THE MESSAGE, THE MINISTRY
By Dan Luehrs
“Then He said to them all, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24 NKJV).
If your desire is to be a true follower of Jesus Christ, an overcomer, then there is only one method that has the power to break the stronghold of sin in your life, the cross. There are two crosses, one that Jesus died on for us and one that that we die on to gain Christ’s likeness over the power of sin. Jesus gave His all for His bride; the Father is expecting us to give our all to be joint-heirs with His Son. Romans 12:1 says, “… That you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” Why is giving of ourselves a reasonable service to God? Because Jesus paid the price to give us His all, His life for our life! Jesus paid the ultimate price for us, so why should we not have to pay the ultimate price for Him? This is our reasonable service to God!
I have not endeavored to write about our cross which we are called to carry. One reason is because I have not understood much of it nor have not felt the need to write about it. The message of the cross is not a very popular message in our day or should I say in anyone’s day! Who really wants to hear about self denial and carry a cross anyway? I do, the overcomers do, in fact they rejoice in the cross because it gives them more of what they love the most, Jesus! My greatest desire is to be one with my Lord and to share His glory which we have been invited too, but unless we are willing to suffer with Him we will not be glorified with Him. We must come to know Him through the fellowship of His suffering and to be conformed to His death. I do not speak of physical death here, but rather, death to the man of sin living inside of us that is trying to turn us from following Jesus wherever He wants us to go in life. Living our life on the cross is about total self denial and obeying the leading of Jesus rather than doing what we want to do in life. This is how we become overcomers!
The key to dying to self is, “Take up his cross daily, and follow Me!” To obediently follow Jesus each day is the cross we are called to bare, the cross is being worked in our life so that we will come forth with His likeness and character. Only the cross can do this, so for us to fight against it would be pure foolishness if you desire to be an overcomer! Think about it, the more we are around certain people, the more we will begin to act like them. In order for us to become an overcomer we must follow the only true overcomer that finished His course so that we may become like Him. “These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes” (Rev. 14:4). When we follow the great Overcomer, we too will become overcomers through the training that He gives us; through this process of the cross the way of our flesh will be shaken to the core of who we are. Our job description is to walk with Him daily in obedience as He leads us. The Holy Spirit will always lead us in the way of the cross that is opposed to our flesh so that we might be crucified. If you are looking for ease in your Christian life stop and ask yourself, “Where is the cross in this that I am seeking after?” Our culture is looking for quick and easy way to do everything, but there is no easy way to carry a cross because it is meant to kill us. We are called to be a living SACRIFICE!
We here so very little about the sacrificing of ourselves to God because we are so busy trying to save ourselves from pain and looking foolish in the eyes of others. It was on the cross (humility) that Jesus publicly defeated the devil and it is on our cross that we too will defeat the power of our flesh! “[God] disarmed the principalities and powers that were ranged against us and made a bold display and public example of them, in triumphing over them in Him and in it [the cross]” (Col 2:15 AMP). The cross of Christ is what brought down the power of the enemy and our cross will do likewise for us if we surrender our all to God and die to self, rather than fighting against the crosses that He sends us. Satan is a defeated foe and we must enforce the laws that have already been written against him by submitting to our cross which is the instrument of our victory over him.
When we sacrifice our all to God and are dying self, we are gaining Christ and that is what true life is all about! The more we give of ourselves to Him, the more God gives of Himself to us, the more we empty ourselves of all our worldliness the faster God will fill us with His glory. “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17 NKJV). Our sacrificing to God does not cause us to become poorer, but richer in the things of Christ; this is the purpose of the cross in our lives, so rejoice in it because you are rich! This is why the Paul apostle could say that he rejoiced in the cross that crucified him to the world and gave him more of Jesus, and once we see this, we too will gain more of Christ. “But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14 NKJV). The Christian life is about death to self and life in Christ, the cross that we are called to carry causes death to come to the man of sin in us, delivering death unto our death. Oh the wisdom of God in the power of the cross!
The great Chinese writer Watchman Nee wrote about the cross in his book, The Normal Christian Life, on page 26 he says, “The blood can wash away my sins, but it cannot wash away my “old man.” It needs the Cross to crucify me. The blood deals with the sins, but the Cross must deal with the sinner.” (End of quote).
