Non-Minister Ministry: Lay Ministry Involvement

(Joel 2:23-32; Luke 18:9-14) – J G White
11 am, Sunday, October 27, 2019 – UBC Digby

Joel: that little book of the Bible inspired by insects – a plague of locusts that ruin the land.

I’d invited Sharon White to read the lesson from Joel 2, but she found out she would be away this morning. I offered it to her because of one verse here, very important to her, Joel 2:25. The word of the LORD: I will repay for the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent against you

I need to let her tell you her own experience of this verse. Suffice it to say it meant hope, coming out of a damaged youth. The years of her life that were destroyed for her, taken away, will be repaid by God.

Verse 26 also applies: “My people shall no more be put to shame.” A word from God to Sharon. Maybe you got the same message in your life? The Master says: you shall no longer be put to shame. 

What I really want to speak about today is your ministry. What you do that matters, makes a difference, is good. This week and next Sunday I am touching on the final chapters of Bicker’s book, ‘The Healthy Small Church.’ Chapter 15 is Lay Ministry Involvement. I’m calling this ‘non-minister ministry.’

A few weeks ago you had a layperson Sunday morning – planned and presented all by people who are not pastors. But even this is not what I mean. Leading prayers, scripture readings, music and preaching in the service is specialized stuff. There is so much more, in everyday life, Monday through Saturday, that is your ministry with Jesus. Everything counts in your ministry.

In chapter 2 of Joel are the famous words that say 
Then afterward (2:28-29)
    I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
    your old men shall dream dreams,
    and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female slaves,
    in those days, I will pour out my spirit.

Apostle Peter quotes this scripture on the Day the Holy Spirit birthed the Church, eh? Acts chapter 2. Sounds like everyone can prophesy, and dream, and have the Spirit of God upon them. Everyone with Jesus will be empowered to do good work. Everyone. 

So, what’s your good work, this week? Your work with God? Maybe it will be Prayer Ministry. Just the praying you do, on your own. Some of it might be praying with others, but most of it will be your daily praying. Yesterday at the Council of our Baptist Association, the new Pastor at Wilmot shared about much prayer going on, and prayers being answered!

Think again that amazing story Jesus tells, of the two men saying their personal prayers in the Jewish Temple one day. The proud prayer of the proud man. The pure prayer of the broken man. Anyone can pray. But are the humbler prayers the best?

The Choir knows my pet peeve about praying before we rehearse, & before the Choir comes in here. 
“Jeff, would you pray?”
“Why not someone else?” I say. I ask. 
“But you’re so good at it,” I’m told, in the most complimentary way. And I appreciate that.
So I say, only half joking, “Well then, other people need more practice praying, if they are not as good at it.” I even put together a pamphlet of prayers for the choir – and people can pick one to use.

The ministry of prayer – out loud with others, and quietly alone – is something that changes and grows in our lives, as we follow the Saviour. I think most of us can learn a lot more about how to pray, because I know I have a lot more to learn, myself. Many of you can inspire and influence others in their prayer lives. 

Another Pastor, at Association Council, yesterday, spoke of his own coming to faith in Christ, years ago. Later on, he found out his childhood neighbours had prayed for him and for his parents every day, specifically that they would each come to Faith. Their prayers for Lloyd, who all these years later is a Pastor, were worth it.

Many things can prompt us to pray well. I have an alarm set on my phone to go off every single day to remind me, at one o’clock, to pray for people to come to faith in Jesus. Remember our Baptist Convention’s campaign called 3K43K? We want three thousand people praying every day – perhaps at 1 pm – for us to have one year soon with 3000 people baptized. 

By the way, there will be some baptisms right here soon; Joe has been washing out the Baptistery here to get it ready. Pastor Linda, from Rossway Baptist, has some candidates to baptize, on a Sunday afternoon in November. Perhaps one or more of you here are also ready to say yes to Jesus in the Biblical way of saying yes: baptism. Tell me if you are at all interested or wondering. All of you – pray for the growth of faith in people you know. 

We are Baptist Christians, and we believe each human being has direct access to the Divine. As the Monday Study Group learned last week:

SOUL FREEDOM is the historic Baptist affirmation of the inalienable right and responsibility of every person to deal with God without the imposition of creed, the interference of clergy, or the intervention of civil government. 
(Shurden, Walter B., The Baptist Identity: Four Fragile Freedoms, Smyth & Helwys, p. 24)

The human soul is free to have fellowship with God. This is Good News that Jesus brings. 

