Shaped for Serving God
But in The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, there’s a pretty girl who actually kind of likes him. Alma. Now, she is a lot prettier than Don Knotts has a right to be with—which I can relate to—but Hollywood is the land of impossible dreams, and after a good steak dinner at Alma’s house, Luther knows this is the time he’s got to make his romantic move. He’s got to get his arm around Alma and move the football of love down the field. So he stammers and hems and haws but finally manages to say to this beautiful female: “Alma, you’re a real attractive girl. Way above average.”
Oh. Thank you.
“Well, that’s all right,” he says, trembling. He then observes that he is just your ordinary, average guy. He gets no argument from her regarding that very obvious truth. And finally he manages to make a telling point: “‘Average’ is just plain lucky to be sitting on the same porch with ‘Above Average.’”
We’re studying the principle of ministry this week, and I want us to be very clear at the outset that you and I are privileged to be called by God to serve in His kitchen cabinet. We’re part of His inner circle; we’re His ambassadors, His representatives. And it’s much like Luther with Alma on the front porch: “‘Average’ is very fortunate to be sitting on the same porch with ‘above average.’”
But now I want to backtrack as we consider what there is to learn about the joys of service.
I want to tell you this morning about a young lady we’ll call Adelyn. When there’s a wedding here at the church, Adelyn is someone you hardly see.
The central figure, of course, is the bride. The maid of honor is present in a beautiful dress. The mother of the bride is elegantly dressed and is treated with honor. The various grandmas walk in, escorted by a tuxedoed gentleman, and are deferentially exalted. There are accolades for the groom and his retinue of friends. The minister and the flower girl and the Bible boy are all noticed and photographed.
Modern Day Servants
But who in the world is “Adelyn”? Well, this very talented but behind-the-scenes woman is the wedding coordinator. She makes the entire day happen. She makes one of the most special, glorious, proud days of a new couple’s life have the touch of elegance.
Most of us who attend such gala events probably never even see her. Even if you do, you probably don’t learn her name unless you really scour the printed program. But behind the curtain of anonymity, where there are no headlines, no fanfare, no glory, and very little financial reward is a dedicated Christian who says to the Church: “I will help here. I will plan weddings. I will serve the Body of Christ by making sure the gate is open at 3:00 p.m. so the rental agency can deliver ten round tables and 120 white chairs.”
Being at a Christian wedding reminds all of us of a powerful truth in God’s family. For every bride who looks so breathtakingly beautiful in her wedding dress, there is an aunt who rents a room in a Motel 6 the night before and helps do the bride’s hair. For every musician who stands up front and sings The Lord’s Prayer and receives accolades from the congregation, there is an assistant who sits in the PA booth and runs the track. For every minister who gets lots of handshakes and compliments for the wedding sermon, there are quiet, invisible people in his life whose gentle influence and wise thoughts fed his soul and gave him something spiritual to say. I can tell you personal stories I know where the bride had a close friend who was her ally and confidant during some of her hard, lonely years. On the wedding day, the bride emerges as a queen; the bride has all the pictures taken of her. The bride wears the white dress. Her unnoticed best friend stands in the back next to the guest book as people signed their names.
Obviously, wedding days are a wonderful and special time for the preacher and also for many fortunate others. Doing a wedding ceremony is one of my happiest assignments. I love preparing that sermon; I love rehearsing it, sometimes with a Kleenex in my hand, and I love sharing it with those I love. But I want to tell you this today. On the days when it’s a joy, and also on the days when it’s a hard, gritty, sterile, lonely, boring assignment . . . you and I were shaped for serving God. We were put here to preach and also to pour soup into bowls. We were put here to feed the hungry and also to do the dishes later. And unless you are serving, you’re never going to be fully satisfied.
Here’s our first verse for today: Ephesians 2:10. We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. I like how Pastor Rick Warren puts it: “You were made to make a contribution, not just to consume. God made you to make a difference. And what matters is not how long you live, but how you live. What matters is not the duration of your life, but the donation of your life. . . . We’re created to serve, we’re saved to serve, we’re gifted to serve, we’re shaped to serve. We’re commanded to serve.”
In fact, our friends at Saddleback have a helpful acronym they actually call “SHAPE.” It’s based on Job 10:8, which says: Your hands shaped me and made me. And here are the five key ingredients God uses to equip us for service. “S” stands for our spiritual gifts, “H” is for our heart, “A” is our natural abilities, “P” is our personality, and “E” is the aggregate experiences of our lives.
