Category Archives: Serving

Planting Seeds

Note to Reader: A link to a video is provided below.  It is a tribute to someone who has exemplified a life of planting seeds, as discussed in this article.

Blog_ThumbnailBoom! There are times when we can see the impact of our actions instantly. I remember watching a friendly game of washers turn into a goofy and out of control game of basketball washers, where they were trying to block each other’s attempt to get the washer in the box. The problem with this was that there were cars nearby, and one of the washers went through the rear window of my car, shattering the glass all over the back seat. Not a fan of that version of the game.

There are other times when we don’t see the impact of our actions for a long time. Maybe we never see any during our lifetime. However, every action that we take, or don’t take, has an outcome, whether for the good or the bad. Again, some actions or events can have instant, large impacts. Other actions may result in small or even unseen impacts. A small, simple effort may not seem to have any effect initially, but, years later, could influence numerous people and events. In fact, these may end up having more long-term, lasting influence then events that seem to have immediate, blockbuster impact.

“Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.” 1 Peter 1:10-12

There are many things that could be said about this passage. One of major points relates to the prophecy of Scripture. The Old Testament foretold the coming of Christ. Their prophesies not only indicated what type of Messiah the people should expect, but it even provided details about when he would be coming. In other words, the people should not have been surprised by Jesus Christ when He came. It is one of the ways in which God shows the accuracy and trustworthiness of the Word of God. I spoke on this last time, so I am not going to touch on it at this time. However, if you would like to study more on the topic of the reliability of Scripture, see the resources available from the 2015 EFCA Theology Conference which focused on The Doctrine of the Scriptures. This is excellent material from some leading evangelical scholars and teachers.

For today, I want to focus on one phrase in 1 Peter 1:12, where it says, “It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you…” These prophets were writing what the Spirit had revealed to them. However, in addition to the actual prophecies of the coming Messiah, it was revealed to them that they were serving a people yet to be born. They were told that they were serving the people who would come to trust and follow Jesus Christ. Long after they were dead, the writings of the prophets would serve the followers of Christ. Therefore, their faithfulness to listen and respond to God, served those who lived hundreds and even thousands of years in the future. And this includes those of us today who follow Jesus Christ.

What immediate results did the prophets see when they proclaimed the message given to them by God? Stephen, right before he was stoned to death, provides the answer. “Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.” (Acts 7:52-53). The primary result the prophets saw from their faithfulness was persecution and death. And yet, the prophecies they recorded would serve God’s followers for years to come.

So, how does this apply to us? When we follow Christ, we are called to live our lives to give glory to God, faithfully serving through the opportunities that He gives us. Sometimes, we see the results of our efforts. Other times, we don’t see any positive results. If fact, there are times when it seems like the opposite. We give ourselves in service to God and others, and we receive criticism and opposition in return. Or, the recipients of our gift of service actually turn away and go the opposite direction, walking away from God. This can be confusing and even heartbreaking. So, how do we respond?

Be faithful and keep planting seeds. Whatever God has called you to do, continue to do it faithfully. Whether you are a pastor, executive, laborer, housewife, teacher, service provider, or whatever you do, continue to serve and take the opportunities that God gives you to plant seeds along the way. God does not call us to produce results. He calls us to faithfulness. That is a weird message for modern America. We can get instant anything.  We want instant everything. God does not operate on our culture’s standards. We should be thankful for this.

Be humble. Some “Christians” receive opposition and criticism simply because they are jerks. I wanted to use a stronger word, but that would probably get me in trouble. It is true that the true message of Christ will be offensive to many. However, that does not mean that we have the right to idiotic behavior that would be offensive regardless of what we were presenting. In Scripture, God continually calls us to humility and to have a servant’s mindset. Do the work God called you to do with humility and compassion as you seek to plant seeds of the Gospel. We need to leave pride and arrogance at the cross, where they need to die.

Trust God with the results. As I said, God calls us to be faithful. He is the One Who produces the fruit from the work that He does in and through us. God may allow you to see the fruit of some of your efforts. For other things, you may never see the results in this lifetime. A faithful act performed today may result in someone’s life being changed hundreds or thousands of years from now. You may plant a seed through your service that leads to impact several generations from now. Trust God, He knows what He is doing. He will be faithful to complete the work He is doing in us for today and for generations to come, until Christ returns.

