Insignificant Ministry?


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As the world around us changes and, in some sense, feels like it is dismantling, it brings up questions on how to proceed. What will work? How do we move forward? At New Life Ministries, we are asking these questions just as you are. In today’s talk, Curtis ponders a couple of ideas about ministry from Isaiah 53.

Welcome to the New Life Ministries podcast as the world around us changes and in
some senses feels like it is dismantling it brings up questions on how to proceed
what will work how do we move forward at New Life Ministries we are asking these
questions just as you are in today’s talk Curtis Ponders a couple of ideas about Ministry from Isaiah 53.
at our recent annual general meeting I gave a little talk about moving into a season of considering fresh ways of
following Jesus as a church and today I’d like to ponder a couple of ideas about Ministry from Isaiah chapter 53.
if you want to turn to it I gave this talk or most of this talk at the Manitoba Baptist association’s AGM in
October so three of you have heard this talk before and that’s okay and I may actually say pieces that you
have heard me say before in my time here and that’s okay too so I grew up in a Dutch Reformed Church
which had a very traditional liturgy and it had midweek Catechism classes where you studied the Heidelberg Catechism
it was a very uh cultural heritage-based family-based church then when I was in
university I was asked to be part of a church plant and that church followed the Seeker
service strategy so that means Sunday morning was designed to be a time where
you answered the questions that non-christians had about Jesus so it’s very focused kind of on evangelism and
then we did a worship service at another time in the week then I went to Seminary and discovered there are many many models for doing
church for having to worship service and structure in a church so I got a job as a youth pastor and as
a worship director at a normal Sunday morning Suburban Church whatever normal is anymore
and I was there for about 10 years and at the end of my time the youth group I was leading began to feel and function
more like church it felt like what I was reading in scripture about what church
is supposed to be and in contrast the Sunday morning Community didn’t feel that way to me so I left my job and I
gave myself time to research just to see if anybody else was seeing what I was seeing and that led me into doing
organic church planting and house churching and I developed a network of house churches and made connections with
some fantastic folks across Canada who were all asking this question of how do we build church and be Disciples of
Jesus in Canada now um and that eventually led me to my role
here at New Life so I’ve been part of churches that have been based in a in a Heritage connection
that have been based in the Seeker movement that are a Sunday morning Suburban church that we’re a house
Church structure and now an inner city Church in my conclusion or one of my
conclusions is that there is no particular structure or strategy that
guarantees results nothing guarantees results subtly over the years I had picked up
this idea that if you build it properly it’ll just happen the church will just
work if you speak the language of culture if you pay attention to its felt needs if you do it right God will
naturally bless the church and it’ll grow but I don’t believe that that is true and I’m not even sure if anyone
intentionally tried to teach us that but we sort of picked it up and I was talking to another pastor about this a
month ago and he came to the same conclusion that we were taught if you just do it right it works but that’s not
how it works I can also tell you I’ve seen the church blossom in the most unexpected ways when
I was a youth pastor we took regular time to evaluate what we were doing together
and the teens pointed out that the stuff they learned best came through casual
conversation just hanging out with youth leaders and talking and sometimes getting into unexpected Adventures
so we decided that we would have intentional hangout time at every Youth
Event that’s hard to do when you’re only together for two hours and you’re
expected to do worship and do a talk and maybe play some games and perhaps go
serve the community and do a small group like there’s just too much activity so we decided that we would only do one
thing per week we would do less worship less teaching less games less serving the community we do one thing we would
do it well and the rest of the time we would just hang out with each other and we would practice loving each other we
would practice what we were learning and the most amazing thing happened we became Church
this group of about 25 teens and leaders experienced the kind of life together
the way the Bible describes church we knew each other really well we knew each
other’s strengths and each other’s weaknesses and we would work to encourage each other to remind each other who we really were what we knew
our goals were and how to get there and encourage each other to get there the teens started to really seek out how
do you be a disciple of Jesus in life like in real life
teens would invite their friends to come to the Gathering because they wanted their friends to discover what this was
like and I remember teens were talking that at church on a Friday night was the one
time in the week they could be who they really wanted to be because everywhere else there were
