Choosing Servanthood

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My Musings – When we first accept Christ our fervor to serve Him is usually high. But strangely enough, we seldom equate service with being a servant – at least not at first. Rather, we tend to think of service in terms of leadership and accomplishment. We envision the great things we will do for Him. Being a great evangelist that leads multitudes to Christ, a great leader that fellow Christians look to for guidance and inspiration or perhaps a great teacher that unlocks deep spiritual truths for others who may not be as enlightened. But God wants us to focus less on what we will do and more on how we serve and on who we serve. For our service is not just for others, it is also for Him. And if we are willing to serve at the “lowliest” task (and sometimes that may figuratively involve washing someone else’s feet – or worse), that is great service in His eyes.

Ephesians 2:8-9 states that “it is by grace [we] have been saved through faith…not by works.” These are favorite verses on God’s grace that we all love to quote to emphasize the free gift of salvation that we could never have paid for our own no matter how great the effort. And that is quite true. But if works cannot save us, one might wonder why there is any need to become a servant and do good works. One need not look any further than the very next verse for the answer. Ephesians 2:10 (which few can quote as readily as the previous two verses) states that “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works.” The sequence of these few verses is quite revealing. Grace through faith results in salvation, whereas works are a natural result of salvation (or at least they should be).

James takes this thought even further than Paul in James 2:17, “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” James is not saying, as some have erroneously concluded, that salvation is the result of grace plus works. Rather, he is saying that a genuine “grace through faith” conversion experience cannot help but result in a change in lifestyle demonstrated by good works. These works are the result of, or rather are “produced by faith” in Jesus These labors are not born out of obligation, but are “prompted by love” that we have for our Master, our fellow heirs and the lost. Finally, all of this is inspired by our “hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus is looking to develop servants that are both wise and faithful who can be put in charge of the various ministries that He is calling them to fulfill. It often takes both wisdom and faithfulness to see how the role we are being called to is fitting for us. Sometimes we may think the task is below us. At other times we may feel terribly inadequate. But if we are wise, we will usually come to see how perfect the pairing (us and the task) actually was, but only if we are faithful and see the service through to completion.

Often we cannot see how our role, be it big or small, fits into the bigger picture of service to Him and His Kingdom. But it does. In some ways it is like an automobile assembly line. It is hard to visualize the finished car when your task is to only attach one small component as the work in process rolls down the line past your work station. But at the end of the shift, as you leave the assembly plant, you catch a glimpse of a finished product as it rolls out the door. Then you can take pride in the fact that you had a part in making it happen.

Your part might have seemed small and insignificant at the time,
but it was nonetheless critical to the entire process.

If there is a breakdown at even one step along the line, the entire process is affected. Paul used the analogy of one body but many parts in his writings (there were not a lot of cars in his day). If one part of the body suffers the whole body suffers, and along with it the work of the Kingdom.

When we are on the line doing the same thing over and over, not seeing the results, it may be hard to remain faithful and to stay on task. But if we are wise, we will stay faithful. Being wise involves staying ready, being alert for opportunities sweating the small stuff and taking action. Being faithful involves seeing things through to completion, even if we think that the task is below us. The true measure of faithfulness is not how much we are able to give, but by how much it costs us to give. Our continued faithfulness is not dependent upon immediate or spectacular successes. Finally, being faithful is not dependent upon good conditions or circumstances.

The Wise Servant:

Stays Ready – Being ready means we are prepared. When it is time to serve, we are able to serve. The moment does not pass us by because we were not ready when it came. “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lights burning, like men waiting for their master to return.” (Luke 12:35, 36, NIV 1978).

Is Alert For Opportunities – We not just ready to serve, we anticipate serving by looking for and capitalizing on opportunities as they arise.  “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to who belong to the family of God.” (Galatians 6:10, NIV 1978).

Sweats The Small Stuff – We do not let small opportunities to serve slide while we are waiting for bigger opportunities. We are wise enough to know that taking care of the little things make us ready for bigger things. “Well done good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things.” (Matthew 25:23, NIV 1978).

Takes Action – Being ready for the opportunity, patiently waiting for the opportunity to present itself and being humble enough to not overlook the small tasks means nothing if we do not execute.  “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in humility that comes from wisdom.” (James 3:13, NIV 1978).

Is A Faithful Servant:

With What Is Entrusted – Our faithfulness needs to be commensurate with what we have been entrusted with. This is especially true if we have been given a lot to work with. “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12:48, NIV 1978).

