Monday, January 9, 2017

Having a Heart to Serve

     Math has never been my strong suit.  For those of you who know me well, this does not come as a surprise.  I did well in this subject until I reached Junior High.  Because I had been a good student up until that time, I was entered into an experimental math program called SMSG.  Today this would be equivalent to CORE curriculum math.  In other words, nothing was done in a traditional manner.  Theoretically, this was supposed to make math more understandable.  However, it made it more difficult for my parents to assist me, and I found I often did not understand the material.  When it came time to take Algebra I in high school, I wanted to take traditional Algebra but since I was college bound, I was once again enrolled in this experimental Algebra program.
     By this time, I was struggling to keep my head above water, and on top of this, we had an instructor whom I will never forget.  His name was Mr. Newhart.  He, without a doubt, knew Algebra well but he was not a good instructor.  Many of us in the class had questions, and inevitably, he would become irritated and impatient with us.  In fact, one day he told us that if he were principal of the school he would see to it that we were all suspended.  He did not like us so that made learning even more difficult than it had to be.
     After several parent teacher conferences and extra help after class, I managed to finish the year with less than a stellar performance, but I finished!  I think Mr. Newhart did not return the next year which was most likely a good thing for both he and future students.  Some people may have the right qualifications for a job, but if they don't have the heart for it, they will not succeed without hurting others.  This is true for any vocation or even for those serving in church leadership.
     Many years ago, a pastor friend, told me that there are those who go into the ministry out of a need they have to perform in order to be accepted rather than having a heart to serve.  As a result, these people tend to hurt others they are supposed to be helping.  Selfish ambition gets in the way of true relationships.  I think many of us can recall some of the top, up and coming young pastors who crashed and burned in recent years, and some of it was due to their self-promotion.  Like my algebra teacher, they had lots of subject knowledge, but they ended up hurting others around them.
     Jesus Christ, our only perfect example, calls us to be servants if we would minister to others.  Twice in Mark's Gospel, the Lord instructed His disciples who had been arguing who would be the greatest among them.  In Mark 9:35, we see how Jesus responds:  "And He sat down and called the twelve.  And He said to them, 'If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.'"  Then in Mark 10 starting in verse 35, James and John come to Jesus with a request.  They wanted to sit one on the right and one on His left side when He came into His kingdom.  Jesus said it was not up  to Him to grant this request.  Of course, the other disciples had become upset upon hearing this.  Once again, Jesus used this teachable moment to reveal to us what the heart of ministry is really all about.  Starting in Mark 10:42-45, Jesus said this:  "And Jesus called them to Him and said to them, 'You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  But it shall not be so among you.  Whoever would be great among you must be your servant and whoever would be first among you must be 'slave' of all.  For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.'"
     In both of these passages, Jesus emphasized that having a servant's heart was pleasing to God.  After all, He came as a servant not one seeking popularity, fame and fortune.  On many occasions, Jesus healed someone and advised them not to tell anyone.  At one point, the people wanted to make Him the king (John 6:15) by force so He slipped away by Himself.  Jesus was secure in His mission, and He knew who He was and why He came.  He did not need the world's accolades that Satan offered Him in the desert when He was fasting.  No, He came as a servant to be our ransom and to glorify God by redeeming the people whom God would call to Himself.  Likewise, all who would serve in the ministry, church leadership or in any other vocation to which God has called him must also have that servant heart.  We cannot glorify God when we are busy glorifying ourselves.
     I do not know whatever became of Mr. Newhart after he left our school, but I really hope he found a better use for his talents.  He did not love his students or teaching for that matter.  It was a job with benefits and nothing more.  If we are not willing to lay down our lives in service to others, then we have no business in following a call that requires it.  We may have the knowledge, skill, training and degrees, but if we do not have love for others we are more like a "sounding gong" as Paul wrote and others will be hurt in the long run.  Furthermore, God is not glorified when we are busy self-promoting.  May we ponder what the Lord has said about leadership/ministry for He will hold us accountable one day.  Selah!

Friday, December 30, 2016

A New Year, A New You!

