Participate in Ministry

The following is from guest writer, Louis Sutton.
“I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God,
than dwell in the tents of the wicked.”
(Psalm 84:10)
Bechir’s wrinkled dark skin and white hair were the only features that betrayed the fact that he was one of the oldest men in the Chadian town of Adre.  Otherwise his energy, his delight in life, his satisfaction and continual hard work surpassed even men half his age.  Bechir and I became good friends through my frequent visits to the local area governor’s house where Bechir would greet me at the door, offer me some water and a seat, then scurry off to notify the governor of my arrival.  Bechir was a servant in the governor’s house, a position he had held for perhaps 50 years.  He had served the French colonial governors who brought their fine china and wine to this end of the Sahara desert and he served the Chadian officials in the now old and run-down mansion.  He had served the good and the corrupt.  The dramas he had seen and the stories he told were amazing.  But was most amazing was his delight in what he did.  He loved serving.  He loved being a part of the bigger picture.  He counted it a privilege to do even the lowest of tasks.  The joy radiated from his face.
That same joy in service radiates from the words of the psalmist in Psalm 84 who called it privilege to take even the lowest of positions in the activities of the faithful.  The psalm was written by one speaking from experience.  It is attributed to the “sons of Korah” who were a portion of the Levitical tribes called upon for various services in the temple.  But perhaps the lowliest and most “mundane” of those roles was that of “doorkeeper”.  In this verse the psalmist’s point was that privilege and delight are found in even the lowliest of roles served for the greatest of causes.  For him service was not duty, not sacrifice, nor obligation, but a privilege.

So too our own service in the church, no matter what the role, is best understood not as duty but privilege.  It is a privilege to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, to serve something, and someone eternal and truly significant.  It is a privilege to make a difference, no matter how humble the task.  It is a privilege to serve in the company of others committed to the same truths and vision.  True, our service is crucial and needed.  The church couldn’t exist without our participation in its ministry.  But ultimately it is a privilege.  One to be embraced, entered into, and enjoyed.

Progress in the Spiritual Life

“Only God is my rock and my salvation – my stronghold! – I won’t be shaken anymore.”
Psalm 62:2 (Common English Bible)
            Captured in these few words is a powerful witness to abundant progress in our spiritual life: “Only God is my rock and salvation – my stronghold! – I won’t be shaken anymore.” The author of these words is contemplating difficult circumstances on the horizon. A storm is building in his personal life and a whirlwind is gathering strength and raging. Shortly, the author will be caught in the blast – in the very center of violence that is determined to destroy him. Yet, what is heard in these words is a faith that has moved from painful wobbling in a time of trouble to an experience of being unshakable; of standing strong in the work of the Lord: “I won’t be shaken anymore.”
            A mood of fear and uncertainty is transformed. Present now is a voice of a more vital trust, and the suggestion of spiritual maturity. Where once he would have been shaken by the assault that was drawing near, he is now not overwhelmed. An unshaken confidence of a matured faith now occupies his heart and soul. What changed? He provides the answer – he has found a sturdy footing in the promises of God, “my stronghold.” A trembling spirit that is placed into regular communion with God is settled; the timid fluttering of a heart is quieted. This is the calmness which comes from sharing in the strength of God; a strength that derives from intentional attention to relationship building with God.
            When we nurture our own faith by attention to God’s word and regular prayer, our relationship to God is deepened. In direct proportion to that deepening relationship we discover that fears are scattered and worries, once prolific, are diminished. Lives are no longer lived in small and frightened circles where the soul grows faint and timid. Attention to God, even in the ordinary moments of life, expands the chambers of our souls and our breath becomes deeper. Uncertainties of life become increasingly rare and our slipping feet are steadied upon a certain and firm foundation – “only God is my rock.”
            Here is the great secret of progress in our spiritual life – attentive and regular communion with God. Our own strength for meeting the trying and challenging circumstances of life is insufficient. Alone we will always be defeated. But we are not alone. These words from the Psalms are an invitation to put on the same strength and confidence of a life that cleaves to God. By God’s strengthening fellowship we will face all the hostile forces of this world with ordered lives – lives which demonstrate to others the beauty of God’s peace.


