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Posts Tagged ‘Ministry’

Ministry for All!

Scripture: “And it shall come to pass afterward That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your old men shall dream dreams, Your young men shall see visions. Joel 2:28 (NKJV)

 

Observation:  afterward—“in the last days” (Is 2:2) under Messiah after the invasion and deliverance of Israel from the northern army. Having heretofore stated the outward blessings, he now raises their minds to the expectation of extraordinary spiritual blessings, which constitute the true restoration of God’s people (Is 44:3). Fulfilled in earnest (Ac 2:17) on Pentecost; among the Jews and the subsequent election of a people among the Gentiles; hereafter more fully at the restoration of Israel (Is 54:13; Je 31:9, 34; Ez 39:29; Zec 12:10) and the consequent conversion of the whole world (Is 2:2; 11:9; 66:18–23; Mic 5:7; Ro 11:12, 15). As the Jews have been the seedmen of the elect Church gathered out of Jews and Gentiles, the first Gospel preachers being Jews from Jerusalem, so they shall be the harvest men of the coming world-wide Church, to be set up at Messiah’s appearing. That the promise is not restricted to the first Pentecost appears from Peter’s own words: “The promise is (not only) unto you and to your children, (but also) to all that are afar off (both in space and in time), even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Ac 2:39). So here “upon all flesh.” [Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Joe 2:28). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.]

 

Application:  Since I began in the pastoral ministry, nearly thirty years ago, my wife has been by my side.  We have had to move many times due to the opportunities of ministry or because we were asked to serve a congregation other than where we were.  Each time I took a new church my wife had to leave her job as a teacher and apply for a job in the new location.  We have been blessed each time that she was able to find a teaching position nearby.

I have learned through all these years that the ministry, whether pastoral or teaching, is not something you chose to do but rather something God calls you to do.  I have also learned and have been a witness to the fact that God calls men and women, as He wishes, and equips them through His Holy Spirit.  In addition , I have learned that when God calls somebody, and they allow Him to lead in their lives, the results are evident in what takes place in their ministry.  For instance, as a pastor you see positive changes in the congregation you serve, you witness growth, both numerically and spiritually, and you see changed lives as a result of God working through you.  As a teacher, you witness the very same things – spiritual and numeric growth in the school, positive changes in finances and in the school facilities, and you see the changed lives that result from the work of these dedicated ministers in the teaching ministry.  The Holy Spirit is the same, the call is the same, the ministry is the same.  In fact, Paul wrote to the Ephesians that God gave His church the gift (not gifts) of “pastors and teachers.”  Not two separate gifts but one.

In marriage, when husband and wife work together, as the spiritual ministers of their home, everyone benefits, everyone is blessed.  When we as husbands and wives allow the Holy Spirit to equip us and use us we become able ministers of one another.

 

A Prayer You May Say:  Father God, thank You for calling us, equipping us, and using us to minister to others, beginning with our spouse and children.

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Scripture: (Job 14:12-15 NKJV)  So man lies down and does not rise. Till the heavens are no more, They will not awake Nor be roused from their sleep. {13} “Oh, that You would hide me in the grave, That You would conceal me until Your wrath is past, That You would appoint me a set time, and remember me! {14} If a man dies, shall he live again? All the days of my hard service I will wait, Till my change comes. {15} You shall call, and I will answer You; You shall desire the work of Your hands.

Observation: It is now time for Zophar, the third of Job’s consolation friends, to try to straighten him up.  Job responds to his accusations by declaring that he feels there’s nothing he could do to fight God, if God were angry with Him.  In chapter 13, verses 20-27 we can read his stirring, heart-felt prayer to God, opening his heart to Him.  And then in chapter 14, he expounds as to his understanding of what happens when a person dies; here are a few examples of his theology of the state of the dead:
10  But man dies and is laid away; Indeed he breathes his last And where is he?
11  As water disappears from the sea, And a river becomes parched and dries up,
12  So man lies down and does not rise. Till the heavens are no more, They will not awake Nor be roused from their sleep.
21  His sons come to honor, and he does not know it; They are brought low, and he does not perceive it.