Through To Completion – We must not be quitters. Any task worthwhile enough to begin is worthwhile enough to complete.  “I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the task the Lord Jesus has given me.” (Acts 20:24, NIV 1978).

Even If Task Is Below Us – We take on the tasks that we are called to even when they seem beneath our talents or our aspirations. We can learn a lot from the Master. “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:14, NIV 1978).

Measured By Its Cost – Our faithfulness is not measured so much by how much we give, as it is by what it costs us.  “Jesus saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “I tell you the truth,” He said, “this poor widow put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty.” (Luke 21:1-4, NIV 1978).

Not Result Dependent – We remain faithful in service even when the results are not apparent or are not what we expected or hoped for. This includes situations where our service is not welcomed or appreciated.  “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, ‘the God we serve is able to save us, and he will rescue us. But even if he does not, we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.‘” (Daniel 3;16-18, NIV 1978).

Despite Circumstances – We must remain faithful in our service whether the circumstances are favorable or unfavorable. More often than not, they may be unfavorable. We stay on track and do not abandon our efforts when the going becomes difficult.  “Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.” (Daniel 6:10, NIV 1978).

My Advice – We are all used to people making claims. Politicians make claims about what they will do if they are elected. Advertisers make claims about the benefits of the product they are pitching. Suiters make claims about how much they love the person they are wooing. None of these claims are worth anything unless they are backed up by action. A politician risks not being reelected if they do not follow through with their campaign promises. Inventory will cease to move off store shelves if the product does not live up to the advertiser’s claims. Lovers grow apart when promised affections are not delivered.

So it is with our faith. A faith that transforms is a faith that performs. Faith inaction becomes a faith in action. Doing the least for the Kingdom becomes doing for even the least in the Kingdom. So how are things with you? Is your faith alive or dead? Is your “work produced by faith?” Is your “labor prompted by love?” Is your “endurance inspired by hope?” Are you seeking to do the “good works, which God prepared in advance for [you] to do?

We must be prepared to serve so that when the opportunity comes you we able to seize the moment. We must be faithful with the small stuff and God will entrust us with bigger stuff. We should not give up on the things that God has entrusted (prepared in advance) to us, even though at times the work seems to be beneath us. We should see the task through to completion, even if we are not able to see the fruits of our labor. We must, in faith, leave that to God. We need to keep laboring on even if the conditions are less than optimal, or even downright hostile. We should be humble and do what we are called to do. Sometimes the most valuable tasks in our service to God are the ones that cost us the most. After all, our salvation carried a high price for God. Can we ever do too much to show our gratitude for that? To sum it all up, Nike probably got its inspiration from Jesus’ call for us to be servants – just do it!

My Fab Four

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My Musings – In many situations, the pastor needs to be a Bible teacher, accountant, strategist, visionary, computer tech, counselor, public speaker, worship director, prayer warrior, mentor, leadership trainer and fundraiser. (Philip Wagner, Lead Pastor of Oasis Church in Los Angeles).  Appreciate your pastor(s).

Today I am celebrating the “Fab Four” at my Church.  Two (Steve and Bill) have blessed me for years.  One, I watched grow up (Nate), not realizing then what a blessing he would become.  The last (Kevin), I served on the pulpit committee to bring him to our Church.  Actually, we did not bring him, God sent him, and I am learning to appreciate him too.

They will likely never become famous, as the world regards fame.  And goodness knows they’ll never get rich , as the world regards prosperity.  But these few words are what they hope to hear one day – “well done, good and faithful servant!”  In the meantime, let’s be a source of encouragement and appreciation.

“[He] loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah!  It’s you [He’s] thinking of, and you know that can’t be bad.”

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KEVIN RUTLEDGE, LEAD TEACHING PASTOR (upper left)
Kevin has a Bachelor’s in Biblical Studies, an MA in Theology, and nearly twenty years of ministry experience. His latest adventure involved starting a new church in a city with the lowest percentage of Bible-believing Christians in the United States. He adores his wife and four kids, who have served God together with him as a family. Kevin is passionate about God and His Word, and genuinely loves people. So, he lives to see people connect deeply with God through the love and amazing grace of Christ. Kevin and his wife, Sundi, have 4 children: Ryleigh, Zander, Lily and Canon.