If our greatest desire is to know Jesus in His fullness and to be an overcomer we will each have to identify with His cross of suffering through our life-time. “And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts” (Gal 5:24 KJV). The word affection here means, “Suffering, pain, hardships.” Lust means, “A longing for that which is forbidden.” This is my interpretation of this verse, “Those who belong to Christ have put to death their sin by daily bearing their cross through their sufferings and pains of the cravings of the flesh.” All human beings suffer, but suffering does not have to be in vain, God wants us to use the pain of the cross for our redemption from the power of the flesh.
The cross we are called to carry will deliver us from the power of sin that has held us in bondage as we obey Him, but when we chose to disobey; He will allow tribulations to come into our life so that we might be disciplined as a child. “Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11 NKJV). The training and obedience of the cross is very painful for the moment to our flesh, but it will bring forth a peaceable fruit of righteousness into our life, which is the fruit of Christ.
UNDERSTANDING THE CROSS
When I first begun to understand my life lived on the cross it seemed like a wasted life to me and to those around me because I was going through a breaking process that killed my pride. God wants the pride of life to be dead in us through our obedience to Him in faith. It takes great faith to overcome the sins of the flesh like, fear, doubt, and unbelief and to follow the Lord when it looks so foolish to us and others. “Through Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name” (Rom 1:5 NKJV). Obedience is the key to true faith working in us. What does obedience look like; does it mean that I will have to move to Africa? It may if God calls you there! In a truer sense it means that I obey the small promptings in my heart like, not to say bad things about other people or even to think evil of them, but to love them. It may mean to bless our enemies with a glass of water or just a smile when we really want to tell them off. One of the greatest tests of obedience that we can pass is to spend time with the Lord each day when our flesh would rather do something else to satisfy it. We bring great joy to the heart of God when we take time to be with Him and what true Christian would not want to give joy to their heavenly Father?
The message of the cross is to die to self so that we may lose our own life, to gain His life. “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works” (Matt 16:26-27 NKJV). When Jesus returns, His reward will be with Him, which is His eternal life, the manifest presence of His likeness to those who have been faithful. To those who have given up their life to follow the Lamb wherever He goes will receive His life and likeness. Please listen to what the Bible says, “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” What this is saying to me is, what good would it do for us to have everything in this world, but we miss out on the eternal life of Jesus for ourselves? The Father has promised those who follow Jesus the kingdom and its true riches for eternity. Oh yes, it will be worth it all to follow Him as we take up our cross daily!
The cross is what kills the flesh so that Jesus can break forth from us. The life of Jesus is hidden deep inside of our earth, in the hard husk of our flesh and when our husk is broken by the cross His life is then able to break forth from us into the lives of others. God is shaking everything that can be shaken out of our lives so that only Jesus will remain inside of us with no works of our flesh remaining. Without the working of the cross in our daily life we will block much of the life of Jesus from others to see Him in us. In fact, if we do not have the dying of Jesus working in us we cannot have His life either! “Always carrying about in the body the dying (the cross) of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body” (2 Corinthians 4:10 NKJV). We love the glory of His presence, but we hate the pressure of the cross and this too must change, to where we love our cross, so that we can share His life with others.
When we learn to love the fire of the cross is when we know that it is for the purpose of us gaining the glory of the Lord. And as we begin to glory in the cross we will again see the resurrection power of God flowing through the church. “And for me, let it not be — to glory, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which to me the world hath been crucified, and I to the world” (Gal 6:14 YLT). The ways of the world will have been crucified to us and we will know that we are becoming more like Christ. This is the reason why we should rejoice in the working of the cross in our life so that He may shine forth through us. This is the message of the cross we must carry! “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor 1:18 NKJV). To live the life of the cross is pure foolishness to the carnal man, but for us who are BEING saved it is the power of God working in our life. Being saved means that there is the processes of the cross that we all must go through to be stripped of self.
Do you want the power of God working in your life? Then rejoice in the cross that God has allowed in your life to crucify the man of sin. Our cross means death to self so that the life and power of Christ may come forth. Why is the cross foolishness then? Because it absolutely makes no sense whatsoever to the natural mind! Our mind wants to know why we are suffering and then we try to figure it all out, thinking that God must be mad at us or something, but God wants us to trust in His goodness in our life. The cross is the very thing that is bringing the power of God into our life so that we may partake of His glory, yet we fight against the cross that He sends us.
