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The Sacred Cycle of Ministry

Mark 6:7-13[Editor's Note: the following is adapted from a message given at the Chief of Chaplain's Preaching Conference, Sept. 14, 2010, at the U.S. Chaplains' Center and School, Fort Jackson, South Carolina.]

The Gospel of Mark is written to people trying to figure out what makes Christianity different. Who is Jesus? What does it mean to be His disciple in this world? Before we figure out what it is to be faithful ministers we better know what it is to be faithful Christians! The Book of Mark is a good place to go for both.

Mark answers those questions in his gospel. He often does it not only with the Word but even with the way he presents the Word. In Mark 6, for example, Mark shows how Jesus Christ answers the question, "What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus in the world today?" The way he does it is simply amazing. He panels stories side by side, overlapping, interweaving, until the careful student begins to see the answer is hitting him [or her] over and over again. In this case, before Mark tells the story about Jesus sending out the Twelve, he tells the story of Jesus' rejection at Nazareth. Then after he starts the Sending Story, he sandwiches that story between the story of the beheading of John the Baptist—rejection to sending to martyrdom. The net effect is to press home the meaning of discipleship in the world.

Today, we come to the meat in between the bread. Today, we come to what I am calling "the sacred cycle of ministry" in the Word of God.

Will you give attention to the reading of God's Word?
Mark 6:7-13

 

Introduction to the Sermon:
I was moving closer to a Ph.D. and further from God, and I was a pastor. I think what happened to me can happen to any of us.

I have told many of you about the details leading to my grace awakening and the new birth it brought in my life. I have related on at least one occasion about my call to preach, but I never have told you why I wanted to do research work in theology after seminary. I believe then and now that God called me to seek further study when I heard the words of James Montgomery Boice to pastors, that the pulpit was deserving of the finest training and study, that it was as important to prepare yourself for the work of the pulpit and parish as it was for seminary. I wanted to fine-tune my mind, learn the tools of research and discipline myself for the work of study and preaching. So, with a heart for study and missions, I simultaneously became a church planter and a Ph.D. student. I don't recommend it. It aged me considerably. However, somewhere along the way I think I began to lose my vision. I lost sight of the goal of the study and became immersed in the work as if the research was the goal. That is when God sent me to get fixed at the manse of a Welsh preacher named Mr. Morgan. My wife and I joined Mr. Morgan, the pastor of a congregational church in a valley in Wales, for tea after evening worship. Now Mr. Morgan was a very dramatic Welsh preacher who would fall on his knees during the service and shake the communion rail as he wept for souls to repent. He often would call out people by name—as he did with me one time to my astonishment—and use live examples of what Christ could do in a person's life. Like any respectable Welsh preacher, he carried a flowing handkerchief that cascaded out of his suit pocket, and he came complete with a Dylan Thomas lock of hair that fell down over his eyes so that as he stretched out his right hand to make a point in his sermon, he could use his other hand to throw the lock back over his scalp. It was an ingenious move, very theatrical and yet one got the impression that this was just Mr. Morgan without one bit of acting.

Well as I said, we went to his manse on Alexander Street in that quaint little working class village to have tea. After some serious conversation about theological matters, he looked at me and said, "Mr. Milton, you really are a studied man, aren't you? I mean all of this study here and in that doctoral program there with those learned men at the university and all. I mean, Mr. Milton, you really are something!" What could I say? The devil was blinding me and he knew it. "Now Mr. Milton, I suspect that you would like to go to my study to see all of my books, wouldn't you?" "Oh, yes!" I said like a kid on Christmas morning and I jumped up ready to go. "Alright, then," he popped up, "Let's have a look at my great library." I followed him up the old staircase in the manse, and we arrived at the top and went into the room he called his study. It was dark, but I could see one thing: shelf after shelf after shelf was empty. I was confused. "Well, what do you think of my fine library, Mr. Milton. Do you think the boys at the university would approve?" I stood speechless. "Well, Mr. Milton, there on that table, there are all of my books—all 66 of my books!" There, in the midst of an empty library was a table with a Bible on it—nothing else. In fact, no other furnishings in the room save a chair. All I could do was smile. "Now, look here, Mr. Milton," the preacher said, as he looked me in the eye, "God told me I was depending too much on books and not enough on His Book. So, I got rid of them all!" I secretly wished he had thought of me when he was donating his library to others, but I said nothing. "Mr. Milton, you must never allow anything to get in the way of trusting in the Holy Spirit and His Word alone." I felt then as I feel now that God spoke to me that night to remind me that I am called to be taught, and I am taught to be sent. 