NATE MILLER, PASTOR OF WORSHIP & TEACHING (upper right)
Pastor Nate Miller is the Associate Pastor of Worship & Teaching. Nate is a graduate of Judson University with a degree in youth ministry/adolescent studies. He is a native of Sycamore and has attended FBC since the first week his parents brought him home from the hospital. Nate’s first foray into the wild world of youth ministry came as a high school junior when Pastor Bill gave him a chance to lead the junior high youth group.

STEVE PERSSON, PASTOR-AT-LARGE (lower left)
Pastor Steve Persson is a graduate of Moody Bible Institute, Northern Illinois University, and Wheaton College Graduate School. He has served at FBC since 1974 – first as a youth pastor, then spending one year in the Philippines as a missionary, and as senior pastor since 1981. He and wife, Jaime, have 6 children: Leah (Noel), Hannah, Deborah (Keenan), Luke, Mark (Michelle) and Matthew. They are the proud grandparents of a grandson, Noel George, and a granddaughter, Karis.

BILL BADAL, PASTOR EMERITUS (lower right)
Pastor Bill is retired, but remains with us in an emeritus role. Bill moved to the United States in his early teens, having grown up in a Christian home in Baghdad, Iraq. He received his Bible training at Moody extension school. Bill and his wife, Michele, have 2 sons: Joel (Lisa) and Tim (Amanda), and they are the proud grandparents of 8 grandchildren: Noah, Joshua, Luke, Rebekah, Jacoub, Matthew, Lydia and JoAnna.

We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 1:3, NIV 1984).

My Advice – Appreciate your pastors.  They carry burdens that we could never understand.  Respect them and hold them in highest regard. “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” (John F. Kennedy).  This is the best way to honor them, by living by the words they have proclaimed from the pulpit.

Spiritual Investments

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My Musings – Such is Paul’s description of two of his disciples. People he had invested his life in.  In his early ministry, Barnabas had risked his reputation and took this former persecutor of the Church under his wing and ministered with him.  Paul, in turn, invested in the lives of others.  When He could not go, he sent these two.  They had been mentored, now it was their turn to “pay it forward.”  And it’s been going on just like this for nearly 2,000 years.

In the above passage, Paul described the product of discipleship (genuine, proven, service, fellowship, commitment).  In 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul described the process of discipleship.  “You then, [Timothy] my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.”  (2 Timothy 2:2, NIV 1984).

But we should never think that it is only a one-way street.  Near the end of his ministry Paul summoned another of his disciples.  One who stumbled early on and for a time was cast away by Paul.  “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:11, NIV 1984). One who Paul once considered not helpful at all was now considered helpful.  Once considered a bad investment, now an investment paying dividends.  Investing in others and letting others invest in us.  Iron sharpening iron.

My Advice – Grow in Christ by letting others help you and helping others do the same.  It’s proven pattern.

Today’s musing was inspired by Pastor Nate Miller’s sermon on October 13, 2019. Check it out at https://www.fbcsycamore.com/sermons. If you live in or are visiting the area, come and join us Sundays at 10:30 a.m. We’d love to be partners in the Gospel with you too.

Continue In Faith

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My Musings – So then, just how did we receive Christ?  Did we work for it?  No, that would be earning our salvation, like receiving wages.   The only “wages” we earn are for our sins.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23, NIV 1984).

We may think that our sins are not that bad, at least not compared to some, but that would be the wrong comparison.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”  (Romans 3:23–24, NIV 1984).

The correct measure, or standard, is God’s glory, and all have sinned, which means all fall short.  All means all.  No exceptions.

But there is a “flip side” to both of these passages.  “The gift of God is eternal life,” and “we are justified freely by His grace.”  The “gift” is “freely” given.  That is what makes it a gift and not a wage (something earned).

One does not earn a gift.  One receives a gift.  Which brings us back to the original question: just how did we receive Christ?

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  Ephesians 2:8–10, NIV 1984).

By grace, through faith.  We received Him by faith, and that is how we are to “continue to live (walk) in Him.” We walk by faith.  We live out our faith.  As a result we are:

Rooted – To establish deeply and firmly.

Built Up – To develop in magnitude or extent.

Strengthened – To become stronger or more difficult to break.

We are established, developed and made stronger for a reason:  “created in Christ Jesus [born again] to do good works.”  This is where works come in.  They do not result in salvation, they are a result of salvation.

