The Hidden Strength of the Servant

foot washing2Acts 18:1-3

After these things he left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, having recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. He came to them, and because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and they were working, for by trade they were tent-makers.

I can’t speak more highly about Aquila and Priscilla…  Paul’s co-workers in tent making as well as in the Gospel.  They traveled with him, taught with him, and even risked their lives for him. (Romans 16: 3-4),  but what I like most about them is that they were just every day, hard working folks.  They loved and served their Lord Jesus with vigor… and yet they both had a 9-5 job to get in as well.

I have worked bi-vocationally and know first hand how exhausting it can be.  Where does one find the energy to please a secular employer and to employ their spiritual gifts?  What right has a pastor to ask a church member working 40-60 hours a week to commit to a ministry at church?

Peter in 1 Peter 4 wrote about two types of spiritual gifts:

11 Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; …

The “speakers” are the upfront people… the pastors, teachers, etc.  They are to be careful to speak the words God gives them and not just what they know will cause people to like them.

The other group are the “servers.”  These are the behind the scenes people, the servants… people like Priscilla and Aquila.  Their spiritual gifts often go unnoticed and don’t get the praise and recognition that the “speakers” receive.  Add to that that these servants also work full time and it can be difficult to muster up the energy required.

Someone asked to work in such a role might say:  “Pastor, I’m tired.  I work everyday until exhaustion.  I don’t have any energy left for Kingdom work.”

Well, Priscilla and Aquila in the first century were involved in tiring work.   And yet they served the Lord with “the strength which God supplies.”  You don’t know what kind of energy you will have until you put your hand to the Lord’s work.  HE provides the strength you need WHEN you need it the most.

The Scriptures teach:  “23 Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men,”   This means when you punch the time clock… or when you fill out your timesheet… it isn’t just for your earthly employer… you are also “Working for Jesus.”  Your job is more than a means to feeding and supporting yourself… God wants your job to be leveraged for the advancement of His kingdom.   And He promises to provide all the strength you will need.

 

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Hold That Note!

Hit That High Note1 Peter 4: 10-11

As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

I don’t believe I’ve ever shared this on my blog, but I love Oldies.  I listen to the 60’s on 6 more than any other channel on Sirius/XM and have over a thousand songs on my Ipod from the 60’s and 70’s.  (I’m listening to Fats Domino‘s “I Want to Walk You Home” as I type this.)  Many of my friends also know that my specialty is quirky stories about these songs.  I hope some day to start a blog called NOTABLES to feature some of these stories.

Here is one today from Tom Jones‘ Discography.  In 1965 Tom Jones began his career with his first big hit, “it’s Not Unusual.”  It went to #1 in England and reached #10 here in the U.S.  He was new and successful so he was asked to sing for the new James Bond movie, Thunderball.  He sang the title cut.  The end of the song features a note that is very high and sustained.  He delivered it all right, but passed out in the recording booth afterward.  Asked about that monster note in a later interview he said:  “I closed my eyes and I held the note for so long when I opened my eyes the room was spinning.”

That is dedication!  To hit and sustain the notes God is calling us to sing in the chorus of life also requires such dedication.  Peter says that we have each been given a gift.  We are to be good stewards of that gift.  In my analogy, we have all been given a voice and we are each called to keep that voice in tip top shape.  Then Peter reminds those that have speaking gifts to speak as though they were speaking “the utterances of God.”  Sloppy or ill prepared oratory isn’t going to cut it.  Peter then reminds those that have serving gifts, to serve as though God were powering their efforts.  A half-hearted sense of duty will not sustain you.  Why not just go ahead and hit that (grace) note of yours and then sustain it!  Put everything into it.  Give it your all!

Maybe you have be doing your particular ministry in your church for a while now.  Maybe you have it down cold.  You don’t have to put as much effort into it as you did when you started.  It practically runs like it’s on autopilot.  Do some evaluation this year.  It might not be on autopilot… it could be on life support!  Stretch yourself and your faith.  Go for that note!  Sing it with all the strength that God supplies you.

Enough said…. I Gotta go…. The Classics IV are now singing “Traces.”  Love that song!

The Creative Companion

finger crossActs 15:40-41

40 But Paul chose Silas and left, being committed by the brethren to the grace of the Lord. 41 And he was traveling through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

Quick:  Do a friend count?  How many close friendship can you name in 5 minutes?  Guys, your wife doesn’t count no matter how close the two of you might be.  I mean companions that you don’t share a breakfast table with.  As the old saying goes:  “…someone when you make a fool of yourself doesn’t think you’ve done a permanent job.”  Someone that sharpens you and makes you a better you.

Paul had that in Silas.  What do we know about him?

We learn from earlier in chapter 15, that Silas was one of the leaders of the Jerusalem church that delivered the compromise at the recent counsel held there.  He is called “a prophet (v. 32).  We learn later that Silas is a Roman citizen (which would aide Paul in his travels) and in the book of 1 Peter that he served as an amanuensis (in other words… took dictation) for Peter.  1 Peter is some of the finest Greek in the New Testament… which meant Silas was skilled in the Greek language.  Silas is the obvious choice of a traveling companion for Paul

He’s experienced.  He’s talented.  He’s like-minded.

