I thought I’d share a real life example of how full and interesting the life of service is that I am encouraging by sharing about our experiences teaching at an assisted living center. Notice that there is nothing here that would indicate any great wisdom or skills on our part. We are just faithful servants, which is what I encourage all people to be. We actually consider ourselves to be in the “1 talent” category in the story of the talents found in Matthew 25. We in my family are all by nature shy and I am an engineer that has “the knack” (A joke meaning technically minded with “utter social ineptitude”). So I can confidently and sincerely say that if we can do it, anyone can. All it takes is availability.
After hearing of the idea of a nursing home ministry, I prayed about it for several months. I knew it was God’s will as James 1:27 says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (There are two parts to this verse and it’s rare that people do both. They either serve others or protect their family from harmful influences but not both.) And also compelling me were the strong words of Jesus in Matthew 25 where he tells those on His left to depart from Him because, among other things, he was sick and they did not visit him. But to the others he said these blessed words “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” We often remind ourselves that we’re going to visit Jesus; it’s strong motivation.
So after God closed the door to the little church we were going to, on my 40th birthday, (not on purpose but as it turned out), I talked to an assisted living center down the road about them needing a volunteer preacher on Sunday morning. They were very welcome to the idea as most of the residents grew up in church and many really missed being able to go now. They basically asked “when can you start”. It has been a blessing ever since.
In fact this book is really just a compilation of several sermons I’ve prepared over the years. This book represents years of research and study, but since I did it slowly over several years for weekly sermons it was not a daunting or difficult task.
It has also been good for us. I’ve been learning how to preach and this is helping me see all sorts of new things in the Word. For example I’ve learned a lot about prayer as I’ve been preaching on it. Notice in Paul’s letters that he often starts off his letter by how he’s been praying for them and ends the letter asking them to pray for him. This was the great Apostle Paul but he knew the power of prayer and asked for it often.
The Lord led me to preach on prayer a lot one year and it actually benefited us twice that year. Earlier in the year I was having some serious esophagus problems and one of the sweet ladies had a burden to pray for me. My esophagus got remarkably better. Also, after trying for almost a year to sell our house, one of the ladies felt a real burden one week to pray that we’d sell the house. We had an open house, had at least 6-8 families come by, and 3 offers. Now that’s remarkable because we hadn’t had a single offer in almost a year, not even a low-ball offer. I had an open house about a month before and only one person showed up. And I couldn’t trace it to any other difference. I thought it was kind of surreal to teach the church to pray, and then benefit from those prayers. But in all honesty, both of these saints were well-acquainted with prayer ministry.
It’s good for the whole family; we are all getting out of our shell to care for others. We tend to be very shy but this is helping us. Our son Sam is slowly getting out of his shell too, though he must have our genes because it’s hard for him. But he’s doing a show and tell every week where he stands before the whole church (usually about 10-15 people) and presents the item. Not bad for a start.
Here’s a funny story. One of the ladies asked Sam what his name was. He said it in his usual low voice, and she sweetly said, “What was that”? He said it again about the same and she very sweetly said, “I think I caught some of it but I’m not sure,” in such a friendly way. Then he said a very loud “SAM”, and she said, “Oh, Sam!” What a funny way to get him out of his shyness. The people are very sweet and so appreciative.
We’ve met so many interesting people. Older people have interesting stories to tell and they are kind of funny. They seem to have a freedom about them that others don’t. And of course they’ve matured in many ways; they’re usually decent and not driven by pride, lust or greed. So it’s been a real joy to serve them and fellowship with them.
Nora was a 94-year-old lady who was mentally still very sharp. We enjoyed going up to visit her during the week and listen to her stories. She told stories of going through the great depression and how they used to live without the modern conveniences. And because of her I believe we must officially be the MOST “come as you are” church in Oklahoma City. She was completely modest, but came to church in a bathrobe. She even picked out a matching scarf to go with it. This is perfectly fine in our church and it actually didn’t look bad at all. Match that for come as you are! Then she turned toward the worse and had to go to a nursing home. We had her daughter’s phone number and so we called and found out where she was and were able to visit her in the very last days of her life.
Hilda is a sweet lady from Germany who still has some accent. She is the one who asked Sam what his name was. She has a cat that Sam liked to visit, before he got one of his own. She wandered off once and so now she is in the memory care unit, which is locked down to protect residents with memory problems. A funny story with her was on Pulpit Freedom Sunday, where pastors are encouraged to speak on election issues, and so challenge the very illegal rule from the IRS where pastors don’t have the constitutional freedom of speech (Goggle Johnston Amendment for more info). Of course this doesn’t apply to me because we are not a 501 c 3 organization (we don’t take donations) but I still joined in. I was speaking on something and Hilda said “oh brother” in a very disgusted and somewhat loud voice. I finished the sermon and afterwards made it a point to lead her back to the memory care area as the others talked. I asked if I had said something that offended her and she in total sweetness said absolutely I had not, even after I asked a couple times. She had completely forgotten the whole thing! Of course that means she also forgets the sermon but it’s still a privilege to serve Jesus in this way and many of the other residents are still totally coherent and so the messages do help them.
