite and awful nearness, the agony of dying man, the anguish of the wounded conscience, injustice, dread, terror and beastliness. He sees and hears all of this with the heart of a Savior…must not this fill his every waking hour and rob Him of sleep at night? Must He not begin to set the fire burning, to win people, to work out strategic plans to evangelize the world, to work, work, furiously work, unceasingly, unrestingly, before the night comes when no man can work? That’s what we would imagine the earthly life of the Son of God to be like, if we were to think of Him in human terms. But how utterly different was the actual life of Jesus! Though the burden of the whole world lay heavy on His shoulders-though Corinth, Ephesus, Athens, and whole continents, with all their desperate need, were desperately near to His heart, though suffering and sinning were going on in chamber, street corner, castle, and slums, seen only by the Son of God-though this immeasurable misery and wretchedness cried out aloud for a physician, he has time to stop and talk to the individual…By being obedient in His little corner of the highly provincial precincts of Nazareth and Bethlehem he allows Himself to be fitted into the great mosaic whose master is God. And that is why He has time for persons; (to love them individually) for all time is in the hands of the Father. That is why peace and not unrest go out from Him. For God’s faithfulness already spans the world like a rainbow: He does not need to build it; He only needs to walk beneath it” (The Waiting Father). So, do we. Jesus encountered people individually. He loved them. Sometimes they responded to that love and choose to invite Him into their life, and ended up following Him. Other times they walked away-though the Bible says grieved, for rejecting Him who the depths of our souls desire, creates a greater vacuum inside than before we encounter Him. We must follow His pattern.
But Jesus is also our PRESENCE AND POWER. Trying to do our mandate and mission in our own power will only end in frustration and failure. Frederick Buechner describes how he learned this lesson in Telling Secrets: “Love you neighbor as yourself is part of the great commandment. The other way to say it is, Love yourself as your neighbor. Love yourself not in some ego-centric, self-serving sense but love yourself the way you would love your neighbor, nourishing yourself, trying to understand yourself, comfort and strengthen yourself. Ministers in particular, people in the caring professions in general, are famous for neglecting themselves with the result that they are apt to become in their own way as helpless and crippled as the people they are trying to care for and thus are no longer selves who can be of much use to anybody. If your daughter is struggling for life in a raging torrent, you do not save her by jumping into the torrent with her, which only leads to the both of you drowning together. Instead you keep your feet on the dry bank-you maintain as best you can your own inner peace, the best and strongest of who you are-and from that solid ground reach out your rescuing hand…Take care of yourself so you can take care of them. A bleeding heart is of no help to anybody if it bleeds to death!” Beuchner was speaking autobiographically here. His own daughter was drowning in the torrent of anorexia. He tried to help her but was losing the battle because her battle consumed him. She finally got help in a clinic three thousand miles away from him. He was not present at all to protect her by manipulating events on her behalf. The people who were there-the Doctors, nurses, social workers, and even a judge who hospitalized her against her will. They all loved her with a love that held her accountable for choosing her own healing-something her father could not do. Buechner concluded, “Those men and women were not haggard, dithering, lovesick as I was. They were realistic, tough, conscientious, and in those ways, though they would never have put it in such terms themselves, loved her in a sense that I believe was closer to what Jesus meant by love than what I had been doing”.
Philip Yancey says, “Jesus healed everyone who asked Him too, but not everyone He met. He had the amazing rare capacity to let people choose their own pain. He exposed Judas to love, but did not try to prevent his evil deed; He denounced the Pharisees without trying to coerce them to His point of view. He answered a wealthy man’s question with uncompromising words and let him walk away. Mark adds the words about that incident “Jesus looked on him and loved Him” (Mk. 10:21). But he still walked away! And Jesus let him! In short, Jesus showed incredible respect for human freedom. He had no compulsion to convert the entire world in His lifetime or cure people unready to be cured. He encountered them and called them to Himself in love. If they did not have the desire to respond love to love, He let them turn away”. That will still work today. Jesus is still the epitome of relevance. So is His cross. Charles Swindoll, in Come Before Winter, quotes George Mcloud with words still very relevant to us-“It is we who have hauled the cross out of sight. It is we who have left the impression it belongs in the cloistered halls of a seminary, or beneath the soft shadows of stained glass between marble statues. I am simply arguing that the cross be raised again in the center of the marketplace, as well as on top of the Church steeple. Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves; on a town garbage heap; at a cross road so cosmopolitan that they had to write His title in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek…and at the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble, BECAUSE THAT IS WHERE HE DIED, AND THAT IS WHAT HE DIED ABOUT. THAT IS WHERE THE CHURCH OUGHT TO BE, AND WHAT THE CHURCH PEOPLE OUGHT TO BE ABOUT!” His way still works…even twenty years later. But it has to be fleshed-out by real-life Christians. Any takers?