MINISTERS ALL

And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…. [Ephesians 4:11-12 (RSV)]

alstromeriaWe tend to think of our pastors as the ones who do the ministering and we, the congregation, as the ones to whom he or she ministers. Indeed, our pastors do care for, comfort, aid and support us but their main job is to equip us: to train, outfit and prepare us to go out and be Christ’s ministers to the world! Rather than them being the players in the game with us being the fans who show up on game day, our pastors are more like the coaches and athletic trainers who prepare their team to go out on the field and play with skill and enthusiasm! Too often, however, we act like onlookers rather than members of the team.

Paul’s 1st century words continue to apply to the 21st century church. Those saints who are to become ministers are normal everyday Christ followers like you and me. Ministry is what being a Christian is all about and it has little to do with a pulpit, church, seminary, or ordination! When we became Christians, we were ordained as Christ’s ministers. Rather than preach with words from a pulpit, we preach with our lives: our words, demeanor, lifestyle, finances, and even our appearance.

The work we do every day is a gift from God and a way to reach out and touch people with the voice and hands of Jesus. We minister from behind the counter when we’re patient with the difficult customer, when we hold a nervous patient’s hand before surgery, or take the time to chat with the lonely widow whose room we’re cleaning. We minister when we volunteer at the charity resale shop, open the door for the woman with the stroller, or bring flowers to a new neighbor. We minister when we set good examples, listen, help, invite, welcome, encourage, offer assistance or smile. We minister when we use social media to God’s advantage. We minister when we quietly say grace regardless of where we are. We minister when we send an encouraging Bible verse to a friend. We minister when Bibles are present in our workspace and homes (and we know what’s in them).

There should be no division between clergy and laity—we all are ministers of the Gospel! I remember the words of a visiting pastor who, following the closing hymn, exclaimed, “Our worship has ended, let our service begin!” It’s time to get out of the bleachers and into the game!

We are all missionaries. Wherever we go we either bring people nearer to Christ or we repel them from Christ. [Eric Liddell]

He has enabled us to be ministers of his new covenant. This is a covenant not of written laws, but of the Spirit. The old written covenant ends in death; but under the new covenant, the Spirit gives life. [2 Corinthians 3:6 (NLT)]

In everything we do, we show that we are true ministers of God. [2 Corinthians 6:4a (NLT)]

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INADEQUATE AND UNQUALIFIED

I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling. And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. [1 Corinthians 2:3-4 (NLT)]

buttercupWhen I sit in front of my computer to start writing, I often wonder what makes me think I am qualified to spread the good news of the Gospel. I take comfort in the Apostle Paul’s similar feelings of inadequacy. Of all the people we meet in Scripture, Paul’s credentials (other than those of Jesus) seem to be the most impressive. Fluent in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, from the tribe of Benjamin, and a second-generation Pharisee who had studied and trained under the respected Gamaliel, Paul was well-versed in the Hebrew Bible and passionate for Jesus. Yet, we know that even he sometimes felt inadequate to the task. Although extremely knowledgeable, by his own admission, his preaching ability left much to be desired.

Then again, an 80-year old man who stammered was called to lead his people out of slavery, a shepherd boy was called to be a king, and a housewife was called to be a prophetess and judge. Samuel was just a boy when he first prophesized, Jeremiah little more than a teen when God called him, and the disciples were just ordinary people like you and me. None of them had impressive resumes. Yet God, knowing exactly who they were, their ages, skills, capabilities, and shortcomings, called them! And He calls us!

In 1 Corinthians, Paul wrote that, rather than calling the qualified, God choses to qualify those he calls: “God chose the things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise.” [1:27] Paul reassured the Corinthians in a later letter that, “God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.” [2 Corinthians 9:8] While the Apostle was referring to material gifts for the believers in Jerusalem, his words hold true for the other gifts with which God has blessed us. Sometimes, we don’t even know we have those gifts until God calls us to use them!