He also expresses His hope in God and for the salvation He offers us all: My transgression is sealed up in a bag, And You cover my iniquity.(v.17)

Application: It’s amazing how well-intentioned, yet heartless, Job’s friends are.  They see their friend suffering through all of his losses, and yet instead of helping him through these tragedies, they assume the judgmental stand that wants to set people right and they set out to prove to Job that all he’s experiencing is the result of his own sin, and he would only repent, God might just forgive him.  Their accusations do not bring any consolation to Job.  In the same way, well-intentioned friends and relatives feel compelled to say something to their loved ones or friends who are terminally ill or who have lost a loved one, and at times use old cliches or explanations that do nothing to alleviate the pain.  The result may be more pain, more confusion, or if they are fortunate enough, they may not even remember what  has been said.  When you think of it, no explanation, no matter how good or theologically correct it may be, can take away a person’s pain.  What good is it to say to a mother who’s lost their child in a tragic accident, “God has a plan for you”?  Or how does it help someone dying of a terminal illness, “I know how you feel”?  Or how can it possibly help your widowed friend to hear the words, “One day you may find somebody else who’ll make you happy again”?
Several years ago I wrote an article which was published by the Adventist Review giving practical steps to take to help a friend or loved one who is dying of a terminal illness.  Here are the suggestions I offered:

1. The ministry of presence. Most people feel uncomfortable, maybe even afraid, to talk about death and dying. Therefore, when they hear that a friend, loved one, coworker, or schoolmate has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, they stay away. In reality, what you say is not what matters to the terminally ill person or their family, but rather the fact that you cared enough to come be with them. However, respect their privacy and always call beforehand. If they are in a hospital, you must not only respect visiting hours but also be conscious of the fact that those visiting hours may be the only time the family gets to spend with their loved ones. Make your visits brief.
2. Listen. More important than what you say is how much you listen. While most people’s greatest fear is not knowing what to say, if you go prepared to listen and let the terminally ill lead in the conversation, you might find that death is not all that’s on their mind. They just want someone to talk to.
3. Empathize, don’t proselytize. If the person who is dying does not share your beliefs, this is not the time to try to convert them to your belief system; to do so may cause more anxiety than assurance. For instance, several of my patients talked about going to heaven after their death. Rather than lecturing on the state of the dead, I would say something like “As Christians we have a special hope, don’t we?” or “That’s a comforting thought, isn’t it?”
4. Offer practical help. Many people take the easy way out at the end of a visit with the standard offer “If there’s anything I can do, just let me know.” The reality is that during these difficult times the challenge for the patient includes thinking about what needs to be done or asking someone to do it. It would be better to offer to do specific things for them–mow the lawn, wash clothes, or run errands such as grocery shopping. Sometimes an offer to stay with the person who is ill to relieve the caregiver for a few hours can be the welcome help they need.
5. Watch for special events. People who are terminally ill seem to have control over when, where, and how they die. One of my patients waited until the day after his daughter’s birthday, and the night he died he was so restless that his wife decided to sleep in the living room. When she woke up the next morning, he was dead. He had chosen not to die before or on his daughter’s birthday, and he didn’t want his wife to see him die. Others wait for loved ones’ or their own birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, baptisms, weddings, and other special occasions. Be aware of this fact as it may help you get an idea of when they might die.
6. Fear of dying or of death. One of my patients told me he was afraid. I asked him if he was afraid of death or of dying. He said, “I’m not afraid of death; I just don’t want to die in pain.” Most people are afraid of the dying process, and not of death itself. In his case I assured him that we in hospice would do all in our power to keep him comfortable and without pain or discomfort. That assurance helped him relax and enjoy the last few days of his life. If the person you’re visiting expresses such fears, clarify what the source of their fear is, and if they are uncomfortable or unable to answer, ask someone else who may be better able to answer.
7. Help them to die in peace. In hospice we have learned that those patients who struggle the most in their dying process seem to be the ones who have strained relationships with someone. It may help them to ask, “Is there someone you would like to see or talk to?” Offer to contact the person they’d like to speak with. If the other person is not willing to speak with the terminally ill patient, you can facilitate the expression of their feelings by offering options such as, “If you could talk to them, what would you tell them?” You may offer to help them write a letter that they can then choose to mail or burn, thus symbolizing their having taken the step of reconciliation. Many patients wait to die until after they see someone they care about, so you could offer to help make the contact.
Another way to help them die in peace is to pray for and with them. The medical field has come to recognize the benefits of praying for those who are ill. We need not feel the obligation to pray for healing; it does not reveal a lack of faith, but recognition of the inevitable. When I pray with and for members or patients who are terminally ill, I pray for comfort and peace, courage and strength, hope and renewal of love for themselves and for their loved ones.

Instruments of Peace
Dying can be a difficult and painful experience, or a special memory for their loved ones. You can be instrumental in making it as comfortable and comforting as possible by carefully doing for them what they need as they write the last chapter in their earthly life.

