Friday, February 04, 2005

Does My Life Matter?

By John McLarty

You’ve been head elder for thirteen years or you’ve taught Junior Sabbath School forever. You’ve been faithful, but you can’t tell it’s made much difference. Maybe you’re a pastor and have served the same congregation for five or ten years. But your dreams of growth and community impact remain largely that–dreams. You question whether your ministry is actually contributing anything to the advance of Christ’s kingdom. If you are not careful, these questions about the value and impact of your ministry may turn into questions about the value and significance of your life. You’re using oxygen. You’re taking up space on planet earth. But does your life really matter?

Most of the time when you wrestle with these questions, God leaves you to walk by faith and not by sight. He asks you to trust him with the future. But occasionally he may pull aside the curtain and allow you to see.

Recently, Adventist Today published an article that contrasted the apparent success of mega-church pastors with the experience of many Adventist pastors who struggle with meager attendance. In response the member of a small church wrote an open letter to her pastor:

“You may not be a mega-church pastor. But I don’t know those pastors. I do know you. When I came to your church hurting from the spiritual abuse of my past, you saw me for God’s child. You listened to me. . . . I know there are maybe even a dozen people out there who are not drinking and drugging any more and that your ministry was a large part of that. I know there are half a dozen children out there who are not living in the drug world or otherwise being abused, and your ministry was a large part of that.”

When this woman’s pastor asked himself about his significance, he thought of Sabbath morning attendance, church giving and numbers of baptisms. And those were not impressive. He did not think of people fighting their way out of drug and alcohol addiction. He didn’t think of kids now in college who only a few years before lived in squalor and abuse or the older immigrant who counts on him as lawyer, counselor and life-skills adviser.

The way society counts things, this pastor is insignificant. His church is not going to be featured in the newspaper or in the Adventist Review. But for a few individuals, his ministry has made a life-and-death difference.

I think if Fred Perry. Fred was a biology teacher at Memphis State University and served as the youth leader to Memphis First Seventh-day Adventist Church when I was in the tenth and eleventh grades. While he was youth leader, the youth group did not increase in size. I don’t remember any conversions or dramatic stories of divine intervention. But through college and graduate school, as I wrestled with intellectual challenges to my faith, the memory of his own mix of questions about tradition and commitment to the church helped anchor me. I am sure that Fred has no idea of the impact on my life of his faithful service.

Sam Walker was the head elder in the first church I pastored. I don’t know if he ever saw any “fruit” for his labor. I do know I learned at least as much about ministry from him as I did from any seminary class. Sam is dead now. I doubt he ever had any idea of the impact he had on my life and through me on others. Sam was just doing his job.

Teaching Juniors, serving a small church, sorting packages in a mail distribution center, making burritos at Taco Bell–the world is filled with all sorts of obscure, unremarkable tasks. At times the weight of repetition and anonymity can make your work, and even the entirety of your life, seem utterly insignificant. But God gives each of us our work, and there are no unimportant jobs. Juniors, small churches, the mail and burritos matter to him. And so do you and your work.

To paraphrase a famous Bible passage:

Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep his commandments. There is no more to life than this. And God will bring every job into judgment, even the secret ones, whether they are grand or small (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).

John McLarty is Pastor of the North Hill Christian Fellowship, a Seventh-day Adventist Church, Federal Way, WA.

PlusLine : Does My Life Matter?

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

The Danger of Denial

We usually think that denying Christ is an outright act
like Peter’s disavowal of Jesus in John 18. But Heber
Reginald, an English writer, pointed out that we deny the
Lord in more subtle ways: love of the world and forsaking
the course of duty, which Christ has plainly pointed out
to us.

We deny our Lord whenever we lend our praise, thoughts,
silence, speech, actions, etc., to things we believe to be
sinful. We deny our Lord whenever we forsake others in affliction
and refuse to give countenance, encouragement, and support
to those who for God’s sake are exposed to persecutions
and slander.

Those of us who are baptized will consciously avoid any
open, deliberate, and vocal denial of the Lord. But loving
the world, failing to do as God directs, tolerating sin,
and refusing to support our fellow brothers and sisters
are subtle ways we do deny the One who has redeemed us.
It is not easy for one to turn his back on Christ if he
keeps his eyes on Him. When Peter’s eyes met with those of
Jesus on the cross, he repented of his sins.
To openly deny the Lord is shameful and appalling, but
tolerating any sin forsakes our righteous calling. Let us
determine to live faithfully for Jesus so that no one will
ever be able to accuse us of turning our backs to Him.
Remember we are always in danger of denial.

Many Christians, who do not live according to the Word of
God, shrink from active warfare for their Lord and are
driven by ridicule to deny their faith. By associating
with those whom they should avoid as Judas did, they put
themselves in the place of temptation: to circumstances,
which they could not have been guilty of.
The disciple of Christ who in our days disguises his faith
through dread of suffering or reproach denies his Lord as
truly as did Peter in the judgment hall.
Peter and Judas will forever be remembered for their
betrayals—Judas only for that act, Peter for that act plus
many other positive ones. Both disciples had desirable and
undesirable character traits. The difference is that one
responded to Jesus’ power and the other did not; one had
genuine repentance, the other did not.

Wilfred O. Omwange, Njoro, Kenya