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Series: God and seniors

I encouraged you senior adults last week to hear the message that God isn’t done with you yet. Whatever capacity you have, God wants to use to do the work of his kingdom. Today, we continue on with a senior adult focus talking about ministry to the next generation.

Our theme verses for today come from Psalm 71:17-18

O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.

God wants to use you seniors to pass on the faith to the next generation.

But some might say, “I don’t feel able to be involved in ministry anymore because of my age.” So let’s talk a moment about . . .

Ministering in weaknesses

A definite reality of old age is weakness.

  • For some this means failing physical health, for others more generally it means getting weaker as you get older.
  • For some this means failing mental health, for others more generally it means a loss of sharpness.
  • For some this means growing social dependence on others.

Regarding weakness, Psalm 71:9 says, “Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent.” The “time of old age” is defined in part by one’s strength being spent.

Here’s a somewhat humorous story about aging and weakness from 2 Samuel 19:32-34. “Barzillai was a very aged man, eighty years old. He had provided the king with food while he stayed at Mahanaim, for he was a very wealthy man. And the king said to Barzillai, ‘Come over with me, and I will provide for you with me in Jerusalem.” But Barzillai said to the king . . . ‘ Can your servant taste what he eats or what he drinks? Can I still listen to the voice of singing men and singing women?’” He’s saying to David, ‘No thanks, I can’t party anymore. Can’t taste the food; can’t hear the music.’

And then there is the very descriptive poem about aging in Ecclesiastes 12:1-5. I’m using the Contemporary English Version for this passage. “Keep your Creator in mind while you are young! In years to come, you will be burdened down with troubles and say, “I don’t enjoy life anymore.” Someday the light of the sun and the moon and the stars will all seem dim to you. Rain clouds will remain over your head. Your body will grow feeble, your teeth will decay, and your eyesight fail. The noisy grinding of grain will be shut out by your deaf ears, but even the song of a bird will keep you awake. You will be afraid to climb up a hill or walk down a road. Your hair will turn as white as almond blossoms. You will feel lifeless and drag along like an old grasshopper.”

Let me just say that, properly understood, we all minister with weaknesses, whatever they might be. So don’t be discouraged or let this sideline you from doing what God wants you to do. We all need to hear and understand what the Lord said to Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

It’s never about us and our strengths. Ministry is always about God, and letting him work through us – perhaps especially in our areas of weakness. All God asks of any of us is to offer up to him whatever capacity we have so that he can use us in the work of his kingdom.

In terms of ministry to the next generation, let me begin by saying –

You have much to offer

Let’s look at the numbers

  • In 1900 there were 3 million older adults in the U.S. (People 65 years of age or older.)
  • In 2008 there were 9 million older adults in the U.S.
  • By 2030 there will be 70 million older adults, almost 20% of the total U.S. population.
  • Nearly 85% of Americans today can expect to live beyond the age of sixty-five.
  • And, nearly 72% of older persons assess their health as good, very good, or excellent.
  • In fact, persons reaching age 65 have an average additional life expectancy of 17.3 years and rising (18.9 for women; 15.3 for men).

So there are lots of seniors, who are in relatively good shape, with more to come.

You also have good qualities as Christians. I will just mention two: 1) You often have wisdom. Job 12:12 – “Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days.”

Now, just because you are old doesn’t mean you are truly wise – but the chances are better. You have life experience in general, but also specifically experience in walking with God. And you have the long view of things. You see how things work out over the long haul, so you are not as interested in quick fixes or fads.

2) You often have humility. I see in older adults less pretense and less of a desire to prove oneself. You are also aware not only of past successes but also past failures.

And then you often have a good opportunity to do God’s work. You are not generally consumed with raising children or establishing a home. Often you have some financial base and more control of your time.

 So you have both numbers and good qualities, as well as opportunity.