limits or or obligations and they couldn’t quite be who they were I would get told oh so-and-so just
became a Christian I’d be like oh really what and they would say oh yeah yeah so and so over there told them of the message of Jesus and they want to follow
him okay it’s very cool people just using their gifts and our two-hour Youth
Event that went from seven to nine people started showing up at six and then they would stay to 10 or 11. like
it just became this four to five hour night and our leadership team kept getting
larger and larger because people were owning their church and this church was
built with teenagers self-centered insecure clumsy but
beautiful people and they kept saying we want more adults to experience that church can be like
this church can blossom in the most unexpected ways
so like I said I I’d like us to move into a season of considering fresh ways of following Jesus as Church
and there’s a couple of ideas I’ve picked up from Isaiah 53. so Isaiah is a book where God lays out
his complaint with his people he has called them to be people who would represent him in the world by their
behavior the Lord would show the world what he’s like and through his people he
would bring his Blessing and his restoration to the world but the folks didn’t want to participate
in that program they were just as glad to pursue their own wants and instead of trusting the Lord first they would find
other things to trust in other nations other people other gods and so even as God lays out his charges
he promises to fix the problem he promises to restore them and the way
he’s going to fix it is through the servant and in Isaiah 53 we have one of
the passages that describes this servant the servant who will do the work of
making things right so as we read it I invite you to consider what kind of servant is this
like what was he like what does he value what appears to be his main agenda
so I’m going to start with uh chapter 52 verse 13 because it leads right into it
father father please speak through your word and please
ignite our minds to capture the richness that is here lead us to follow you amen
verse 13 see my servant will act wisely he will be raised and lifted up and
highly exalted just as there were many who were appalled at him his appearance was so
disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred Beyond human likeness
so he will sprinkle many nations and Kings will shut their mouth because
of him for what they were not told they will see and what they have not heard they
will understand who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed
he grew up before him like a tender shoot like a root out of dry ground
he had no beauty or Majesty to attract us to him nothing in his appearance that we should desire him
he was despised and rejected by mankind a man of suffering and familiar with
pain like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised and we held him in
low esteem surely he took our pain and bore our
suffering yet we considered him punished by God stricken by him and afflicted
but he was pierced for our transgressions or our Rebellion against God
he was crushed for our iniquity our immoral Behavior the punishment that brought us peace was
on him and by his wounds we are healed we all like sheep have gone astray each
has turned to our own way and the Lord is laid on him the iniquity of us all
he was oppressed and Afflicted yet he did not open his mouth he was led like a lamb to the slaughter
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent he did not open his mouth
by oppression and judgment he was taken away yet who of his generation protested
he was cut off from the land of the living for the transgressions of my people he
was punished he was assigned a grave with the wicked and with the rich in his death though he
had done no violence nor was any deceit in his mouth yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him
and cause him to suffer and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin
he will see his offspring and prolong his days and the will of the Lord will
prosper in his hands after he has suffered he will see the light of life and be satisfied
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many and he will bear their
iniquities therefore I will give him a portion among the great and he will divide the
spoils with the strong because he poured out his life unto death and was numbered
with the rebels for he bore the sin of many and made intercession for the rebels
that’s a rich passage there is so much in there I just want to look at about three ideas about this servant and what it would
mean for Ministry verse 1. who has believed our message and to whom
has the arm of the Lord been revealed the arm of the Lord is his strength it’s
his power it’s God showing how strong his arm is how many men show their strength by
flexing their bicep especially when they’re young like all of us that’s how we show our strength
Isaiah says who has seen the arm of the Lord who is seen him Flex his strength
and then he begins to describe what that strength looks like what that arm looks
like and he describes it as a young plant that grows in dry ground a twig a tender
shoot spindly thin you ever seen dry ground
with a thin plant trying to grow through it or concrete with a little plant and it’s just barely making it
it’s insignificant there’s nothing about it that would catch our attention or make us pay