Prayer: Father, help us to be such instruments in Your hands that we may bring Your comfort, not so much by what we say but rather by what we do to help those experiencing illness, sadness, or pain.

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Scripture: (1 Sam 16:11-12 NIV)  So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?” “There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered, “but he is tending the sheep.” Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.” {12} So he sent and had him brought in. He was ruddy, with a fine appearance and handsome features. Then the LORD said, “Rise and anoint him; he is the one.”

Observation: After God rejected Saul, or better, after Saul rejected God, Samuel was instructed to anoint the next king of Israel.  God directed Samuel to the home of Jesse who made six of his seven children parade in front of the prophet who chose none of them.  After inquiring as to whether there were any other children, he was told about the youngest one, tending the flocks in the field at the moment.  When the youngest son, David, came in, immediately Samuel identified him as the successor to Saul, and the second king of Israel.

Application: The youngest child in a family can take a lot from his/her older siblings.  In many cases, by the time the hand-me-downs they’ve been worn by so many older siblings that they look pitiful, and the toys, books, and furniture are not in the best of shape either.  They have to compete with older siblings for everything from school, to sports, and even for their parent’s attention, and for their entire life they be seen as the “baby” of the family.
At the same time, since they seem unable to compete with their older siblings in other areas because they are taller, faster, more knowledgeable, they excel in other areas, among them, in the area of laughter – from an early age they learn that when they act in certain ways they draw attention to themselves, and they love being the center of attention.  This leads them to clown around, tell funny stories, and do all they can to make others laugh and thus be the life of every party.  No wonder so many actors and comedians are the last-born of the family.
Paul wrote to young pastor Timothy: “Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” (1 Tim 4:12 NKJV) For those of us who have some of the characteristics of the last-born and enjoy humor and laughter, we can identify with David who was a singer (entertainer?), and with the fact that his older siblings did not take him seriously (see 1 Samuel 17:28).  But God doesn’t see younger children or the last-born child as unnecessary, unskilled, or unimportant.  In fact, with God’s guidance, and the natural gift of laughter, a younger person can do great things – just look at king David!

Prayer: Father, may our conduct be such that others may respect who we are and what we do and thus be able to help others come to You.

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Scripture: (Judg 2:10 NKJV)  When all that generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation arose after them who did not know the LORD nor the work which He had done for Israel.

Observation: After the death of Joshua and the people of his generation had passed away, things changed very quickly in Israel, but not for the best.  The rapid decline in their spirituality reflects the rapid abandonment of God’s will for them.  First of all, the Israelites stopped their conquest of the Promised Land from going as far as God intended it should.  Secondly, they left entire cities, and their inhabitants, alive and established relationships with them.  And finally, they began to worship the Baals of the people of the land.  This rapid decline is what God had tried to prevent by commanding them to destroy the people of the land, but in just one generation they went from following God to worshipping Baal.