“And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities (The cross), that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor 12:9 NKJV).
Paul was going though one of the most difficult times in his life when Jesus told him that His grace was sufficient for the cross that he was carrying in his life. Paul then began to understand that his weaknesses were being replaced by the strength of God in his life. He could then say, Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (Verse 10). Have you come to the point of taking pleasure in your cross? I am still working on that one! When we begin to rejoice in our trials, we will then see the power of Christ resting upon our lives and the ministry that we have been called to. Our suffering releases the power of God upon our weaknesses. Jesus embraced the humiliation of His cross because He knew this truth and was given a name above all names because of it. We too must embrace our days of humiliation if we are going to sit in the throne with Him. The way of the cross is humility and this is normal Christianity; we must learn to glory in the cross that He sends us, for it is God’s only method to make us overcomers.
“And I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision (the law), why do I still suffer persecution? Then the offense of the cross has ceased” (Galatians 5:11 NKJV).
When Paul was a Pharisee he preached a message of circumcision under the law, which message brought him no persecution, but when his message changed to the cross of Christ he was persecuted non stop by the religious horde. Today the message of the cross is offensive to both the saved and unsaved. Why is that? The unsaved cannot believe in a two thousand year old story about a man dying on a cross because it is foolishness to their mind. To the saved person, even though they have come to know Jesus through the blood of His cross they do not understand the cross that they have been called to carry everyday, in fact they run from it!
Here is what I see the problem is, those of us who are in the ministry do not preach or live the cross of Christ that will bring great trials and persecutions to our life. From the beginning those who have preached the gospel have suffered persecution and those in many parts of the world still suffer for preaching the cross, but not in the West. The ministry itself was meant to be costly, and as we stay on the cross the power of God will flow through us; this is the reason why we see so many more miracles in other countries than we do in the West. The Spirit of God led Jesus to the desert and to the cross, the Spirit also led Paul to a place of suffering and arrested in Jerusalem, the Spirit also brought John to the Island of Patmos to suffer tribulation. The Holy Spirit will always lead us to the cross where we are called to die to self. If most preachers are persecuted for their message they will change it and preach a message to the itching ears of the people. But in order for ministers to preach the cross, they must live the cross! This is in total opposition of what most preachers are living today because they want a life of ease and comfort. In most churches the ministry is no different from any other profession and is very well compensated for their overseeing the work of the church. But they have very little power in their ministry to see the lives of people affected and changed. They desire a nice comfortable office, home, cars, and large pay checks to show the world and themselves how successful they are, but it was not this way in the beginning. Worldly things are not going to bring people to Christ! We must live the cross if we are going to preach the cross and see the lives of people changed around us!
David Wilkerson wrote the following email devotional and was sent to me on April 14, 2009 after I had finished writing on the cross. I felt like the Lord was confirming to me that I had the right message for our time.
No one on earth can place you in ministry. You may be given a diploma by a seminary, ordained by a bishop, or commissioned by a denomination. But the apostle Paul reveals the only source of any true call to ministry: “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry” (1 Timothy 1:12).
What does Paul mean here when he says Jesus enabled him and counted him faithful? Think back to the apostle’s conversion. Three days after that event, Christ placed Paul in the ministry—specifically, the ministry of suffering: “For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake” (Acts 9:16). This is the very ministry Paul refers to when he says, “Therefore seeing we have this ministry…” (2 Corinthians 4:1). He continues, adding, “…as we have received mercy, we faint not.” He’s talking about the ministry of suffering. And he makes clear it is a ministry that we all have.
Paul is telling us Jesus gave him a promise for this ministry. Christ pledged to remain faithful to him and enable him through all his trials. The Greek word for enabled means “a continual supply of strength.” Paul declares, “Jesus promised to give me more than sufficient strength for the journey. He enables me to remain faithful in this ministry. Because of him, I won’t faint or give in. I’ll emerge with a testimony.”
A transfiguration is taking place in all our lives. The truth is, we’re being changed by what obsesses us. We’re becoming like the things that occupy our minds. Our character is being influenced and impacted by whatever has hold of our hearts.
