February 12, 2016

The “Ministry”

Category: News — Ira @ 6:00 pm


Silence receive us, and the field of peace, hush of the
measureless land,…replenish us, restore us, and unite us
with your vast images of quietness and joy…come swiftly
now; engulf us,…speak to our hearts of stillness, for we
have, save this, no speech.

—Thomas Wolfe

It was a slow Saturday morning at work last month. Not a lot going on. Saturdays are like that sometimes. There’s only one guy in the office, and one guy in the yard. And you’re either sitting there twiddling your thumbs, or you’re slammed with crowds of customers. It’s one way or the other, mostly. Ain’t no in-between.

About mid morning, the door bell jingled. A customer. I got up from my desk and stood at attention behind the counter. Two guys and a woman walked in. A youngish man, in his thirties, maybe. And an older couple, who looked to be the parents. I greeted them. They smiled and greeted me back, all three of them. Friendly people, seemed like. And I asked them. What can I do for you today?

They were looking for a pole building, of course. It seemed a little odd, though, as we got to talking. The older guy told me. He and his wife lived up in one of the small provinces in northeastern Canada. He told me where. Wow, I said. I was born in Canada, but I never got that far east and north. Anyway, the younger guy was their son, just like I’d figured. And Dad and Mom were wanting to move down to this area, to be with their son and his family. They wanted to convert the attached garage on the son’s home into living quarters. And the parents would live there. That meant the son needed a new garage, to move his stuff to. And I thought about it, real fleetingly, right there. I wonder how that’ll work out, having your parents live in your garage. I mean, I loved my Dad and Mom. But I couldn’t ever envision such a thing as that. But it was none of my business. So I leaned over on the counter and engaged. I asked questions. What size garage did they need? Their basic budget? And the three of them just stood there and we talked.

I thought about it a few times. The son was very clean-cut. Maybe a little too clean. Reminded me of the people I hung with down at Bob Jones University years ago. It was a formal setting, all the daily classes were. Everyone always acted all happy and chirpy. And all around, all kinds of happy rote prayers floated up to heaven every day. I can’t remember that I heard much honesty from anyone. This guy reminded me of all that, somehow. He was just a little too cleaned up. All strictly my opinion, of course.

We stood there, talking, taking little bunny trails off to the side now and then, for the next fifteen minutes or so. And then the door bell jingled again. I looked over. A young woman. Modestly dressed in a skirt and jacket. She wore some kind of knitted hat on her head. Dark, long hair. No question, she was strikingly beautiful. She walked right on over and stood with the others. The young guy’s wife. And after greeting me, she joined the conversation. And again, I wondered fleetingly, as I talked to her, talked to them all. How in the world is it gonna work, to have these older people living in what now is your garage? I hope it all does work out. But I can see a lot of potholes, lots of danger points ahead. Not because I know any of you. But I know little bit about human nature.

I’m rambling here, a little bit, too. Still, it all fits, I think. We chatted along for another ten minutes. I gave them some good grasp of what they were looking at, cost-wise. The young couple stood there, right in front of my counter computer. And I noticed the younger woman when she saw it. The poster I have taped to the front. The poster of my book. She looked a little startled, then looked at it more closely. Absorbed it. Then looked at me. Then at the poster. Then at me again.

“Did you write this book?” She asked, a touch of wonder in her voice. Yep, I said. A few years back. It’s done pretty well. And the husband looked, now, too. Read the poster. “Growing Up Amish,” he mused. And he asked, suddenly. “Are you born again? We’re Christians. We go to (Blank) Baptist Church right here in Chester County.”

I nodded and smiled. I’m a believer, yes. I said. And they both beamed at me, all welcoming and kind. Still, there was that bit of reservation in their eyes. I could see what they were thinking. This guy claims to believe. We’ll take his word for it. But we’ll keep our guard up, too, until he proves himself. That’s the feeling I got, that they were feeling. The parents, during this little exchange, stood blissfully off to the side, murmuring dreamily to each other of living in their son’s garage. There were no questions at all about my faith from Dad and Mom. They seemed very content to take me at my word. No judgment exuded from them.

