Bob Russell tells the story of Dwight Day, a UPS pilot who had come back to church after many years away. Russell walked into the auditorium one day to catch Day scrubbing grape juice stains off the pews. This pilot was an important man with sufficient money to hire someone to do the job, but there he was scrubbing. He “wasn’t too important to clean the pews” (When God Builds A Church, 178).
Who visits the elderly members in the nursing home? Who participates in the workday? Who takes the poor, ill member to a doctor’s appointment? Who prepares the communion? Who teaches the cradle roll class? Who grades the correspondence courses? Who gives a lift to someone who needs a ride to church? Who does the many “invisible,” thankless tasks that must be done for the church to grow and meet its many responsibilities? The servant!
The serving Christian is not necessarily the one-talent, lower-class, uneducated person ill-equipped to do something more “sophisticated” and “important.” These are the kinds of things anyone can do, but only the servant does them. Lest we consider such tasks too menial and such people meaningless, we reflect on John 13. That chapter records the all-knowing, all-powerful Creator of the universe (you can’t one-up that) pouring water into a basin, washing the disciples’ feet and drying them with a towel he had put around Himself (v. 5). They had to have been baffled, this group who had been jockeying for a seat on His left and right hand in the vision of Kingdom greatness they had imagined (cf. Mat. 20:21). What were they thinking as Jesus tells them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” (12b-17).
This was a gut-punch to them and to so many of us. We can be more interested in getting the good seat than stooping to wash the dirty foot (or scrub the grape juice-stained pew). But we will miss the heavenly definition of spiritual greatness unless we lower ourselves. Jesus told the Sons of Thunder and their mother to remove the worldly gauging of greatness out of their thinking (Mat. 20:25-28). Perhaps He’d have that conversation with you and me, too. May God grant us the humility to see the opportunities and serve as stain scrubbers and every other, similar task that allows Him to use us for His glory. If that spirit permeates a congregation, it will turn the whole world upside down (cf. Acts 17:6)!
Romans 6:13 tells us our body is an instrument, and we choose to use it for righteousness or unrighteousness. The Greek word translated “instrument” there means “tool or weapon.” What kind of tool or weapon are you? Are you an instrument God holds in His hand to do His will?
Are you a battering ram? The ancients would use a log or some other hard object to break down a wall or door. Have we filled our hearts with the Word to the degree that we can, speaking the truth in love (Eph. 4:15), break down barriers keeping the honest-hearted from God?
Are you a crowbar? Crowbars pry objects apart. There are things we should separate from our thinking and lifestyle. Are we trying to pull away from worldliness (Js. 4:4)?
Are you a chisel? This is a tool that does meticulous, detailed work. Its blade carves or cuts hard materials. Do we have the tenacity and trust needed to use God’s Word and benefit from His providence to remake our lives into the image of Christ (cf. 2 Co. 3:18)?
Are you a level? We live in not only a dishonest world but also a corrupt world. So many call good evil and evil good (Isa. 5:20). Can people find in us a reliable standard of right and wrong, as we reflect the principles of God’s Word? Levels are used to determine whether something is true and as it ought to be.
Are you a plane? The plane smooths rough surfaces by repetitiously moving back and forth across the surface. All four Gospels (Mat. 3:3; Mk. 1:3; Lk. 3:4; Jn. 1:23) speak of John the immerser’s work as making ready the path of the Lord, making His paths straight. We are not forerunners of Jesus; we follow in His steps (1 Pe. 2:21). As we do follow Him, we are going to forge a path safe for others to follow (1 Co. 11:1).
Are you a magnet? A magnet is an object that draws and holds another object disposed toward such attraction. Magnets can be used as tools themselves, but they are often made a part of other tools, such as hammers and screwdrivers. By living like Jesus, you will draw people to Him.
Paul also referred to “tools” or “weapons” when talking to the Corinthians. He mentions “armor of righteousness” and “weapons of our warfare” (same word). In both cases, the tools or weapons are spiritual and figurative, yet with them we can help shape and build up those around us. Be a tool in God’s toolbox!
Strayer University shared their video from the day they ran an ingenious experiment in New York City. They put up a chalkboard on a busy street with this caption written at the top: “Write Your Biggest Regret.” Scores of people wrote on the chalkboard. Nearly every answer visible in the video included the word “not.” Interestingly, it was not confessions of sins of commission. Instead, it was about opportunities missed, dreams not pursued, and things they failed to do.
