I’m excited that on Friday September 13, I’ll be able to share the Biblical Principles of Marriage, which was the subject of my first book. Then on Saturday the 14, I get to tell about some of the fascinating experiences I had in Iraq as an Army chaplain, which is what my second book is about. Although I am speaking as a volunteer and will not be paid, there is a cost to attend the program. If you want to find out more, click on the image above. Please pray for me and the entire conference as we help others prepare for the ministries God has called them to.
Helping is a major theme in the Bible. First, the Lord himself is our helper. Psalm 33:20 says, We wait for Yahweh; He is our help and shield, and in Psalm 46:1, God is our refuge and strength, a helper who is always found in times of trouble.
Second, the people of God are called to help others. Leviticus 25:35 says, If your brother becomes destitute and cannot sustain himself among you, you are to support him as a foreigner or temporary resident, so that he can continue to live among you. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 teaches, Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their efforts. For if either falls, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up. In each of these scenarios, the helper is the stronger, richer, or more able person.
But the scriptural injunction to help others goes beyond the countryman, the friend, or the neighbor, extending even to one’s enemy. Exodus 23:5, for example, says If you see the donkey of someone who hates you lying helpless under its load, and you want to refrain from helping it, you must help with it. And in Matthew 5:44, Jesus teaches his disciples, But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
A third way we see helping in the Bible is that ministry is considered to be a way of helping people. When describing Paul’s Macedonian call, Acts 16:9 says, During the night a vision appeared to Paul: A Macedonian man was standing and pleading with him, “Cross over to Macedonia and help us!”
Fourth, there is a spiritual gift called the Gift of Helps in 1 Corinthians 12:28. And God has placed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, next miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, managing, various kinds of languages.
And fifth, in Genesis 2:18, marriage is initiated by God to be a helping relationship.
When I answered the phone, it was my uncle. Though he had sons of his own and I had a father, he always called me “Son.”
“Son, I understand you want to be a pastor?”
“So you think you’re called, huh?”
“Yes, sir. I do.”
“Son, if you are really called to the ministry, meet me at the church Thursday morning and spend the day with me.”
My classes at San Diego State were on Monday-Wednesday-Friday, so Thursday morning I got up and went to the church. I had no idea what he had in mind. After chatting for a few minutes, he said, “Follow me.” We got into his car and, without saying a word, drove to the outskirts of town, pulled up to a cluster of tiny, two-room shacks, and parked on the dirt in front of a small green hut, too small to be called a house or an apartment, yet this was someone’s home.
Uncle got out of the car, and I followed. We walked up to the door of one of the units, and he knocked. No answer. He knocked again, louder this time. Again, no answer. “I know he’s in there.”
He tried the door, and found that it was unlocked. Slowly he opened it, and went in. There on the bed in the small two-room cabin was a man: drunk, passed out. A mixture of vomit, diarrhea, urine, and alcohol on the bed, walls, sofa, and floor. The stench was overwhelming, as if attacking my nostrils and throat. I thought I was going to throw up.
Without saying a word, without even a grimace, the pastor took off his suit coat and tie and handed them to me. I watched as the man of God took on the role of the servant. He turned on the water to fill the tub, then went over to the bed. He undressed the man, rolled up his putrid clothing, and placed them into a garbage bag. He picked up the still-unconscious drunkard, naked and filthy, placed him carefully into the tub, and bathed him. I thought of the scene in the Gospel of John where Peter said to the Lord, “Wash all of me. Not just part of me.”
After washing the drunk, who never did wake up, he said, “Watch him to make sure he doesn’t drown.” Then he went back to the bed, stripped it of the blankets and sheets, and put those into the bag with the clothes. Finding an old towel, he mopped the walls and the floor, repeatedly going over to the sink to rinse the crud away. He searched the dresser drawers til he found a set of clean sheets and a blanket, and made the bed. There was a fresh pair of pajamas in a drawer, and he placed them on the end of the bed.
After cleaning up the place, my uncle returned to the bathroom, dried off the comatose man, carried him to the bed, and put the pajamas on him. Covered him up, and tucked him in. Then he took the bag of soiled clothing, bed linens, and a few other things that needed to be laundered, walked out to the car, and put them in the trunk of his car.
After locking the man’s door, we got into the car. The foul smell was not confined to the trunk of the car. It filled the passenger compartment as well. The stench came with us, not only because of the awful stuff in the trunk, but because the filth had gotten onto my uncle’s suit. Although by now it was almost time for lunch, I thought I was going to lose my breakfast.
Instead of going back to the church, we drove to the pastor’s home, where he took the bag from the trunk, went straight to the laundry room, and washed the man’s clothes and bed linens. After showering, my uncle dressed, and we went back to the church. Before I got into my car to go home, he said to me, “Son, that’s what ministry is all about. Good people soil themselves and make a mess of their lives because of sin. Your job as a pastor is to find out what Jesus wants you to do about it. And then do it.”
Though my uncle is no longer alive, I never forgot him — or that lesson. As we go about the daily tasks that the Lord has called us to do, sometimes we find ourselves cleaning up our own messes; sometimes the messes other people have made. The ugly scenes are often the result of sin, our own or someone else’s. Some of the mountains of debris we are called to help clean up are caused by years of neglect, ignorance, discouragement, abuse, or failure.
In Lakeland, Florida, at the center of Southeastern University’s campus, is a bronze sculpture of Jesus washing the feet of one of his disciples. The sculpture is titled “Divine Servant.” I think of my uncle almost every time I see it. It is a great work of art, beautifully depicting the call for genuine disciples to be servant ministers. Ironically, the sculpture is beautiful, whereas the brokenness of human lives is quite unattractive, and working with broken people can get ugly.
In his book, Facing Messy Stuff in the Church, Ken Swetland talks about the ugly, painful situations church leaders have to deal with. “Churches are made up of sinners whose lives are broken – sometimes because of their own choices, sometimes because of experiencing wrongs outside of their control. . . . Resolutions are hard to come by.” He goes on to write that the church is “. . . a fellowship of people who come together to worship God, serve him in the world, and be agents of healing in the lives of broken people who make up the church.”
As we respond to the situations that people have made of their lives, their families, their cities, or their nation, it is helpful to keep in mind that we have a rich heritage of serving in Jesus’ name, cleaning up the stench and the debris of people’s lives. As my uncle said, that’s what ministry is all about.