To all of you who read the postings on my blog, thank you. I have been a bit tardy in “feeding the beast,” but I assure you it’s not from a lack of desire. The combination of the holidays, preaching and pastoral responsibilities, Conference in Prescott, my mom visiting her firstborn son, have all put the discipline of writing on hold a bit. My hat is off to those who can preach and pastor full-time, and still write books, articles etc. But, I’m still IN THE GAME, and will contend for more “scribal momentum!”
Well, the Super Bowl is now over, and either your team won (and you’re happy), or you team lost (and you’re sorry about the outcome). Perhaps, you’re not that into sports, so you had no favorite team, and the game didn’t impact you one way or another which, of course, is fine. When all is said and done, it’s just a game, and not life or death (try telling this to a die-hard fan). Relax, I don’t want to write about sports, but I do want to talk about a “team.” A team, that in the end, is going to reign as champs for all eternity: The Church! I’m having to make this local in application, so in the interests of honesty, I must tell you up front that I am completely biased! By the grace of God, I am privileged to pastor a tremendous church of people, made up of “super saints!”
SIGHT FOR SORE EYES!
How this all came about is I was engaged in one of my favorite activities which is “platform watching!” You won’t find this listed in the events at the Summer Olympics, but it refers to those rare moments when I am on the platform of our church, and there is no one to counsel, no specific task to be done, and I can just watch people! I enjoy it immensely. You can see and learn a lot. Specifically, I can watch the church “operate” with so many people serving in various capacities. To me, it is a thing of beauty! That particular morning I saw there were several new men serving as ushers. This blessed me for a number of reasons. I felt blessed for a number of reasons. The first reason is that for years, our head usher John McClune has been very conscientious about this ministry. He has expressed to me his burden for a sufficient number of men to rise up to serve in this way week after week. There are a minimum of three worship services a week, so you can do the math. I was glad that day because John’s prayer was being answered. The other thing that blessed me was who had risen up to fill that gap, such a great diversity. One was a former pastor, another a long term disciple in our church for over 36 years, and also a young man recently graduated from high school. Their names might not mean anything to you, but they speak volumes to me!
You would expect that as a Pastor, I love seeing people come to church, and you’d be right. I love it even more, though, when they are not Christians, and they answer an altar call to come and repent and receive Christ! It’s even more exciting to me to see these same people come back to church, and begin to grow in their relationship with Christ. We are deeply committed to this discipling aspect of evangelism. Then, as the icing on the cake, I love to see them beginning to serve the Lord in the church in a variety of different ways. It is part of my “super team,” the church, as the body of Christ.
HOW’S YOUR CHURCH DOING?
There are a number of way to assess the health of a church, and the standard is not just numerical. One of the Biblical signs of a healthy church is servanthood. One of the first and unmistakable signs of the life of God at work in our lives is that we are set apart to serve. Peter’s mother-in-law has always stood out in my mind as such a simple and powerful illustration of this. (Mk.1:30,31) “Now Simon's mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.” When the Master touched her, and she was healed, immediately she began to serve! When the Bible speaks of the functioning ministry gifts to the church (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors/teachers) it spells out their task (Eph.4:12) “Their responsibility is to equip God's people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.”
Two people stand out in my mind, Biblically, in this regard because they contributed greatly to the health of the church, often in unseen ways. Tabitha is a Biblical heroine whose life was devoted to small acts of kindness and service. (Acts 9:36) says, “In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which, when translated, is Dorcas), who was always doing good and helping the poor.” Her impact was so great, and she was loved so dearly, that the church sent a delegation when Peter was nearby; who came and prayed for her and God raised her from the dead! Her claim to fame was not in preaching great sermons or evangelizing vast multitudes. She just did what she could for the Lord. Someone wrote, “The little things we do are bigger than the great things we do; and how wonderful to learn the importance of the sacred ordinary.” The other one that stands out is the “household of Stephanas” who were some of the early converts in that region and who really set the pace for the whole church! “Now I urge you, brothers —you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves (KJV), “addicted themselves” to the service of the saints— be subject to such as these, and to every fellow worker and laborer.” The Holy Spirit makes the point that these are the kind of people we need to model our lives after and follow.
No church will function to the glory of God, or to her full potential without the contribution of faithful saints who are “set apart” to volunteer generously and serve in the local congregation. Just think about the contribution of these, who I consider to be part of God’s “super team.”
The people who watch your children so you can enjoy the service, and they must listen to the message on tape.
They set up and breakdown all the equipment for every service, plus the various special events and outreaches that are a regular part of our church’s life.
On Saturday night, when we go home to bed, they are setting things up for the Sunday services.
They clean up your mess, giving up their Sunday afternoons while we fellowship or take a Sunday afternoon nap, so that things are nice and neat and ready for the evening service.
Saints prepare lessons, and often open their homes, so that we can meet in our HHM small groups for fellowship, support, and edification.
They practice long hours instrumentally or vocally for our worship services, not to lift themselves up, but to help us enter into the presence of God.
They are the ones who put huge effort, expertise and excellence into the church web-site, in order to present an attractive, informative, and substantive web-based church presentation.
They are the people who mobilize to present outstanding dramatic and musical presentations during Easter and in the Fall.
These are the ones whose gift is their “availability” to: visit and pray for those who are sick, prepare meals for those in times of need, labor in all the preparation for real ministry at weddings and funerals, they put together awesome times of church-wide fellowships.