The video I have linked below dates back 27 years ago, to April 22, 1988. The quality of the video is not great. It is probably a copy of a copy of a copy of an old VHS tape. I don’t share it in order to show what a great performer I am, because the performance is not that great. I don’t share it to show how high my vocal range used to be, how much thinner I used to be, or how much more hair I had then. I share it to illustrate a point. This event was held in a large auditorium in Kansas City. However, there were not many people in attendance, even though we had advertised the event through radio and other avenues. Several music groups performed and a pastor friend of mine provided the message. I remember the event date because it was his birthday.

I was on the stage that night because God had used him as a faithful witness in my life. It was this man who first encouraged me in leading worship, even though I always thought that he was far better at it and more gifted than me. For almost five years, this man had been my friend and planted seeds in my life, encouraging me to seek God. This was during time of great time of struggle with doubt and confusion regarding my faith. It was a dark time spiritually. I was lost and floundering. And yet, there I was, five years later, on that stage, back on the road of faith in God and His Word, and giving praise to God.

I can’t point to any one thing that turned things around, but there was finally a point where things clicked, and I came to a decision that, though I did not understand everything, I was going to put my full trust in the Lord. It has not always been a smooth journey. There have been ups and downs. But I can say that I am where I am today because God used a faithful man, planting seeds, to serve the needs of others. To serve me. I am forever thankful for his friendship and his faithfulness.

So, keep living faithfully for the Lord and planting seeds because God will use you to serve the lives of others, even long after you have gone to be with Him.

Together for His glory…

In Defense of Martha

First of all, for those who have followed my blog in the past, I know, it has been a long time in between posts. There are many reasons I could name, but I won’t bore you with all of that. But I would like to thank those of you who encouraged me to get back at it again. It is appreciated. Now, to this week’s post.

Over the years, I have heard and read many messages about Mary and Martha. The passage that is usually referenced is Luke 10:38-42. The basic message of the teachings that I have heard usually ends up being pretty much the same. Mary is hailed as the one who chose what is best by sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to him teach. Martha, on the other hand, is portrayed as the one who misses what is most important, being too busy working and serving to spend time with Jesus. However, in many ways, I think Martha has gotten a bad rap.

Don’t get me wrong. I think there definitely is a message here for the Martha’s among us. When Martha complains to Jesus, inferring that He does not care that her sister has left her with all of work, Jesus gently rebukes her. Jesus tells Martha that He will not deny Mary from pursuing what she desired. Let’s take a look at why I think Jesus rebukes Martha.

Jesus was not rebuking Martha for serving. Jesus tells her that she is “anxious and troubled about many things.” In other places in the New Testament, Jesus had told His disciples to not be anxious.  It might have been about when they would face tribulation or about what they would eat, wear, or how they would live. There are many other examples. In most, or all of these situations, Jesus is referring to the state of being worried or weighed down with the concerns of life rather than in trusting God. In a sense, this is what Martha is doing in this passage. She has become burdened and weighed down with her service to the point that it was distracting her from everything else, including taking the time to sit at the feet of Jesus. When our service pulls us away from our relationship with God, then it is time to pull back and evaluate. The problem is, like Martha, we usually don’t see it. We need someone else to help us make the connection.

However, I think many people take this one instance in Scripture and turn it into a model for bashing the Martha servants among us. This is the only recorded time that Jesus rebukes Martha. In fact, it was Martha, not Mary, who first welcomed Jesus into her home. In John 11:5, it says that “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” It is interesting that Martha is listed first, almost as a place of prominence. When her brother, Lazarus died, Martha was the one who first went out to meet Jesus. In John 11:21-22, she is recorded as saying, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Martha believed that Jesus had the power to heal her brother. She also seems to indicate that even now, Jesus could still do something about the situation. Finally, sometime after Lazarus is raised from the dead, they gave a dinner for Jesus. At the beginning of John 12:2, it simply says, “Martha served.” No explanation. No rebuke from Jesus. She was simply serving Jesus.