So this brings me to what I could call evangelism ministry. This is also your ministry, not just the work of the pastors in the room. Many of you have ways you let your light shine for Jesus. You have good work to do, pointing out God in day to day life. There are as many ways to do this as there are people in these pews. 

When you tell a bit of your own story, you can do good work. If you let others know that they have the freedom to find God, or be found by God. They have the ability and the responsibility to follow the Path for themselves. 

Scholar Walter Shurden told of John Cuddy was the Roman Catholic priest at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church and one of the most respected ministers in the town. …First Baptist [had him over] one Wednesday night to tell [us] all about the Catholics. During a question and answer session someone asked him, “Father Cuddy, what one thing do you admire most about Baptists?” Quickly and without struggling for a response, he answered, “Freedom.” (Shurden, Ibid, p. 27)

While He did not elaborate, he could have meant several things–[the freedom of private interpretation of the Bible, the freedom of democratic church government, the freedom from creeds, or freedom from the state. But] he could have [also] meant the freedom to choose to believe. It is at the heart of the Baptist genius. Conversion, for Baptists, is always a matter of the soul’s conviction. 

Each person makes his and her own spiritual decisions in life. We can breathe a sigh of relief when we realize that it is not up to you or to me to save someone, to make them believe, to convince them of Christ. That is the work of the Spirit. We do get to be team players and do our part to point the way. 

Let me mention one more ministry that’s yours. Let me call it Bible ministry. It is your work to read and learn and be influenced by the Scriptures. It is not the Pastor’s work to do that for you. It is everyone’s sacred privilege. 

As Walter Shurden put it: BIBLE FREEDOM is the historic Baptist affirmation that the Bible, under the Lordship of Christ, must be central in the life of the individual and church and that Christians, with the best and most scholarly tools of inquiry, are both free and obligated to study and obey the Scripture. (Shurden, Ibid, p. 9)

I think this is what must have happened with Sharon years ago, when the words of Joel were in front of her. I will repay for the years that the swarming locust has eaten. The verse jumped right off the page! Not like a grasshopper, but as a true word of hope. The abuses of her youth will be repaid by the Saviour. And they have been! Joel 2:25 lives in Sharon White today.

Meditate upon the stories of the Bible for your- self; think deeply; ask your questions; talk together. Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you… (Phil 2:12-13) Theology is the study of God, and spiritual things. Theology is the work of the whole people of God. Not just for some experts somewhere. 

Speaking of experts… Dr. Randy Woodley, an indigenous, Baptist professor of Faith and Culture at a couple Christian universities, gave lectures this past week in Wolfville. He taught a lot about how people who are not whites of European descent live as Christians, and explain things. In a question period after his final talk, Dr. Woodley was asked about how believers of a different culture follow Jesus in their own way. So: how much do missionaries need to teach them about how to be the Church? How do we not end up making them westerners, like Caucasian Canadians and Americans? Randy Woodley said:

I think this whole idea of trusting the Holy Spirit to work within the people and the process… is the way to develop a contextual theology in one’s own culture.

I knew a missionary to the Ikalahan Philipinos. The whole village became followers of Christ, in their own unique cultural ways. 

I got to spend time with [the missionary. He was an old man.] I asked him, ‘What was the key for you?’

And he said, “I simply told the Stories, and I allowed them to theologize. I trusted them. I trusted the Spirit, to theologize.”

And it worked out good. Maybe sometimes it doesn’t, but I’m not sure we have the right to impose our cultures on those cultures who are trying to figure it out.

You can be trusted to figure out a lot of things about God, and about yourselves. We believe in Bible Freedom and Soul Freedom. Because we can believe that the Spirit of Jesus will be amazingly powerful in you, and you, and you, and them, and me. 

You need not be a Minister, a Pastor, to pray well enough, to help others in the right direction, or to interpret the Faith. You just need to be you, with God. The ministry of you non-ministers is the biggest part of what a congregation does anyway. Even with me and Licentiate Sharon and Rev. John and Rev. Curtis and Rev. Don, you outnumber us! You do not even need to be some kind of leader to do some of the best good things possible. Do you remember these words of Jesus? Amen Amen, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these… (John 14:12)

And you – who you are – you were created in Christ Jesus for good works, as the Bible says. (Ephesians 2:10) I am so grateful for you!

Lament, Mourn & Weep

repent

(James 4:7-10; Luke 18:9-14)

Sun, Oct 23, 2016 – UBC Digby – J G White

Repent, the End is near.
Repent, before it is too late.
Repent or perish!
So say the occasional signs along the highways and byways.  