It is possible for people to think they are Christians but to miss it. For this is a Christian: Call, Taught and Sent. Moreover, it is possible for true believers in Jesus Christ to get confused about this essential character of the Christian faith.
Today, the Gospel of Mark is here to help clarify; and I pray God uses this message to bring us back to the basics of this message in Mark 6:7-13 and to enter the sacred cycle of ministry.
The sending of the Twelve in Mark not surprisingly is the shortest of this account, which appears in Jesus' preparation teaching in Matthew 9and then the sending in Matthew 10, as well as inLuke 8. It is in Matthew's account that we have the testimony of the tremendous teaching about what it is to be a disciple. It is in Matthew's expanded story of the teaching and then the sending of the Twelve that we have such teaching as:

 

• "A student is not above His teacher" Matthew 10:24;

• "If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the member of his household" Matthew 10:25• "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell" Matthew 10:28• "Whoever acknowledges Me before men, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. Whoever disowns Me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven" (Matthew 10:32-33

Matthew 10:32-33• "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword." (Matthew 10:34

Matthew 10:34"Anyone who loves his father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me; anyone who does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it" (Matthew 10:37-39That last verse bore down into my soul in a morning prayer service in a little Episcopal church in Morgan City, La., while I was on a sales call for Dow Chemical. It led me to see the shallowness of my profession and started me on a journey that eventually led me to face my sinful soul and my only salvation in Jesus Christ.

This is the context: Mark is giving us the account of the sending of the Twelve, sandwiched between rejection at Nazareth and the beheading of John. In this we come to see what it means to be a Christian. In doing so, we learn more about our own calling. We are called to be taught and taught to be sent! In this passage we are beckoned to enter or re-enter the sacred cycle of ministry. There are three movements in the sacred cycle in the passage that I pray will bring renewal to each and every one of us in our ministries so we can say we are God's chaplains to His army.

The first movement in the sacred cycle of ministry is this:
1. If we are God's chaplains to His army, then we must be called.
Jesus called His disciples as they were working in their regular jobs. Here in this passage, before they are sent, He again calls them to Himself. Jesus calls us in salvation; He calls us in teaching; He calls us in sending. The essential character of a disciple is not a person who turns over a new leaf or makes a decision for Jesus, but whose life is radically transformed by an encounter with the call of Jesus on his or her life. The essential character of a chaplain of God for His army is one who has been visited by the eternal God. When you go to a soldier as a chaplain, that soldier will know if you have been with God or if you are just there because you have the Myers-Briggs score of a clergyman! We need chaplains such as David Brainerd who want to be a "flaming fire" for God. This comes from being summoned by Christ to preach His gospel.
This is the uniform teaching of the Word of God:
• "You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit" (John 15:16);

• "The God of this people Israel chose our fathers" (Acts 13:17);

• "He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him…" (Ephesians 1:4).
Now the issue is simply this: Jesus has come. His Word is in front of you, and He is calling you. Dietrich Bonheoffer put it better:
"One thing is clear: we understand Christ only if we commit ourselves to Him in a stark ‘either-or.' He did not go to the cross to ornament and embellish our life. If we wish to have Him, then He demands the right to say something decisive about our entire life. We do not understand Him if we arrange for Him only a small compartment of our spiritual life. Rather, we understand our spiritual life only if we then orientate it to Him alone or give a flat ‘No.'"
I believe that what soldiers and families need more than anything is a chaplain who has heard the call of God on his [or her] life. We need chaplains who are what David Brainerd prayed he would be: "a flaming fire for Christ."
The essential character of discipleship is the call of God. It is the essential quality of the life of a chaplain. You are called by God.
It is the call of God in Christ in salvation. It is the Call of God in Christ in discipleship, also, for here we see these men who were called to Christ were called to Christ again before they would be sent. We cannot live the Christian life without coming to Christ again and again and again. Not for salvation, mind you that is a once-and-always thing but for guidance, for direction and for clarification of our lives as His disciples.