As far as I know, this is the last we hear of Martha in the Bible. If we take into account all of the passages where she is mentioned, I think we come up with a different picture than is often portrayed. We have a person with a servant’s heart, who welcomed the Lord, believed in Who He claimed to be, and faithfully served in the way that God had created her to be. Yes, she was rebuked by the Lord, but if discount all those who were rebuked by God in the Bible, and remembered them only for their failures, we would have no one left. So, I think it is good to see Martha as a whole, and not based on one incident.

I think there are some in the church that might use the Mary and Martha comparison to justify their lack of service or involvement. They are content to “sit at the feet of Jesus.” Unfortunately, they never get off their backsides and do anything to serve the Lord or the church. They may attend a church week after week, but never do anything to serve others. They come in, get what they want from the service, and then leave. And, if they don’t like the service, then they go somewhere else and sponge off of another church for a while, until that becomes old, and so on.

There is an old saying that, in the church, 20% of the people do 80% of the work and 80% of the people do 20% of the work. In so many ways, that is true, but very unfortunate because both parties miss out. The 20% misses the benefit of the gifts and talents of those who don’t serve. And, quite frankly, they eventually can become exhausted and burned out. The 80% miss the joy and reward of being used by God to serve others. There are times and seasons in everyone’s life, so don’t misunderstand this as a broad-brushed attack on everyone who doesn’t currently serve in an active way. But, if we are honest with ourselves, we all err towards being one or the other, or maybe even both at times.

So, my take from the story of Martha is two-fold. Don’t become so burdened and weighed down with service that you forsake your relationship with the Lord. And on the other hand, don’t spend so much time “sitting” that you cripple the church with your lack of service and miss the joy of letting the Lord use you to glorify Him and bless others. May we pursue God with lives of worship, both in word and deed.

Together for His glory…

Ready

“Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants! But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” Luke 12:35-40 ESV

Holy Father, we come to You because You are the source of all things.  You have invited us to come before Your throne through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Through Christ, we have been given all things, for in Him, all of Your promises are fulfilled.  Your ways are amazing, Lord, even though we comprehend so little of all that You have accomplished.

Amazingly, You have allowed us to partner with You in the building of Your kingdom and declaring the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Forgive us, Father, when we forget that our highest calling is to glorify You.  We sometimes turn aside from the calling that You have given to us.  We allow our gaze to shift from what is most beautiful and lasting, and we try to satisfy our longings on the world’s empty and hollow promises.

Help us to fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith and to live each day with a desire to glorify You with our thoughts and our deeds.  Give us strength to finish the race running, and not sitting on the sidelines.  We want to be found awake and ready when our Savior returns.

What a glorious thing to consider that when He returns, Jesus will serve us.  This is just one more example of how You bless us beyond our ability to comprehend.  Help us to hold fast until the end.  Thank you, Father.  Amen.

Together for His glory…

The Cost of the Life of Worship

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith – that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:7-11

I have a friend who is a pastor in another country. Their church has gone through difficult times. Because of decisions made, which were based on following what they felt led by God to do, about half of their congregation left the church. To make matters worse, the government has determined that churches like theirs will no longer be recognized as an official church; therefore creating additional struggles for them, logistically, culturally, and financially, as they try to reach their community with the gospel.

However, at the same time, God continues to bless his ministry and the church. God is using Him to reach thousands of people throughout his country and beyond, as he teaches and reasons from the truth of the Word of God. His ministry reaches into his culture and into the theological, academic, and political communities of his country and beyond. Recently, he found out that their church would have to move locations. This could be a hardship on their church. However, he looks on this as God opening the door for ministry, as their new location is in an impoverished area, where there are thousands in need of hope. He is excited about the opportunities this will provide to spread the gospel.

I have another friend who is a pastor. The church he pastors has also gone through some difficult struggles. The economic impact of the past few years has taken a toll on families within the church. Several individuals or families have left the church, either because they feel led to go somewhere else or because they have issue with someone in leadership or something within the ministry of the church. These circumstances, and others, have together impacted the financial situation of the church.

