After the Weekend, Last Chapter

Sometimes God wants stretch us by trying something new or a little outside of our comfort zone. That happened to me years ago when my husband was the chairman of our church fundraising committee. He asked me if I would chair the communications subcommittee and I agreed, imagining I would be writing newsletter articles, bulletin inserts, and other things like that. When the fundraiser we hired arrived to brief us on our duties, I was astounded to learn that what my committee was REALLY responsible for was coming up with a logo for the campaign, designing a brochure, and organizing several large mailings — all on a very tight time schedule! I sat through the meeting in a daze and afterwards I told Terry, “I don’t think I can do this.” Then I calmed down and got to work. My basic tactic was to find people who were good at the things I wasn’t. Two of our skilled in computer graphics brainstormed with me and we came up with a logo and a theme for the brochure. I could handle the writing. Then I recruited a nice, detail-oriented person and turned full responsibility for the mailings over to her. Everything was completed on time and the finished brochure turned out really well. Completing this project required the use of a number of gifts I have like leadership (taking responsibility for getting the job done); discernment (recognizing what different people could do well); and encouragement (asking others to use their gifts). I discovered I did have the ability to get the work done, I just needed to worry less and trust God more.

In conclusion, I’d like to leave you with a little power phrase — “I’m not called to do everything, but I am called to do something.” God has called each of us to do his work in our own environment– at home, in our congregations, in the work place. Don’t be foolish and try to do everything in every place. This will lead to frustration, burnout and failure. Instead be wise. Pray. Study and pursue your own gifts and talents. When he does call, be ready to answer, “Here I am, send me.”

After the Weekend part 3

In addition to prayer, study can help us the direction our Christian action should take. Have you ever noticed that we’re not all good at the same things? From Romans, chapter 12:

“We have different gifts according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is in serving, let him serve. If it is teaching, let him teach. If it is encouraging, let him encourage. If it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously. If it is leadership, let him govern diligently. If it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.”

There are many books available about discovering your spiritual gifts. There are also personality tests such as the Meyers Briggs test, or seminars about personality types which are often available through your workplace. Take note of the things people praise you for, or tell you you do well. Ask your Pastor or your church friends to give you their opinion and advice. All of these things are study– studying yourself so that you can be a good steward of your unique God-given abilities.

Of course, unless you have physical limitations, there are many things that need to be done around the church that almost any of us can do–things like cleaning, making coffee, being an usher or folding bulletins. We should all be willing to do our share of those chores. Being gifted to teach, for example, should not be used as an excuse to avoid every doing anything else. So make an effort to fit some of them into your schedule. Your fellow members will be VERY grateful.

One more section to come ….

For more about spiritual gifts see:

What are the Spiritual Gifts?

Let Your Spiritual Gifts S–T–R–E–T–C–H You

The Purpose of Spiritual Gifts

After the Weekend, or What Next?

In the years since this blog was started, a number of authors have posted about their experiences on a Via de Cristo (Lutheran retreat weekend). The weekend is designed to motivate Christians to become leaders who make a difference in the environments where God has placed them. Here’s a talk I wrote many years ago about what should/could happen after the weekend.

How did you feel after your weekend? If you’re like most people, you returned to your congregation full of enthusiasm and with an increased desire to devote your energies to serving Christ. That’s what’s supposed to happen, right? But how does this play out in reality? Some of the possibilities are not so good. Let me give you a few examples.

  1. You stop by the Pastor’s office and tell him that you want to serve and you’re willing to do anything. He is thrilled because the Church Council is in dire need of a treasurer. You’ve never done that sort of thing before, but you agree. After all, the Pastor suggested it, and how hard can it be? Three months later, the records are in a muddle, bills aren’t being paid on time, and you are embarrassed and humiliated by your failure. Someone else has to step in to straighten things out and you vow to never take on a church office again!
  2. You catch the president of the congregation one Sunday in the narthex. “I want to help” you tell him. “What job do you have for me?” He looks surprised and mumbles something along the lines of …”ah… well… let me think about that and get back to you. He never does. You feel hurt and disillusioned and withdraw from congregational activities.
  3. You raise your hand and volunteer for every project and committee that comes along. By the end of the year you’re exhausted, burned out and telling yourself, “I really need a break from all this church stuff.”

I don’t mean to discourage you, but these things happen. The have happened, in one way or another to people I know and to me. So, what’s wrong with the picture? How can you avoid these pitfalls?

…. to be continued …..

For more about Lutheran Via de Cristo see:

What is Via de Cristo?

m=Remembering My Via De Cristo Weekend

My Via de Cristo Experience

Do You Serve Cheerfully?