Whether God calls us to lead two million across the desert or lead a small group, to compose letters to the new church or write a blog, to speak to kings or a troubled teen, to build a temple or the set for the Christmas pageant, none of us can do it alone; we must depend on God and believe his promises. We continually underrate ourselves because we’re thinking small; we think we have to go it alone, under our own power, but we don’t. When God called the young Jeremiah to be His prophet, He didn’t promise that it would be easy or that he’d never get discouraged or frustrated. What God promised was His protection, provision, and supervision. Those promises apply to us, as well. God is the source of our ability and it is His power that will enable us to do His work. We are merely God’s tools; He is the builder and we must let Him use us to build His Kingdom.

Loving God, His word, and His children hardly qualifies me to write and yet, with over 1,800 devotions written, as unqualified as I am, through God’s power, it’s been done. He has, indeed, generously provided. We must trust the God who calls us to reach beyond where we think we can grasp, to climb higher than we’ve ever been, or to dig deeper than we thought possible. He will enable us to do whatever He asks us to do. While we may not do it perfectly, all God asks is that we answer Him, obey His call to the best of our ability, and trust in His provision. The outcome is His responsibility!

We are confident of all this because of our great trust in God through Christ. It is not that we think we are qualified to do anything on our own. Our qualification comes from God. He has enabled us to be ministers of his new covenant. [2 Corinthians 3:4-6a (NLT)]

For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God’s power. [1 Corinthians 4:20 (NLT)]

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JUST LIKE US

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for showing people what is wrong in their lives, for correcting faults, and for teaching how to live right. [2 Timothy 3:16 (NCV)]

St. Matthew - Cathedral of St. Francis - Santa FeWhen I was a child in Sunday school, we’d color pictures of David, Daniel, Samson, and King Solomon and sing songs about Zacchaeus, Noah, Joshua, and the trio with the fun names: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. As I learned their stories, they all seemed to be the Biblical version of super-heroes like Batman or Superman. Larger than life, invincible, almost indestructible, they seemed to overcome their obstacles effortlessly. Appearing perfect in their faith and actions, they weren’t people to whom I could relate. In reality, however, they were real people facing real challenges who sometimes made mistakes or struggled with their faith.

David may have killed Goliath, but he was an adulterer and murderer whose son died because of his sins. Rather than the strapping youth we picture, Daniel was an old man when thrown into the lions’ den. Samson was an impulsive braggart with incredibly bad taste in women. The wise Solomon disobeyed his father, erred in his choice of wives and over-worked and over-taxed his people. Zacchaeus was a corrupt collaborator and even the righteous Noah had a drinking problem. When singing about Jericho’s walls tumbling down, it’s easy to forget the faith it took for Joshua to obey God’s illogical plan of marching around Jericho with the Ark for seven days. That brave threesome were captives in a foreign land and defying an egotistic king; in spite of their words of faith, they had to have been shaking in their sandals as they faced that fiery furnace.

A real woman, the barren Hannah struggled with her sense of worth. Because of sibling rivalry, Jacob stole his brother’s birthright and blessing and Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery. Timothy’s youth made him timid and insecure, the publican Matthew probably had been a cheat and, to save his own skin, cowardly Abraham gave his wife to another man not once but twice! A weak leader, Aaron yielded to the people’s desire to make an idol of gold and Moses let his anger get the best of him. The great prophet Elijah prayed for death in the depth of despair and Paul persecuted Christians!

When we look at the heroes and heroines of the Bible with the eyes of an adult, we see real people who struggled with challenges, pain, and even their faith. In the midst of their difficulties, however, they met God and, through His power, accomplished incredible things. If God could use these flawed people to accomplish such great things, think of what He can do with you and me!