Therefore, to be faithful to manage God’s resources well, decisions were made to cut spending. He informed the congregation of decisions to tighten spending, providing an overall view of the cuts. What he did not tell them was that he, along with the other full-time staff member, agreed to have their salaries cut by 15%. They sacrificed so that the part-time staff would not be impacted financially and so other areas of ministry were not stripped of additional resources. So, they quietly sacrificed for those they serve, at significant financial cost to themselves.

However, the Lord continues to bless this ministry. This pastor continues to faithfully teach the Word of God to his congregation. He continues to pour out his life in service to those in his congregation. And God is blessing this ministry, as he, the elders, staff, and ministry leaders strive to implement the vision that God has provided for growing disciples and reaching the community with the gospel. People are learning and growing in the faith through the impact of the ministries of the church. Over the past months, several people have come to Christ and are now growing in their faith. Other believers, who have been less active within the life of the church, are now fulfilling God’s call to serve His people and spread the gospel. Still others, already pouring out their lives, are giving even more of their time and resources. God is at work, even in the midst of uncertainty and struggle.

We could speak of many others, who live throughout this country and the world, pouring out their time, their gifts and talents, opening their homes, giving away their resources and money, living in the face of opposition and danger, and even giving up their lives for the gospel of Jesus Christ. They are not looking for power, fame, and prosperity. They are looking to a greater blessing, that of knowing Jesus Christ and living for the glory of their God. They have counted the treasures of this world as worthless compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ and the eternal treasure that is Him and through Him, both now and for eternity.

So, this leads me to a question. What does following Christ cost us? If following Jesus Christ does not significantly impact our lives (spiritually, culturally, emotionally, physically, financially, popularity, and availability), then we need to examine our lives and priorities. Does the way we live demonstrate that we treasure Christ? Or do we value our earthly possessions, homes, cars, careers, sex, popularity, success, vacations, entertainment, time, and leisure more than Christ?

Here in the American church, I think it is time for a serious evaluation of our lives. How are we different from our neighbors or the culture? Earlier in the letter to the Philippians, Paul urges the church to shine as lights in the world, as they live in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation (Philippians 2:14-18). How are we doing? Do we shine like stars or do we blend right in? If we are to shine like stars, there should be a significant difference in our lives.

Jesus said that people would know we are His by the way we love each other (John 13:34-35). Frequently, some of the greatest damage to Christians is done from within the church. Churches can be ripe with gossip, slander, lack of respect and criticism towards leadership, bitterness, an unwillingness to forgive each other, rebellion, and more. Who needs enemies outside the church? We do the enemy’s work for him. Why get involved in ministry when I can lob grenades from the sidelines? Remember the words of Jesus. The world will know we are His disciples because we love one another.

We are called to give up the temporary pleasures of sin and to pursue God in holiness, through the indwelling and power of the Holy Spirit. We are to put to death what is earthly in us, whether sexual immorality, impurity, overindulgence, coveting, slander, lying, malice, obscene talk, or any of the other sins that entangle us. We have put off the old self, with its practices, and put on the new self which is being renewed into the image of Jesus Christ (Colossians 3:5-10). There is a cost to pursuing Christ in righteousness, forsaking those public and private sins. We give up the temporary, but empty, pleasures. But if we yield to His work within us, we will reap joy and the wonder of becoming more like Christ and enjoy fellowship with Him.

Does following Jesus impact how I spend my money and use my resources? The New Testament is full of examples of those who gave abundantly, sacrificed beyond their means, gave up possessions, comfort, and lived humbly so that they could give to God and support the work of the gospel. Many believers throughout the world today make great sacrifices to follow Christ. They give up much and, many times, have things taken from them specifically because they are Christians. Their generosity and forsaking of worldly gain can put us to shame here in America.

How significantly should following Jesus impact us financially? This is a question that every follower of Christ has to ask themselves. “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” 2 Corinthians 9:6-8

When, at the end of days, we stand before Christ, I don’t think we are going to wish we had spent more money on homes, cars, going out to eat, entertainment, the newest electronic devices, or the myriads of other things that flash across our computer or television screens. So, how much do I have to give? If I am asking myself the question in that manner, my heart is not in right place. I think we should pray that God would allow us to give as much as possible. “How much can I give, God? Please help me be able to give more!”

