This lesson gives me mixed feelings. For almost 35 years I was a member of the Adventist Church in Manassas, Virginia. When I joined, the church leaders immediately asked me to be an elder. I challenged them: "Why should I be an elder? Because I'm a lawyer?" On the other hand, I've been involved in many evangelistic outreaches in Manassas. No effort was ever made to bring in educated "professional class" members. We never converted anyone with a Ph.D or professional doctorate. Church always seemed this bizarre mix. We would never target professionals for conversion, but if we had a professional in the church, they were almost always made a leader. What does the Bible say, if anything, about these kinds of issues? Let's plunge into our study and find out!
The environment that Jesus was raised in doesn't seem to fit a lot of our visions of it. First is that Nazareth was very small, the latest population estimate being something less than 480 people (Wikipedia article on Nazareth). Second is that even though Galilee had a mixed population Nazareth was apparently one of the few towns that was totally Jewish or nearly so (ibid.). Probably because of that it had a synagogue (Lk 4:16).
In spite of its strong Jewish culture the town apparently had a bad reputation (Jn 1:46) which became evident when they tried to kill Jesus (Lk 4:28-29). They would not believe Him (Mk 6:4-6) because of familiarity with His family, in fact, even His own family generally didn't believe him (Jn 7:5) which included James who later became the head of the church (Acts 15; Acts 21:8; Gal 1:19; Gal 2:9).
So it wasn't just poverty but everything in the social environment that was against Him from the start. I think that must have given Him a very real sense of the plight of the lower classes in Jewish society.
"Discipling the Ordinary"
February 8, 2014
Texts: Luke 2:21-28; Matthew 15:32-39; Matthew 16:13-17; Luke 12:6, 7; Luke 13:1-5; James 2:1-9
One might not think that an ordinary 18-year-old girl from Tennessee could make a huge impact for God. But when you hear the story of Katie Davis, you may think otherwise.
In December of 2006, Katie travelled to Uganda on a short-term mission trip. Both the people and the country immediately captivated her. She returned the next summer as a permanent resident and kindergarten teacher for an orphanage.
When she discovered that the area of Uganda where she'd be working had only privately operated schools that many families couldn't afford, she started a sponsorship program. Today over 600 children are sponsored through Amazima Ministries.
After developing friendships with the local village women, Katie wanted to help them provide for their families. They desperately needed work in order to make a better life for their children living with unsanitary conditions, malnutrition, and disease. But no respectable jobs were available-only prostitution, alcohol brewing, and trash picking. So Amazima Ministries established a self-sustaining vocational program for mothers. The women make unique, handmade necklaces and bracelets using recycled magazine paper. These are sold in the U.S. and the proceeds allow the mothers to feed their children, send them to school, and even buy land for houses.
Katie also started a feeding program in the slum outside Jinja, Uganda. Amazima Ministries now feeds lunch to over 1,200 children, five days a week. The ministry also provides the opportunity for members of the Masese community to receive medical assistance during the week.
And if all this weren't enough, in 2008, at the age of 20, Katie officially became the mother of three orphaned girls. Since then she has adopted 10 more daughters and is now the proud mother of 13 Ugandan girls. She has written about her experience in the book, Kisses from Katie.1
Speaking of her work, Katie says, "People tell me I am brave. People tell me I am strong. People tell me good job. Well here is the truth of it. I am really not that brave, I am not really that strong, and I am not doing anything spectacular. I am just doing what God called me to do as a follower of Him. Feed His sheep, do unto the least of His people."2
Rich Stearns, President of World Vision U.S., writes, "Through Katie's life, we're reminded how God can use ordinary people to do extraordinary things for Him. We simply need to be willing to be used."3
If you feel like an "ordinary" person, then you're in good company! Just take a look at Jesus' earthly parents. They were ordinary people. Then take a look at Peter, one of Jesus' most influential disciples. He was a common fisherman. And also take a look at most of the people Jesus ministered to. Jesus sought out the poor, the oppressed, and the social outcasts.
