Friday, May 30, 2014

Am I running in vain

Right up front I will admit this is a shameless plug for Oxygen2014 which is the largest Christian leaders conference in Australia being held in Sydney later this year.  I have been asked to promote the event in the lead-up and across the week of the convention itself.

I am currently preaching through Galatians and I have been struck by elements of Paul's early life in ministry that I previously have given very little thought to. In particular I have been challenged by the humility of Paul to head to Jerusalem to set before the Apostles the gospel that he was proclaiming among the Gentiles.  I was challenged because of Paul's reason for doing this, "in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain."

See Paul also explained how he received the gospel. He did not receive it from any other person, nor did he discover it himself, but it was revealed to him through a revelation of Jesus Christ Himself. In short Paul was confronted by the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus and in the process of this dramatic conversion was given the message of the gospel and told to proclaim it to the Gentile world. I don't know about you but I reckon being given the gospel in such stunning circumstances would give me a fair bit of confidence in the message I had been given.  I mean surely being given the gospel directly from the resurrected Christ was a sure sign that it was the truth. But as we have already seen, Paul takes the time to head to Jerusalem to lay his gospel preaching bare before the Apostles in order to have them confirm the accuracy of his message.

This is why I have been struck by Paul's humility. It is one thing to have confidence in the gospel that he proclaimed, but it is a whole other thing to be willing to submit this gospel to the scrutiny of others.  But Paul was less concerned with his own notoriety and more concerned with the effectiveness of his gospel mission.  The last thing he wanted was to be "running in vain", to be investing great amounts of time and energy and even risking his own life for a message that had no power to save.  Paul could not stand the thought of leading people to a twisted view of God and a false sense of assurance because of a corruption in his message.  So he willingly presents his gospel to the Apostles for confirmation, and if need be, correction.

This got me thinking.  How often do I take the time to lay my gospel preaching bare before those more knowledgeable and more experienced in the gospel than me? I mean I certainly can't testify of having received the gospel from a direct revelation of Jesus... I received it from other preachers and college lecturers... and yet it struck me that Paul was more willing to lay his gospel preaching bare than I am.

It is so easy for ministers to get busy in the week in and week out of preaching and serving the congregation that we rely more on our own capacity to proclaim the gospel rather than very content of the gospel itself.  And when we are snowed under in our contexts it is difficult to view our message with fresh eyes.  So the thought of having our preaching laid bare is scary because it might reveal that we are investing energy in the wrong direction... that we are running in vain... that we might have to make changes to our preaching formula...  We have to be humble enough to admit that this is at least a possibility.

There are probably many ways that we can exercise humility like Paul and check to see that we aren't running in vain, but conventions such as Oxygen are one.  If you are the sole preaching pastor in the church or even the main preaching pastor it is possible that the only gospel voice you ever hear is your own. Sometimes the best way to have our own gospel preaching scrutinised is to have someone else preach it to us. Conventions like Oxygen give us this opportunity.  If we go to events such as this with open and humble hearts, preachers who are well researched and have great experience in the gospel can provide another gospel voice for us to calibrate our own preaching against.  The human tendency to pride often makes us think that we know it all and that we can point out the insufficiency in preachers like Carson, Tripp and Chan, but at the end of the day I have to be humble enough to admit they might have a correction or a confirmation for me that will greatly benefit my ministry.

No one wants to find out that they have been running in vain.  So in a general sense this is a call to all who minister the gospel to find tangible ways of submitting our preaching to the scrutiny of others, but it is a specific call to consider letting Oxygen2014 serve you in this way.    

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