Now let’s get more specific and look at some –

Biblical examples of ministry to the next generation

Of course, you can serve God according to whatever gifts and roles you have. But there is also an unofficial status that you have as an older Christian, if you have walked with the Lord for many years. And this carries some weight with it in congregational and family settings. It’s this role that I am focusing on. Here are five biblical examples of this:

1. You can teach the next generation. Exodus 12:26-27 says, “And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.'” This takes place in a family context.

Psalm 78:2-4 says, “I will utter . . . things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.”

Again, these are not official roles as a teacher, but unofficial in family and church settings.

2. You can mentor the next generation. This involves working together in relationship with one another; an apprenticing relationship, passing on skills and knowledge. We know how Moses mentored Joshua and Elijah mentored Elisha, and Paul mentored Timothy.

Someone mentored me in college, Ralph Sprunk. He was a professor of Bible and theology. He took an interest in me, gave me some special attention, encouraged me and was a role model for me. This can have a powerful impact on a younger person, to be taken seriously by an older adult and encouraged and empowered by what you have learned. So that they don’t have to make all the mistakes you did and can have a leg up.

3. You can give counsel to the next generation. Exodus 18:13-24 tells the story of Jethro, Moses’ father in law counseling him to delegate his responsibilities to others. Moses was running himself into the ground. 24 says, “So Moses listened to the voice of his father-in-law and did all that he had said.”

In the same way you can give counsel in areas of ministry and life to those younger than you, so that they can find their way through difficult situations.

4. You can pray for the next generation. An example of this is Jacob’s prayer in Genesis 48:15-16 for Ephraim and Manasseh, his grandsons. He prays for them here that God will bless them and that God’s will for them will be accomplished.

5. You can tell stories of praise to God. Many senior adults enjoy telling stories. And you might be tempted to tell negative stories or self-exalting stories. But you have the opportunity to tell stories that lift up God’s name; to tell how God has blessed you and been faithful to you.

Our text last week, Psalm 92:14-15, says, “The righteous still bear fruit in old age they are ever green and full of sap, to declare that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.” What are they all green and full of sap to do? To tell how God is their Rock; how God is faithful.

And who better to listen to than someone who has walked for many years with the Lord, and can testify of God goodness and faithfulness? You don’t speak theoretically but from experience.

When I was a Conference Teacher in the Pacific Northwest Conference, one of the best things I did was to have older people come and tell stories of their time in Civilian Public Service (CPS) and other programs during times of war. They shared their stories and told the younger generation of leaders and pastors what it was like to choose to love enemies and to work for the good of their country. It was a very powerful experience.

What I’m saying in all this is that you are loved and valued! And you are uniquely qualified precisely because of your age to take up this role in the congregation and beyond; to have this unofficial role of teaching, mentoring, giving counsel, praying for and telling stories of God’s faithfulness to the next generation. I encourage you to take up this role and allow yourselves to be used by God both to bless others and to be blessed as you serve God.

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Series: Paul to the Thessalonians

We’ve begun a series on Paul to the Thessalonians and we are working our way through 1 Thessalonians. We are letting the text take us wherever it goes, so whatever it talks about is going to be what we talk about. Today we are up to chapter 2:1-12 and, as we will see, the overall topic here is ministering with integrity.

Let’s remember briefly –

The situation in Thessalonica

Paul, Silvanus and Timothy had come to Thessalonica and had success in establishing a church. But they were chased out of town before they were ready to leave. And the new believers there were suffering persecution.

Traveling charlatans?

In our passage today, Paul is concerned about his reputation. There was no shortage of hucksters and scam artists in that day who would go from town to town seeking fame or fortune by conning people.

And it doesn’t help Paul’s image that he was forced out of town, just as he was in Philippi before this. And certainly a part of the persecution the Thessalonians were suffering was from people, maybe even family and friends, saying things like – “You got taken!” “He’s just another wandering quack.” “What’s wrong with you?”

This context explains two features of this passage. 1) The use of the phrase – “the gospel of God.” It’s used three times in this passage (vs. 2, 8, 9), but only three times in all of Paul’s other writings. And also, the word “God” is used nine times in these verses.

