Glorifying God as we minister

Glorifying God  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented
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Our theme is glorifying God.
First, we recognize that He is God, and I am not.
Yesterday we covered a few Member Care topics with a view toward self-reflection and self-awareness.
It’s not really about self, but about becoming a better reflection of the glory of God.
Have you noticed that our best ministry usually does not come from having it all together, but from our weakness, our messes and God bringing order out of the seeming chaos of life.
We don’t win people to Christ with arguments, but with connection.
2 Corinthians 1:3–7 ESV
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. 6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. 7 Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.
The Greek word for comfort is paraklesis - literally to “call out” or to “call aside”.
You may remember that Jesus calls the Holy Spirit “the comforter” or “helper” - in Greek the “paraklete” - the one who is called along side.
John 14:16 ESV
16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever,
The Holy Spirit comes along side and gives encouragement and instruction - That is the function of a comforter.
And notice that as we receive comfort - encouragement and instruction - we become the ones who also give comfort - encouragement and instruction.
We become and extension of the Holy Spirit’s work.
God is relational - the thing that glorifies God more than anything is connection, sharing and participation.
The gods of all the other nations insist that humans worship them from afar.
But the God of the Bible made a way that we could be near Him.
He condescended - He came down to our level.
And what is even more is that He incarnated - He became like us.
That is the amazing paradox of God’s glory - the transcendence and the imminence.
God is so much greater than we can imagine and yet so humble and accessible.
We are going to talk about a few more member-care-related subjects, but we are also going to relate them to how we minister as Christ-like representatives.

Dealing with disappointment

On of the requested topics that we should address was dealing with disappointment.
Karie is going to share a story of disappointment - I believe it has something to do with marrying me!

Karie’s disappointment story.

What is disappointment?

Disappointment is that feeling of sadness, confusion and perhaps even dread when things don’t go the way that we expect.
We all have an internal narrative of how we think things are supposed to go.
We dream about what we want to be when we grow up.
We fantasize about falling in love, getting married and living happily ever after.
We have a vision for the ministry that God gives us, which also means that we have imagined a future outcome- where we think this is going.
Narratives are what give us perspective.
We imagine our lives as a story.
We imagine where we are in that story.
And even though we don’t actually know how our story will end, we have ideas about how we want that story to go.
Narratives are a major subject in our society today.
Current teaching in Social Sciences is summarized in a quote from Dan Brown, the author of The DaVInci Code.
“History is always written by the winners. When two cultures clash, the loser is obliterated, and the winner writes the history books-books which glorify their own cause and disparage the conquered foe. As Napoleon once said, 'What is history, but a fable agreed upon?”― Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code
I’m not quoting this because I believe it is true - though there is some truth to it.
I’m quoting it because society believes it, and this belief has shaped our world today.
So what we see in our society today is a clash of competing narratives.
A biblical world view versus a secular world view.
The war is being waged in the media, in entertainment and in the judicial system
They all want to be the ones who get to tell the story the way they see it - or the way they want you to see it.
History is no longer perceived as a collection of facts and data - it is something that is being written - or re-written.
The current trend in theology is toward a narrative theology.
Most of us grew up with systematic theology.
Doctrines broken down into charts - doctrine of man, sin, salvation, etc.
Before that we had catechisms - theology was mostly done in a question and answer format.
And before that was the creeds - rote memorization.
Now seminaries are teaching narrative theology.
What is the grand narrative of scripture? - creation, fall, preparation, redemption, restoration, fulfilment.
Interpreters of scripture recognize that the Biblical narrative is happening on several different levels simultaneously.
For example: the story of David and Goliath
The lower narrative is that a shepherd boy defeats a Philistine giant.
The upper narrative is that one man saves the nation by defeating evil.
It’s not just the story of David and Goliath.
It’s the story of Israel and their king.
It’s also the story of Jesus and of salvation.
The strength of narrative theology is that it shows how all of the biblical pieces fit together.
And it connects the past with the present and the future.
History is His-story and that story is still being written.
You are part of His-story!
You life’s story has levels to it also.
The lower narrative is that you are a worker, serving the Lord with a particular calling, successes and failures.
The upper narrative is that you are part of a much bigger plan of God’s ultimate purpose on earth.
Ephesians 1:9–10 ESV
9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
God is bringing everything under the Lordship of Jesus Christ who in turn glorifies God,
1 Corinthians 15:24–25 ESV
24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.
Your story is part of a much larger story, the purpose of which is ultimately giving glory to God.
When we are dealing with disappointment, we need to zoom out.
We become so focused on one aspect of our lives - the part that didn’t go the way we wanted.
We need to remember that what seems like the whole world is just a piece of a much larger picture.
Sometimes we can only see the lower narrative.
We think, “this is all about me and my pain.”
Your pain is real, but its not the whole picture.
In counseling we call that “giving perspective.”
Remember: one of the symptoms of trauma is a distorted sense of meaning.
The pain of disappointment makes us afraid to face an uncertain future - it keeps us from seeing the big picture.
People who are disappointed may need to grieve before they are ready to hear about hope.

