Free To Serve Others!

-A Dog Eat Dog World!

In the world, it’s “dog eat dog.” If you wanna climb up the corporate ladder you have to be a relational piranha— taking advantage of the brokenness & inconsistencies of your co-workers to gain a personal advantage! That’s not Jesus’ way! He was known as the “friend of sinners.” He healed the wounded! He forgave even those who nailed Him to the cross! The Gospel frees us to serve— even those with whom we may be in competition for that promotion! And, it’s all because we can trust a Sovereign God’s plan!

-Our Freedom & Our Calling!

In the Apostle Paul’s letter, to the Galatian church,  he says that our call to freedom & our call to serve are synonymous! In other words, we actually lose our freedom when we fail to serve! We were saved FROM slavery to sin & self; so, when we fail to serve— and, even expect to BE served— we fall back into the old slavery to the flesh! He says we, “…submit again to a yoke of slavery…” Galatians 5:1.  Don’t surrender the freedom you have in Christ— who satisfies your every need— for the fleshly desires of the world to be served or to be promoted! When we serve others instead of using them, we testify, to the world, that Jesus truly is enough! He is all we need!

-Jesus Served Us!

We don’t need to fill any emptiness inside us with the need to be served! Jesus served us and that’s enough! It’s the Gospel of Christ that frees us to love others… even strangers! More than service, the Gospel actually gives us a heart of love for those we serve— “For the entire law is fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself” Galatians 5:14. Paul is quoting Jesus answer when He was asked, “What is the greatest commandment”; and, Jesus said: “To love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all you soul, with all your mind & with all your might! And, the 2nd is like unto it (OR, 2nd only in importance!) love your neighbor in the same way you love yourself” Matthew 22:34-40. And, then, Jesus illustrated that with His parable about the Good Samaritan who acted as a neighbor to someone he didn’t even know! That’s why a “neighbor” can actually be anyone we have opportunity to serve, even someone who’s a stranger! “And, love them,” He said, “in the same way that you love yourself.”

-Gospel Freedom!

Only the Gospel sets me free to WANT to feed someone that’s hungry just as much as I want to feed myself when I get hungry! Only the Gospel sets me free to WANT to help my neighbor find a job just as much as I want to find a job; or, to WANT a raise or a promotion for my co-worker just as much as I want that raise or promotion for myself! And, to care about what happens to that guy down the street— that you don’t even know— just as much as you care about what happens to you! That’s powerful! And, only Jesus’ Gospel empowers us to love that way! And, when we grow in our love for others like that, it’s an incredible endorsement to the validity of the words we share, with others, about our faith! It makes us real! Genuine!

 

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Give Up Your Life!

-Great In God’s Kingdom!

In my last post we talked about the kind of life that Jesus called great! We picked up on His conversation, with the disciples, after two of them— James & John— asked if they could sit in the seat of power, next to Jesus, in His Kingdom.  “Jesus called them over and said to them, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and their men of high positions exercise power over them.  But it must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,  and whoever wants to be first among you must be a slave to all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many” Mark 10:42-45.  In so many words, Jesus was teaching them that if you’re great in God’s Kingdom, that this world probably won’t even notice you!

-Slave Or Servant?

Jesus calls you great when you reject the world’s leadership style (v.42). He also calls you great when your ministry is measured by the people you serve (v.43).  But, there are 2 more points I’d like to draw out, from this text, related to what Jesus calls great.  He also calls you great when you humble yourself & become the world’s slave (v.44).  We touched briefly, on this point, in our last post.  The word is “doulos” in the original Greek language; and, it can only be translated accurately as “slave” in the English. So, while the Holman version actually translates it “slave”, many translations choose to use the word “servant.” And, while they can be credited with sensitivity for choosing to translate the word as “servant” because the history of slavery, in America, is so repulsive & offensive, we probably ought not change the word Jesus used.

-The Humility Of A Slave!

He meant for us to take on the humility, of a “slave,” when it comes to our ministry & service. In this way, we actually serve like Jesus did:  “Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus,” the Apostle Paul wrote, “who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave” Philippians 2:5-11.  In other words, Jesus didn’t use His title— GOD— as a BIG STICK! In His incarnation, He took the form of a SLAVE!

-Suffering For Others!