How is it that Jesus can use ordinary people? Because all that is required is a servant's heart. And if you have that, you are actually extraordinary.
Additional resource: youtu.be
The word of the day is Potential. Everyone has potential. No one can decide what its limits are. Only God knows. And we must try to develop potential; not just in ourselves but also in those we serve. Potential.
“In the common walks of life there is many a man patiently treading the round of daily toil, unconscious that he possesses powers which, if called into action, would raise him to an equality with the world’s most honored men. The touch of a skillful hand is needed to arouse those dormant faculties.” (Ellen White, Desire of Ages, p 250)
And no one saw the potential in individuals like Jesus did (and does). Besides the lesson-packed selections of His disciples, we see Jesus constantly ignoring social norms and connecting with those who are normally relegated to be the last and the least.
He took wild men and turned them into successful missionaries. He took women of ill repute and turned them into city-wide evangelists. He took children and turned them into team members integral in miracles that are being recounted thousands of years later. He took cripples, blind folks, deaf, dying and even the dead and turned them into living praise teams and broadcasters of the good news.
Discipling the Ordinary did not begin during New Testament times. Thousands of years before our Saviour was born of a woman, He was changing the ordinary into the extraordinary. Remember the story of when a king was needed and our Lord chose a young boy?
The Prophet Samuel stood perplexed before Jesse and his sons. He had come on a dangerous journey to anoint the next king that would replace the rejected King Saul. Directed to the house of Jesse Samuel looked upon Eliab and assumed that he was Jehovah’s choice. He had the look that just seemed to signify nobility and a natural replacement to stand as a leader of Israel. But Samuel was wrong.
“But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7
Out tending the sheep was the young man destined to be the next king of Israel. There was nothing outwardly to suggest his potential to be anything other than a common man doing common things. But God reads the heart and the rest is history.
The experience of David, rising from obscurity to prominence, has been repeated in the lives of many of our favorite Bible characters, illustrating that everyone has potential and that it is never left up to man to determine how far another can go in life or how much someone else can accomplish for God’s glory.
“There is no limit to the usefulness of one who, by putting self aside, makes room for the working of the Holy Spirit upon his heart, and lives a life wholly consecrated to God. If men will endure the necessary discipline, without complaining or fainting by the way, God will teach them hour by hour, and day by day. He longs to reveal His grace. If His people will remove the obstructions, He will pour forth the waters of salvation in abundant streams through the human channels. If men in humble life were encouraged to do all the good they could do, if restraining hands were not laid upon them to repress their zeal, there would be a hundred workers for Christ where now there is one.” Ellen White, Desire of Ages, p 250
Wouldn’t it be a wonderful testimony to hear from individuals that we had been instrumental in developing their potential? Wouldn’t it be great to see the unpromising turn into champions for the Kingdom of God in part because we took the time to invest in their lives? Wouldn’t it be something to do unto others as we would like them to do unto us? The word of the day is Potential.
Here are a few Hit the Mark questions for this week’s lesson discussion:
?What does “potential” mean to you?
?How does a person’s upbringing determine their potential? Or does it? Why?
?Is Bible knowledge the most important element needed for developing Christian potential? Why or why not?
?Can past behavior be a good indicator of future actions? Explain.
?What is the lesson of Matthew 7:6, “neither cast ye your pearls before swine”? Do we need discernment to know how to invest our time, energy, and resources? How do we obtain that discernment?
?From a church congregation’s point of view, what are some ways that hinder the potential of members, especially young members?
?Does the Bible teach that there should be no differences in our interaction with others regardless of their position and/or rank in life? Explain.