Someone this week asked me if I would be pounding the pulpit, preaching fire and brimstone, when my topic is REPENTING.  No.  

But, Church, we still need a turnaround.  That’s what repentance is: turning around.  Turning away… turning to.  

Ever missed your turn-off while driving down a highway?  Oops, I missed my exit.  Hmm.  Do I wait until the next exit?  It could be a ways down the road.  Do I pull over and do a U-ie?  That’s not always safe… or legal.  But I need to turn around!

Repentance is turning away and turning to.  Lamenting where we’ve been headed – being sad about our sin.  Mourning it – what we’ve done, who we’ve been, what we’ve lost, who we’ve hurt.  Weeping – real sorrow that expresses our weakness and need to God, who hears our tears.  

Linda read for us some warnings and strong advice from James 4.  The little book of James is FULL of advice, if you have not noticed.  Lament, mourn and weep, we are told.  But, let’s hear these particular phrases again, now put into English, in his usual creative way, by Pastor and author, Eugene Peterson.  From James 4.

Quit dabbling in sin. Purify your inner life. Quit playing the field. Hit bottom, and cry your eyes out. The fun and games are over. Get serious, really serious. Get down on your knees before the Master; it’s the only way you’ll get on your feet.

My daily email from the Center for Action and Contemplation so often hits on this theme.  The spiritual theme of hitting rock bottom in order to be lifted up.  Richard Rohr’s book, Falling Upwards, is all about this.

And so is Jesus’ parable of the two people praying in the Temple. This is our last Jesus story for the fall, our eighth week in Luke’s Gospel.  Next weekend we will celebrate Reformation Sunday with Romans 3, and then have a few Old Testament weeks.

Today, a parable of Jesus that has a clarity and directness about it.  Get your prayer attitude right and your attitude about yourself and others right. And let’s hear this one afresh, from Clarence Jordan’s Cotton Patch Version of Luke.  (1969)

Two men went into the chapel to pray.  The one was a church member, the other was an unsaved man.  The church member stood up and prayed to himself like this: ‘O God, I thank you that I’m not like other people — greedy, mean, promiscuous — or even like this unsaved man.  I go to church twice on Sunday, and I am a faithful tither of all my income.’  But the unsaved man, standing way off, wouldn’t even lift up his eyes, but knelt down and cried, ‘O God, have mercy on a sinner like me.’  I’m telling you, this man went home cleaned up rather than that one.  For everyone who puts himself on a pedestal will be laid low, and everyone who lays himself low will be put on a pedestal.

Repentance must stay in our vocabulary with God.  We who are Sunday morning people, pew people and pulpit people.  We, more than the non-religious, should know how to pray these ways.  These ways Jesus taught, in parables.  

So, what are our personal prayer habits?  When we are on our own; and when we are together here, or in a small group?  What is your praying and my praying really like?  How much time does it take?  How much concentration?  What happens when you bow your head? Our attitude comes out: what is it like?  Is there any lamenting, and mourning, and weeping?  We each have our habits.  And we each may have little tools we use.

The devotional booklet The Daily Bread is very light on prayer.  Some days include a short prayer. As I looked through October, there seemed to be one day out of 31 that had a prayer of confession.  October 12.

I’m selfish sometimes, Lord.  I get more concerned with what I need than what others need.  Give me a heart of integrity and compassion.  

November looks like it will have four days that suggest prayer of confession.

Other prayer resources that I have found helpful seem to have more repentance, more lamenting and mourning and weeping over sin.  A classic is John Baillie’s A Diary of Private Prayer, 1936.  A little volume with 64 prayers for morning and for evening, each day of a month, and one extra day.  About one in three days, the evening prayer is about repenting.  

On the 18th day, the evening prayer includes these confessions:
For my deceitful heart and crooked thoughts :
For barbed words spoken deliberately :
For thoughtless words spoken hastily :
For envious and prying eyes :
For ears that rejoice in iniquity and rejoice not in the truth :
For greedy hands :
For wandering and loitering feet :
For haughty looks :
Have mercy upon me, O God.

A newer book of prayers I recommend is Dr. J. R. C. Perkin’s Prayer Diary: short prayers for busy people, 1998.  I know from using it that it frequently encourages a humble attitude. I skimmed through October’s prayers, and, like Baillie’s book, Perkin’s has confession one third of the days. Here is part of October 25ths prayer, for this coming Tuesday…
Forgive me, Lord, that I am often unwilling
To undertake lowly tasks within my capabilities,
But seek to do important things
 For which I am not properly equipped.