That exercise made me wonder how many are inmates in the prison of “not.” While Strayer seemed more interested in highlighting regrets that were tied to career, that impacted quality of physical life, and the like, regret reigns in people’s hearts and has dominion over their spiritual and eternal lives, too. Scripture shows us those challenged with the gospel message who ultimately refused to follow Christ. The rich young ruler was not willing to choose Christ over his stuff (Mat. 19:22). Many of the rulers believed in Him, but they put their stock in the approval of men rather than God (John 12:42-43). Felix trembled at truth, but ultimately turned away (Acts 24:25). His cohort, Agrippa, was nearly there but not quite (Acts 26:28). Other examples can be found of those who came so far but would go no further.
How many people have been shown the way to eternal life and have acknowledged, to a point, that it is the way they should go? Yet, when push comes to shove, they refuse to leave the cell of self and confine themselves to the chains of a condemning choice. Before Christ, they will see their regrets realized in a rejection that cannot be remedied.
The incredible news is that they keys are in reach of this prison. It was a running gag in the Andy Griffith show that particularly Barney would leave the keys on the peg of the Mayberry jail where the prisoners could reach the keys and let themselves out. Would you picture our spiritual circumstances this way? The Psalmist praises God for many reasons, including the fact that “the Lord sets the prisoners free” (146:7). In a Messianic passage, Isaiah writes of His mission to “proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners” (61:1; cf. Luke 4:18; 7:22; Mat. 11:5). He can emancipate lifelong slaves to sin (Heb. 2:15). He has left the keys where we can grab them, but we must want to be free and choose to be free.
This video ends with the participants taking an eraser and removing all the regrets from the board. One of them writes just two words in their place: “Clean slate.” What an optimistic, hopeful, empowering difference that contrasting concept is. Regret can be replaced with resolve. Do you believe that is possible for your spiritual life? Don’t you think God wants you to experience that exhilarating hope? The proof is there at Golgotha and the sepulcher that could not keep His Son entombed. What He did there can provide you with a clean slate! Take possession of the freedom He came to give you!
I grew up in the church, and something I learned long ago is that the majority of God’s people want to serve and please the Lord. There are sin problems we fight, doctrinal confusions we must confront, personality issues that arise, and distractions that sidetrack us far too often, but many times we fail to recognize and acknowledge that, with proper direction, a great many Christians are ready to mobilize and be about our Father’s business. While the elders, deacons, and preachers have been frequently meeting together for the last couple of years to plan and organize the work here at Bear Valley, we have discovered so many positive things about each other. We are closer to each other and more excited about the church’s work. We care more about the lost and the saved, and we are eager to prove it and spread that attitude congregation-wide. As we have met and excitement has continued to build, I have been reminded of some basic, vital things that creates such an environment. Here are three needed things I believe that still get the Lord’s people excited.
Purpose. Have you ever heard a sermon on the church’s work and purpose? Of course! And bulletin and periodical articles, Bible classes, and gospel meetings and seminars. We talk a lot about purpose, but when you take tangible steps to accomplish the saving of souls, non-Christian and Christian souls, and meeting genuine needs you get excited knowing that you are partnering with God to do His will on this earth. Often, you have to measure progress in baby steps, but when you can look over an increment of time and see progress, it is absolutely exciting! When Barnabas worked with Antioch, he “encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord” (Acts 11:23). Purpose of heart still encourages the church!
Unity. I’m not talking cheap union that is built upon nebulous, conviction-less coexistence, but unity built solidly upon the bedrock of truth! That kind of unity is forged by having the difficult discussions, teaching the whole counsel, and striving together to fulfill the will of God. When you couple doctrinal conviction with the aforementioned purpose, the net result is a unity that excites! Joining with others who have the faith to take God at His word emboldens and propels you forward to do great things, right things, that glorify Him. The inspired David point this out, saying, “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Ps. 133:1). Tell me that is not exciting!