The second movement in the sacred cycle of ministry is this:
2. If we are God's chaplains to His army, then we are called to be taught.
Again, Matthew gives us more of the account of Jesus' teaching just before the Twelve were sent, but Mark shows this in a different way. While Mark 4 begins by saying He taught them (large crowds) by the sea, which is remarkable singular statement of His ministry, Mark shows us Jesus taught them another way. Before they went out as His disciples, He taught them through the example of His own life. He was rejected. Mark doesn't record the actual teaching, but he shows the Roman Christians in the story about Jesus' rejection right before the Twelve were sent. Mark often leaves it for his audience to fill in the blank. He moves quickly, but he doesn't miss it. They are called to be taught.
In many circles, we have developed almost a distaste for learning. It is as if to do serious study of the Word of God, to inquire into the nature of God and into that which is properly called theology or the study of God, somehow leaves us suspect. I recognize that much of this suspicion of learning and faith comes from perfectly faithful men going off to seminary to become godless liberals, but must we again throw the baby out with the bathwater? Mark Noll of Wheaton College wrote an outstanding book on this subject called The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Noll began his first page as follows:
"The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is no evangelical mind."
His premise is that we have failed to renew our minds as Paul called us to do. We have failed to love God with our minds as Jesus called us to do. We may have forgotten that the Great Commission is to go and teach others as Chris commanded. No one is ready to be sent until he or she is taught by Jesus. I don't mean a sterile, academic teaching, but a sit-at-the-feet-of-the-Savior academy. As a result, we have been satisfied with the hem of Christ for salvation and have missed His deeper teaching for life transformation. Jesus taught His disciples. As a result, some of us have reproduced a Christianity that does not contain the whole counsel of God and may not even be true faith. To be a disciple is to sit at the feet of the Master.
Are you, as a chaplain, seated at the feet of the Master? Are you seated before His Word in your ministry? Are you seated before the Master in authentic, soul-changing, heaven-pleading, Christ-saturated prayer?