What Is Good

“Hang on to what is good.”
1 Thessalonians 5:21 (Common English Bible)
            Attempts to define “what is good” are often found to be inadequate. Goodness is difficult to describe but it is wonderfully easy to recognize. We know goodness when we see it and it is a thrilling experience. There is an attractiveness about it that captures both the mind and the heart and goodness proves to be a powerful quality in shaping the disposition of those who observe it. Goodness is a mighty impulse whose radiance gives beauty to the soul.
            Perhaps more difficult than defining goodness is articulating how goodness is achieved or produced. Some have argued that goodness is born and that effort to generate goodness is therefore futile, but is an observable fact that character can be changed. In view of the fact that goodness has the capacity to positively impact the environment of all human interaction some attempt, however feeble, is called for. Though there is no perfect formula that produces completely the results we desire, scripture does provide help.
            The apostle Paul writes in Philippians 3:17 that we are to become imitators of Paul and to watch those who live as he does – to use those with good and godly behavior as models. Here, Paul suggests that a prime condition for generating goodness is simple observation that instructs and infects the heart toward participation in its beauty. David Downie says as much in his book, Paris, Paris: Journey Into The City of Light: “A day spent loitering here teaches you more about Paris and its inhabitants than many a scholarly tome.”[i]This is well demonstrated in the experience of the apostles. In spite of conspicuous limitations and weaknesses, each became good men chiefly as a result of their acquaintance with Christ – their decision to simply spend time with Jesus and learning through observation.
            Goodness is also produced by the disciplined application of those principals taught by Jesus for a holy life. Regular prayer, reading and application of God’s Word to one’s life, and participation in God’s work in the world produce productive soil for the work of the Holy Spirit. Paul writes in his first letter to Timothy, “Train yourself for a holy life!” (1 Timothy 4:7b). The regular discipline of “training” for the holy life breaks down the barriers which hinder the organic development of goodness. Behind anything that is really well done is a long period of self-discipline and mastery, which shape and define the character or skill that is desired. Goodness can be produced in any life. What is required is that we place ourselves in regular contact with those who model goodness and then discipline our spirits that we profit by the experience.

[i]David Downie, Paris, Paris: Journey Into The City of Light (New York: Broadway Books, 2011), 18.

Where to Begin

“Rather, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Acts 1:8 (Common English Bible)
     When the king in Alice in Wonderland was asked where to begin, he said gravely, “Begin at the beginning… and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” Begin at the beginning. Naturally, that guidance seems reasonable. That is, until you have to actually open your mouth, and speak. With thoughts racing from one place to another, it quickly becomes apparent that there are many fine places to begin. Jesus tells his disciples, here in Acts, “you will be my witnesses.” Where do the disciples begin? Where are we to begin? Sharing our faith in Jesus seems reasonable until we actually confront that moment – that moment when we are asked, “Who is Jesus?”
     That moment came to me one Easter morning. I was enjoying breakfast in a Doylestown, PA diner, looking over the message I would preach in just a few hours. Mary, the waitress assigned to the table where I was seated, approached with coffee and said, “I guess this is your big day, pastor!” “I guess so,” I remarked. Then Mary asked, “What is Easter all about anyway?” Initially, I dismissed her question, not thinking she was serious. But I was mistaken; Mary was very serious. It was then I took the time to really notice her, to look into her eyes and really see her. I will not forget those eyes – eyes that betrayed her silence; silence of considerable pain. “Where do I begin?” I thought. I began with her pain. “Easter means that you can stop beating yourself up. Whatever guilt you may have now, whatever mistakes you have made in life, Easter means that you are to stop immediately from beating yourself up. God has removed it all.”
     “But there is more,” I said to Mary. “Easter is an invitation to pay attention to Jesus.” I shared with Mary that as she paid attention to Jesus, by reading of him in the Bible, she will discover that she will want to be more than she is now. “Pay attention long enough to Jesus and you will experience a compulsion to be something more; you will begin to live differently.”  Mary needed to hear that Jesus doesn’t leave a life unchanged. Any significant time spent with Jesus always results in a desire to be made new. “Your whole world will appear different. You will want to be different.”

      “Finally, Mary, begin to follow Jesus as you learn about him.” I shared with her that what that means is to “do what he asks in his teaching.” Imagine Jesus as a mentor in life and do everything that is asked of you. Something inexplicable happens when someone commits to doing all that Jesus’ asks: they receive an uncommon power to do so. People who obey all that they understand of Jesus’ teachings receive a power from outside of themselves; a power that actually makes them something so much more than what they were. Mary began to cry and asked how to begin. That is when I knew I had come to the end. And there, in a diner in Doylestown, PA, Mary gave her life to Jesus.
The above was previously published in Heart & Soul, Volume 2.