How Have I Served?

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” 1 Peter 4:10-11

The end of the year is a good time to look back and not only reflect on how I have served others this year, but to make a plan for the coming year.  The verse above tells us that as faithful workers for God, serving is our responsibility …. but how seriously do we actually take it?

Sure, I serve others, but rather haphazardly.  I wait for someone to ask, for a group at church to choose a ministry or for a donation request to arrive in the mail.  I have to admit I rarely sit down and ask myself, “What goals do I have for serving others?” and “How will I reach those goals?”

My “Prevent Diabetes” class has taught me that I can accomplish more than I thought when I have a clear goal and a plan.  Our plan for service should include using the specific, individual gifts which God has given.  I can’t do everything, so I need to concentrate on those things that I do best.

I don’t have the answers yet, because this thought has just now occurred to me.  It’s something I’ll be praying about, and I’m hoping this post will encourage others to do the same.  Look for more on this topic in January as I wrestle with myself and God.  One thing that will definitely be on my list is this blog, which uses both my passion for writing, and (hopefully) my spiritual gifts of wisdom and encouragement.  Have we served you this year, readers?  I’d love to hear some responses.

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The LORD is my shepherd

We all know the verse (Psalm 23). Over and over again God compares himself to a shepherd to give us a picture of how He loves us.

Yet we learn early on in the bible that this profession is not highly thought of.

Genesis 43:32 “They served him by himself, the brothers by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, because Egyptians could not eat with Hebrews, for that is detestable to Egyptians.”

This was before Moses, before the long documented rivalry (sometimes brotherhood) of the two nations. This was before Israel was even a nation. So why did they refuse to eat with them? Hebrews were shepherds.

Genesis 46:33 & 34 “When Pharaoh calls you in and asks, ‘What is your occupation?’ you should answer, ‘Your servants have tended livestock from our boyhood on, just as our fathers did.’ Then you will be allowed to settle in the region of Goshen, for all shepherds are detestable to the Egyptians.”

There’s that word ‘detestable’ again. Why did the Egyptians think it was so bad? Lots of people have opinions on this, and not many agree on why. I think the Egyptians were simply grossed out. Anyone on a ranch or farm knows that tending to animals is dirty, smelly, laborious work. Joseph’s brothers probably smelled a bit. Think about it. Sweat, animal poo, the lack of indoor plumbing at thier disposal.

So knowing how Egyptians felt, Joseph wisely advises his family to tell the Pharaoh what they do for a living. And they are allowed to settle in a fertile land separately and quietly.

God knows we sheep are a lot of work. Still he meets us where we are. Smelly and unclean, and he takes us by still waters to freshen us up. Thank you God for serving in a less than glamorous way. And forgive us when we think we we’re above any similar task. Amen.

Serve Like A Son

“…when we were children, we were slaves to the elements of the universe.  But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.  And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba! Father!’ So through God you are no longer a slave but a son ….” Galatians 4:1-7

In a recent sermon my husband spoke about his childhood.  Now and then he and his oldest brother and sister would become so unruly and disobedient that his mother, in frustration, would go into the pantry, sit on a lard can and cry.  For the kids, this was the worst punishment ever.  They had made their mom, the person they loved more than anybody or anything in the world, so unhappy that she cried.  What pain and remorse they felt!  Not because they expected to be punished, but because they cared deeply for their mother and never wanted her to be disappointed in them.

This story tells us something about what our motive for serving should be.  When we are selfish and disobedient, it hurts God; God, our Father in Heaven who loved us so much that he sent Jesus to die on the cross for our sins;  God who provides for us every day of our lives;  God who has mercy and compassion on us, even when we turn away from Him and forget Him.

Children don’t serve and obey their parents out of fear, or even because they may gain a reward.  They serve their parents out of love and gratitude for who they are and what they have done for the family.

God made us His children;  He loves us;  He takes care of us.  Don’t disappoint Him.  Serve like a son!

Get Ready to Get Dirty

“But Jesus called to them and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.  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’.”  Matthew 20:25-28

The sermon at the Christmas Eve service at St. Paul’s was entitled, “Jesus Got Dirty.”  The Son of God was born, not in a sterile hospital room, but a stable, filled with animal smells and rotting straw.  He was welcomed by sweaty, travel-worn, unwashed people.  Think about it …. if a feeding trough was the cleanest place to lay a newborn, what were the rest of the surroundings like?  Jesus, the purest person ever, was willing to get dirty to serve us.  Why?  Well, there was no other choice.  Justice had to be satisfied, and it had to be satisfied by a human being.  So Jesus came down into our mess in order to redeem our lives.

This should tell us something important about service.  If we’re to be servants, there are plenty of times when we’ll get dirty.  Sometimes the dirt will just be the everyday grime of life — cleaning up the garage, washing the feet of the elderly, changing babies and cooking meals.  Other times, we’ll find ourselves dealing with the mud created by sinful behavior, selfish decisions and untidy circumstances. Often we won’t know what we’re getting into until we’re mired in that mud as well.