My Advice – If you have not received Him, put your faith in Him and receive His free gift: the forgiveness of sin and eternal life.  If you have already received, continue to live in him and walk by faith.

 

Worthy Conduct

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My Musings – How does one go about living a life worthy of the Gospel when we are so unworthy?  The secret is contained in the last part of the first chapter of Philippians and the first part of the second chapter.  Living a worthy life is all about humble conduct. Attitude drives conduct and humility drives exaltation.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:5, NIV 1984).

Jesus has the very nature of God.  And we are united with Christ.

He took the nature of a servant.  So we look to the interests of others.

He humbly obeyed His Father. So, in humility we consider others better than ourselves.

God exalted Jesus to the highest place. And made us shine like stars.

So what does it look like?  Encouragement from being united with Christ. Comfort from his love.  Fellowship with the Spirit. Tenderness and compassion. Complete joy from being like-minded. Being one in spirit and purpose. Doing nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.

My Advice – Do you want to live a life worthy of the Gospel of Christ?  Be like-minded in attitude.  Do you want to share in His exaltation?  Humble yourself under His mighty hand and He will lift you up.  Do this “without complaining or arguing.”  You’ll have plenty of opportunities to do both. “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him.” (Philippians 1:29, NIV 1984).  But this is the price we pay to become “blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which [we] shine like stars in the universe as [we] hold out the word of life.” (Philippians 2:15–16, NIV 1984).  That, my friends, is living a life worthy of the Gospel.

Today’s musing was inspired by Pastor Nate Miller’s sermon “Fueled Living – Focus & Unity” on September 22, 2019. Check it out at https://www.fbcsycamore.com/sermons. If you live in or are visiting the area, come and join us Sundays at 10:30 a.m. We’d love to be partners in the Gospel with you too.

 

 

 

The One You Feed

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My Musings – Two Wolves is a Cherokee Indian legend that illustrates one of the most important battles of our lives – the one between our old self and old new self.  An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.  “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”  The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”  The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

So, which wolf are we feeding? The “old corrupted deceitful desires,” or “a new attitude of righteousness and holiness?”  The sad reality is, if we do not feed the “new self“, the “old self” will prevail.  If we do not allow the Holy Spirit to feed us with “joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith,” then Satan will try to feed it with “anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

My Advice – Feed the good wolf.  For “the acts of the sinful nature [evil wolf] are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit [good wolf] is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”  (Galatians 5:19-23, NIV 1984).

Find The One Thing

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My Musings – “Do you know what the secret of life is? One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean %@$&*!.” This quote is known as Curly’s Law, from the movie “City Slickers.”  Curly is a hardened and grizzled cowboy leading a trail drive for urban “city slicker” cowboys on vacation.  When asked what that one thing is, Curly smiles (probably the only time he smiled in the movie – I don’t remember for sure) and says, ” That’s what you have to find out.”

Paul found out. “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14).  What was behind?  Originally, a life obsessed with persecuting Christians.   What lay a head?  His reward.  Such a prize, such a reward for faithful service to Christ that Paul considered that “to die is gain.

In between “what is behind” that Paul was forgetting and the prize that Paul was “straining toward” lay another obsession of “fruitful labor.”  But it came with a cost. “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.” (2 Corinthians 11:23-28).  Ahead of all this was chains and martyrdom.

But He stuck to his obsession with “the one thing,” because he considered everything else “a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.” (Philippians 3:8, NIV 1984).  All of these things (imprisonment, floggings, beatings, stonings…) could have been “stopping stones.”  Instead, Paul used each one as a “stepping stone” “of sharing in [Christ’s] sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:10-11).

All of these things that happened to Paul “served to advance the Gospel” and encouraged many others “to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly” from the first century until now.

My Advice – Your “one thing” can only be found in “one person.”  “That’s what you have to find out.”  Be obsessed until you find Him, and once you find Him, be obsessed with serving to advance the Gospel more courageously and fearlessly.  The cost of these obsessions might seem too high, but Paul also said, “therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles [yes, he really said light and momentary] are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”  (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, NIV 1984).

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21, NIV 1984).

Today’s musing was inspired by Pastor Kevin Rutledge’s sermon “Fueled Relationships” on September 15, 2019. Check it out at https://www.fbcsycamore.com/sermons. If you live in or are visiting the area, come and join us Sundays at 10:30 a.m. We’d love to be partners in the Gospel with you too.