     If you have spent any time watching T.V. commercials over the past week, I guarantee that they have been filled with promises for the new year ahead of us.  Promises of weight loss, a new cream to make us look our best or that "must have" new car so we can drive in style are just some of the many things we hear this time of the year.  We all want a new start each year and we often make resolutions to do some of the things the commercials suggest.  However, within days or weeks, we find that we have already quit on a number of our self-made promises.  For Christians, this includes trying to read the Bible through in a year.  Sadly, we just never seem to get this done, but that doesn't mean we should not try.
Butterflies offer us a symbol of change that is beautiful!
     Weight loss, a new car, a new look are all wonderful goals to shoot for, but nothing will change you as much as a concerted effort to read God's Word on a daily basis.  Listen to what Hebrews says about the Bible in chapter 4 verse 12:  "For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart."  Here the author is telling us that God's Word is both active and living.  To me, this means that I can read it over and over again and the Holy Spirit will bring out something I had missed before to apply to my life.  Furthermore, God's Word is so sharp that it pierces deeply into my being discerning my thoughts and heart intentions.  As a result, it can show me my sin that I may repent.  I love to read but I know of no other book with that type of power and ability.  This is truly a God given, God breathed instrument of change to those who seriously study it.
     In his letter to Timothy (2 Timothy 3:16), the Apostle Paul tells this young pastor how valuable the Bible is to us:  "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,...."  If we yearn to mature in our faith, then we have the perfect tool for that.  The Bible will teach us and correct us in our thinking as well as in our actions.
     According to the New York Times of June 30, 2016, the average person watches about five hours of T.V. a day.  Certainly that is a good deal of time when we could be doing something more constructive.  Yet, the greatest danger from spending all that time watching programs is that they all have a worldview.  The shows all expound a philosophy even if it is not clearly stated.  What we watch affects how we think about life and those around us.  Recently, we have been hearing stories about "fake news" being put out to confuse people and increase their unhappiness with individuals or groups.  We also know that some news outlets are very one-sided in their presentation of news.  With this in mind, we need a foundation of truth that will keep our thinking Christ-minded not worldly minded.  The Bible will do that for us if we will open its pages prayerfully and diligently day after day.  Romans 12:2 tells us:  "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."  When we spend countless hours on social media and television, we are absorbing ideas from many different sources.  Some may be true, but we will never be able to recognize that unless we are students of God's Word.
      Psalms rightly tells us:  "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path" (Psalm 119:105). We are less likely to stumble and fall in darkness if we have the light of truth to show us the way.  In addition, Jesus, Himself, in His high priestly prayer, asked the Father this:  "Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth" (John 17:17).  We could go on and on showing the value of God's Word, but the key is to read it daily with the intention of heart to learn from it.  So, how do we go about this?
     There are a number of sites such as www.ligonier.org that offer free Bible study reading plans for the coming year.  Likewise www.banneroftruth.org has numerous devotional books which will help you read through the Bible.  The key is to find what suits your schedule and set a time each day to spend with the Lord both in prayer and reading His Word.  If we ask the Holy Spirit to teach us and guide us, He will do that as we read.
     If we are serious about making some good changes in the coming New Year, we need to make this a top priority.  Whether we study alone, with our spouse or friends, or as a family, we will reap the rewards that come from time before our Heavenly Father in His Word.  May you enjoy a blessed and happy New Year sitting at the feet of our Lord.  Selah!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Fractured Relationships

     When we were still living in the frozen north of Ohio, I worked for my father-in-law's radio station. The weather was very cold with a bit of snow and freezing rain, so I was cautious when I went to lunch as the roads were slick.  Arriving at Karl's Diner, I decided to get out of the rain so I trotted across their clean and clear blacktop driveway to get in and pick up my lunch.  The problem was that the driveway was not clear.
     As I ran across the surface, I hit an area of ice and went flying into the air with my left arm pinned under my left side of my body.  Initially, I was shocked and embarrassed.  When I got up my arm hurt, but it was not that bad.  I went in and purchased  my lunch and returned to the station.  While sitting at my desk, I noticed my wedding band getting very tight and my hand starting to swell.  I got my rings off and looked at my arm.  Then, the throbbing began followed by excruciating pain.
Doc McStuffins is ready to fix broken toys!
     When a staff member drove me to a doctor's office, he looked at the results of my x-ray and said that was the worst possible location for a break and I would need surgery the next day if I wanted to use my left arm again.  Since I am left-handed, there was no question of the necessity of this operation.  I went ahead with this and spent about five weeks recuperating.  Naturally, life was not easy during that time since it is hard to fix your hair, take a shower or even dress when one arm is immobilized.  I did manage, though, and learned a lot about the value of my left arm during that time.
I resolved to be much more careful in the future.
     Looking back on that time in my life reminds me that all of us suffered a fracture at birth (Romans 3:23).  We have a broken relationship with God due to sin.  We are born with that condition.  Unless we come to acknowledge our need for a Savior, we live with that broken relationship for years.  In my case, it took 22 years before that breach was healed through repenting of my sin and asking Christ to be Lord of my life.  What a difference this made not only in my relationship with God but also the relationships I had with others.  When we are right with God, then, we can really begin to love others as ourselves.
     Now consider what would have happened if I had not had the surgery on my elbow.  The doctor told me that I could either have it in a bent condition for the rest of my life or I could hold it straight and never bend it again.  In either case, I would have lost full use of my arm.  When we consider spiritual issues, the same is true for our fractured soul.  We can try to patch it up by good deeds.  We can attend church in order to feel better, or we can give money to help others.  Yet, we will never repair that deep fracture through our own efforts.  It requires spiritual surgery done by the work of the Holy Spirit to regenerate us.  He gives us a new heart that is able to come in humility confessing our sins and our need for a Savior.  Jesus gave His all by becoming a man, laying aside the glory of heaven and coming to live a perfect life before us.  Then, He died in our place for our sins.  He completed all that so that we might be healed and whole again.  This is the Good News that we celebrate at Christmas.
      Jesus Christ came to give us life more abundantly (John 10:10).  We can either walk around as a cripple in this life or allow the Holy Spirit to bring healing to our fractured soul.  The Apostle Paul writes that "today is the day of salvation" (2 Corinthians 6:1-2).  Do not neglect the call that God is making in your life.  Let this Christmas be the most joyful, abundant time as you come to know Christ the Savior as never before.  Selah!