Beverly was another interesting widow we got to know. Her husband was a fighter pilot and was killed in the 1967 war in Israel. She still had his military picture above her bed and never remarried. She was just a super sweet lady and could be really funny sometimes. At the end of a good sermon she would sometimes yell out “yeeee haaaww” which Sam thought was so funny. It made for a lively church service. We have her son’s phone number and we actually followed her to another assisted living center, hospital, and rehab center. Every time we saw her, she gave the most excited and appreciative greeting. One time while she was in the hospital with serious health problems we saw her transform from being very introverted and depressed looking to exploding with excitement when she saw us.
On one of our weekday visits we brought the neighbor girl, Caydence, to help her develop a love for serving others. At our recommendation, she had drawn a picture to have ready and she gave it to one of our residents, Cora. A week later Cora pulled the picture out of her purse and showed me she still had the picture. I took a photo of her with the picture and sent it to Caydence to show her how much it meant to Cora. Since then Caydence has always wanted to go with us whenever she can to visit Cora.
Paula has Down Syndrome and is one of the youngest residents, in her 50’s. She is super super sweet and caring and knew everything going on in the center. She helped us get residents on Sunday morning, letting us know who’s gone and such. Her sister visits her fairly often and on one of the visits they came out to visit our farm and thoroughly enjoyed it. Even though she doesn’t read she loves to collect books, we hardly ever see her without one.
One family came along that was especially encouraging to us. Some part of the family would always come to church with the resident, Emma. She was always just glowing with delight and her family always expressed strong thankfulness to us for what we were doing. She had to go to another facility and we were closing on a house and I didn’t have the time to find her new location, though I thought of them several times. But when Emma developed a serious health issue and died, the family came and found me and asked me to do the funeral. As a pastor to an assisted living center, you don’t have to be super polished or professional; they give you lots of grace (or better called “mercy”). But I knew the seriousness of this situation and wanted to serve the family by doing a good job. So my family and I prayed real hard and I worked hard on the message. The Lord really helped me (and I mean that) give a good sermon to the family and moved my heart with compassion. I know it was the Lord because I went over it a couple times with my family and it was totally flat, and just before the service I was going through my notes and it was still confusing. But it all really came together when the service started. I just looked at the faithful husband of 67 years who was grieving and did it all for him. I even slowed down and talked normal, (I tend to talk too fast normally). So we showed them love and I was able to give the family a very comforting message as I was sure she was a Christian. I was also able to, with the family’s permission, mix in a very strong repentance type message in a loving way to the rest of the family and friends, as I’m sure Emma would want. Many people thanked me afterwards for it.
What an opportunity to preach a strong, but loving, message to people that might not ever otherwise step foot in the church and at a time where they must be thinking about eternity. Also it is from a position where you have earned their respect by serving a member of the family. It is such an awesome opportunity. My friends who struggle in the street corner ministry downtown would be jealous for such an opportunity.
We’ve been there long enough for people to see our sincere love and are starting to take notice. We almost feel like part of the staff. One time two of the staff started asking for my notes to read later. One young girl was a Christian, who has to work on Sunday, and like all of us, needs exhortation to live for God. She worked in the memory care area and if a few of her residents came out to our service she took the excuse to come out and be with them in the service. The other is a young man from Africa with a heavy accent and may have been seeking the truth of God for the first time. So I was glad to share my notes with these two. I was very careful with my notes to make sure they were complete and easy to understand, which helped later when I incorporated them into this book. Circumstances moved them on and away from our center, which also happened with several others who started to take interest at other times. We were assured from friends who also minister like this that we planted seeds and God will continue to water them. Several family members have also joined our services. One time a son came in and his mother was already in the service so he joined the service, and from his expression he really needed to hear some truth. I tried my best while I had him. A few times staff members or family members have asked my wife for counseling on different matters. We call ourselves the church in the world but not of it.
Therefore, as you see, in addition to taking care of the widow and visiting the sick as Jesus commanded, we are also able to share our light in collateral ways with family and staff as we show our love with faithful service as God provides the strength. Also, as I said before, the good it has done us is wonderful. It has totally changed the way I see “church”. Church is not something we go “to”, to be blessed by, but after time it’s supposed to be something you serve in, and not just in the 4 walls of the building. As Hebrews 5:12 says, “In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again.” I don’t think you can take a doctrine out of this that you have to be a teacher after a certain time, but it is an indication that it was somewhat expected.
Everybody needs to be active for the Lord like this, it’s great!