In his book simply called, Prayer, Richard Foster gives four steps in ‘turning around,’ repenting.  I’m going to expand on this with six steps.  May these be helpful.

One.  Awareness of wrong.

There is a type of praying that gets called the prayer of examen.  Sort of an unknown term, but it really is about asking God to examine you from the inside out.  It’s the theme of Psalm 139, which ends:
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
   test me and know my thoughts.
24 See if there is any wicked way in me,
   and lead me in the way everlasting.

You study in school, and there are exams.  You go to an MD to get checked out, and he or she puts you through a physical exam.  You do some housecleaning, and find a long lost object in a closet: you examine it closely.  

To be aware of our wrong, our sin, the knots that tie us up inside, we sometimes need the prayer of examen.  Often, the simple way to see inside ourselves is to ask for this blessing from our Master. Show me, Spirit.  Shine Your light inside.  

Two.  Ask for a contrite heart.  There’s another old-fashioned word.  But we see the meaning in the praying sinner in Jesus’ parable.  The tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’  This man had a definite attitude of regret and repentance.  We might have to ask for help to get to this stage. We may need definite time alone to open our hearts to God… and ourselves.  

In all the centuries past, when people were converted to Christ, the deep sorrow about their own sinfulness always was there, coming to the surface.  Often the regret and lamenting would last days and weeks.  Here’s a bit of the story of Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard coming to faith, at age 22.

As I stood… there [by the seacoast] alone and forsaken, and the power of the sea and the battle of the elements reminded me of my own nothingness, and on the other hand the sure flight of the birds recalled the words spoken by Christ: not a sparrow shall fall to the ground without your Father: then all at once I felt how great and how small I was; then did those two mighty forces, pride and humility, happily unite in friendship. (The Journal, 29 July 1835)  Out of a time of inner darkness, Jesus reached him.

Three.  Confess.  Actual, specific confession of failures.  We could skim over this step, thinking, well, our gracious God knows it all already – everything about me.  No wonder the example of scripture includes: cleanse me from hidden faults (Ps 139).  But we are unlikely to skip deep confession of the details if we have already seen what is wrong and have a heart that regrets it.  

There is a role for you and me with each other. As the book of James says in chapter 5, …confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. (J 5:16)  It is a ministry of reconciliation, as Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 5 in the Bible.  Next week’s sermon – about the reformation of the Church – is going to make mention of the value of this ministry.  Watch for it.

Four.  Ask for mercy.

What was the prayer of the tax man in Jesus’ story?  ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’  

This depends, of course, upon if we think of God as the source of mercy we need.  There is a problem if we decide just to be merciful to ourselves, or we find some person who will be easy on us and tell us, ‘There, there; everything is going to be all right.’  But, if we have seen our problem, and truly felt badly about it, we are likely to be deeply asking for mercy, a mercy we cannot make for ourselves.  Only from God.  Only from the Cross.  

I am not usually a lover of really simple, modern Christian songs.  But one I always appreciate is Michael W. Smith’s Breathe.

This is the air I breathe
This is the air I breathe
Your holy presence living in me
This is my daily bread
This is my daily bread
Your very word spoken to me
And I, I’m desperate for You
And I, I’m I’m lost without You

Five.  Receive.

The promises of the Word are incredible for us.  1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. This is what we receive.  

Here is another personal story, from the conversion of John Bunyan, as he told it himself…

Suddenly there fell upon me a great cloud of darkness, which did so hide from me the things of God and Christ… I was as if …my hands and feet had been tied or bound with chains…  After I had been in this condition for some three or four days, as I was sitting by the fire, I suddenly felt this word sound in my heart, I must go to Jesus; at this my former darkness and atheism fled away, and the blessed things of heaven were set within my view… (Grace Abounding)

After dark, regretful days, Bunyan saw he could receive Jesus and His great gifts.  

Six.  Obey.

Turning away is always a turning to a new way.  Christ’s actings here on earth tell us sin and wrong and evil are not a dead end.  And when the healing forgiveness is applied to our souls, Jesus is the way.  The new way for life, the new path, and our Guide.    

Shall you Repent, for the End is near!?  That is up to you.  Yet we should also say Repent, for the beginning is near.  That’s what a friend suggested to me the other day… and he was right.  Repent, for the beginning is near!  

Evil and wrong in life is no dead end.  A U-turn is possible – make legal, safe and secure by Jesus Christ, the Son of God, our Saviour.

 What did Christ preach?  Repent, for the Kingdom of God has come near.  

Repent, for the beginning is near.  The Gospel we preach does not end with a happy ending, so much as it ends with a new beginning. Let us pray.