Finally, from Jesus’ words here, we discern that He calls you great when you give up your life to suffer for others (v.45). Even Jesus suffered for others, willingly, all the way to the cross! He served ‘til it hurt! ‘Til it killed Him! And, you image Jesus when you live your life similarly! That’s probably not going to get you a fancy TITLE; or, the corner office in the big corporation! But, it will get you a “Well done, good & faithful servant” from Jesus! You may have noticed that the focus, in this post, was not on spiritual gifts, the reason being, that, the greater emphasis, in Scripture, is on the heart attitude toward ministry rather than giftedness or knowledge! Jesus emphasis humility over giftedness; and, the power is never said to be in our GIFTS; but, in the Holy Spirit! So, how will you respond to needs around you? I hope like Jesus did!

 

How God Uses Prayer To Heal You!

-Your Response Is Key!

The pain & suffering of unfulfilled hopes & dreams can foster an internal root of bitterness and leave emotional scars. Unless you respond like Hanna, who’s story is told in 1 Samuel 1-2. Hannah took all her pain & suffering & bitterness to the only One capable of doing something about it—Hanna prayed to God! Her story shows us that God uses our God-honoring prayers to heal our brokenness.  I’m not saying that prayer fixes it! I’m not saying that you’ll always get what you want when you pray! But, if your prayer is “God-Honoring” He will use it to heal the brokenness inside you.

-Prayer Can Change You!

Prayer won’t necessarily change your circumstances; but, God will use your prayer to change you! He’ll give you the understanding you need to accept His will.  We need Hannah’s story! God teaches us about life in Hannah’s story! We all have burdens to bear! No one leaves this life unscathed; without experiencing a myriad of painful circumstances! Hannah’s story gives us some answers to the “WHY” questions behind those circumstances; and, it also gives us some answers to the “HOW” questions; as in, “HOW” should we respond to those circumstances as followers of Christ! So, we all need this! Through Hannah’s story, God gives us another example of effective prayer. It’s effective because it’s God-Honoring! It’s also effective because it’s “God-Centered”!

-Pray Like Hannah!

I want to challenge you to learn to pray like Hannah. Ask God’s help to change the way you pray if it doesn’t line up with Scriptural examples like Hannah! Look at the text:  “…the Lord had kept her from conceiving. Her rival would taunt her severely just to provoke her, because the Lord had kept Hannah from conceiving” 1 Samuel 1:5-6. In v.10 the text says that “…deeply hurt, Hannah prayed to the LORD and wept with many tears. Making a vow, she pleaded, ‘Lord of Hosts, if You will take notice of Your servant’s affliction, remember and not forget me, and give Your servant a son, I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life…’” That’s an effective prayer because she prayed with a view to God’s Sovereignty over her situation.

-Seeing God’s Sovereignty!

Whenever we experience something painful, it’s so typical for us to ask the “WHY” question, isn’t it— Why me? Why do I have to go through this? Why was Hannah childless? Why was she unable to conceive? The Scripture said it was the Lord’s doing, doesn’t it? God is the ultimate Sovereign over all our problems; and, Hannah believed that! It wasn’t because of “natural causes” that she couldn’t conceive. I’m sure if Hannah lived in our day that doctors would have come up with some “medical reason” why she couldn’t have children; but, God’s Sovereign control is behind every “medical reason.” Clearly, God had graciously given Hannah a “problem” in her life. That’s why she went to Him in prayer. In v.12 it says, “…she continued praying in the LORD’S presence.” She believed nothing was outside His ability to alter!

 

A Mother’s Effective Prayer!

-You Don’t Have To Be Superman!

Why is it our human tendency to think that good Christians must not have any problems? Maybe it’s because we come to church and we see all the smiling faces & we assume they must have it all together Or, maybe we’ve heard too many sermons on the abundant Christian life; and, we assume there’s some secret formula we have yet to discover! And, if we can just find it that the Christian life will become effortless; and, temptations will just bounce off us like bullets off of Superman!

-What About Pain & Suffering?

I have a well-intended Christian friend who called me several times over the 3-year period when I dealt with cancer & surgeries & chemo. He told me it wasn’t God’s will that I had cancer because I was a Pastor & a “good man”; and, “yet,” I told him, “I have cancer.” None of us are immune to pain, suffering, sickness, heartache or loss! Job is the poster child for pain & suffering; and, yet, scripture’s testimony of Job was that, “…He was a man of perfect integrity, who feared God and turned away from evil…” Job 1:1,8.  He was a righteous man who endured some of the worst pain & suffering in the history of mankind.  Job’s commentary, on pain & suffering, was that, “…mankind is born for trouble as surely as sparks fly upward” Job 5:7.  And, so, it ought not surprise us that trouble afflicts the righteous as well as the ungodly.

-Look It Up In Your Bible!