Saints are the people who “step up their game” and prepare for a genuine time of excellence to the glory of God during our annual Bible Conferences, and in the process touch people from around the world.
They are reaching out to and pouring their lives into your teenagers to see Christ formed in their lives.
They are the ones who prepare lessons and programs for children’s ministry, not baby-sitting, but an authentic Gospel ministry to the “little children.”
They will run the sound and lighting, they will usher, they will prepare the weekly bulletin, they will serve in the parking lot, they will pray with people at the altar, they will follow-up on young converts to see them established in Christ. THE LIST GOES ON AND ON, WHICH IS WHY THEY ARE IN MY ESTIMATION A “SUPER TEAM!”
IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU!
One of the reasons these kind of people and this spirit is so refreshing is that it runs counter to the spirit of our age: a pre-occupation with self. Just think about the names that are part of our world: YouTube, MySpace, and the I’s - iPod, iTunes, iMac, iPhone and iPad. It pretty much sums up the theme of our day: “it’s all about me.” Tom Wolfe labeled the 1970's as the “Me Decade” and I’ve got to think we’ve carried this to new heights. Paul said in the last days, “people will love only themselves,” they will be utterly self-absorbed. There is a word for this mentality, and it’s called narcissism. In Greek mythology, Narcissus is the character who, upon passing his reflection in the water, becomes so enamored with himself that he devotes the rest of his life to his own reflection. This classic “I, me, mine” mentality places personal pleasure and fulfillment at the forefront of our concerns. Historian Christopher Lasch labeled ours as “the culture of narcissism” equating it with the new religion. Tragically, that spirit has permeated our culture’s thinking and the church is not exempt! Just listen to some of the following statements:
“I want to go where I’m fed”: not where we can learn to feed ourselves, or more, to feed others.
“I need to be ministered to”: making it something that happens to us, instead of something we make happen through us for others.
“I didn’t get anything out of the service today”: placing our edification before God being glorified.
All of these represent a kind of “spiritual narcissism” and it has invaded our thinking, making the individual needs and desires of the believer the center of all attention. No team can function effectively or victoriously when this is the moving force. Written into the DNA of every cell in the human body by our Creator God is the principle that each cell serves a specific purpose for the good of the whole. Every organ is dependent on the selfless service of other organs and cells. Without this, life ceases! This is true whether it is our human body, or the Body of Christ, the Church. It causes people to miss one of the deepest spiritual truths you can discover in life, and it is: “It’s not all about me!”
POSTURE GUARANTEED TO BRING SUCCESS & VICTORY
In the kingdom of God there is no higher calling than servants. Remember God’s promise, “I will pour out of My Spirit upon My servants.” “My servants” is the word “doulos” translated servant or slave, and it is the term used most often to describe the relationship between God and the believer. Jesus made this pointedly clear when He said, “It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Matt.20:26-28). The master key of servanthood is what unlocks the blessing, power and destiny of God in our lives. When you read the story of Joseph, you read about a young man whose world was turned upside down. He was betrayed by his own brothers and sold into slavery, being forced to relocate to another country, cut off from the people and surroundings he loved. Joseph was forced to cope with new and unwanted circumstances. How easy it would have been for him to turn aside, and become bitter and side-tracked from God’s purpose. Today, I’m sure they would’ve labeled him as having some kind of “disorder” and tried medicating him. So, what was it that kept him? How did he survive and persevere, making him an overcomer? The answer was the grace and favor of God, but coupled with the master key of service. The refrain in Joseph’s life throughout, no matter what circumstance he was in, was “the Lord was with him.” The key response and posture that he adopted in whatever circumstance was service. In the house of Potiphar as a slave, (Gen.39:4) “So Joseph found favor in his sight, and served him.” When he resisted temptation and is falsely accused and imprisoned, he served the jailer. When deliverance finally came, and promoted, he served the nation. In the final scene of his life (Gen.45:7,8) we see Joseph serving his family. Through all of this, God was able to preserve and promote Joseph because he had the heart of a servant!
The exciting thing for me is that this carries with it the release of the miraculous! The scripture says, “The Lord was with Joseph, and he was a successful man.” It is repeated three times directly about his life, telling us why he was successful. This helps to answer a bit of a riddle. (Acts 19:11,12) talks about “special miracles.” The actual text says, “Now God worked unusual miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons were brought from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out of them.” These handkerchiefs were not a fashion accessory, and they weren’t something that a TV evangelist is selling, promising you your miracle if you’ll place it on your body or on your wallet. These were cloths used to wipe sweat away while working. They were sweat rags! God connected His miraculous power to these symbols of a servant character and hard work. When people are ready to invest labor to make the Gospel available; when they are willing to give their all and their best wherever they serve, you will find the release of the miraculous! It is significant that this is how the apostle Paul measured his life, “But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.” (Acts 20:24).
When you have people gripped by this motivation, then you have the makings of a super team! The good news today is that there is plenty of room on God’s team for you! You don’t have to worry about not being drafted, or being cut, or suffer the humiliation of being the person picked last for a certain team. No, no, you find yourself on the winning team! How does the old song made famous by Louis Armstrong go:
We are traveling in the footsteps
Of those who’ve gone before
But we’ll all be reunited
On a new and sunlit shore
Oh when the saints go marching in
When the saints go marching in
Oh Lord I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in!