Now we need to see this as we move on. We need to see that the teaching didn't stop when they were sent. Indeed, they knew very little. The sending was a part of the teaching. For you see:
3. We need to make sure God's chaplain to His army is called to be taught and taught to be sent.
You cannot be a disciple without being called by Jesus, taught by Jesus and sent by Jesus.
A spiritual pathology begins to emerge if we do not move from teaching to sending. It is very much like a scene I saw as a boy. We had a pasture and pond in the back of our pasture. I used to like to ride my horse Sugar Baby back to that pond. I would just sit on my horse and watch the coming and going of water fowl, fish jumping, and every now and then hop off with a cane pole and enjoy a little fishing. Once when I rode back there, Sugar Baby went so far and would go no farther. I tried to gig him and get him going but he would not move. In fact, he wanted to turn around! In our tug of war, he finally bucked me off and headed back for the coral! I was mystified, though not hurt. I determined that I was going to go to the pond, so I walked back there. I never will forget what I saw. Because it was late August in a particularly hot and sweltering, swampy summer, the pond was dried up. It was just mud. Fish, some dead, some still flopping with withering life left in them, were all over the bottom of that pond. What caught my eye is what made Sugar Baby turn around and run. There was a bull frog sitting on a stump. He was having a great time! There were flies all over that scene of death and decay, and he was having a great time feeding on as many of them as his long tongue could snatch. I rather enjoyed watching him sitting there. He ate so much that he could have moved on, but he kept on sitting and he kept on feeding. Then I saw the first movement. A water mocassin slithered in the mud. He was watching the bull frog. My heart stopped. I wanted to run, but I was paralyzed with fear and intrigue. The frog kept eating and the snake kept [getting closer]. Suddenly, it was over for the frog, which had fed too long. He should have eaten and moved on, but he didn't and was devoured.
The Bible says the serpent, Satan, goes about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. I think there are too many chaplains, too many preachers and too many of our people feeding—on MP3s, on more and more books, on more and more instruction—but not moving. They are frozen in the sacred cycle, and this gives room for the evil one. We are not called to just sit and feed. We are called to be taught in order to be sent. There is no other way. That is the cycle laid down by Christ.
Jesus sent these out, so consider the three characteristics of this sending:
True believers, as were the Twelve, are sent with a commission.
The commission is simple.
Go.
You must go. They were not called and taught to grow spiritually fat and sluggish, but to go and bear fruit. True believers are people who are reproducing their faith, teaching the teachings of their Savior to others.
Go Together.
They were sent out two by two—unit ministry teams! Testimony is established in twos: Peter and John, Paul and Barnabus, Paul and Silas and so forth.
A minister once told me, "I will give you a secret to the pastorate: "Never do ministry alone." I have not forgotten that. Pastors equip others. My work is to equip the saints for the work of ministry, and I do that in the company of others.
In the Army there is something known as the buddy system. I think this is what Jesus was doing. You go into battle with a buddy who looks out for you, covers your back, gives you encouragement, holds you accountable, sees what you see; and together you make better decisions.
The great principle here is that God has placed us in a team called the church. There are to be no lone wolves in the church. In Acts 2, after the great outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, we immediately see the saints gathered into local assemblies. Indeed, the word church in the New Testament is ecclesia, which means "the assembly." In the Old Testament the word is qara, translated "congregation." In Hebrews, the word congregation is rendered "church." The people of God are not to "forsake the assembling of themselves together." They are to have church, which is the literal interpretation of the Greek.
Therefore, God intends for His people to be gathered together in local fellowships under the spiritual covering of pastors and elders. In the Army, that is hard to do given the unique culture, but Gen. George Washington founded the chaplain corps in order to provide spiritual oversight for the soldiers. That remains the reason that we exist: to bring the spiritual cover to our soldiers in spiritual and physical battles.
Go with authority.

Jesus told the disciples they had authority over demons. We need to look at the Bible through a redemptive-historical lens, otherwise we will be confused. This was a specific time in redemptive history. The Twelve were sent directly Jesus. The word for sent in the Greek is the root from which we get the word apostle. There are no more apostles, still every Christian is sent with the authority of Jesus to proclaim what God has done. As Peter said:
"You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9).

Paul called us ambassadors, who are sent forth to plead with people to be reconciled with God through Jesus Christ. That is a true chaplain sent from God to His army. He [or she] is sent forth with the gospel of Jesus; and when you do, others come and get caught up in the holy flames themselves. That is the way you plant a church. That is the way you build a church. That is the way you encourage a chapel community. That is the way you minister to soldiers out of the divine authority that Christ has given you to minister in His name!
Paul said inEphesians 3:20:
"Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us."
Thus, we have Christ's power, and that is His authority.

Let us make sure we see this: We are to go with authority over evil.
When Christ is preached in our homes in family worship, there is power over evil.
When Christ is shared in love with others, there is life-changing power that will restore marriage, give comfort in grieving and translate a dead sinner into a living saint of God.
Genuine disciples, as were the Twelve, are sent with a Command.
The command of Jesus involved how we should go. He allowed a staff (walking stick) and sandals, but He forbade bread, a bag of supplies, money or an extra tunic, which was used for a covering at night because they were to go and depend on Jesus alone for the journey.
This may be the central message you need to hear. It is certainly what pastors and church leaders need to hear. Jesus is not sending us with everything neat and tidy. Christ is calling us to go and showing us that if He calls, He will equip; if He equips, He will sustain.