His point becomes clear in 2:13, when he says, you received the gospel “not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God.” He’s saying that they are not peddling myths, human wisdom or sophistry. They are sharing God’s own good news.

This background also explains 2) The trial technique he uses here (also see 1:5, etc.) It’s as if Paul and his team are on trial, and Paul is acting as a defense lawyer, calling on the Thessalonians as witnesses:

  • you yourselves know – v. 1
  • as you know – v. 2
  • as you know – v. 5
  • you remember – v. 9
  • you are witnesses – v. 10
  • even as you know – v. 11

He also calls on God as a witness, swearing two testimonial oaths in verses 5 and 10.

The purpose of this is to remind them that he, Silas and Timothy were not like these wandering hucksters. They had integrity as they ministered among the Thessalonians

The character of their ministry in Thessalonica

You have a handout that illustrates how these verses are carefully organized. I invite you to keep that handy. Let’s look at this a section at a time. First off –

Their ministry was not in vain. “1For you yourselves know, brothers and sisters, that our coming to you was not in vain.”  In the preceding verses in chapter 1, he has just noted how others have reported about their dramatic conversions. So he can certainly appeal here to their knowledge of this.

He’s saying, our preaching produced real results – you!

Next the focus shifts to their character. “2But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.” Even though they had suffered in Philippi and there was conflict in Thessalonica, they had “boldness in our God” to preach the gospel.

They were people of character, who, with God’s help, stood strong amidst opposition.

“3For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive . . ..” Here we have three false charges as to their motivation for preaching. Error or perhaps better “deceit,” impurity, or “impure motives” and an attempt to deceive or trick them. These are the kinds of accusations commonly made against charlatans. But none of these characterize Paul and his team.

Next he talks about their identity, or who they are. “. . . 4but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.” They are not hucksters, but rather people approved by God and entrusted with his message. And that is why they speak.

People can say what they want about them, but they preach to please God, not people. What people say is not their concern. What God says is their concern.

Next he comes back to their character.Carrying on the thought of not speaking to please people he says, “5For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed— God is witness. 6Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others . . ..” Again, three false charges often made against hucksters. They did not flatter them, that is just say nice things to gain their favor or to manipulate them. Their preaching was not for the sake of greed – to take their money. He denies this strongly with an oath, “God is witness.” That is, may God curse me if what I say isn’t true. And they didn’t seek glory or honor through their preaching. This might be money related. To be honored can also mean to be paid. Or it might simply mean to be praised by them.

“. . . though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ.” Literally it says, “we could have been weighty.” Like we say today they could have thrown their weight around asking for support.

The right to receive support from their hearers comes from Jesus himself (Luke 10:7). But Paul specifically gives up this right, at least with regard to new believers, only accepting support later (Philippians 4:16).

And he does this precisely to avoid being seen as just another wandering charlatan. This was a part of his missionary strategy – a cultural adaptation for taking the gospel to the Gentiles. As he says in 1 Corinthians 9:21, to the Gentiles I became like a Gentile “that I might win” them to the gospel.

“7But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. 8So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.” They were not demanding of them – trying to take from them,  money or honor. Rather, they came to share – the gospel and themselves, not take.

Paul uses the image of a nursing mother caring for her own children to describe their ministry. They were gentle, caring and affectionate. Their love for the Thessalonians comes out clearly, they were “very dear” to them.

Their ministry was not a burden. “9For you remember, sisters and brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.” In 2 Thessalonians 3:7 Paul even says, “nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it.”

They went out of their way not to be a burden to them. They gave up their rights to support and worked day and night.

Then finally Paul brings it all together in a closing statement. “10You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers.” Here he focuses on what they were like among them. He gives three descriptions – they were holy, righteous and blameless.

He again he calls on both them and God as witnesses. As the Scripture says, let everything be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:5).

“11For you know how, like a father with his children, 12we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.” Here we have three things that relate to what they did among the Thessalonians. They exhorted, encouraged and charged them.