I guess I shouldn’t say I felt judgment from the younger couple, either. But they were just so clean cut, so perfectly coiffed, and, oh, so Christian. The kind you pick out from across the room because they’re standing there, looking all grim and holy, while everyone else is having a drink and playing cards and having a grand old time. It’s not enough, to politely decline the invitation to the party. They have to show up and make sure everyone sees how strongly they disapprove of such sinful behavior. That’s what they reminded me of. People like that.

And then the wife smiled a dazzling and knowing smile. A secret smile, like we were in the same club, and knew the sign. She gushed at me. “Oh,” she half squealed. “You come from the Amish, and you’re born again.” And then it came. The million dollar question. The one they would judge me on. “Do you have a ministry to the Amish people, now that you left? Now that you’re born again?” And again, that dazzling, 1000-watt smile. You and I know what unwashed people like the Amish need. That’s what she was telling me. But are you doing that? Are you telling them what it is to live right, like you should be?

I smiled at them both. The older couple still stood off to the side. Still blissfully uninvolved in the conversation, still dreaming about their future. I wondered again, fleetingly, how in the world it would be, to go and live in the garage of your son and his wife. And I looked at them both, that son and his wife, and smiled again. And promptly failed the test they’d put me up to. Not only did I fail, I flunked it spectacularly.

No, ma’am, I told the striking young woman with the dazzling smile. No, I do not have a “ministry” to the Amish people. Actually, I don’t have a ministry to anyone. My Amish friends accept me as I am, and I accept them as they are. If I ever “minister” to them, it’s through my actions. And I don’t know it. I kept smiling at them; they smiled back with frozen smiles. I talked on. I got a hard enough time looking after myself. To me, it’s a miracle that I can take the free gift of grace. I got nothing against people who have ministries of whatever kind. But I just walk. I figure that’s pretty much what I’m called to do. Just keep walking.

They both took it tolerably well, I have to say. The dazzling smile dimmed maybe just a fraction, you had to look hard to notice. The man smiled, too. I had let them down, but they were all generous and uplifting. I made some comment that I keep a few copies of the book around here, in case anyone would ever care to buy one. Neither of them showed the slightest inclination or interest. We wound down, then. I reached across the counter and shook hands with all of them. They thanked me very much for my time. Not a problem, I said. That’s what I’m here for. And they all rambled out. And I wondered again how that was going to go, the parents living in the garage of their son. In my heart, I wished all of them well. The parents, especially. I’m sure there will have to be grace and forbearance from all sides, when and if they ever get moved into that garage.

And I have thought about those people a lot since that Saturday. What exactly does it mean, to have a “ministry” to anyone? Why is it so important to some people, to be seen as ministering? What drives the desire? Selfless ideals? Ego? Is it the natural superiority that comes from knowing you have something that others don’t, that others need? I’m not judging the woman, or her question to me. And I got no problem if she or you or anyone else wants to run around out there “ministering” to whoever it is that needs it.

But somehow, I’ve always recoiled instinctively from the term. Maybe it’s the Amish blood in me. Ministry. It just sounds so, well, so perfect. I know a little bit about human nature. And I know when you’re consciously stooping down to “help” another, you are not at that person’s level. You can’t be, reaching down. You can’t speak eye to eye to someone you’re looking down on and preaching at. And to me, looking people in the eye is as important as any message I might have to tell. More so, even. Who’s gonna listen to someone talking down to them? No one. Well, people might pretend to listen, but they won’t hear.

When you look someone in the eye, you’re saying way more than the words you speak. You’re saying, I’m talking to you right where you are, because that’s where I am, too. I know where you’re coming from, I know where you’ve been. I can tell you there is a better way, I can tell you there is a better place. Standing right here with you, I can tell you that. And, no, I’m not “ministering.” I’m no preacher. I’m no “warrior,” either. Those are all stuck-up terms for stuck-up people, looking down on sinners from above. I’m just a guy, walking along, right here where you are.

One other thing, too, bugs me about consciously having a “ministry.” It seems to me people all wrapped up in “ministry” get to thinking that they’re in pretty good shape, they got the inside track to God. And then they get to thinking that the Lord needs them pretty bad, here, to get all His stuff done. And no one else can do it quite like they can. They get to thinking that they’d be pretty hard to replace, that they’re not expendable. And they get bogged down with all the hidden pride that comes from thinking like that. Not saying it’s always that way. But it often is.