Serving isn’t easy and it isn’t neat.  We’ll deal with death and divorce, disease and distasteful duties. The people we’ll serve won’t always be “nice” or even appreciative. We’ll get dirty… but Jesus was willing to get dirty for us … are we willing to continue His work and get dirty for others?

Those Who Serve

I read an article on line this morning listing the many complaints Costco employees made about their customers.  Here are a few:

  • Having an attitude about being asked to show their membership card at the front of the store
  • Taking perishable items out of refrigerated cases and then leaving them on a shelf to spoil
  • Leaving their cart in the check out line and going back to shop some more
  • Leaving carts randomly around the parking lot instead of in the corral
  • Acting in a rude or belittling way when speaking to employees
  • Failing to control young children who race around the store endangering themselves and others

These are only a sampling of the behaviors people in retail jobs encounter every day.

It made me stop and think about all the people who serve us in different ways.  Somebody delivers my newspaper every day;  somebody stocks the grocery store shelves, rings up and bags my purchases;  somebody checks out my books at the library, somebody services my car and somebody cuts my hair.  My life would be much harder and less pleasant if many people weren’t willing to serve.  Yes, they are being paid, but that does not excuse me from being courteous and appreciative of all that they do.

As Christians we should remember the verses below:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Colossians 3:12-14

This month we’ve talked about how we’re all called to be servants — why not be servants to those who serve us?  Kindness and respect can brighten another person’s day, and so today I challenge you think about and thank all those servants in your life!

The Willing Servant

“…behold an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you will call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. …When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him:  he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son.  And he called his name Jesus.” Matthew 1:20b-21; 24-25

We’ve talked about Mary this month, who was indeed God’s servant, but today I thought it would be appropriate to mention Joseph.  His sacrifice for God was also great.  No doubt he endured some disapproval and/or ridicule for marrying an already pregnant girl.  Later, after another God-sent dream, he flees with the family to Egypt, abandoning his home, friends and livelihood.  He does all this without complaint or questioning.  He doesn’t hesitate or procrastinate.  In fact, He never speaks!  The Bible does not include a single word spoken by Joseph. What we do have is a record of his action — obedience.  God knew the kind of man He wanted to raise His son;  a man who understood servanthood and could model it for Jesus as He grew up.

Christmas

It is humbling to realize how far I fall short of this ideal.  Often I obey, but in a slow and grudging manner.  I whine about my circumstances and wish for an easier life.  I don’t usually want to suffer or sacrifice, even if it’s for the good of others, even if it seems to be God’s will.  If I’m honest, I’ll have to admit that I’m more like Jonah than Joseph.

So today, of all days, amidst the gifts and the feast, the visiting and rejoicing, I need to take time to meditate on the lives of Joseph and Mary, God’s faithful servants.  The people who raised Jesus, the God-man who lived and died as a servant to all of us.  I’ll remember what truly pleases God.

“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord?  Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.”  1 Samuel 15:22

God doesn’t want us to be “good” people;  He wants us to be His people. Dear readers, I wish you a Merry and Blessed Christmas.  Go in peace;  serve the Lord.

 

 

 

The Reluctant Servant

Most people know the story of Jonah. This is a guy who did not want to go to Nineveh and preach and ended up in the belly of the whale.

The Bible doesn’t tell us why Jonah had it out for Nineveh. He must not have liked the city because when God told him to go there and proclaim His anger, Jonah turns tail and runs. Really? Who would, after getting specific instructions like that, try to run from God. But then, don’t all of us at one time or another? Think about that for a while.

Anyway, God sends a storm to rock the boat he’s on and the people on the boat don’t want to throw him overboard, but in the end they have no choice. Even then they pray to God to forgive them for “killing” Jonah:

Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. Then they cried out to the Lord, “Please, Lord, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, Lord, have done as you pleased.” Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him. Jonah 1:13-16

So even though Jonah was running from God, God still changed men’s lives despite Jonah.

Jonah changes his mind while sitting in the whale and get’s spit up on land. I always wondered about this. I mean, wouldn’t Jonah smell? Wouldn’t he look really bad after being in the belly of the whale? Just a thought. So Jonah goes to Nineveh and does what God wants him to do and, of course, Nineveh listens and repents.

What does Jonah do? He gets angry!! He starts ranting at God because God forgives this evil city that repented. He goes out and sits in the sun because he’s angry and wants to die. God sends a plant to cover Jonah and Jonah got happy. Then God kills the plant and Jonah got angry again. God asks Jonah if he has a right to be angry, because God caused the plant to grow and God caused the plant to die.

I think this lesson from Jonah is a good one for us. We may be reluctant to do God’s will and be his servants. We are called to be servants in all we do. Trying to run is not an option since, as we see in this example, Jonah was brought back to do the work he was meant to do.  Jonah was angry about it, but what good did that do?  God is sovereign.  God will do what He will do.  We are called to obey, and that is hard.  I don’t care what some people say, being a Christian and trying to obey the will of God is hard, but the rewards (or blessings) are wonderful.