The Honing of a Messenger
There is something very intriguing about words; when thoughtfully strung together, they convey meaningful messages. It is a means of transmitting ideas, beliefs, thoughts, emotions, and a host of things that the human mind is capable of conjuring.
In I Cor. 14, Paul charges us to build each other up by prophesying, but prophesying is not about foretelling of future events or articulating biblically sound teachings as much as speaking forth words that have been impregnated with Christ. Lance Lambert once observed, Two people can play the same piano: one plays, his talent comes out; the other one plays and Christ comes out. The difference underlines the important work of the cross, for it is the experience of the cross that increases the stature of Christ in us. The former piano player plays by the best of his natural ability, the latter learned to let go of his natural ability having yielded to the work of the cross thus allows Christ to come out instead of his talent.
Its the same with speaking. One person speaks, his skills and knowledge hold a captive audience. The other one who has been dealt with by the cross speaks, and Christ is amplified.
Many of todays preachers minister by their giftedness and eloquence far more than by the Christ that has been formed within them. Eloquent preachers can put together words that convey wonderful truths, convict the vilest sinners, and construct impressionable believers, yet there may still be a deficiency of Christ.
Paul tells the Corinthian believers, I did not come among you with superiority of speech or of wisdom
I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling (I Cor. 2:1-3). Without a doubt, Paul did not use his natural ability to serve God. His power came from fully thrusting himself upon God, and I dare say that this is a fact not many preachers can claim these days.
What we have today on the one hand are preachers who hone their craft through clever manipulation of words coupled with zeal and knowledge. On the other hand we have passive Christians who delight in being entertained by gifted ministers. The outcome is a culture that shaped the clergy-laity structure of Christian churches.
It is now unimaginable to have a church without a pastor or a full-time worker to lead the flock. It is equally inconceivable to have a pastor without a flock in tow.
One thing that escapes attention, to the detriment of the church, is the condition of the inner constitution of the ministers. By that I mean our ministry should always be the outcome of the Christ that has been wrought deep with in. Deeper constitution, greater ministry; little constitution, shallow ministry. Real ministry has everything to do with this inner constitution and little to do with outward equipping, training or certification.
A brother in Christ once commented that we should never prepare to give a Sunday message, rather we should let the message prepare us. Well said.
The difference between the two cannot be more profound. To prepare for a Sunday message, all one needs is some religious zeal, biblical knowledge, and eloquence. To allow the message to prepare us, one must learn to die to his religious zeal, yield to the chastening of the Holy Spirit, and allow the Lord to reconstitute us by forging the Lambs character in us. And over the course of time, something interesting takes place: a true minister of the Lord emerges without even craving to be a minister anymore. The Christ that is being formed within him starts to convey messages without effort, sometimes without the aid of words or sound it is the formation of a testimony that cannot be taught or acquired. It is not dependent upon eloquence or biblical knowledge. It is not even dependent upon words whether he says anything or not, the true testimony of Jesus transmits Christ to others.
Once a vessel has been properly prepared by the hand of the loving Father, He will see to it to fill it with His Beloved Son. With each degree of filling comes further emptying by the Holy Spirit so as to enlarge the vessel for additional filling. Make no mistake, this is not a cakewalk. It is a process that involves the cross. Yet at the same time, the cross is not gloom and doom as some teachers make it out to be. The cross is the Masters tool to hone and make better His messengers. It is not a tool to be dreaded, rather to be welcomed.
The altar of the Old Testament usually symbolizes the cross of the New Testament. In fact, there are many references where the altar and the house of God are mentioned together. The remnants who returned from the Babylonian captivity had one thing on their mind the rebuilding of the house of God in Jerusalem. An interesting thing was recorded in Ezra chapter 3. The returned remnants were ready to rebuild the house of God, but the first thing they built was the altar!
There is a reason that the altar of the Old Testament stands in front of the house of God, and the two are frequently mentioned together. All the students of the Bible agree that the house of God in the Old Testament symbolizes the church of the New Testament. From the typology, it is not difficult to conclude that the way to enter into the reality of the church life is through the cross. There is simply no shortcut or back door entrance. I have a one word exhortation for believers encountering some who claim to have a secret way for entering the church life experience other than through the cross: RUN in the opposite direction!
Many ministers preach a cross that strikes fear in the listeners heart. It shall not be so because the cross is not a composition of words to be preached from a pulpit. A true minister must allow the cross to travail in him first. Then the Christ that is birthed within becomes the message that transmits life to the hearers. Paul said it best, death works in us, but life in you. It is the operation of the cross that imparts life, not sermons on cross.
A mans words should be a spontaneous outflow of his inner core an unadorned expression of what he has become through the Lords meticulous dealings in his life.
This leads to a broader consideration: Since the honing of a messenger involves the afore-mentioned process of the cross, does it necessarily exempt the mass of Christians who claim no calling for service? Are they meant to settle for their so-called role of laity?