I want to be careful here. And I want to be clear. I’m not talking about the preacher man who is called to proclaim the gospel to people like me and others. I’m not talking about the singer and his song. There are lots of legitimate ministries out there, and I got good friends sacrificing a lot to get out there and spread the word. I cheer such people on, and I respect them. I’m talking here about the regular person, walking along through life, all puffed up with importance. Kind of like that young man in the office that Saturday, and his lovely wife with the dazzling smile. Kind of like that.

And I felt the same way sometimes, when people talked to me after I got out of the hospital late last year. When I told them how low I had slipped, how close I had come to cashing out. How I had looked death in the face, and returned. More than one person listened to my tale, then told me. “Well, the Lord sure has something for you to get done, here in this life. There’s a reason He spared you, there’s a reason you’re still here.” And it was fine, and it was all well meaning, such talk. But my response was always pretty much the same.

Nah, I said. That’s not necessarily true. I could walk out of here and get run over by a truck. Or I could get into a serious accident on the way home today, and get killed. The chances of any such thing happening to me are exactly the same as they were before I ever went to the hospital. The statistical chances, I mean. I’m not saying the Lord won’t protect me. He might. And maybe He does have some more work for me to get done. The thing is, that work will get done, whether I get to it or not.

That’s what I said. And that’s what I believe today. And no, I’m not being fatalistic. Far from it. Because I can say right here that things have been different since I got home from the hospital. A lot different. You don’t look death in the face and stay the same as you were before. I don’t think it’s possible. It’ll affect you deeply, one way or another. After I got back home, and got settled in a while, I looked back over my life. And I looked at the stretch of road before me. And gradually I realized. There’s so much to do that I haven’t done, so much life that I haven’t lived. And at this moment, I feel more alive than I have felt in many, many years. It’s a strange and startling place to be.

I have lived intensely in the past, intensely enough for several lifetimes, probably. And I look back over it all sometimes, and reflect. On how it was, and how it went. So many miles, so many years. So many hard roads, so much left behind. I know what the darkness of the valley is. And I know the view from the mountain’s peak. I have seen and felt so many things.

I know what it is to feel old and tired. I know what it is to trudge along, exhausted and famished and beyond weary of the road. To look at the future and feel flat and joyless. I know these things, I have seen and lived and felt them all. And the last time I knew what it was to be filled with real joy, well, that time was so long ago. The past can never be changed from what it was. The future can be changed from what it might have been, though. And I have wondered if such a time of real joy will ever come again.

And now I know. It will, because it has.

I can say this, from right here. I look forward to what the future holds. I mean, I welcome whatever comes with anticipation and joy. Whatever it is, across the board. Good or bad. It’s a strange new place filled with strange new things. And I’m grappling along like a blind man through unfamiliar terrain. Feeling my way through what it is to walk with joy through whatever comes. Figuring out what it means to truly be alive.

And I try to grasp what I’ve heard Tim Keller preach many times at our Tuesday night Bible Studies. Whatever the Lord allows in your life is the best thing that could happen to you. In the long run, for His kingdom. Whatever happens to you is the best thing. It’s almost impossible to wrap your head around such a truth as that. It’s flat-out counter-intuitive. And yet, here I am. And here I stand, believing. Lord, help my unbelief.

And right now, the near future holds a grave and dangerous thing. I mentioned it a few times since I’ve been out of the hospital. The A-Fib doctors want to do an ablation. That’s going up a vein in my leg, and snipping the wild muscles in my heart, so it will beat right. It’s a totally routine procedure. So common that it’s almost an outpatient thing. I’m scheduled for the last full week of this month. Go in one day, do the operation, then get out the next.

Everyone talks all calm, the doctors and their staff. And they have reason to, I’m sure. Still, the thing I realize is, it’s serious any time any foreign object touches your heart. It’s serious, any time you get “put to sleep.” Some people never wake up. Sure, it’s routine, and sure, the doctor has done hundreds and hundreds of similar procedures. Statistically, it should go fine, and I should be fine. But still. There are no guarantees. There can’t be. And as the day gets close, it’s slowly seeping through me, it’s sinking in for the first time in a long time. I intensely, intensely want to live.