We close this week with the words of the Apostle James who speaks with authority from first-hand experience under the direct discipleship of Jesus:
“My dear friends, don’t let public opinion influence how you live out our glorious, Christ-originated faith. If a man enters your church wearing an expensive suit, and a street person wearing rags comes in right after him, and you say to the man in the suit, “Sit here, sir; this is the best seat in the house!” and either ignore the street person or say, “Better sit here in the back row,” haven’t you segregated God’s children and proved that you are judges who can’t be trusted?
Is it clear to you that God has chosen the world’s down-and-out as the kingdom’s first citizens, with full rights and privileges? This kingdom is promised to anyone who loves God. You do well when you complete the Royal Rule of the Scriptures: “Love others as you love yourself.” James 2:1-8 The Message
Discipling the Ordinary
Commentary for the February 8, 2014 Sabbath School Lesson
“Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Matthew 9:35-36, NIV
Some might find it strange that Jesus would think of the people as sheep without a shepherd. After all, wasn’t Herod in charge? Wasn’t Pilate the Roman governor? Wasn’t Caiaphas the high priest? Were there not many priests, Levites, and scribes to instruct the people? How could Jesus feel this way? Perhaps He was naïve or confused. Surely He could see that the people had many leaders to shepherd them. Maybe He did see all of this and yet still felt that way.
Was it possible that what He saw was shepherds who instead of caring for the sheep, were jostling and shoving for power and control over the flock and each other? Perhaps wherever there is opportunity for leadership there is also a temptation to abuse it. Did Paul create a monster for modern Christianity when he wrote, “Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task,”[i] Some seem to have read in that simple note license to bite, claw, scratch and backstab in order to achieve clerical and lay ecclesiastical offices. While all are sinners,[ii] even those who aspire to greater office, some who perhaps have managed to keep their sins hidden from public view may privately gloat when an opponent is less perspicacious about the need to do so. And even if their opponent is more circumspect, there is always the possibility of ferreting something out that will challenge someone’s reputation enough to remove them as a viable opponent for a coveted position of power.
We see such Machiavellian machinations in the field of civil politics where much dirt is flung back and forth in the hope that some of it will stick and allow the flinger to gain a moral advantage in striving for public office. As disgusting as it is, we have perhaps become resigned to such antics from political candidates. However, we may not be aware how much it is present in the Christian church, also. Sadly, it may even be worse for outwardly everything may appear beautiful and circumspect, but hidden away behind closed doors the dirt is tossed around without the victim even knowing that it is happening.[iii]
While I wish it were otherwise, I have seen such behavior hidden away from the general church population, while I was serving on various committees and boards of the church. For example, I have been approached by those who would have a sitting elder “dealt with” and punished by being removed from office based on an allegation of bad behavior. When referred to the biblical process for dealing with such things in Matthew, chapter eighteen, his accusers refused to follow a process that would bring their accusations out into the open. Instead, they insisted that they wanted the church committee or board to deal with the individual by removing them from office solely on the accuser’s say so without benefit of a defense. Of course, they often tend to see themselves or a close friend or family member as an ideal replacement candidate.
Those who engage in such smear campaigns sometimes do not rest even if frustrated in their initial attempt. Often such obstacles only seem to encourage them to begin a continuous campaign of defamation until they achieve their goal. They may bring other family members or friends to add their denunciations to the pool. A network of spies may begin to secretly report anything suspect no matter how trivial. They may print and share privately what they feel are questionable communications obtained from the internet, careful to add their own interpretive commentary.
The interesting paradox is that this behavior often pertains only to positions of control and power. In the Seventh-day Adventist denomination this might apply locally to the lay positions of Sabbath School Superintendent, Elders, and particularly Head Elder. While many positions that do not give individuals such control go begging for people to fill them, ugly battles may rage over the rest. It is not uncommon to see family dynasties seize control of the Head Eldership, with supporting family members or friends they can count on assuming other remaining local positions of power, perhaps other elderships, as a political reward for their support once the family has been victorious in its struggle. When the battle has been won at the local church level then the power base is established to similarly battle for influence and control at the higher levels of conference, union, and division. It would seem to be naïve to think that such struggles in the local church do not also play out in these larger arenas.