Leadership. Who sets the pace in articulating purpose and urging unity? Leaders! We know who leaders are. They are the ones leading. They know where they are going and how to get us there, too. We hear their voice and are eager to follow. We are not willing to blindly follow those who are not right behind the Chief Shepherd, but those who are, in word and deed, we are willing to follow even through thickets and brambles. We trust them. We believe in them. In fact, “We esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake” (1 Th. 5:13). God has designed elders to be those “senior leaders,” and He expects us all to be growing our spiritual influence and example. It’s exciting to be a part of a church full of people conscientious about their influence!
I’m not unrealistic or purely idealistic. I know that the Devil is unhappy with the church who is actively working to fulfill God’s purpose, being united in truth, and possessed of church leaders who have Christ as their pattern. We can let selfish ambition and improper motivation undermine the Lord’s will. But, let’s not be unmindful of how great the work is and how great our opportunity to partner together with Christ and Christians to do it. It’s exciting!
Anything special, big and worthwhile a church attempts, be it a new program, evangelism, visitation, the Bible School, or a lectureship, will fail if it rests only on the shoulders of the elders, preachers, or select few. The late Wendell Winkler was fond of saying, “Programs do not work. People do.” Programs are only as effective as the people in the local church work to make them. It is estimated that nearly a gazillion little things must be done for something of any magnitude to go smoothly, and the active, tireless labor of as many as possible makes all the difference.
Active members are so crucial to a church being successful, in God’s eyes. Here is a tribute to some very special members of a congregation:
The REMEMBERS: These are the folks who don’t “forget” events on the church’s calendar, who don’t say “Oh, was that this week?” As you involve yourself in the church’s work, you take seriously the ever-relevant principle, “But you shall remember the LORD your God…” (Deut. 8:18). God does not like to be forgotten (Psa. 42:9; Jer. 2:32; Ezek. 22:12).
The DISMEMBERS: These are folks who are willing to sever themselves from their normal routines, preempting other events, to support an activity or event. Such are living out Matthew 6:33 and Romans 12:1-2. God richly blesses Christians who make such decisions. You are those who know it is better to “cut off” anything that keeps you from doing what you can for the Lord (cf. Heb. 12:1).
The EMBER MEMBERS: These are members who are involved, supporting the works and activities of the church. You have your fire lit. You want to be a better child of God. Keep the fires of enthusiasm, rededication, and determination burning brightly. We see your glow. It encourages all of us. You can help smoke out spiritual enemies even better through your faithful participation.
God bless every faithful member of His church. Your support for good works is overwhelming. Let us use each event and opportunity to make the church, with its every member, stronger.
The inimitable historian, David McCullough, has churned out another masterpiece in his new book, The Wright Brothers. Chronicling their lives before, on, and after that famous December day in 1903 in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, McCullough, in his unique way, peels back the layers of the people who made the history. One particular example of this is seen in the author’s conveyance of Wilbur Wright’s misgivings about what he was going to make of his life. Writing to his older brother Lorin, Wilbur said, “The boys of the Wright family are all lacking in determination and push. That is the very reason that none of us have been or will be more than ordinary businessmen” (24). It is amusing to think that Wilbur made this statement in 1894, less than a decade before that historic first flight. Every airplane trip you make is a testimony to the Wrights’ determination, push, and extraordinary industry of the bicycle shop brothers, Orville and Wilbur Wright.
What do you see when you look at your life? Are you dismissive of your talents and opportunities? Do you think yourself in terms of your “can’ts” or your “cans”? Perhaps you are prone to discount your potential.
If that is you, you should consider the case of a few other people. Moses resisted leadership, claiming to be a nobody (Exo. 3-4). Saul hid himself in the baggage (1 Sam. 10:22). Jeremiah apparently tried to hide behind his age (Jer. 1:6-7). Timothy seems to have been fearful (2 Tim. 1:7). Yet, each rose to a position of greatness and played an important part in God’s plan. What was the “X” factor in every case? As God told Judah through Jeremiah, “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope” (Jer. 29:11). Solomon would say, “Commit your works to the Lord and your plans will be established” (Pro. 16:3). Then, a millennia later, Paul tells the church at Philippi, “It is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phi. 2:13).
Relax! Take the pressure off of yourself because, frankly, it is not about you. It is about the God who is at work in you. Chart a course that puts Him first in your life and dedicate yourself to trying, as hard as you can, to please Him. Isn’t He strong and smart enough to open the right doors? Is He able to do great things? Yes! The incredible thing about that is that He has chosen to do great things through lowly people like you and me! Stop and consider this. What does God see in you? What will He do through you to His glory? Never stop asking that question!