If you have doubts about that, check it out for yourself! Research the Bible, starting at the very beginning; and, see how many of God’s faithful followers endured significant pain & loss in this life. Eventually, you’ll come to Hannah’s story in 1st Samuel ch.1. Her story is intertwined with that of her husband & his 2nd wife.  “There was a man from Ramathaim-zophim in the hill country of Ephraim. His name was Elkanah… He had two wives, the first named Hannah and the second Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah was childless” 1 Samuel 1:1-2.  So, there was the rub— she was childless! But, to make matters worse, her husband’s other wife had children & taunted her because of it. The next few verses point out her pain— she wept; she wouldn’t eat; she was hurt deeply!

-How To Deal With Your Pain!

Look at this: “…the Lord had kept her from conceiving. Her rival would taunt her severely just to provoke her, because the Lord had kept Hannah from conceiving. Whenever she went up to the Lord’s house, her rival taunted her in this way every year.” So, Hannah wept, the test says, “…and she would not eat… deeply hurt… Hannah prayed to the LORD and wept with many tears. Making a vow, she pleaded, ‘Lord of Hosts, if You will take notice of Your servant’s affliction, remember and not forget me, and give Your servant a son, I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life…’” 1 Samuel 1:5-11.  Notice, she didn’t take matters into her own hands! She PRAYED! We all have more in common with Hannah’s childlessness than we may think. And, we need to respond, like Hannah, by taking all our pain to the only One who can fix it!

 

Our Gifts Aren’t For Us!

-Not About Personal Gain & Advancement!

Its our default setting to use all gifts, talents, and abilities for personal gain and advancement in this world! But, God didn’t gift us for our own personal benefit! Your gifts, your talents, your personality & charm, and, your intellect was given to you, BY GOD, to manage or steward over in a way that brings Him the greater glory! Are you leveraging all those things for the glory of God? Here’s what the Apostle Peter said about it:  “Based on the gift each one has received, use it to serve others, as good managers of the varied grace of God. If anyone speaks, it should be as one who speaks God’s words; if anyone serves, it should be from the strength God provides, so that God may be glorified through Jesus Christ in everything. To Him belong the glory and the power forever and ever” 1 Peter 4:10-11.

-So That God May Be Glorified!

Did you notice the end of v.11? The purpose for your giftedness is, “…so that SO THAT GOD MAY BE GLORIFIED through Jesus Christ IN EVERYTHING. To HIM BELONG THE GLORY…” Don’t compartmentalize your life—this is CHURCH; that’s God’s part; But, this is my WORK, that’s ABOUT ME! We can compartmentalize God right out of our life! No! God has gifted us to bring Himself glory IN EVERYTHING! In ALL of life! There is no area of your life where God does not intend to bring Himself glory! So, what motivates you? Are you motivated to live your life for God’s glory; or, for your own?

-Gifts Used Under Holy Spirit Power!

God’s method is to empower our gifts by His Spirit, so, that He receives all the glory! This is how the exercising of your gifts & talents & intellect bring glory to God! The only way we bring Him glory, in all of life’s activities, is when we exercise them under the power & control of God’s Holy Spirit! When our dependence—in the doing & the living of life—is NOT in ourselves or our giftedness; but, on God’s Spirit! If you’re “speaking” (v.11) or “serving”— “…it should be from the strength that GOD PROVIDES…” Don’t miss this crucial point to exercising your gifts in a way that brings God glory! You can NOT depend on your giftedness when you speak; or, when you serve—OR, God is NOT GLORIFIED!

-When We Fail To Bring Him Glory!

You can be a gifted speaker, even speak “on God’s behalf”; but, if it’s not “…from the words God provides…” than God is neither blessed or glorified by them!  They are words—even “good words”—but, they are spoken in the power of the flesh! You can serve—teach Sunday School; sing or play on the Worship Team; help kids learn Scripture in AWANA—but, if your service is not done by “…the strength that God provides…” than God is neither blessed or glorified by your service! They are deeds—even, “good deeds”—but, they are done in the flesh! I still believe that the Holy Spirit remains the greatest untapped power of the Church! It’s a power untapped because we so rarely lean on God’s Holy Spirit! We lean on our gifts more than we do the Creator & the Giver of those gifts! This has to change, Church!

 

True Generosity Serves Others!

-It’s Not Just About Money!

We typically think of “generosity” in financial terms, don’t we? But, in God’s economy, generosity is shown in more than financial ways! In the book of Proverbs, the Spirit of God inspired King Solomon to include these words:  “A generous person will be enriched, and the one who gives a drink of water will receive water” Proverbs 11:25.  God intends for us to understand generosity as being about more than our finances! It’s not just about our money! According to this Proverb, God also measures generosity in the ways we serve others. He measures generosity by our willingness to minister & help others.