attention the strength of the Lord his powerful arm looked to people like something that was
weak and insignificant and so they didn’t recognize that it was
from God how would you expect God to send a rescuer wouldn’t you expect someone tall
and strong and inspiring and confident God’s strong arm did not look like we
expected it to look if our savior came in such a humble
state why would we be uncomfortable with
humble frail forms of ministry if God’s salvation his strong arm is
revealed in what appears to be an insignificant servant might he not take the same approach with
us might he be okay with Ministry that looks really insignificant
and is it not more important that we be faithful to the work God has prepared for us to do
rather than look for impressive results and yet how often do we get caught up
into the idea that to be successful it has to look successful
to be successful it has to look successful so what is the LIE there what is the lie that hinders our view of
ministry one might be our cultural God of efficiency in our culture we believe in
efficiency I must have as much impact as possible from my effort
that’s not true that’s not a truth that you need to impact as many people as
possible with your ministry effort if you just affect one person
that is valuable so the cultural God of efficiency can
hinder our view of ministry another one might have to do with technique and skill that my technique and my skill
will produce results in Ministry like it does in my job it’s not a truth
it’s important that our own self-worth is not tied up into our ministry
activity I’m not saying don’t give your best or don’t work hard because those honor God
but let’s remember the Lord is the one who does the work it’s his program
we’re just servants and we just have to be faithful
God knows what your skill level is and your Technique level is and he is significantly able to do whatever he
wants through your clumsy attempt that does not limit God
the Lord seems to be quite fine revealing his salvation through humble
what appears to be insignificant activities so here’s a question
how can I how can you help the person or persons right in front of you that God
has put into your path perhaps it’s an activity that seems completely insignificant but it’s right
there for you to do is there anything or anybody that’s just right there waiting for you to be
involved in as we consider fresh ways of following Jesus for some Jesus might tell us plans
he might tell us Direction but for others it’s just as like Jesus to drop
it in your lap and not tell you what’s going on but just say here do this and you don’t know why but you just know
that you got to do it so is there anything that Jesus is just dropping in your lap or putting right in
front of you that he wants you to engage in as insignificant as it may seem
next Point let’s go back to Isaiah 53 verse 4 to 6. what is the servant
setting about to do surely he took our pain and bore our
suffering yet we considered him punished by God stricken by him and afflicted
but he was pierced for our Rebellion he was crushed for our immoral Behavior
the punishment that brought us peace was on him and by his wounds we are healed we all
like sheep have gone astray each of us has turned to our own way and the Lord is laid on him the iniquity
of us all so he suffered in place of us he’s taken
the results of our Behavior upon himself I wonder have you ever seen a child that
is suffering through something and suffering so much inside of you you just
want to lift the suffering right off that child like you’re too young you’re too small you can’t endure this and you
just you want to lift the suffering right off of them I think that’s a
similar motivation with God and us that God looks at us and just says is suffering the sin it’s it’s too much for
you to do and so Jesus comes in and deals with it and he takes it off
I bring this into Focus because sin is the heart of the human
problem sin is still the heart of the human problem
now this word sin gets misunderstood we tend to think of it as I did something wrong which is true that’s part of it
but let’s expand it that sin is the word we use to describe everything that is
wrong on this Earth and those in it it’s that big of a word so anytime you look
at something and you go that’s not how that’s supposed to be sin is at work there we know that the Earth groans
under the sinfulness of humanity we know that we are broken our hearts our minds our emotions our bodies we run into
conflict with each other with ourselves we run into sorry we run into conflict with each other we run into conflict
with ourselves we are unreconciled with our own being we run into conflict with God and this planet all the time and the
Heart of all of it is this word sin we rebelled against the Lord we decided for
ourselves what would be right and wrong we sinned against him and we broke and now we’re stuck we’re we’re trapped in
that Brokenness when it comes to ministering to other people
this is still the problem to contend with and dealing with sin is not going to be
easy or obvious or straightforward work and that’s important to remember
sometimes people understand they’ve done stuff wrong and they’re looking for a way out they’re looking to be forgiven
but other times even as a person is being drawn to Jesus or even as they’re
growing in their Walk With Jesus there can be some strong snags about accepting
sin or understanding what sin is within them there can be resistance to looking at