Moving through grief

The most important thing about grief is that you acknowledge it.
So let’s take a moment to give grief the recognition it deserves.

Joel’s grief story

I mentioned yesterday about having been married to Heidi for 28 years. Heidi passed away August 1, 2017. After a 14 month bout with cancer. She died in Narita, Japan. We were on our way to visit missionaries in Thailand.
She had been through 24 rounds of chemo and was doing well when we purchased the tickets in April. But a month later her condition took a turn for the worse. We had a full summer of plans and her goal was to do everything on the list, the last of which was this trip to Thailand. Her expectation and mine was to be “healed as she went.”
The first leg of that trip did not go well, She became sick about half-way through the 13 hour flight to Japan. We had our two youngest children with us ages 15 and 17. I went to the desk in Japan to get our baggage off the plane. We could stay the night and decide in the morning whether or not to continue. And she came to me saying, get me to a doctor, now!”
I have travel extensively. But that was my first time being in a place where I knew absolutely no one and I didn’t know the language. And my wife is dying. I told the doctors to do what they need to do to stabilize her, we had a plan to get her home. But she passed away the next morning as soon as I arrived at the hospital.
I had not seen that coming.!If I had, we would have never got on that plane. Looking back, I don’t see how I could have missed it. There were plenty of indicators - but I was so focused on life, healing and ministry. I knew that death was a real possibility - but not until that moment was it really real.
I have described losing a spouse as having your heart ripped out of your chest while it’s still beating. I knew the moment she was gone because I felt this deep agony -like I’m being ripped in half.
I had always thought that if she died, I didn’t want to continue in ministry. We had always served together and we made good team. I couldn’t imagine myself serving the Lord without her. But in that moment, something else happened. I knew I had to continue. I knew that my story wasn’t over yet. I had a purpose and a responsibility to finish what we had started.
But God was so faithful in that moment. The director of the hospital - a Buddhist man- was so kind and helpful. He had several members of his staff around a table in the boardroom, each of them had someone on the phone that I needed to talk to - the police, the embassy, city hall, airlines, insurance. They were relaying the information in Japanese and I was simply confirming it. Twenty seven hours later all the arrangements were made and I was free to leave the country.
That began my grief journey.
I was serving in a church of 200+ people as the Associate Pastor and primary Pastoral Counselor.
I could have taken some time off, but I found the familiar routine comforting.
I found that people looked to me to know how to grieve.
People were afraid to talk about her around me - so I would mention her name.
Just to let them know - it’s OK to talk about her.
When I would sit down to counsel people, they were more concerned about me.
I would begin by telling them what I am doing to process my grief and then shift the conversation to, “let talk about you.”
What was I doing to process my grief.
I read a lot.
I read books about heaven and peoples ‘life after death’ visions and experiences.
I read about suffering, loss and grief.
One book “Understanding your Grief” by Alan Wolfelt had an accompanying workbook - I would read a bit and then reflect by journaling.
It was about 3-4 months of acute grief - crying my eyes out at least once a day.
Most people are ready to move on after about a month.
There is no time limit on grief - it takes the time it takes.
If you try to hurry through it or suppress it - its going to come out in some other way.
Or the next time you face grief its a double whammy - we call that complicated grief.
The Bible uses the term “lament”
It’s a song of sorrow.
It’s giving expression to our pain and our sorrow.
Pain and sorrow needs to be expressed - it’s part of the story.
If it doesn’t get expressed, its like a deep wound that heals on the surface but the infection gets trapped down deep and it festers until it either bursts or become toxic to the body.
There has been much said in recent years about recovering practices of lament in the church.
I want to focus in on another topic that is going to bring us full circle and back to how we glorify God by ministering to others.