The Bible teaches that if we have experienced good fortune—if we have lovely, comfortable homes, if we enjoy an abundant income, if we are blessed with natural gifts and abilities—then there is a service reason why God gave us those gifts. Luke 12:48 says: From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded. Peter writes in his first epistle: Each one should use whatever gift he’s received to serve others. Some have observed that, theologically speaking, God could very easily take Christians to heaven the minute we join God’s family. Instant translation. Why doesn’t God do that? Why doesn’t heaven begin immediately? Why are we still here? Because God put us here to serve, and He leaves us here to serve. The apostle Paul once admitted: “Really, if I were to die right now and immediately see the face of Jesus—in terms of my conscious spirit—that would be better. ‘Better by far.’ Why do I choose to stay here, then? For you guys. To serve you people, my spiritual family. To be a blessing to others.”
So let’s take note of this as our fourth purpose: to serve God by serving others. We call this kind of service ministry. Every single person here is a minister, not just me. In fact, because my motives are tainted by a paycheck from the conference office, you saints here are the purest ministers we’ve got.
And we copy Jesus when we live lives of service. He said explicitly in Matthew 20:28: Your attitude must be like My own, for I did not come to be served, but to serve. In our quarterly communion services, we always envision Jesus putting on a towel, and getting down on His knees—the King of the universe down on His knees—washing the dirty feet of twelve ragtag disciples. And we tend to think, “Well, Jesus was doing a bit of play-acting there. He’s the Lord; He’s a King, but He unselfishly showed us the model of service. He stepped out of His true self in order to give us a tutorial.” And you know, I don’t think that’s true at all. His washing feet is a teaching lesson for us, but when Jesus washed feet, He was being His truest self. Because Jesus was a servant. He didn’t pretend to be a servant; He didn’t shed His executive lifestyle for 15 missionary minutes to theatrically show us a new paradigm. Washing feet and hugging kids and staying up healing sinners until 11:30 p.m. was what He came here to do. It’s what He loved to do.
I love to look at the life of Jesus in order to learn the principles of service. First of all, serving like Jesus means being available. Matthew 20 has a story where two blind men were shouting from the sidelines: “Jesus, help us! Have mercy! Stop and give us a break!” And the Bile says, “Jesus stopped.” He interrupted His schedule.
Here at this church, each of us needs to be willing to stop our regular schedule, to be interrupted. This same Rick Warren likes to say: “A lot of people like to follow the steps of Jesus. I like to study the stops of Jesus.” Most of Jesus’ healings, the times He blessed others, were interruptions. People saying, “Jesus, please . . . I know you’re turning right up here; please turn left instead. Come to my house; come help me.” In fact, one man, a Roman centurion, knew he was interrupting Jesus, knew he was cutting into the schedule of the Ruler of the universe. And said: “No, no, no, I’m not worthy. I don’t want to take Your time. Just wave Your magic wand, just say the word.”
Let’s remember, every time we’re tempted to hoard our time, every time we’re tempted to cocoon ourselves, every time we’re tempted to hit the garage door remote twice in eight seconds—open it, drive in, close it—and be in the house and in our fortress before needy, hurting people can invade us . . . let’s remember these four things. First of all, the example of Jesus. Jesus had just three-and-a-half years total to do His entire ministry, to establish His church. And yet He was always stopping to go to weddings, hitting the brakes for parties, pausing for funerals. Of course, all of the funerals He attended turned into parties, but Jesus was willing to be interrupted.
Secondly, let’s remember that we’re among the world’s most fortunate people. We have an obligation to help.
Third, if we say, “I don’t have time; I’m busy; I’ve got a lot going,” let’s be thankful that being Seventh-day Adventist Christians takes away that excuse for at least 24 hours each week. We have the seventh-day Sabbath. This day is available. On this day we don’t work and we don’t earn and we don’t struggle. We do rest and get restored, but we also have these hours to serve.
And fourth, please remember this. You and I are going to live forever. We have infinity before us. If a neighbor needs a half an hour, that is sliced out of infinity. If the church needs you to be here 45 minutes early to help put up some speakers, if a potluck crew needs you to help set up tables, if someone needs your keen mind and your leadership skills on some committee that takes a whole evening out of your life, that is one church evening subtracted from the infinity of the New Jerusalem.
This same writer gives us three potential barriers that can get in the way of our availability. First of all, self-centeredness. We sometimes want to hang this sign around our necks because our lives revolve around self. And that is the default mode in a sinful world. We’re all made that way very early in life; we learn to screen our phone calls.
A second barrier is perfectionism—not the behavioral kind we struggle with as Christians, but instead an attitude of not wanting to participate until the conditions are perfect. I know of men who stand on the marital sidelines, waiting and endlessly waiting for the perfect woman to come along. Now, I actually did that, and it worked for me. But it’s not going to work for any of the rest of you, because the perfect wife is now taken already. However, I have had people specifically say to me that they weren’t going to plunge into the arena of serving the church, because they were waiting for a perfect church, or a perfect program, or a perfect niche opportunity. And I’ve tried to explain to them that their participation now, not holding back, would at least edge the church in the right direction. That’s all we can ever hope for. Ecclesiastes 11:4 tells us: If you wait for perfect conditions, you’ll never get anything done.