When Chaplain Goetz went into Afghanistan on the day he was killed, he went with a Bible and his chaplain kit. That kit isn't much to a lot of people, but it is life to the soldier: the bread and the cup. The story we wear in the field that reminds us that when two ore more are gathered, we are having church and the battlefield is transformed into a peaceful sanctuary of the living God. He didn't have much, but he went faithfully with the ordinary means of grace that would save, heal and give courage, hope and peace to others. He died on a battlefield, but Christ's ministry lived; and others came to Christ. Others have surrendered to the call to preach…with a command to travel light but with all that is needed to accomplish His mission.
What are you leaning on this morning? A program? Your diploma? Your education? Your theological pedigree? Or are you traveling with Jesus' provision for supernatural ministry?

Now, finally, let us see about this "sending" that…
4. Faithful followers, as were the Twelve, are sent with a message, a communiqué.
According to verse 12: Repent. Matthew adds, "The kingdom of God has come." Luke adds, "Preach the gospel." What is the gospel message? "Turn from your sins, for in the coming of Jesus of Nazareth the kingdom of God has come to earth. He is here. This is the One. Look for no other. The call is upon you to turn to Him and Him alone."

Verse 13 gives us the necessary companion to this first message: "Heal them." The oil mentioned is a sign. Olive oil cannot produce instantaneous, miraculous healing that is under view here. These men had the supernatural touch of God, the power to heal and cast out demons. We do not have that power. We are not the Twelve. However, we are to bring healing.
One chaplain told me that he never can look at communion the same way. He told me that giving communion prior to patrols became vital for his ministry, and his men demanded it. They wanted the healing power of Christ Jesus. You have healing in your words. You have healing in your counseling. You have healing in your prayers for the soldiers. You have healing in your pastoral prayers in the installation chapel on the Lord's Day. You have healing in your biblical expository sermons with every truth drawn from the Word of God!
Indeed, it is here that we learn a vital truth: The gospel must go forth in word and deed, not word alone or deed alone. One is intellectualism or fundamentalism in the worst sense, and the other is a social gospel. The gospel goes forth in word as we feed the poor, and we feed the poor and share Jesus Christ with them. The gospel goes forth as we comfort the grieving, but it goes forth as we share the beauty of our Savior's grace as we minister physical and emotional comfort.

One of my former assistants telephoned me some time ago to tell me how God is blessing him. He went out and planted a church that now is established and he has sought other ways to do the work of an evangelist. He got involved with hospice. He told me that he was called in to be with a family of a dying person. As he met her, he held her hand; and as the sons, daughters, in-laws and grandchildren all hovered around her bed, he diagnosed her spiritual condition. He saw clearly this woman was teetering on the edge of eternity without Christ. So, he shared the gospel and said she was a sinner and in danger of soon standing before the judgment seat of God in her sins, but that Christ had come and died on a cross for her; but that if she repented, she would be saved. As the family members began to say, "Pastor, you're a bit rough here," the woman interrupted and asked to pray to receive this One of whom she had heard all of her life. My former assistant began coming daily to teach her and sing with her. A few weeks ago, after work and a game of racquetball, he dropped by the nursing home before going to his house. The bed was empty. She was gone. A nurse, who was walking by, said, "Aren't you the one who came and sang hymns to her last night? "Yes," he said. "Well," the nurse smiled and said, "you sang her right into heaven."

We are called to be taught, and we are taught to be sent. We are sent to speak Christ and be Christ for a world in need.

Conclusion:
This Chaplain Center and School is a blessing. You get your Chaplain Basic here. You get your Chaplain Career Course, your advanced training here. We offer many other types of educational ministries, but this is not the destination. This is the starting place for ministry. We got to go! Christ called us to not only teach us, but also to share that teaching with a world in need! We can't forget sending!"
Where are you in the sacred cycle of ministry?
God's chaplains in His army are called to be taught and taught to be sent.

References
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Writings Selected with an Introduction by Robert Coles Modern Spiritual Masters Series. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2001.

Noll, Mark A. The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1994.