Incarnational ministry - empathy

Karie and I have both shared parts of our story.
Perhaps parts of our story resonate with you?
You identify with our stories because you have similar experiences.
Or maybe you don’t have similar experience, but you imagine yourself in our shoes?
That ability to resonate is called either empathy or sympathy depending n the degree to which you are able to do so.
Empathy is distinguished from sympathy in that it enters into or participates in the feelings of another.
Empathy is a huge topic in today’s world as we learn to cope with being a digitally connected but emotionally disconnected society.
You can look up Youtube videos by Brene’ Brown (psychology) or Simon Sinek (business) on the subject.
We are becoming much more aware of the importance of emotions - look up anything on Emotional Intelligence and you will find mention of the importance of empathy.
The reason I want to talk about empathy is because it is the key ingredient in the concept of incarnational ministry.
I shouldn’t be the one to lecture you on incarnational ministry - that’s what a worker does!
They leave everything that is familiar and go to where people are and live like they do.
After all, that’s what Jesus did - He became like us, so that we could become like Him!
But you also know that there are some missionaries who spend a term, several terms or a lifetime on a particular field and never really penetrate the culture.
They enter into the missions experience, but only so far...
Swedish Missionaries in Kenya
Jesus not only came to our world, but He became one of us - except for sin.
Hebrews 4:15 ESV
15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
The writer to the Hebrews uses the Greek word for sympathy - feeling with.
But he also felt for us.
Isaiah 53:4–5 ESV
4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.
Jesus enter fully into the human experience.
He felt our pain.
He knows our grief.
He understands our disappointment.
Hebrews 4:16 ESV
16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Experts like Simon Sinek will tell you that empathy is necessary for establishing trust.
You can trust Jesus because he not only died on the cross for your sin, but He understands your emotional pain.
When I was going through grief, I found it interesting the different responses that I would get from people. Some people would try to say something inspiring or profound that they were sure would just snap me out of sorrow and into joy. Yeah, they were annoying!
Other people would say, “I can’t image what you are going through.” My thought was “ I wish it were only my imagination!”
The only people whom I found to be remotely comforting were the people who had been through a similar loss. They didn’t have to say anything. I could see the pain in their eyes and I knew that they knew...
You can trust Jesus because He empathizes with our suffering, but can people trust you…?
How far are you willing to enter into the pain of another person?
How much should you empathize?
The subject of empathy has another side as well …too much empathy.
People can loose themselves in other peoples feelings and experiences.
Along with the subject of empathy comes the problem of compassion fatigue.
Just as people can be traumatized by exposure to other people’s trauma.
You can wear yourself out by feeling other people’s emotions.
And, at a certain point, it’s no longer helpful.
When we are counseling, we need to show enough empathy to created a connection.
We share enough about ourselves to let people know that we understand, but not so much that we make it about us.
They still need to feel the feelings and do the work without us gushing all over them and smothering them.
We have a saying in counseling, “If you are working harder than your client, you are working too hard!”
As counselors (and as workers) we need to have balance in our lives so that we can continue to care for people.
We need to find the balance between compassion and detachment - set appropriate boundaries.
Boundaries don’t mean you don’t care - boundaries give you freedom to enter fully into the experience because you know there are limits in place.
We need to balance draining relationships with replenishing activities.
Balance ministry time with alone time and family time.
We need to balance work with fun, recreation, and things that restore joy.
Do you want to glorify God in your ministry? Then do what God did - enter fully into the human experience.
Allow yourself to experience the whole range of human emotions.
Romans 12:15 ESV
15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
When you open yourself up like that, the result is greater human connection.
And that connection becomes the conduit through which the love of God flows.
The life of God flows through that connection, just as it does from Jesus to us.
And it is that emotional connection that becomes a lifeline to a lost humanity.

Questions for reflection:

If you were to write the story of your life what would you call it?
Every story has a plot and every plot has conflict. How has the conflict in your story helped to shape the story that God is writing through you?
What is your ultimate source of comfort and how do you you share that comfort?
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