I sing a song of the saints of God, patient and brave and true,
who toiled and fought and lived and died for the Lord they loved and knew. …
they were all of them saints of God, and I mean, God helping, to be one too. [Lesbia Scott]

Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us. The Scriptures give us patience and encouragement so that we can have hope. [Romans 15:4 (NCV)]

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JUST STUFF

“Take nothing for your journey,” he instructed them. “Don’t take a walking stick, a traveler’s bag, food, money, or even a change of clothes.” [Luke 9:3 (NLT)]

While packing for our move, I considered Sarah and Abraham; they always seemed to be moving from one place to another. After starting in Ur of the Chaldees, Scripture mentions seventeen places through which they passed, sometimes more than once, including Haran, Bethel, Egypt, Dan, Salem, Gerar, and Beersheba before finally settling in Hebron. They did it all without cardboard boxes, bubble wrap, U-Hauls, pods, moving companies, pack-and-ship, or car transports. Of course, they didn’t have things like food processors, business files, Christmas decorations, picture albums, waffle irons, books, or electric toothbrushes! In all of Sarah’s 127 years, she probably never had as many sandals as I have shoes in my closet and, in all of Abraham’s 175 years, I’m sure he never had as many robes as there are tee-shirts in my husband’s. Because they were nomads, if it wasn’t necessary and easily transported, they didn’t have it.

Having recently cleaned out my mother-in-law’s home after her death, my husband and I are acutely aware of how little our stuff means to anyone else. Load after load of Mom’s clothing, furniture, and household goods went to charity resale shops and more bags than I could count went directly into the dumpster. Now, it’s our possessions that need disposal. While our children have taken some things, they have more than enough stuff of their own and don’t want more!

Every day, we make the rounds of resale shops. As I carried several boxes of clothing and household items into the Bethesda Communities’ store, I felt remorseful. Granted, my discarded items would benefit a faith-based organization serving people with disabilities but I wondered how much more Bethesda and other charities could have done with all the money I’d spent on that frivolous stuff in the first place! When people were going hungry, homeless, or in need of health care and support services, had I really needed another tablecloth or handbag, fashion boots, decorative pillows, and Christmas mugs?

When I remember Jesus’s words to the disciples to take nothing for their journey, I must admit to taking far more than I ever needed or could possibly use for mine. I’m not advocating an ascetic lifestyle but there is much in our lives that is unimportant and truly unnecessary. Abraham and Sarah weren’t encumbered by excessive stuff simply out of necessity. It is out of obedience to God that we should not become encumbered (or possessed) by our stuff. God, however, did give us the ability to enjoy our possessions and enjoy them we did!

The bright side to the move is finding the right home for our surplus things. It’s not just more blessed to give than receive; it’s more fun! A single mom received the dollhouse and play kitchen for her little girls, Gigi’s Playhouse (serving those with Down Syndrome) got the Tinker Toys and Lincoln Logs, a new grandma appreciated the crib, Habitat got our tools, the church has my books and music, some of our art work will be auctioned off for a scholarship fund, and a woman going through a divorce has our glassware, vacuum and kitchen appliances. One friend asked for the spinning wheel while another needed luggage for her children going off to college; a green-thumbed neighbor has our decorative pots and an avid sportsman received the fishing gear. We’re happy that someone else now will be enjoying our stuff!

May we always remember that possessions are temporary; we were empty-handed when we came into the world and we’ll be empty-handed when we leave. U-hauls aren’t part of a funeral procession and there are no storage units in the hereafter. We must learn how to appreciate and enjoy things we don’t own without wanting to own them (or something like them) for ourselves.

Lord, keep us from envy, covetousness, discontent and greed. Give us generous and appreciative hearts. May we always remember that it’s just stuff!

After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. [1 Timothy 6:7 (NLT)]

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TRUE LOVE

Love never gives up. Love never cares more for others than for self. Loves doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut, doesn’t have a swelled head, Doesn’t force itself on others, isn’t always “me first.” Doesn’t fly off the handle, doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, Doesn’t revel when others grovel. Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, Puts up with anything, trusts God always, always looks for the best, Never looks back, but keeps going to the end. [1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (MSG)]

8-19-1967When I married my husband, I was only twenty years old. Although I would never have admitted it then, I had no real concept of what true love actually entailed or the seriousness of the vows I was taking. Standing in front of a minister and 200 guests, I promised to “love him, comfort him, honor, and keep him in sickness and in health” and to forsake all others. I vowed, from that day forward, to “have and to hold…for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health,” and to love and cherish him until we parted at death. I said those words without the vaguest understanding of just how bad “for worse” could get or how little money “for poorer” might be. I didn’t consider that sickness would mean much more than a case of the flu or how long it could be until death would separate us. Having known each other for less than a year when we wed, neither of us had any idea how difficult it actually is to cherish someone whose words or actions hurt us or with whom we disagree. I doubt we’re the only ones who entered into marriage so naively.