I want what the future holds. Whatever may come, I want to live it and see it. Feel it. Taste and absorb it. I want to walk through all the joy that life has, I want to trudge through the dark and dangerous places, too. And I want to proclaim to every person I meet, be that in the wilderness or on the streets. The Lord is who He claims to be. I faced death right up close, and walked away. And let me tell you the strange and impossible thing that happened. I surrendered life, gave up all I am or ever was or ever will be. And now I truly live.

And yeah, I know what fear is. There are a few things that have loomed fearful in the distance for years. I fear growing old alone. I fear a debilitating illness, fear growing old and sick and gray and feeble, fear becoming a burden to my extended family. Fears such as that lurk ever dark and silent like so many ghosts in the night. So, yeah, I know what fear is.

But I do not fear what it is to die. And I have never, ever felt so free.

And so here’s how things are, going into the operation the week after next. (I won’t be posting that Friday, by the way.) I feel intensely alive, and I intensely want to live. But the bottom line is, it really doesn’t make a whole lot of difference in the end. It really doesn’t. Because if this life is taken, something far better waits on the other side. This I know. This I believe by faith. Quietly and calmly, I believe it.

And so I leave it all at that. If the stats work out, I’ll plan to post again in early March. When that time comes, and as I’m walking forward into each new day, well, I’m planning on doing a whole lot of things I’ve never done before. And there will be a whole lot of living coming down such as I’ve never lived before.

Only the Lord knows the future. What is to be will be. I just keep walking.



  1. Great read Ira! Really enjoyed it! Great perspective..

    Comment by Luke Mast — February 12, 2016 @ 6:32 pm

  2. Ministry? True Christianity ministers life wherever it goes. Some of those Christians do happen to stand in a pulpit on a Sunday morning and remind their fellow travelers why they’re called to do what they do. Nothing more. Nothing less. Steve always says that if he ever forgets that, he has no business in the pastorate. Walking faithfully is a hallmark of true Christianity. Indeed, those who truly live are those who are ready to die.

    Comment by Maria Rockhill — February 12, 2016 @ 6:49 pm

  3. We make a difference. Jesus died to wake us up, He considered us of such value.

    Comment by LeRoy — February 12, 2016 @ 7:17 pm

  4. I believe along the same lines as you do. As you walk there will be plenty of places to walk along side of the downtrodden. I have many memories of people being a positive big brother to me and showing me the way. For which I am grateful. As the songwriter says, “They took me in and gave me breakfast”

    Comment by Paul Yutzy — February 12, 2016 @ 7:28 pm

  5. “Whatever the Lord allows in your life is the best thing that could happen to you. In the long run, for His kingdom. Whatever happens to you is the best thing. It’s almost impossible to wrap your head around such a truth as that. It’s flat-out counter-intuitive. And yet, here I am. And here I stand, believing. Lord, help my unbelief.” …Thanks for that!

    Comment by Allison — February 12, 2016 @ 7:33 pm

  6. That is some deep stuff, my friend! I pray for you and hope you do the same for me.

    Comment by Mark — February 12, 2016 @ 7:46 pm

  7. Such a touching revelation of your journey from what you were and what you have come to believe. I truly honor you for openness to share.

    God Bless you, Ira may GOD allow your procedure be totally safe, to Him Be the Glory for ever.

    Comment by Linda Morris — February 12, 2016 @ 7:54 pm

  8. Aw Ira, your writing IS a ministry. You have impacted and affected so many of us for the better with your thoughts and words. I’ll be praying for a successful ablation and quick recovery. Blessings to you.

    Comment by Deb — February 12, 2016 @ 8:01 pm

  9. We are all different like snowflakes and come to the Lord differently and not one Christian thinks alike. When we realize that it is our personal relationship with the Lord that matters and not pleasing other Christians we find peace. I never particularly liked being told I had to say the words other Christians want to hear so that it matches their thoughts or I wasn’t saved.

    Comment by carol ellmore — February 12, 2016 @ 8:11 pm

  10. What a very beautiful post from the depths of your heart. You are in my prayers for God’s will in your ablation and for the rest of your life as you walk His path for you. God bless you.

    Comment by Rosanna F. — February 12, 2016 @ 8:16 pm

  11. I’m happy you’re happy. Although, I might miss the word “slogging” in your upcoming posts. I’m sure you’ll entertain us with another fun antonym. ;) Be well, deary.