oneself and one’s own behavior how do you help someone face what they
are actually quite resistant to facing it’s going to take patience and kindness
and truth and prayer and compassion and listening and there’s just no quick or
easy step here there’s no Mass efficiency here a person has to come in
their own pacing to their own submission to Jesus on whatever he’s trying to draw their attention to in his life
but there’s another part to this you cannot lead where you have not gone you can’t fake it
if you are not engaged in that regular journey of letting Jesus draw your
attention to anything in your life that’s out of step with him if you’re not doing this you will have
limited ability to help others discover the freedom that Jesus has for them
you can’t fake it there’s an organization in Dubai called knowledgeworks that helps companies deal
with cross-cultural issues and in one of their newsletters they talked about value and behavior and they had this
question and it’s it’s a great question if I were to follow you around for two weeks
what Behavior should I notice that reveals you have a certain value
so if you value honesty and I was to follow you around for two weeks what
should I see that you do that shows you value honesty or if you value truth or if you value
kindness and I follow you around for two weeks what should I see so applied to us
what Behavior should I notice that reveals you are a disciple of Jesus
if I follow you around for two weeks what would you have me notice that says you are his disciple
when does he examine your work when does he teach you how does he work to improve your life
how does he guide you in your behavior what should I see
what Behavior should I notice that reveals you are a disciple of Jesus
and then a third Point let’s go back to Isaiah one more time verse 11 after he has suffered he will see the light of
life and be satisfied by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many
and he will bear their iniquities therefore I will give him a portion among the great or among the multitudes
the many he will divide the spoils with the strong because he poured out his life unto death and was numbered with
the rebels for he bore the sin of many and made intercession for the rebels
I was drawn to this word the many he will justify many he will have a portion among the many he bore the sins
of many in fact the word many brackets this whole section it started in Isaiah 52 many many many and it ends with many
many many God’s plan includes the many other people the church
God’s plan includes revealing a new Humanity a new people group God’s saying
of this look at this people group that’s what I do I restore
look at the group I reconcile them look at the group I make the pieces fit together
look at the group this is what I do and so being together is part of our
calling it’s part of how God brings glory to himself and being together is also how we learn
from each other it’s how we grow in our understanding of being a disciple I hang around someone like Pam and I go oh wow
she follows Jesus like that I need to learn that I spend time with Ida Lynn oh yeah I need to learn how she does that
being around each other is also how we learn how we contribute to the whole there’s a special way that God loves to
work through you that contributes to the life of a group and so we have to be part of that life for the group to
figure that out it’s kind of there’s a phrase we used 30 years ago that said the I the body defines the eye if you
take an eyeball and put it alone on a table it’s useless it’s dead the body is what gives the eyeball its
purpose because now the eye serves the body
so here’s a question what is the special way you contribute here or with a special way you could contribute here
who do you rub shoulders with frequently what can you pray for them how can you contribute to their life and well-being
is there an opportunity to minister to someone right in front of you
that you could just do so let me summarize I’ve been part of
many churches and different strategies for doing Church there’s no strategy or structure that guarantees results
but the church can blossom in the most unexpected places we follow Jesus who is quite comfortable
working through what seems to be insignificant the arm of the Lord the
strength of the warrior is displayed in a frail insignificant tree shoot people
don’t recognize it is there an insignificant something or
insignificant don’t say insignificant someone but is there an insignificant Act of service that Jesus is putting
right in front of you that you can serve him through he came to deal with sin which is still
the center of the human problem the center of the world’s problems and contending with sin is never easy
obvious or straightforward work we need to be in this journey ourselves you can’t lead someone where you have not
gone if someone was to follow you around for a week or two what Behavior should they
notice that reveals you are engaged disciple of Jesus a student of Jesus
and Jesus Jesus was rewarded he was given the many we are part of the many
is there a special way you can contribute here do who do you rub shoulders with what
can you pray for them how can you contribute to their life and well-being
so those are three ideas about Ministry that I’ve picked up from Isaiah 53. what has the spirit been drawing your
attention to this morning what is he even poking at or sort of opening your eyes to this morning
and you talk quite a bit about you know insignificant things