-Don’t Throw Money At It!

In the world, there’s a tendency to just throw money at a need. Rather than getting their hands dirty, the person who has the financial means would rather gift someone or an organization. Unfortunately, that same attitude can often be found in the church too! Many would rather “gift” it than get dirty through service or ministry to others! But, that’s NOT God’s economy! The Message paraphrases Proverbs 11:25 like this:  “The one who blesses others is abundantly blessed; those who help others are helped.” God measures our generosity by our willingness to serve & by our willingness to enrich the lives of others by ministering to them. By offering something, Solomon says, as simple as a glass of water.

-It’s Being “Others Focused”!

It’s that same principle, that Jesus taught,  of being “others focused.” Unfortunately, it’s typical, in our American church culture, to look for a church that serves “me”! To look for a church that serves “my kids”! That’s the mindset of a “consumer,” isn’t it? And, it’s a way of thinking that is foreign to Scripture & to the church, in other parts of the world, where they look for a place with needs so they can serve! Faith’s way of serving is to look for needs and meet them! Faith’s way of serving actually prays that God’s Spirit will open eyes to those needs & open hearts to actually meet them! As with your finances, don’t “calculate’ how God might move others to serve you if you serve them! That’s serving out of GREED! And, just like God will not bless a greedy giver financially, He’ll not bless a greedy server either! He gave to us in love & we must give the same!

-Serve Recklessly!

The principle, in Scripture, is kind of like this—just serve & minister to the needs of others with reckless abandon! By faith, believe that God will keep His Word! Believe that, whether it’s by sacrificial giving or service, that God is going to reward you.  You might be rewarded in this life! Or, your reward might be received in heaven! At the same time, though we know the reward is coming, don’t give to get!  Just be generous, in faith, that God will take care of you! When we give, from a generous heart, it truly costs you nothing! You lose nothing in the exchange! You gain! You get richer the more you give! It’s counter cultural! Jesus said: “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life BECAUSE OF ME will FIND IT

Sustaining Spiritual Momentum Part III

-Why The Church Is Declining!

“The number one reason for the decline in church attendance is that members attend with less frequency than they did just a few years ago”—quote from author & church consultant Thom S. Rainer on his website http://www.thomrainer.com. So, it would seem—if that statement is true—that much of the blame for declining attendance, in 9 out of 10 churches in America, must be laid at the feet of the Church itself! Mr. Rainer explained it like this: “If the frequency of attendance changes, then attendance will respond accordingly. For example, if 200 members attend every week the average attendance is, obviously, 200. But if 1/2 of those members miss only 1 out of 4 weeks, the attendance drops to 175. ..attendance declined over 12% because half the members changed their attendance behavior slightly.”

-Finding Reasons To Miss!

Believers are finding reasons to “miss” the Sunday gatherings! And, unfortunately, this isn’t the first time, in the history of the Church, that this has happened! The last couple posts we’ve looked at Hebrews 10:24-25, which reads: “And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our gatherings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” Previously, we considered what the author said about “love” and “good works.” And, in context, it seems quite clear that the writer is calling out some “absent” believers; and, challenging them to be concerned about one another by being present whenever the Church gathers!

-Show Concern By Being Present!

That word translated “gatherings” is a specific word—in the original language—that’s used only here & 2 Thessalonians 2:1 which refers to “…the GATHERING together of the elect to Christ at His coming…” Nothing too subtle about that! The writer likens our “gatherings” as a local Church body with the “gathering” of ALL the saints in Christ! None of us want to miss that! So, the message seems quite clear—“don’t just ‘blow off’ your regular Church meetings either.” Let me also suggest that the text doesn’t limit the meaning to Sunday services! A specific day of the week is not even mentioned! Rather, it carries the idea that “whenever” your church gathers, be there!

-The Early Church Met Daily!

In the context of the early Church in Acts, they met DAILY! The writer says that some were staying away from the gatherings; and, he REBUKES them for it! That rebuke falls on the Church today; and, confession & repentance must follow if we hope to sustain any kind of spiritual momentum! How will new believers learn to obey God’s Word, about “gatherings”, if the believers discipling them are disobedient? The writer says to do this all the more, “…as you see THE DAY approaching.” “THE DAY” is a Biblical term that refers to Jesus’ 2nd Coming & the Judgment Seat of Christ.  He’s saying that he wants us all to stand approved before Jesus! This is REAL! He wants his readers to hear Jesus say: “WELL done, GOOD & FAITHFUL servant.” So, Church—let us “make disciples” who “make disciples” who come to the “gatherings”!