Application: I can attest to how fast things change, in one generation, when you abandon God.  My mother’s parents were the first Seventh-day Adventist converts in the city of Bucaramanga, where we were born, in the country of Colombia, South America.  When my mother was a young girl, her mother died leaving her husband to raise five young children by himself; my grandfather never remarried.  Weighed down with the heavy responsibility and with a large hospital bill after his wife’s death, my grandfather, a very responsible man, made whatever payments he could on that hospital bill but in the process he didn’t return God’s tithe faithfully; shortly after that, he stopped going to church altogether.  Eventually all but one of the children, including my mother, ended up out of the church (one died at a young age, still believing and living his faith).  As a young lady, about to graduate from high school, my mother met my father, who together with his family  was Roman Catholic.  In order for my mother to be able to marry my father she “converted” to Catholicism; in her own words, while she did everything in her power to accept, believe, and practice her new religion, she confessed to me many years later that she never really could come to believe it because the seeds of Bible truth remained deeply ingrained in her heart.  Nevertheless, she raised her children as Catholics, attending church every Sunday, and performing the rituals, or “sacraments,” required by the church such like infant baptism, “the First Communion,” “Confirmation,” etc.
As a young boy, after my first communion, I became quite active in the church and was chosen to be one of the altar boys in the church near to where we lived and where we worshiped regularly for many years.  I remember as a young boy wearing my bath robe and standing before the kitchen sink, with a slice of bread, dipping a piece of it in a glass of orange juice mixed with some water, role-playing what I saw the priest do on the altar during mass – by the way, my own “mass” was not the best as the juice was too watered down, and the bread soaked in this mixture tasted horrible.  If the priest had seen me doing this he probably would have said that even at an early age I demonstrated a vocation for the priesthood; I might say that even in the darkness was already beginning to show me a glimpse of the ministerial career I would one day follow.
In my family, all of us grew up catholic, and faithfully did the things required of good Catholics like repeating the prescribed prayers to Mary and to bow down before the many images found in churches, cathedrals, and even road side shrines.  While my mother’s brother and his family were Adventists, we never completely understood what they were or why they lived like they did; we only knew they did strange things like not watch TV on Friday nights and Saturdays, or not eating what we considered to be delicacies and which now I myself find distasteful, even disgusting.  It was only after the death of my father, and our move to the United States, that my mother returned to the Adventist faith and she and I were baptized the same day in a church in Silver Spring, Maryland.
As we reflect on our portion of the Scriptures for today, some may wonder how quickly the Israelites abandoned the faith of their fathers after all the powerful miracles He worked on their behalf.  I witnessed how easy it is to do so as with my mother’s departure from the faith as in just a few short years she went from being a Sabbath-keeping, second-coming-expecting Christian, to a Sunday-keeping, idol worshipping Catholic, and as a result, with the birth of each of her children, we were one by one introduced to the worship of these idols  and it became a simple part of our lives.
If we as parents can see how easily and quickly children learn, we would be so much more careful with our actions and words.  I am amazed at parents who don’t bring their young children to church or those who have told me that they don’t want to force them to believe as they do but want to give their children the freedom to choose what to believe only to see how quickly their children abandon the faith their parents wish they would hold as their own.  I’d like to encourage every parent to hold dear their faith and live it and teach it to their children from the time they are born that they may grow up in it from their earliest days; if we as parents don’t live our faith, we will quickly loose our children and many generations to come.

Prayer: Father, help us to live daily our faith and may we transmit it faithfully to our children and for generations to come.

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Scripture: There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded which Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, with the women, the little ones, and the strangers who were living among them.  (Joshua 8:35 NKJV)

Observation: After the defeat at Ai, Joshua discovered and had to deal with Achan’s sin lest all of Israel would hear about it and learn to disregard God’s specific instructions concerning the people and the nations they were supposed to conquer and destroy.
In order to have a new beginning, Joshua read again the covenant God established with Israel.  Today’s text makes it clear that these words were read before all, but it specifically mentions women, children (little ones) and foreigners.  Passages like these should show us that God intended equal treatment to all.

Application: One of my favorite short stories, which eventually was made into a movie with Barbara Streisand, is Yentl, The yeshiva Boy, originally written by Issac Bashevis Singer.  The story centers on a young girl who defies tradition by discussing and debating Jewish law and theology with her rabbi father. When he dies, she cuts her hair, dresses as a young man, and sets out to find a yeshiva where she can continue to study Talmud and live secretly as a male named Anshel.   She has such hunger for learning that she sacrifices her female role, and even her love for her study partner, just so she can learn all she can from the wisdom of bible and other Jewish scholars.
I’m glad we have come such a long way from the days when women were relegated to a second place, some even farther back.  I have had the privilege of meeting and learning from some very bright women and feel my life has been enriched by their knowledge, their wisdom, and their experience.  Without those interactions, my life, my ministry, my future would have been cheated of many valuables treasures.  I count  my wife as one of the brightest, most talented, women and have seen how so many others, including me, have benefitted from her keen insights and talented guidance.  I have worked with and known lady pastors whose ministry and learning has proved to be a great blessing to their husbands ministry and to their churches.  I have sat in classrooms where lady teachers have shared true pearls of wisdom I have then shared with many others.  What a shame, if all these ladies had had to be relegated to the role of servants, quietly going about  menial tasks, never allowed to express their opinions or to teach or lead others, simply because society or culture dictated they had to or they couldn’t be as smart or learned as men!
Joshua taught the Bible (Moses’ words) to women, children, and foreigners, because before God we all are equal and must be treated thus.  I pray for the day, soon I hope, when we will all learn to treat each other and give each other equal opportunities to learn and teach, follow and lead, listen and preach, serve and be served, as God intended; we all be the ones to be benefitted and blessed as a result.

Prayer: Father, You are the God of equality and fairness, righteousness and justice.  Father, may we set aside the societal and cultural barriers that keep us from enjoying Your gifts through men and women for the benefit of Your people.  And may we achieve, with your help, the equality with which You created us as male and female for it will ultimately be for our benefit and for Your honor and glory.

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