I was sent a link to Steve Saints web site the other day. Steve is the son of Nate Saint, one of five missionaries (led by Jim Elliott) who attempted to befriend the Waodoni tribe in the Ecuadorian jungles in 1956. It was well documented through historical accounts, books and movies how they perished in the hands of the savages. But the Lord moved some of the spouses and relatives of the missionaries to go back to live with the Waodoni tribesmen, and they eventually gained the whole tribe for Christ.
What these women went through was nothing short of exemplifying the work of the cross, and through it they became a fragrant aroma of Christ. Just imagine the incredible struggle these women must have experienced when they sensed the Lords will to send them back to the primitive jungle people who murdered their husbands!
It was their experiencing the depths of the cross that produced Christ in them that made them living messages. It was this living testimony of Jesus that flowed out of their inner cores that won over the savage tribesmen.
A few years later, young Steve Saint was also invited to live with the Waodonis, and he later became involved with the missionary work himself. Heres an excerpt from his web site:
Saint wrote about his life with the Waodani in the book The End of The Spear which was also made into a motion picture.
The Maverick is produced by Saint's Indigenous People's Technology and Education Center, or I-TEC, which focuses on enabling indigenous churches to overcome the technological and educational hurdles that stand in the way of independent ministry.
One of the great barriers that has prevented indigenous churches from growing to maturity is their continuing dependence on the welfare of outsiders, the organization states on its website. A native church that relies on the leadership, technology and financial support of foreign missionaries rarely can stand on its own when that support is withdrawn. We are convinced from the Scriptures, however, that the goal of the Great Commission is to establish churches that are self-supporting, self-governing and self-propagating.
Its quite sobering to me to think that the native church that relied on the leadership, technology and financial support of the foreign missionaries can rarely stand on its own
. Isnt it exactly the same way with the passive Christians in todays churches who rely on the pastors leadership and spoon-feeding of Sunday sermons? No wonder Christians remain spiritual infants even after decades of spoon-feeding on predigested revelations and insights from the Word!
When will Christians wake up to pursue and experience Christ and mine the riches of Christ for themselves? And when will church leaders learn to fore-go of their positions, titles and pulpits to become simple messengers?
With all due respect, there are some prophets who exemplify the life of Christ, and their preaching does match their inner cores. I for one, hold them in profound respect and have benefited from their preaching.
Shortly after Marys illness and surgery, we adjusted our lifestyle by not going out in order to protect her weakened immune system from possible infections. Needless to say, we missed the saints in our fellowship and wondered how they fared in the Lord.
One day, Mark and Kim dropped by for a visit. They eagerly listened to what we shared about Marys treatments. Then it was our turn to soak up everything they shared about the welfare of the saints and the gatherings. With great excitement, Mark assured me that the saints were doing well, and that the gatherings were going wonderfully with the Lords presence and His speaking in the fellowship. Its like we didnt even miss you, he added.
At that very moment, I was filled with ecstasy and exclaimed, Praise the Lord, praise the Lord! In fact, I remember being a bit surprised by my own reaction of such rapturous joy. Normally, like any sane person, when told about not being missed in a Christian gathering would feel like a dagger through the heart. How would anyone like to be told, Brother, your absence made no difference in the gatherings?
I could just hear the sneers from some former associates, Poor thing, hes not even missed by his own group
But I remember the Lord lifting His countenance upon me that day, Son, you did well. You are nothing because I am everything. You are not the head because I am the Head of My church. It was one of the most memorable days of my life because it was confirmed to me that simple gatherings under the headship of Christ works. No one could convince me otherwise because our fellowship was birthed through the travails of Christ and honed through the cross where Christ, not the church, remains our single focus.
Graciously, Mark did add, Of course we missed you! But you understand what I am getting at, right? I assured him that I did.
Indeed, when the headship of Christ is honored and upheld not in words but in deed, the Lord is well able to lead and guide His church.
The trouble with todays churches is the leaders preach the headship of Christ, but give no predisposition about actually yielding the headship to Him. If they did, there wont be any more platformic pulpit ministries, nor will there be offices and positions all will be just brothers and sisters, period.
But I dont foresee this happening any time soon. Why? Because although many remnants have returned from Babylon with a single intent to rebuild the church after the New Testament pattern, very few have erected an altar. And although some do preach the cross, it is only used as a pretense to further their private agenda. Where the altars fire has not consumed and produced fragrant aroma, there is no reality of the cross in operation.
Although Steve Saint got it right about the problem of the missionary-led and supported indigenous church, his idea for cure, namely, self-support, self-govern, and self propagate is merely human-contrived solution that bears no resemblance to the divine thought.
In the same way, we must say that the myriad of solutions offered today for the cure of traditional and institutional church also missed the mark.
Getting rid of the pulpit is not the solution to the clergy-laity syndrome. Likewise house church is not the answer to the problem of the institutional church. Christ, and only Christ, is the answer.
Its an easy answer because every Christian agrees and claims to have it. But its also a most profoundly difficult answer because not many will allow the answer to hone and reshape them. Once they learned to fully embrace Christ, pulpit and institutions will spontaneously disappear. Neither will self-support, self-govern, and self-propagate be necessary. Christ will have gained His headship in all things. His church will simply be Christ-supported, Christ-governed, and Christ-propagated.