God is paradoxical what is insignificant to us is extremely
significant to him and that came out in what Ida Lynn read this morning yeah who
are we like you know come on now who are we like you know well God has a different opinion of us than we have of
ourselves and this is so there is
in reality nothing insignificant that all that all of God’s creation
all of God’s people everything is significant yeah Ida Lynn had been reading Psalm 8
this morning yeah I was just thinking the significance thing is what stood out to me too
significance and efficiency is like I feel like I’ve been chewing on this for almost a year my mental health seems
to be like a roller coaster I just like don’t really recognize myself some days like it’s just like there’s just all
these things anyways and this really hit me of like that was my life like efficiency and like things that like
were perceived as extremely significant was my life for a really long time and I
I think that God is definitely like refining that out of me or like
giving me a new understanding anyways so those two things are just like new
puzzle pieces I guess nice I just want to reflect back to that
tender shoot and that kind of frail and spindly thing that no one recognized as
salvation so Philippians 2 again that beautiful
him that the early church saying that Paul quotes I think that’s how this shows up where Paul in verse six starts
about Jesus this description who being in very nature God did not consider
equality with God something to be grasped but made himself nothing taking
on the very nature of a servant being made in human likeness
and being found in appearance as a man he humbled himself and became obedient to death even death on a cross the
lowest of the low and so I just go back to that idea of
yeah it doesn’t look very appealing to the world it doesn’t potentially look
very appealing on social media but his way is about what it accomplishes in us
that allows us to imitate him and so the results in terms of fruit should be in
that of his Spirit like it’s not maybe in the kind of successes that we would
like to more easily identify but things like that piece that I was talking about
that different Mercy exhibited or patience or kindness righteousness
goodness self control like all of those things
anyways thanks that’s great the idea of being faithful and doing
what’s in front of your nose and so it for George and I it brings
back it just like we have neighbors you know and to
reach we we’ve done a little bit over Christmas but that just really affirmed that you you
reach out to the neighbors and uh so many home so that was what struck us
yeah so two things caught and stuck in my
brain today so when you’re first reading Isaiah 53 verse 7 actually caught in my brain and
so that for people who don’t have their Bible handy is he was treated harshly but endured it humbly he never said a
word like a lamb about to be slaughtered like a sheep about to be sheared he never said a word
and it stuck in my brain because even though I know better
I have never think about God being helpless
because humans are helpless God is in control he’s the one who’s supposed to
be in charge of everything but that is not what that image means
that image is of helplessness and
that is so strange to think about because
when I’m trying to to uh not be in
charge when I’m giving up my this sense of control even though I have
no control anyway I’m always like okay God is in control he’s he’s got this he knows but he gave
up control he did that that very human thing that’s really hard to do
and that is so so like just anti everything that I
think about when I think about Jesus this this guy who just he knew what needed to be done and he did it
apparently what needed to be done is hands off
that’s profound yeah what needed to be done for him was hands off was was I will
submit to the Injustice and oppression around me because that was the path yeah it’s fascinating it’s it’s strange to
think about not suggesting that we should submit to ingest and oppression no don’t misread what I’m saying
and the second thing that kind of caught a membrane was the idea that what we as a church here
have more than anything else we have space and we have space to do new things and
to try different things we might not have a lot of people we’ve got a lot of room
so that was what stuck in my brain let me offer a prayer and then we will
um sing and then we’ll eat bother Holy Father and Lord Jesus and blessed
Spirit Holy Spirit I really praise you and thank you at the start of
this year you are so good
and so loving and your plan is so right
I praise you that’s um that you have a plan
and your plan is about restoring your creation and redeeming your people restoring your place to yourself
it’s all about you and yet I also thank you for
what we’ve discovered and even what is in Psalm 8 that you pay attention to everything we
do and nothing is insignificant nothing is outside of your sight
and the smallest Act of obedience the smallest Act of faithfulness to you is noted
it’s blessed father please lead us this year
please lead us forward into into being what you would have us be and
to do what you would have us do yeah be you are our God
you are our Lord so have your way here and may we be beautiful in your sight
and may your kingdom come we love you amen
thank you for listening to our podcast today New Life Ministries is located in Winnipeg Manitoba you are invited to
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