A third barrier to our serving is materialism, and every person here knows all too well how tempted we are to look after the things we’ve already got, and not jeopardize our stash. But let’s not forget the infinity of our heavenly inheritance. Let’s not forget the waiting mansions. Let’s not forget that everything here is temporary, and that our salvation and the salvation of our friends is something we can’t put a price tag on.
Let’s move to Principle #2: serving like Jesus means being grateful. Have you ever had an experience where you were overwhelmed by the blessings and the goodness of God? In a tangible way, you felt His providence surrounding you. It wouldn’t surprise me if at that moment, you also felt a desire to serve, to reach out to others. Your rejoicing heart automatically wanted to minister and share with other people. A grateful heart is going to make you eager to serve.
I think we should develop an attitude of thanking God whenever we have the chance to minister here. If you’re on a board or a committee, start with prayer and say: “Lord, thank You that we were called and elected to these important positions.” If you have the gift of playing the guitar, and we then ask you to help take down speakers and mike stands, thank God that you were given that musical gene. The work comes with the gift. If you choose to help with the kids, spend some time thanking God that we have kids. There are many Christian churches today where there are no children; let’s be thankful 24/7 that this church is a fertile, gestating, baby-making, diaper-changing, birthday caking, toy-put-awaying gang of Christians. Isn’t it fun to have children here? Aren’t we fortunate to have all the kids? So be thankful if you get the chance to serve across the hall in Sabbath School. We read in John 11 that right before Jesus resurrected His friend Lazarus, He looked up at heaven and said, “Father, thank You so much for always hearing Me. Thank You that we have this connection, that I’m Your beloved Son, and that I get to glorify Your name by turning funerals into parties. It’s a lot of fun to beat Lucifer day after day around here, and to take the sting out of death.”
Two things get in the way of a grateful heart. One of them is comparing and criticizing. That’s the core of the tenth commandment, of course . . . coveting the experience of others. But if we spend our lives looking at the green grass elsewhere, comparing instead of being grateful, our effectiveness in serving will be diminished. I want to go on the record as saying I am so thankful for each of you, I have no words for it. I love serving you; I love being your pastor; I love the work that comes to my doorstep because it involves expressing my thankfulness in action.
Another barrier is wrong motivations. During any political season here in America, we see candidates going into local neighborhoods and making pancakes for people. Why? Because a camera crew is present. Matthew 6:1 tells us not to assemble TV cameras when we do good deeds; if we do, our 15 seconds on CNN will be the only reward we get.
Why do we want to hold a position? C. S. Lewis, who got a lot of headlines and made a lot of money on royalties—usually giving most of it away—once had a roundtable discussion where someone asked: “Is it appropriate to want to be a general, to try to seek advancement through the military ranks?” And he went right to this issue of motives. If you think you have the expertise, and the insight, and honestly think you have a plan that could help win a war and, in the long run, ease the bloodshed and the hurt of the world, fine. Try to be a general. Try to get that job. But if all you want to do is to get your picture on magazines, or if you simply want to be President so you can live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and fly on Air Force One and enjoy power along with your friends, then it’s wrong. George W. Bush’s father, #41, when he was inaugurated in 1988, had a classic line: “Use power to help people.” And our gratitude for the willingness to serve and be involved in ministry will hopefully remain untainted by jealousy or wrong motives or craven ambitions.
Our third goal in ministry is this: serving like Jesus means being faithful. Every parable Jesus told, as He taught about kingdom principles, is crystal clear that we’re simply to stay on the job. We’re not supposed to try to figure out when He’s going to come; we’re not supposed to finish all of the work ourselves. We’re just to keep working. If you have five talents, or two, or one. If you’re seated at the head of the banquet table or near the back. Whether the bridegroom comes early or late. Whether the master of the house returns right on schedule or is delayed. John 17:4 has Jesus Himself saying to His Father: I have brought You glory on earth by completing the work You gave Me to do.
Let me return to the motif of a wedding. The parents of the bride certainly have to put their trust in certain people! The wedding coordinator. The assigned helpers at the church. A caterer who brings in food. A rental company that delivers our tables and chairs. Friends flying in and needing pickups at the airport. You have to put your trust in a lot of people. And thank God for loyal supporters who are right there at their work stations when you need them.
And here in this place, God calls for you and me to pick a job, and then do it. Stay at it. Be gratefully at our post. It might be a big job; it might be a small one. It might be out front, or behind the curtain. Paul writes in First Corinthians 15:58: Throw yourself into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for Him is a waste of time or effort.