Frederick Temple was an English academic, churchman and Archbishop of Canterbury from 1896 until his death in 1902. He wrote the following quote which I found in my daily devotional:

“We often make our duties harder by thinking them hard.  We dwell on the things we do not like till they grow before our eyes, and at last, perhaps shut out heaven itself.  But this is not following our Master, and He, we may be sure will value little the obedience of a discontented heart.  The moment we see that anything to be done is a plain duty, we must resolutely trample out every rising impulse of discontent.  We must not merely prevent our discontent from interfering with the duty itself;  we must not merely prevent it from breaking out into murmuring;  we must get rid of discontent itself.  Cheerfulness in the service of Christ is one of the first requisites to make that service Christian.”

For other posts on serving follow these links:

The Spiritual Gift of Service

Martin Luther on Serving Others

How Have I Served?

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!

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.

Who Do You Serve? #2

“Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord and not men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward;  you are serving the Lord, Jesus Christ.”  Colossians 3:23-24

I talked in a previous post about how we sometimes dislike serving because of what we are expected to do;  we also often fail to serve because of “who” is doing the asking.  Maybe it’s the parent who mistreated you as a child — now they’re elderly and need your help.  Maybe it’s the unappreciative and critical boss — quick to call on you to fix a problem, but slow with words of praise.  Maybe it’s the needy friend who never seems to have time for you, but expects you to instantly jump to her aid when she calls.  Maybe you don’t even like serving the needy–I mean, why weren’t they more responsible in the first place?

It’s a fact.  Serving others often means serving those we don’t particularly like or admire.  Serving means helping those who are undeserving and even critical.  Are we really called to do this?

Well, the short answer is yes.

“If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?”  Matthew 5:46

The reasoning is this: first of all, we’re not really serving those unlovable people in our lives, we’re serving God.  We shouldn’t expect a “reward” for our service in the here and now.  That comes later, and it will be amazingly indescribable:  eternity with the One who created us.   Secondly, those undeserving wretches you don’t want to serve — well the Bible tells us,  ” such were some of you.”  1 Corinthians 7:11.  The only difference is:

“But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”  1 Corinthians 11

Jesus didn’t save us because we were worthy.  He served us and saved us out of love, compassion and mercy.  He wants us to follow His example.  So, go in peace and serve the Lord!

 

 

An English Major Moment from Joan

This poem was written by George Herbert, a Welsh-born poet and priest in the Church of England.  It speaks about how our everyday duties can be transformed when our service is dedicated to God and His Glory.

The Elixir

Teach me, my God and King,
         In all things Thee to see,
And what I do in anything
         To do it as for Thee.
         Not rudely, as a beast,
         To run into an action;
But still to make Thee prepossest,
         And give it his perfection.
         A man that looks on glass,
         On it may stay his eye;
Or if he pleaseth, through it pass,
         And then the heav’n espy.
         All may of Thee partake:
         Nothing can be so mean,
Which with his tincture—”for Thy sake”—
         Will not grow bright and clean.
         A servant with this clause
         Makes drudgery divine:
Who sweeps a room as for Thy laws,
         Makes that and th’ action fine.
         This is the famous stone
         That turneth all to gold;
For that which God doth touch and own
         Cannot for less be told.

Who Do You Serve?

Let’s be honest, ladies, we all serve somebody.  So who do you serve?  I suspect the answer for most of us is “myself.”  That’s not only our sinful inclination, it’s what our world tells us to do.  “Look out for number one.”  “Follow your bliss.”  “Do what feels right for you.”  Our culture bombards us with messages like this every day.  Let’s label it with its’ true name –SELFISHNESS.

I don’t know about you, but I struggle with this sin every day.  Here are a few examples:

My husband forgets to pick up the something I needed on his way home from work.  My default response?  How could he!  I do so many things for him, and he can’t remember this one thing for ME?

My daughter calls and asks me to go to the Dollar Store and pick up something for her class (she is a preschool teacher). She lost track of time and didn’t get to it last night.  REALLY?  What makes this MY responsibility?  I have my own plans for the morning.

Somebody from church calls.  We’re selling  cobblers at the local Peach Festival and need somebody to work at the stand.  OH NO!  I’m an introvert and I’M JUST NOT COMFORTABLE around a crowd of strangers.  Don’t ask me to do that.

My friend is totally uninterested in the new project in which I’m so involved.  She’s MY friend,why isn’t she being more supportive of ME?

Anyway, you get the idea.  My first response is to think of myself, what I want, and what seems most comfortable and convenient for me.  Here’s what Jesus says about that:

“He answered, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” Luke 10:27

That means our priorities should go like this:

  1. God
  2. Others
  3. Me

This doesn’t mean we can never say no.  Sometimes we must say no;  sometimes it is better for the other person if we say no;  sometimes we need to say no because something is definitely out of our skill set. It also doesn’t mean we don’t hold folks accountable or express our feelings — but we need to do this in a gentle, respectful way, not in anger.  It does mean that as God’s servants, we can’t allow a selfish mindset to control our actions.  Following our own impulses (i.e. serving ourselves) will lead to conflict and broken relationships.  Serving God and doing His will leads to peace with God and others. So who do you want to serve?