When it comes down to it, the cost of being able to live the life of worship is very expensive. However, the ultimate price is not paid by us. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” 2 Corinthians 8:9.

We cannot pay for salvation. We can only receive it. We can never repay God for what we have received. We can only participate in the grace that we have received, living by His power and wisdom, and by following the example of the One Who gave His life for us. And by valuing the eternal and letting go of the temporary, which will fade away in the end, we bring glory to God and are promised the rich reward of our God.

It may be rough going at times, as we learn to leave the things of this world behind and face the backlash of those who hold onto this world and its temporary pleasures. We will face opposition, sometimes even within the church. But the reward of God is eternal and it will never end and it will never fade away. More on that later.

Together for His glory…

The Capital of Missouri is “M”

Caleb loves maps. When we travel, he likes to follow along on the map, so he knows where we are going. We were talking to him yesterday about maps, and my wife suggested that maybe he would enjoy learning all of the state capitals. So, I turned to him and asked him if he knew what the capital of Missouri was. Without hesitation, he replied, “M.”

Well, as you can imagine, that was not exactly the answer I was looking for, but his answer is not really incorrect either. “M” is the only capital letter in the word Missouri. And in his mind, “M” was the correct answer, even though it was not the answer to the question I was really asking. But we all got a good laugh and Caleb’s answer now finds its way into that collection of words and expressions that we have come to call “Caleb-isms.”

This incident highlights one of the issues that frequently can cause issues for us as followers of Christ. Effective communication can be very difficult. Sometimes, even though well-intentioned, we can confuse, offend, and hurt others. We do this with Christians and non-Christians alike.

With other Christians, we can be quick to argue over something that we don’t completely understand. We don’t take time to hear the perspective of the person we are debating with. We are so quick to defend our viewpoint that we don’t listen to the other person.

From personal experience, I have been involved in disputes that went on for months, only to find out, in the end, we had no significant difference of opinion on the issue. It was both amazing and disheartening that so much time was wasted arguing over something where the perspectives were not meaningfully different.

When we are talking to non-Christians, sometimes we expect them to understand where we are coming from when, in reality, they have no idea what we are even talking about. We have Christ dwelling within us. We have the Word, which He writes on our hearts and works in us to shape our thinking and our living, day by day, to be more like Jesus.

But after we have been in the faith for a while, I think we forget what it is like to not know the Word and have the internal guide of the Holy Spirit. We expect pagans to think like Christians. Why would they do that? How could they do that? We want them to conform to some spiritual or moral principle, but they have no ability to do so and no framework from which to accomplish that. They are spiritually dead.

In our ignorance, pride, or arrogance, we think everyone else thinks the way we do. Worse, we think that they should think the way we do. I have been there, believe me. As I look back over the years, I can think of so many times that I tried to pound home a point to someone, based on a conviction I had. Today, I see many of those times as prideful arrogance, tenaciously pressing for something that had little spiritual or eternal value. In the meantime, my victims were just thinking, “the capital of Missouri is M.” They had no idea what I was talking about or why it was so important.

Don’t get me wrong. Sound doctrine and convictions are critically important for us as Christians. If we do not hold fast to the essentials of the faith, the foundation that our faith is built on will be shifting sand (Matthew 7:24-27). Scripture is full of commands to hold fast to the truth of God’s Word. But many of us hold fast to convictions of our own creation, which cannot be supported by God’s Word.

Our pastor recently quoted one of the statements made by St. Francis of Assisi. “Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.” Sometimes, I think that the best way we could communicate the gospel would be to just keep our mouths shut. When words become many, sin can often follow (Proverbs 10:19). The kingdom of Christ is revealed through the power of God, not our many words (1 Corinthians 4:20). There is a time to speak, but it is always the time to let the love of Christ shine through our lives.

The life of worship is the living out of the gospel and allowing God to shine the love of Christ through our lives. It is learning to be quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19). Because if we listen closely, both to God and the person we are speaking with, we might just see more clearly what God is doing in their lives. We might better understand where they are coming from, and why they think the capital of Missouri is “M.” In other words, we might actually understand why they view life the way they do.

Together for His glory…