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly all the top 1o most common U.S. occupations are in the service industry—retail salespersons, cashiers, fast food workers, office clerks, waiters and waitresses, and customer service representatives, just to name a few (http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/ocwage.pdf). But one of the most common complaints you hear is about poor customer service, rude or unhelpful customer service staff, being overcharged or neglected, or a bad attitude. There may be a great many reasons behind this, but one may well be that our culture is not conditioned to serve, but to be served. Those in positions of service may just be reflecting the culture.
This is not a new problem. Jesus addressed that mentality with His followers in Matthew 20:25-28. In a world insistent upon being the chief and asserting their own rights, Jesus’ message does not play well today. Yet, it did not play well even when He taught it on earth. Jesus was very clearly the suffering servant (Isa. 53:11), and how did the masses ultimately react to Him? They shouted, “Crucify Him” (Mark 15:13-14).
The concept of serving others turned out to be a struggle for the church at Philippi. To that end, Paul urged them to adopt a better mindset, a proper attitude (Phil. 2:1-4). Paul reminded these Christians that they were in the spiritual service industry. It was their job to serve one another. We can understand why this teaching is a bitter pill to swallow. We all know those members of the spiritual family who are difficult to deal with, the ones who can be like fingernails on the chalkboard to us or who set our teeth on edge. We might enjoy doing for the benign brother, the sweet sister, or the friendly family. The real test comes in serving someone who does not make serving a pleasant, happy task. A servant heart was lacking among some at Philippi (cf. 4:2), and an unwillingness to put others first will have a dangerous, negative impact on a church if such a spirit is allowed to grow unchecked.
Gordon MacDonald said, “You can tell whether you are becoming a servant by how you act when people treat you like one.” Paul is urging a united, humble, and serving attitude on Philippi and on us. Our task is not to gauge how others are growing in service, but to examine self. May we live what we sometimes sing to God, “Make me a servant, Lord, make me like You, for you are a servant, make me one, too!”
It was such a joy to accompany the BVBII students on campaign to Greensboro, Georgia. Chuck Ramseur, one of our graduates, is doing a great job with Brianna and their four children, and the church was so warm and hospitable. Yet, one of the things I’ll remember the most from this trip was the continual service displayed by Bonnie Saldana. Her husband, Mario, is a freshman and we had the same host family. Throughout the week, Bonnie would jump up and clear the dishes from the table and clean the kitchen. Our hosts, Dean and Karen, would urge her to sit down, but you could tell how much they truly appreciated it. She made no fanfare about it, but quietly and diligently worked.
Mario is a joy to be around, but his wife’s willingness to jump in and get involved will help raise his “stock” when he graduates and looks for a place to preach. Increasingly, I have seen women married to preachers who, in apparent protest at the thought of being part of a “package deal,” do little if anything to be involved (clean up, teach classes, otherwise volunteer, etc.) in the local church. This sends a powerfully clear message to the other ladies (and men) in the congregation. Rather than greatness, it shows gross selfishness.
Jesus proclaimed service as the way heaven esteems greatness (cf. Mat. 20:26-28). I wonder how He feels when He sees those unaware and unwilling to look around and assist where work is to be done. The particulars of the problem are not given at Philippi between the divided women, Euodia and Syntyche (Phil. 4:2), but an overarching solution to “church trouble” is to “do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4).
What is to be eliminated? (1) Selfishness (Louw/Nida—“What they do is just for themselves,” 88.167), (2) Empty conceit (“A state of pride which is without justification,” ibid.), (3) Personal interests (A selfish preoccupation with with one’s own affairs, O’Brien, NIGTC, np). What is encouraged? (1) Humility of mind, (2) Higher regard for others, (3) Looking out for the interests of others. Apply this to cleaning up after fellowship activities, babysitting, helping with workdays, providing transportation, practicing hospitality, listening to others’ ideas and input, doing security, greeting visitors, providing meals for those in need, visiting the hospitals and nursing homes, taking an interest in the youth through the elderly, teaching a class, nurturing a new Christian, and using your training and talents however you can to help the church grow.
There are many Christian women and men out there like Bonnie. May each of us look at examples like these and eagerly imitate them. In noticing them, we are following heaven’s example. In following them, we are following heaven’s advice.