God’s Word tells us there are no unimportant body parts. And what that means is that there are no unimportant people. No unimportant jobs in the church. A nobody preacher named Mordecai Ham was holding some meetings in North Carolina back in 1934. A lot of people came and some of them were converted. But at that time, I don’t suppose it seemed like that big of a spiritual breakthrough. Except for the fact that one of the teenage kids there one hot, sticky night came to the front during the second stanza of “Just As I Am” and became a child of God. The high school really buzzed over that: “Wow, Billy Frank became a Christian.” Seven decades later, I want to tell you, I’m glad that Billy Frank Graham is a pretty good preacher and our brother in Christ. And Dr. Ham went to his grave, I’m sure, saying to himself: “Little Is Much When God Is in It.”
In the harvest field now ripened, There’s a work for all to do. Hark, the Master’s voice is calling. To the harvest calling you. Does the place you’re called to labor Seem so small and little-known? It is great if God is in it. And He won’t forsake His own. When the conflict here had ended, And our work on earth is won, He will say, if you’ve been faithful, “Welcome home, my child, well done.” Little is much when God is in it. Labor not for wealth or fame. There’s a crown, and you can win it, If you’ll go in Jesus’ name.
This church has a great need. And this is what it is. We need a whole bunch of people—in fact, we need every single person here and then some—to step forward and accept one job. Look at your skills; look at your gifts. And then raise your hand, take a pen and sign on the dotted line, and accept one job. Hopefully it can be a fun job, one that you love doing. But it may not be fun all the time. There might be some moment of carpet-vacuuming along with the more sparkling moment in the spotlight where your children are saying their wedding vows.
But then we need your faithfulness. If you’re bringing a dish for potluck, it’s here. If you’re on the praise team, you’re here when we’re scheduled to start. If you’re on a committee, you show up. If you’re the leader of a home fellowship meeting, you have your DVD ready and the Subway sandwiches ordered and the sodas in the fridge.
And when we truly love each other, then acts of service, of waiting past your bedtime for an opportunity to help, becomes an act of nobility. It says in Hebrews 6:10: He will not forget how hard you have worked for Him and how you have shown your love to Him by caring for others.
The last thing I want to say is this. You make such a difference. Just you being here today—your body and mind being in these pews right now—is a plus I cannot articulate properly. Every four years you and I go down to a polling station and we each cast one vote. I get one vote; you get one. The President gets one. The great leaders of our political parties each get just one. The most powerful and influential men and women in America cast one vote each. And together, one vote at a time, a mighty river, a swelling ocean we call democracy floods across this nation as 120 million votes are cast for President. We all make a difference if we each do our one thing, especially as we do it in a cause we love.
I want to go back to Don Knotts, who sat on a porch with this pretty girl and said: “Why me? I’m so lucky to sit here.” You and I have been called to ministry with the King of the universe. Jesus wants to work with us.
There’s an old Charlie Brown cartoon where the little beagle, Snoopy, is thinking about deep things. He wants to live a purpose-driven life. And he poses this theological question: “I wonder why some of us are born people and some of us are born dogs? Why is that? Is it just random chance? Is there any cosmic design to it all? Some are people; some are dogs.” And he’s deep in thought as various kids go traipsing by. In the last frame he concludes: “Somehow it doesn’t seem quite fair. Why should I have been the lucky one?”
The reality is that God could do His work without the church. He doesn’t need us. He could use the angels. But He has chosen to do it through us, through those of us who love His kingdom and want to see it succeed. And I sometimes look up at heaven and say: “I don’t get it. Why do You want our help? Why do You want us to sit on that porch with You? ‘Average’ is just plain lucky to be serving with ‘Almighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’ Why should we have been the lucky ones? But thank God we are.
I want to tell you today that if you minister in any venue God offers, there will come a time, standing in that better land, when someone will come up to you and say: “Thank you. I am a life that was changed. Thank you for giving your self to the Lord.”
One by one they came, Far as the eye could see. Each life somehow touched by your generosity. Little things that you had done, Sacrifices made. Unnoticed on the earth, In heaven now proclaimed. Thank you for giving to the Lord. I am a life that was changed. Thank you for giving to the Lord. I am so glad you gave. Thank you for giving to the Lord. I am a life that was changed. Thank you for giving to the Lord. I am so glad you gave.
(Thank You for Giving to the Lord, words and music by Ray Boltz) © Copyright 1988 Gather Music/ASCAP All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.
This is part 6 of a 8-part series: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 7 | 8
Submitted by David B. Smith. Better Sermons © 2005-2007. Click here for usage guidelines.
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