Sadly, too many have been wounded beyond healing over the years by such “Christian” infighting. The nurture of the flock is neglected and the sheep may be pretty much left to themselves as long as they do not have the temerity to challenge those who have fought so hard to obtain and consolidate power. At times some within the flock will bleat out a concern about the failure of the church to evangelize and add new members. However, they may not understand the behind the scenes scheming that makes it difficult to focus outwardly.
New members are a threatening unknown quantity. They do not understand “how things work” and may come into conflict with the already established culture of power and control that no one is currently questioning. Until those in power find them “safe,” new members may find themselves very much on the outside of things. This may go on for some time until the members leave in frustration, never having felt that they belonged, or they may begin to build their own power base to challenge the existing cadre. This can more easily happen if the new member or members can muster more charisma than the current leaders.
Lest we think that Jesus was not thinking of such things when He referred to the ordinary people being like “sheep without a shepherd,” we perhaps should consider the words of Isaiah. He was the prophet who identified Jesus as the true Shepherd.[iv] He wrote of the greedy shepherds, “Israel’s watchmen are blind, they all lack knowledge; they are all mute dogs, they cannot bark; they lie around and dream, they love to sleep. They are dogs with mighty appetites; they never have enough. They are shepherds who lack understanding; they all turn to their own way, they seek their own gain.”[v]
Such shepherds see the flock only as a means to build a power base for further gain and greater power. When it comes to truly protecting the flock, they are like sheepdogs unable to bark, because they lack even a basic knowledge of the needs of the sheep in the flock and what it takes to meet those needs. They will utter platitudes of faith and prayer while doing little to involve themselves in those needs.[vi] A Head Elder who has not visited the homes of the church members to know their situations is likely a faithless shepherd. The same may be said of one who has not visited the homes in the neighborhood around the church to know their situations.
To be sure, there are those in leadership positions who try to faithfully fulfill their responsibilities as shepherds, but often, like Nicodemus, they are relegated to roles as bit players and if necessary shouted down by those who exercise the actual political power and control.[vii] Young pastors in their naïveté may come to their first parish with a desire to impartially serve their parishioners with grace and compassion, but they will quickly be instructed by the parish’s power brokers whom it is they must appease, and how they should not upset the normal order of things. If those in power choose to withhold their financial support because the pastor has “forgotten his place,” the unwise pastor may soon feel the heat from his bosses at the local conference. Sometimes the grip on power is so widespread that more than one conference, and even the union, may begin to raise the temperature in the pastor’s parish.
If this is the way with the sheep within the fold, how is there any hope for those who are not yet in the fold? Can a church which calls itself the remnant, last-day church[viii] charged with bringing the Earth the final message[ix] fulfil its mission under the leadership of such shepherds? Perhaps not, but what is the solution?
Much of the political chicanery takes place behind the scenes through private meetings that arrange for supposedly democratic votes but with predetermined outcomes. Perhaps a better, more Christian method of conducting business would be with total transparency. Instead of providing an atmosphere for hidden manipulation as closed meetings can be prone to, examine the motives of all involved and understand how they would gain in power and prestige if things went their way. Then remove from participation those that would have such conflicts of interest as to profit from a committee, board or constituency vote.
Those with such a grip on power will not easily surrender it. They would likely not agree to transparency in any meaningful sense. But rather than give up the struggle for right perhaps we should remember the words of Jesus. ““With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”[x]
[i] 1 Timothy 3:1, NIV
[ii] Romans 3:23
[iii] Matthew 23:27
[iv] Isaiah 40:10-11
[v] Isaiah 56:10-11, NIV
[vi] James 2:15-16
[vii] John 7:50-52
[viii] Revelation 12:17
[ix] Revelation 14:6-12
[x] Matthew 19:26, NIV
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