Today is our anniversary and, in the fifty-two years since our wedding day, we’ve experienced good and not so good times, periods of plenty and sparseness, illness and well-being, tragedy and joy, fullness and emptiness, anger and forgiveness, excitement and tedium, labor and leisure, turmoil and peace, discontent and satisfaction. We know from experience that it’s not always easy to love, comfort, honor, forsake, and cherish.

We used to joke that we only stayed together because of the children (neither of us wanted custody of them) and the grands (neither of us would risk losing them)! But, that isn’t it. Paul’s words about love in 1 Corinthians 13 were read at our wedding and those words have guided us ever since that day. Early in our marriage, we realized that love is more than a feeling; it isn’t something one falls into or out of. Love is a conscious choice and one we choose to make every day. None of us are loveable all of the time; we can, however, choose to be loving all of the time!

Father in heaven, let your love fill our hearts and lives. Thank you for giving us people to love, comfort, honor, and cherish. Thank you also for placing people in our lives who somehow manage to love, comfort, honor and cherish us, as well. Shower your blessings upon them.

O God … look mercifully upon these thy servants, that they may love, honour, and cherish each other, and so live together in faithfulness and patience, in wisdom and true godliness, that their home may be a haven of blessing and of peace. [From the Solemnization of Matrimony in “The Book of Common Prayer” (1952)]

Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love. [1 Corinthians 13:13b (MSG)]

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DOES HE OWE US ANYTHING? (Elisha – 3)

The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the Lord. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves.” [2 Kings 4:1 (NIV)]

roseate spoonbillWhen writing about Elisha, the widow, and the oil, I thought the first conversation between the prophet and distraught woman worth a deeper look. From their exchange, it is clear that the prophet either knew or knew of the widow’s husband. One of Elisha’s followers, the widow reminds the prophet of how much her husband revered and feared the Lord.

While Scripture doesn’t name her husband, other sources do. Both the 1st Century Jewish historian Josephus and the Targum (an Aramaic paraphrase and explanation of the Hebrew Bible) identify him as the Obadiah mentioned in 1 Kings 18. Although he was in charge of Ahab’s palace, Obadiah remained faithful to Jehovah and hid 100 of God’s prophets in two caves during the time Jezebel was killing them. Both Josephus and Jewish tradition suggest that Obadiah sustained these men at his own expenses and, when his money was spent, the man borrowed money to continue to feed them. It was because of this debt, incurred in the Lord’s service, that the widow’s sons were to be taken as bondservants. Whether the woman was Obadiah’s widow or the widow of another faithful follower of Jehovah we really don’t know. Nevertheless, the widow appears to think that, because her husband faithfully served the Lord, Elisha should do something about his debt.

Does God owe us anything for our service? If we look at Luke 17, it would seem that Jesus is telling us that, even when we’ve done absolutely everything God commands, we should not expect an earthly reward. We are God’s unworthy servants and have only done our duty. He is our master and His job is not to make our lives easier; our job is to do His work and build His kingdom. Whatever the widow’s husband did for God, Elijah, or Elisha, he did as God’s servant; it was only what he should have done! Our good actions are never a favor for God. Righteousness, worship, generosity, forgiveness, sacrifice, and even suffering aren’t extraordinary; they are expected of us!

Fulfilling our duties and obligation to God is not a business transaction. God owes us nothing but we owe Him everything. We are to serve the Lord with gladness, out of love and gratitude. What He may or may not give us is from His grace; it is neither payment nor reward. While we’re on this side of the grass, we should never expect to profit or gain from serving Him. As God did with the widow, He may choose to fill our jars with oil but, never forget, He doesn’t owe us even one ounce of it!

Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, “Come along now and sit down to eat”? Won’t he rather say, “Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink”? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.” [Luke 17:7-10 (NIV)]

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