The Joy of Serving

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I never thought much about serving other people. I have always been a person that sees myself as a hard person. I didn't have the easiest childhood growing up. I was rebellious as a teen and young adult and it carried on into my adulthood. Even when I became a follower of Christ over 10 years ago, I never realized the 'behind the scenes' aspect of the church. I sat in the same church for 7 years only knowing ONE person. One.

Let that sink in for a minute.

I was faithful to keep showing up in obedience for church attendance. That was the only area pretty much that I was obedient in. I sat alone most of the time, unless someone in my family happened to attend with me. I fellow-shipped with, well, myself.

I had no mentor at that time to come along beside me and help me walk the path God had called my heart to. I bought bible studies and tried to study the Word on my own. Here I was walking in the newness of Christ and had no clue if I was doing it right or if I was doing it completely wrong. I wanted God. I needed Him. I also needed something more.

I loved my preacher, but didn't know him or have a personal relationship with him. I shook people's hands when it was time for the greeting, but that was the absolute extent of my 'fellowship'. If I am honest I always got severe anxiety when it came to shaking people's hands. I had always said I don't 'like' people, but God has a way to soften even the hardest of hearts. Walking in the newness of Christ also found me fighting spiritual battles that I had no clue how to even fight. 

The one person I knew in the entire church kept after me to get involved and to serve. I didn't like hugs, but she kept on hugging me and telling me that she loved me.

She battered me with kindness, love and a driving desire to see me get connected. She was relentless in her pursuing of me. My heart began to soften. I heard myself agreeing to get involved in co-leading a bible study group with her. She took me under her wing and she not just mentored me, but she ministered to me. She was serving me.

I didn't realize it at the time, but God had put her in my life to batter the wall I had built around myself and heart until finally it crumbled down. I don't trust easily. I don't love easily. As she served me, she encouraged me. As she loved on me, she helped me through forgiveness and grudges that were a stumbling block to me.

I slowly began serving others. I would find myself still being reserved with people and serving minimally. I found that I had a knack for teaching. Through the trials I had been through trying to teach myself taught me how to study the Word and by this time I knew the Word pretty well and felt comfortable enough to step out and teach. Once I set out to embrace this God given gift, doors opened to me. I was a reserved teacher.

My passion has always been new believers and trying to help them in their new walk. That was pretty much the only capacity I was willing to serve in. I could be that teacher and hold myself aloof from others. I did begin to build relationships with other teachers, leaders and a few of the pastors, and I built relationships with the people I was teaching or in a study group with, but I still held back. 

My biggest struggle has always been not knowing what to do and when.  How do I hear His Voice call me to something if I already have a made up answer in my mind?

I have always had low expectations in my life. If you have low expectations, you don't suffer from disappointments. No one can hurt you, if you don't care. No one can tell you that you are making a mistake, if you don't even try. I hid behind my kids for years. I home-schooled and I was busy, so I couldn't possibly give my time to serve. I had 3 kids all within a 3 year age span and they needed me more than the church.

Even when they got older and could care for themselves it still was an excuse I used to justify my lack of servitude to others. I was physically serving, but it was selfish serving. It was serving that made me feel superior if I am honest about it. I felt like a big shot, with pretend humility...because my HEART wasn't joyful in what I was doing. Probably because I let ME get in the way of what GOD wanted to accomplish through me. SO He decided to change His tactic with me.

I had a shaking up at the church I attended and began to attend a new one. I left several positions that I was serving in at the former church. Those were positions that I had worked so hard for and threw my whole life into, but by the end I realized the heart problem that I had. When God pushed me to leave that former church, my reaction was 'But God I worked so hard to get there, I studied so much to be able to teach, I walked through struggles and well Lord YOU are the one that wanted me to do all of that and be IN those positions so what's the DEAL'???

His response through this very slobbery and painful prayer session...was 'Who's is it? Is this you serving yourself, or you serving Me... those are MY positions that I set you in...Leave them behind and do not step one more foot on the ground of that place until I tell you otherwise.' It has been 3 years and I mark that to obedience.

 

**Philippians 2:4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.**

 

As I began attending the new church something began to change. I WANTED to serve. I WANTED to fellowship. I WANTED to hug people and tell them I loved them. I WANTED to give people a piece of myself and not hold it back. I had finally found JOY in serving. I had finally found JOY in fellowship. I had finally found JOY in hugging people and telling them I loved them. I found myself seeking those out across the aisle to hug on or shake hands with and tell them I was glad to see them. I found myself seeking out newcomers and making sure that they weren't missed. Oh but serving on a larger scale...that is tremendous JOY. 

Being so reserved for so long with people has given me the insight to 'read' them.

I see people even in my own little church who are walking the same path I did. I see them coming but not serving and becoming a part of the body. I see children used as the same shield that I did for so many years. I see people wanting pats on their back and self-serving recognition for serving. They haven't found the JOY in Serving.

So how do you know if you are Joyful in Serving? I can give you a recent event as an example.

We recently have had a few large scale events/dinners for the whole church and friends to enjoy. To be able to put on anything of that scale takes a lot of behind the scenes preparations. (Everything that goes into Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings take week long preparations). These preparations take volunteers/servants. Who are the volunteers/servants? The church body, in other words you and me and whoever is sitting next to you and on down the line.

The past 8 months have found me and my husband not being able to serve at all. His medical problems resulted in long hospital stays and a huge gap in church attendance. I was cautious and reserved with what I could volunteer for. So fast forward to this past Sunday. I had volunteered to lead the servers on the food line, but someone (who will remain nameless) decided that the whole thing was my ballgame. Setting it up etc. To say I was a little overwhelmed was an understatement. Even though I felt tremendous pressure I set my face like flint and tamped down those fears. I was distracted by every little thing on Sunday. My focus was wholly on doing a good job for the church. BUT...GOD.