    Comment by Lisa DeYoung — February 12, 2016 @ 8:17 pm

  12. Hoping to read many many more of your posts. Will be thinking of you these next few weeks.

    Comment by forsythia — February 12, 2016 @ 9:13 pm

  13. your writings amaze me , and you give me much to think about and know that you are in my thoughts and prayers, and I look forward to you next post in March , Love and God Bless you in many of his ways g.

    Comment by Georgia — February 12, 2016 @ 10:05 pm

  14. Very moving and inspiring…..

    Comment by Shirley Morrison — February 12, 2016 @ 10:39 pm

  15. A great read, as usual, Ira.

    I’m sure I have been just as offensive in my zeal as this young couple was. Most of us are concerned about a person’s soul, but I have found that there are ways to engage a person and “earn the right” to be heard. This zealous couple obviously jumped the gun. I just hope I don’t go to the other extreme and “not give a hoot” about the destiny of people.

    You have reminded me to think about my own destiny. I remember singing “Bedenke Mensch das ende, bedenke deinen Tod…” and not thinking much about it until I translated it into English: “Think about the end; thing about your death, you’re going to die…” and it goes on about how quickly and unexpectantly we may die. Could be today! It seems so much harsher in English.

    Everyday is a gift!

    Thanks again for a “ministering” post.

    Comment by John Schmid — February 12, 2016 @ 11:44 pm

  16. Well, my friend, I hate to burst your bubble but I doubt those “beautiful” people were slamming you as much as you think. Honestly, Ira, they were probably thinking about how this mom and pop move-in thingy was going to pan out, how little Tommy was doing at the sitter’s, and what to have for dinner. People have their own problems and issues. Very seldom do they want to pick up yours as well.

    I agree there are Christians that struggle with the “works” issue and some that should look at it more closely because they do nothing. I guess if God has something he really wants you to do He’ll let you know. I could be wrong here, but… as I progress in my walk with Jesus one thing I’m learning is what I’m doing now is important-teaching my kids at home, taking care of a household, being a mom and wife. Honestly, I’ve got no energy to do much more. This was a struggle for me for a long time because I thought I should be more active in church, get involved in a small group, do service or be a part of a ministry. And if I did none of these things I was a bad Christian-letting God down. It wasn’t until fairly recently that I realized my life, as it is now, is my ministry. It’s important to God what I do in my home, with my children, with my spouse, with myself. And like I said I have no energy to do much more than that.

    I’ve been hearing a lot of Christian bashing these past few months. I’m not accusing you of doing that so don’t get your underwear up in a bunch, I’m just saying, well…what I just said. I hear things like, “They think their way is the only way.” or “They’re always trying to get you to believe like they do.” I remember once hearing a woman say, “…they’re so offensive.” as if Christians were body odor or something. And I thought to myself, “She’ll really be offended by Hell.” I don’t know, do we do that? Or are we hated because of who our Father is?

    I’m reading a book by Philip Yancey (my favorite Christian writer) called “Vanishing Grace.” I’m but a portion of the way into it, but it’s giving me insight as to how the world sees Christians. And how we haven’t been the best at telling the unbeliever about grace. Yancey tells it like it is. I like that.

    Comment by Francine — February 13, 2016 @ 3:26 am

  17. It’s a strange yet new road we travel everyday. I enjoyed this, particularly because it tugs at some of the things I’ve been going through. If we want to know how rich we are, we need to look how many things we have that money can’t buy!!

    Hope everything goes well in the surgery, Ira..

    Comment by Ben H — February 13, 2016 @ 6:26 am

  18. Great thoughts on ministry and its motivations, reaching down, etc.! Looking someone in the eye tells them they have value and you both are on the same level. Nobody likes being treated differently or made to feel special, even in a positive way – it’s patronizing. They just want to be accepted on the same level as everyone else.

    The best ministry is when the giving and receiving flows both ways, otherwise one side becomes a “project.”

    I like how Jesus operated – sat and talked and hung out. Had dinner together. Eye to eye relating. Acceptance and connection regardless of flaws. That’s what real love is.

    Comment by Ava — February 13, 2016 @ 11:31 am

  19. I’ve been asked the “Amish Ministry” question and wondered if Baptists have a “Ministry” to change Presbyterians or Catholics have a “Ministry” to change Methodists? Or vise-versa. Thanks for another great blog. Thoughts and prayers will be with you.