We also have another parental image. Now Paul and team are like a father giving loving moral instruction and guidance. Specifically they taught them “to walk in a manner worthy of God.” Why? So that they will be ready to enter God’s “own kingdom and glory” on the final day.

Ministering without integrity?

Christian leaders are to be examples. Because their behavior speaks as loudly as their words. And when their behavior doesn’t fit their message, the message is discredited and God is discredited.

Some in Thessalonica sought to impugn Paul’s integrity in order to undermine his work and to unsettle the new believers.  But it wasn’t possible, because he was a man of integrity. They knew what he was like.

Sadly, we all know of others who have failed in this area:

– Priests or pastors who take advantage of their trust to sexually abuse those in their charge.

– Pastors who will say anything to “succeed” defined as having more and more people come to hear them.

– “Faith” healers who fake it, playing on people’s emotions and needs, while taking their money.

– Celebrity teachers who are in it to make money, selling books and getting rich – (even though Jesus said, “freely you have received, freely give” – Matthew 10:8).

There is an epidemic of a lack of integrity in American Christianity today. There is misuse of power, raw greed, the idolatry of “success,” and the acceptance of the celebrity culture of the world around us. And this disgraces God and it destroys the credibility of the message we preach. As Paul says in Romans 2:24, “The name of God is blasphemed among the (unbelievers) because of . . .” these things.

Christian witness without integrity?

Well, this doesn’t just apply to Christian leaders. Each of you are to be ministers for God in your daily lives. You are to be witnesses! Each of you bear on you the name of Jesus.

Does your life match up with your Christian confession? Do you engage in questionable business practices? Are you seen as a lazy or irresponsible worker?

Do you engage in obviously un-Christian behavior – drunkenness? Sexual immorality? Not paying your taxes? Slander? Lying? Breaking your word? Bullying?

Let me put it like this, when people find out that you are a Christian do they say, really? How can that be? What kind of a church do they go to? Or, what hypocrisy! Or do they say, yeah, that makes sense. I can see that.

Paul says in Philippians 2:15,  “. . . be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.”

Have integrity in your Christian witness. Be a light in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation. Instead of dishonor, let your life bring honor and glory to God.

William Higgins

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Jesus Visits Home: Mark 6:1-6

Today we are looking at a story from the gospel of Mark about Jesus visiting home. This is an interesting story for several reasons. One is that it tells us about –

Jesus’ personal life

1. He was a carpenter – v. 3. This is the only place in Scripture that says this. Now this doesn’t mean exactly what it means today. It refers to someone skilled at working with wood, metal or stone. So it could also mean he was a blacksmith or a stone mason – or some combination of these.

Joseph was also a carpenter and Jesus, no doubt, learned the trade from him (Matthew 13:55). Also, just to note, he was a skilled worker. So he would not have been dirt poor, at least when he was a carpenter.

2. He had a family – v. 3. He is “the son of Mary.” This is an unusual phrase since one would normally make reference to the father. This might indicate that Joseph has already died. Four brothers are mentioned as well as “sisters.”

Lets look more closely now at –

The story

– to see what else we can learn. vs. 1-2- “He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue . . ..”

Jesus had become famous in other parts of the country and now he has come back to his hometown, Nazareth. There is a bit of the dynamic of ‘local boy does good’ and so they are now curious to see what’s going on.

It was Jesus’ pattern to minister in synagogues, and this is another example. It says, “he began to teach.” He was, no doubt, teaching about the coming of the kingdom, the need for repentance and the call to live by his ethical teaching.

v. 2 – “. . . and many who heard him were astonished, saying, ‘Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands?’”

Mark uses “astonished” several times to refer to people being amazed and impressed by Jesus. Here it is used in a negative way. People are shocked; they are appalled.

Different bible versions punctuate the questions in v. 2 differently. I am working with the English Standard Version. Two things stand out:

  • wisdom – “what is this wisdom given to him?” This is related to his teaching ministry which they have just experienced.
  • mighty works – “how are such mighty works done by his hand?” This is related to his healing-miracle ministry that they would have heard about.