I thank God for everyone who feeds his mind and soul with spiritual things. Such servants have fixed their eyes on what is pure and holy. They keep their gaze fixed on Christ, spending quality time worshipping him and building themselves up in faith. The Holy Spirit is at work in these saints, continually changing their character in Christ’s. These believers will be ready for the hard, explosive sufferings to come. Slothful, lazy, prayerless believers will suffer heart failure or breakdowns. They’ll be crushed by their fears, because they don’t have the Holy Spirit at work in them, transfiguring them. When the hard times come, they simply won’t make it.
Here is Paul’s final word on the matter: “Giving no offence in anything, that the ministry be not blamed: but in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments…. As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich” (2 Corinthians 6:3–5, 10). How do we “make many rich”? By outshining the hope of Christ in the midst of our sufferings. We offer true riches when we cause others to ask, “What’s his secret? Where does he find such peace?” (End of quote).
THE PRICE OF MINISTRY
The Bible verses below are what I call, Paul’s Manifesto for Ministry. After you finish reading the price of true ministry ask yourself if you really want to be a messenger of the cross.
“For I think that God has displayed us, the apostles, last, as men condemned to death; for we have been made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are distinguished, but we are dishonored! To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless. And we labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; being defamed, we entreat. We have been made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things until now” (1 Corinthians 4:9-13 NKJV).
“But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings; by purity, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as chastened, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things” (2 Corinthians 6:4-10 NKJV).
Now after reading those stunning words about the ministry listen to what else Paul tells us to do, “Therefore I urge you, imitate me” (1 Corinthians 4:16 NKJV). What are you saying Paul, do you want us to imitate you and suffer like you and our Lord? Yes! We may not be called to do the ministry like Paul did, but we are called to follow the Lord wherever He may lead us and this is sure to cause our flesh much suffering. Now I ask you again, do you really want this New Testament ministry for your life’s calling and to go wherever He sends you? When the apostles suffered for the name of Jesus they rejoiced that they were worthy to suffer for His name, and we too must come to this point in our life if we really desire to do the work of the ministry with power. “That no one should be shaken by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we are appointed to this. For, in fact, we told you before when we were with you that we would suffer tribulation, just as it happened, and you know. For this reason, when I could no longer endure it, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter had tempted you, and our labor might be in vain” (1 Thess 3:3-5 NKJV).
Paul had a powerful ministry because he lived and preached the power of the cross. The life that he lived was foolishness to the church, the Pharisees, and to the Roman world of his day, they all thought he had gone mad. Yet Jesus was faithfully right by his side leading and guiding him along the way. The sufferings that we are called to go through with the Lord are not desired by most Christian’s because they see no essential value in suffering, they do not understand what suffering is doing for their spirit man. Some of the things that the Lord may call us to might seem so minuscule and so humbling to our flesh that we think there is no way that God would call us to such a thing. Take Paul for instance, he had his Doctorate in the Law of God and was taught by the best of the best and yet we find him making tents to survive and going hungry at times. How could God allow this to happen to this great man of learning? This is because God is not a respecter of man’s person! Paul then called all this stuff dung compared to the knowledge of Jesus Christ.
When God called me to move to Florida from South Dakota I thought for sure the Lord would open for me a great door of ministry because I gave my church up to follow Him. Then one day God told me to take a driving job and I said this cannot be your will for me? He said, “Have you not prayed for My will to be done in your life?” “Yes I did, but this cannot be your will for me to leave ministry and drive a truck!” He replied, “It is.” Through my obedience He showed me the next phase of ministry for me to do. God is working His will in our life if we will just trust Him to carry it out.
The ministry is not what we might think it is; it’s not for us to make a name for ourselves, for only the Lord can receive the glory and not stumble because of pride. So He allows trials and tribulations in our life to cause us to stay humble. We are not to become rich with earthly things from the ministry, but we can become rich in Christ throughout eternity. When we begin to rejoice in our suffering is when God will entrust us with greater trials and will unlock the revelation of Jesus Christ into our life, and this will cause us to become more Christ like.
“I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God, the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily” (Col 1:24-29 NKJV).
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