    Comment by Phyllis — February 13, 2016 @ 1:33 pm

  20. Your assessment of those people was so spot on. I have similar thoughts when I see super smiley/shiny people.

    The ministry part …well..I ached for you.

    Comment by Kelly — February 13, 2016 @ 3:59 pm

  21. Thank you for writing about a subject close to my heart. Some time ago I chanced to meet an old friend who has also left the Amish, and he carried on and on about how all Amish are lost, they do not understand the plan of salvation. I was struck dumb because that had never entered my mind. I have many Amish friends who probably understand salvation better than I do. But what was the right thing to say?? Maybe it doesn’t matter. This type of mission to the Amish people, they don’t hear what we say, anyhow.

    Comment by Rachel — February 13, 2016 @ 4:40 pm

  22. Ira, good to hear from you again. In your writing I continue to hear a story that continues to unfold in new & marvelous ways…For me, you’re a survivor who’s story still has many more chapters to be written by you….You’re in my thoughts & I’m praying for a successful recovery for you from this upcoming surgery…

    Comment by P. Klassen — February 14, 2016 @ 8:08 pm

  23. Your writing, your inner understanding of yourself and others brings into our lives a yearning to better get to know this Writer, who throws his heart into the wind each time destiny calls. We all are forever enriched by your having passed our way. Keep strong with your belief. Forever sustained by the Lord.

    Comment by G. Racina — February 15, 2016 @ 3:18 pm

  24. I agree with Deb who wrote: “Ira, your writing IS a ministry. You have impacted and affected so many of us for the better with your thoughts and words. I’ll be praying for a successful ablation and quick recovery.”

    I will be praying for you also and looking forward to your next post in March.

    Comment by Jane Goforth — February 15, 2016 @ 4:43 pm

  25. Great blog, as usual, Ira. Thanks for sharing. As you were reflecting on “ministry” I got to thinking, what was Jesus’ “ministry?” Besides hanging out with a motley bunch of 12 guys, it would have been hanging out, not with the religious bunch but with the sinners—the outcasts of his day, yes even prostitutes—the ones who knew they needed “ministry!” I sometimes think Jesus would feel more at home in a bar than in some church services!

    Comment by Amos Stoltzfus — February 15, 2016 @ 8:02 pm

  26. I agree your writings are your ministry. I do believe when we survive these things it is for a reason which we do not know and it may be a small cause not something major. I am a new person too now. Praying for your health.

    Comment by Linda Ault — February 16, 2016 @ 9:14 am

  27. Loved your thoughts on “ministry” and what yours is and isn’t. Great writing. Thinking of you and your health concerns.

    Comment by Linda Umble — February 17, 2016 @ 9:39 am

  28. The “bright and shiny” people..despite their good intentions I always wonder what is really going on behind the facade.Don’t see to much of that rattling coming off of us who for one reason or another have been down in the mud and blood or stared down life in the “valley of the shadow”. I suppose we all do the best we can with what we’ve got ,yet I find most of them a bit tiresome and a tad boring, lots of solutions and scripted answers for ALL of our problems….I know something you don’t and it is my obligation and duty to tell you.How about some rigorous honesty?..now that’s what’s scary.Great post Mr IRA,you definitely have a gift and it gives me a place to get my rant on…wishing you well…peace to all..

    Comment by lenny — February 19, 2016 @ 8:48 am

  29. “Seeing his days are determined, the number of his months are with thee, thou hast appointed his bounds that he cannot pass;” Job 14:5.

    I find so much comfort in these words. Freedom, really.

    Looking forward to hearing how it all goes.

    Bananas ripe yet?

    Comment by Tammy — February 24, 2016 @ 9:46 pm

  30. Life is fragile indeed. We must learn to live each moment to the max. Wishing you the very best.

    Comment by Di Kisinger — February 26, 2016 @ 9:31 pm

  31. Your post and the responses have given me a lot to think about. If I have ever lacked the humility the Lord wants us to have-because I (wrongly) thought living a plainer lifestyle was more pleasing…May God forgive me!

    Comment by Phyllisitty — March 2, 2016 @ 7:25 am

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