“We are not preaching about ourselves. Our message is that Jesus Christ is Lord. He also sent us to be your servants. The scriptures say, God commanded light to shine in the dark. Now God is shining in our hearts to let you know that his glory is seen in Jesus Christ. We are like clay jars in which this treasure is stored. The real power comes from God and not from us. We often suffer, but we are never crushed. Even when we don’t know what to do, we never give up. In times of trouble, God is with us, and when we are knocked down, we get up again” (2nd Corinthians 4:7-9, Contemporary English Version).
The Apostle Paul declared the purpose of his ministry to be about proclaiming the Lordship of Jesus Christ. He also stated he was sent to be a servant to the people of Corinth. With an attitude like this what could go wrong? You would think life would be easy and manageable but quite the contrary was the reality. Paul went on to talk about suffering, not knowing what to do, times of trouble and getting knocked down. The life of faith was not easy and serving Christ was not a bed of roses.
In October 1970, Lynn Anderson released a song, “Rose Garden.” The chorus went like this: “I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden. Along with the sunshine, There’s gotta be a little rain sometimes.” Though it was not released through the Christian music market, I believe it echoes the words of Paul. God did not promise us a rose garden. Serving Christ is exciting and challenging. The exciting part is being able to declare the Lordship of Jesus Christ, present a message of hope and love and see people’s lives transformed by the power of God. The challenging part is being pressured by the world to conform to their way of thinking, living and doing. “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2, New Living Translation). Paul was letting the church know that non-conformity to the behaviors and customs of this world was necessary.
In one of the rooms of our church is an electric heater designed to give you the look and feel of a wood-burning stove. The burning logs and flames are made to look very lifelike but they are only an imitation of the real thing. All it takes is a disruption in the electrical system and everything shuts down, revealing the facade created by the designer. Is your Christian witness consistent at home, at work and out in public with the image you portray at church? Do you find yourself conforming to nonbiblical views around your friends and associates in order to be accepted?
Please understand, I’m not condemning or judging anyone but I do hope to challenge your way of life. I always tell my congregation that I am preaching to myself, they just have the opportunity to sit in on it. I am challenging myself with these same questions. We don’t want to be imitation wood burners but we want to be the real deal. We will face uncomfortable situations when we decide to proclaim God’s standard for living.
As Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, notice he began each of the phrases with a depressing thought but finished with a positive perspective. “We often suffer, but we are never crushed. Even when we don’t know what to do, we never give up. In times of trouble, God is with us, and when we are knocked down, we get up again” (2 Cor. 4: 8-9, CEV). Don’t let the world shape the way you think, you should help shape the way the world thinks. The non-conformity God calls us to involves living life to a higher standard. We should forgive endlessly, love unconditionally, work relentlessly and give generously. Isaiah 50:7 says, “... I have set my face like a stone, determined to do his will ... .”
James Fleck is pastor of Oasis Family Worship Center, Hermitage.