Their concern is with the source of these things. He must not have taught or done miracles before he left Nazareth and so this is all new and shocking. Where did he get this stuff from?

They continue asking questions in v. 3 – “’Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?’”

If the previous questions focused on “where” in asking about the source of his teaching and healing power, these focus on “who.” He is just one of us. Some of us changed his diapers when he was a baby. Some of us played games with him as a child. He did carpentry work on our house. The rest of his family is still here and they aren’t special!

Who does he think he is going around teaching and trying to heal people? What has gotten into his head? Jesus couldn’t grow up to be someone so important!

And the result of all these questions comes out at the end of v. 3 – “And they took offense at him.” Literally, they stumbled. They weren’t able to get past their knowledge of Jesus as a normal person; an average guy. And so they weren’t able to recognize him for who he was – the Messiah, or, as we will see, to receive what God was doing through him. They didn’t believe.

v. 4 – “And Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.’”

Jesus acknowledges what’s going on. They know him as just one of them, not as a prophet or as the Messiah. Its hard to see someone as a mighty servant of God when you changed their diapers or played with them as a child. Over familiarity is the obstacle here.

As the proverb says, prophets are typically honored, except in their hometown, by those who can’t see them as prophets. And so the town rejected Jesus.

And the last part of the saying – “his relatives and in his own household” -shows that even Jesus’ family didn’t accept him or his ministry. This would have included Mary, his mother and James his brother, later the leader of the church in Jerusalem.

They had expressed their unbelief earlier in Mark 3:21 when they came to him concerned about him, because they thought he was “out of his mind.” And now they reject him in this way.

This is all a foreshadowing of further rejection down the road for Jesus.

vs. 5-6 – “And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief.”

I have always been intrigued by these verses. In chapters 4-5 of Mark, Jesus shows himself to be the great teacher, giving the parables of the sower, the mustard seed and the harvest. He also shows himself to be the Lord of nature – calming the stormy sea. In 4:41 the disciples ask, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him.”

He also shows himself to be the Lord over all evil when he casts out a legion of demons and sets the man free. He is the great healer, who cured the woman whom no doctor could cure. And to top it off he shows himself to be the Lord of life when he raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead.

This is a portrait of Jesus as victorious in every way. No obstacle is too big for him – nature, demons, sickness or death. But then he comes home and he is stopped in his tracks. And what is the obstacle that stopped him? He is stopped by their unbelief.

This unbelief keeps him from being able to do what he wanted to do and what he could do among them. It limits him and his ministry to them.

Our story ends with a measure of symmetry. If they were astonished at him at the beginning, in the end he is amazed at them – for their lack of faith.

Lessons

1. This story is a reminder that rejection by others is a part of serving God. Even by friends and family.

Jesus said in Luke 6:22 – “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!” He also said in Matthew 10:36 – “a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.”

Jesus didn’t just teach this. He experienced it, as we see in this story. And if Jesus experienced this, who are we to think that we won’t have a taste of this?

2. We also learn that we must let God minister through whom he chooses. Every great man or woman of God is a normal person – they grew up and had a family. They don’t just drop out of heaven ready made with a halo over their head.

And sometimes because we know them, we can’t receive from them. We can’t receive what God want to say and do through them. We put them in a box.  But we should be open to receive of God from any person that God chooses to speak through. This is true of leaders and also as we seek to minister to one another with the gifts and callings that God gives to each of us in the body of Christ.

3. Our lack of faith can hinder God’s work. This story is a warning to us. Do you get the message? We can stop Jesus in his tracks even though there may be much that he wants to do in us and through us.

Did you know that we have such power? The way God has set things up – We have a role to play if God is going to do all that he intends – to help us and bless us. We have to believe to receive.

There is no limit to what God can do if we allow him. Jesus said in Mark 10:27, “all things are possible with God.” Ephesians 3:20 says, God “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.” But we have to believe. We have to open up our lives to him in faith, rely on him and trust in him to do it.

William Higgins

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