Now we all need people like Barnabus in our lives… mentors that call us out when we are wrong.  But we also need someone like Silas, one who comes along side us to laugh with us, cry with us, share a night in jail with us (see Acts chapter 16)… I’m talking about a Christian friend that shares life with you.  Do you have one for your journey?  Can someone call you such a friend?

A recent sad statistic I read was that 70% of pastors say they have no close friend.  These are our leaders… that provide direction, comfort and protection for the flock.  And they are… lonely.  And they are… complacent.  They have no one to sharpen then…  encourage them… strengthen them.

So how did you do on the pop quiz earlier?  Did you come up empty?  I believe God is calling us to deepen our relationships.  Recently my wife Janine read a Facebook post from a friend in another state.  She was excited about her church and put it this way:  “I am  so happy that I get to grow old with these people.”  Wow!   Jesus said: “This is my commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)  That is a call to a “can’t wait to grow old with” kind of love.

Seek to get to know someone today.  Break down the barriers of fear and mistrust.  Laugh with somebody.  Enjoy the God given gift of camaraderieRalph Waldo Emerson once wrote:  “We force no doors in friendship, but like the Christ in Revelation, we stand reverently at the door without, to knock.  And only if the door be opened from within, may we welcome in to sup with our friend and he with us.”  Whose door do you need to knock on today?

What’s Your Motivation?

1 Peter 5:2-3

“…not greedy for money, but eager to serve; ;

Just saw an interesting title for a Blog Entry: “Fleecing the Flock for Fun and Profit.”  It was a tongue and cheek look at methods that some pastors and televangelists use to extract the niave from their hard earned cash.  When we look at our sheep, do we see them as people with real needs to care for… or as dollar signs?  It is so subtle to shift from helper to helping ourselves.

I love the words of a blogger I recently came across, Matt Rose:  “I work in Christian retail; I’ve been around quite a few Christian leaders; and I also do a lot of study on my own time. Here’s what I’ve learned: No one has to beg in order for God’s will to be done. Period.
In Christian retail, there is the “plus sell opportunity,” where the cashier (following secular business models) offers additional products at the register in order to boost sales. As I said, this is my job. But that doesn’t make it easy for me.
Here’s a little irony: the point of Christian customer service, as best I understand it, is to serve the customer. In fact, that should be the point of all customer service, Christian or otherwise. But as soon as you make the switch from focusing on the needs of the customer to focusing on the percent of transactions that result in a plus-sell, you turn people into objects–mere means to your end. And what is your end? Money. Higher sales.  Higher profit. Money. Mammon, they used to call it.”
I totally understand and agree with Matt’s words.  I used to sell jewelry in a JCP.  We were required to keep a certain percentage of “care plan” sales.  For some items, like diamond rings, this was easier.  But sometimes it did not advantage the customer.  At that point I was no longer “serving” the customer… but fleecing them!

If you are in charge of God’s flock in your church ask yourself… and ask yourself often… what’s your motivation?

Do You Have the “Want To”?

1 Peter 5:2 

The next word Peter has for Shepherds is about motivation.  We can all learn from his observations,but Peter has leadership in mind when he says:  “…serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be;”

Years ago I worked at the seminary I attended and lived on campus next door to a fella that was attending there at the time.  He played the trumpet and was very interested in becoming a music minister.  His wife however felt there was no money there.  He needed to be a preacher.  One problem:  The man couldn’t preach!

He once preached a sermon on Joel at the church my family attended.  It was long and dry, but we made it through.  Afterward we saw the wife of the Hispanic pastor coming out of the church shaking her head.

We immediately assumed she had trouble understanding the message because her English wasn’t that good.  She responded, “I understand what he said.  But… boring!  No reason for the Bible to be boring!”

His lack of preaching skills was due to a motivation problem.  He couldn’t preach because his heart wasn’t in it. He didn’t have the “want-to.”

If you are a leader at church, or serve on a committee at church, or work in a para-church organization, hear this:  if you are doing ministry because you feel like you have to… you need to examine your motives.  God wants you to want to.

Every year churches have the same problem with a lot of their committees.  No one wants to be the chair of the committee.  “I’ll be on it (begrudgedly) but don’t put me in charge.  No one wants to take the reigns of leadership!  Sometimes the committee decides:  Let’s just not have a head of committee.  We’ll all just do our jobs and lead together.  The result:  the committee is weakened and nothing gets done.
You might say:  “But I don’t have the skills to lead!”  I would say, “But do you have the “want to?”  God is able to supply the skills to those that possess the “want to.”  I pray that God will move you to a position where you can lead for His glory… where you WANT to lead for His glory.
WE NEED MORE LEADERS.