As I began to serve...I found tremendous JOY in serving. I loved to see each and every person come thorough that line and be served. I had someone come to me before service even and ASK if I needed help serving. They had not yet served in the church, I loved that...it gave me tremendous JOY to say yes! I loved being able to serve beside her. Everyone one else asked as well, but they were ones that serve in other capacities in different areas. She sought me out, because I would have never wanted to put her on the spot and put her in that position. I found such JOY in that.

I also found JOY in my husband serving others in standing at the door opening it for others, helping the guys cooking if they needed it. Seeing the JOY in his face to being able to serve again was worth all the hardships we have had and continue to have in our life. God has showed me the JOY He has in me...how could I have made serving all about myself for so many years, when it is ALL about Him?

How could I want to be a leader, but not be willing to humble myself and serve? How could I be jealous of titles and positions and strive to better myself only and not think about the others in my local church body? How could I be so selfish to hold myself back from others when there might be ONE person I could single out to love on, encourage, mentor, and pursue relentlessly when that is what God did for me? How could I not serve and call myself a Christ-follower? He served. Are we greater than Him?

 

LORD, I praise Your Name and I thank You for everything that You do in my life. Forgive me LORD for all of those years of being self centered, self focused, and stingy with my affections. Thank You Lord for allowing me to see the JOY I have found in serving You and others. Help me to not be selfish. Help me to continue loving on people. Thank You LORD for that mentor so long ago that pursued me with Your love and devotion, I know that it was You and I am grateful she was obedient to Your commands. May others that are falling into the same patterns I did, wake up and find joy in serving. LORD give them an opportunity to say YES and help us as a body to WANT to serve with JOY...In the Mightiness of Jesus' Name, Amen. 

 

**John 13:12-14  When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.**

 

**Romans 12:9-13 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.**

 

Encourage Yourself in the Lord

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There are times in our lives where everything feels out of control. It is discouraging when it seems as though prayers go unanswered and those constant prayers become a nuisance even to yourself. It is easy for us, in our society and culture, to continue to look to ourselves or to others for encouragement. Society tells us that we are enough. That if our prayers aren't being answered immediately then there must be something wrong with our faith in God. It tells us that we have to help ourselves and to be all we can be by following 'these' steps. It tells us that we are 'self-made' and can turn a failure into a success. We are made to feel inadequate and are sometimes shamed for feeling down in the dumps.


I've been there.


There have been many times in my own life where I have felt like I have been asking God for the same thing over and over again. I bombarded Him with prayers, petitions and outright begging too. I felt pathetic when I resorted to begging. It didn't stop me, however, and when the answer was a definitive NO, I didn't take it to well...I mean who does? My life felt so completely out of control I didn't know what was up and what was down. I unfortunately spiraled out of control when it came to my relationship with God. I couldn't handle that loss of control. I am a planner. I like to have things a certain way. I like to be organized. I like to have my life in an order that I have decreed.

I never thought in a million years that the LORD would tell me NO.

We've grown up in a yes culture. We have everything at the touch of a button. Can I have a new pair of shoes? Yes, and we will deliver them to your door. Can I have a pizza? Yes, and we will deliver it to you hot and ready. Can I have someone else do my grocery shopping for me? Yes, and we will bring it out to your car and even load it for you. Can I have a burger? Yes, and you can have it anyway you want it. We like things done our way and there is nothing more thrilling than getting things exactly the way we want it.


We've all been there.


So what do we do when everything is upside down in our world? What do we do when life is out of control, laundry is chaos, kids are loud and obnoxious and you feel as though you could scream? What do you do when you want to move on to a new chapter in your life and the LORD doesn't seem to be answering your prayers in a time frame that YOU have given Him? What do you do when a job you want seems unattainable? What do you do when your finances are slowly draining away and you have no clue where the provision will come from? What do you do when your children seem to be taking a path you didn't raise them to take? Your house won't sell, your car breaks down, you realize your friends are fair weather friends, and everyone else around you seems to have the perfect life, spouse and kids?

Life is tough, but God is already there.

His Word encourages us. His Word is Truth. We find abundant Life in Jesus the living Word. He walked among us. He lived in a culture that would make us cringe today. He didn't have a home to call His own (Matthew 8:20). He didn't have His own transportation (Luke 19:30). He was taken out of His realm of comfort and tested beyond what we could endure (Matthew 4:1-11). The leaders of religion were literally after His life (John 11:45-57). His friend betrayed Him (Luke 22:48). His biggest supporter denied Him 3 times and ran away (Luke 22: 54-62). He was tortured beyond comprehension and finally gave His life up (Matthew 27:26-50). He was resurrected and defeated death (Luke 24) and in that we find our encouragement.

Our problems are fleeting in the face of God.

Those times in my life when things seemed out of control, they weren't, because God had His Hand on it. When I felt like His answer was No, it wasn't, its just that He had something better for me. When I felt like His timing was slow, it wasn't, I am just impatient. I found my encouragement in the life of Jesus. I found encouragement in the life of David (a man after God's own heart). I found my encouragement in the life of Job, the life of Moses, the life of Noah, the life of Abraham, and in the life of the Living Word. God's Word isn't some old ancient book that we can't relate to. The story of the skirmishes, battles, wars, betrayals, losing children, losing homes, living in temptation, and living in a culture that counteracts God's commandments. It is the story of human nature and all the depravity that can happen when you are not well connected to God. When I am feeling down and out of sorts I go to the Word. I go to Psalms and read about the goodness of God. I read there about His protection from the enemy. I read about His mercy and Gracious nature. His forgiving heart and His love for His children. What more could we ask for? His Truth should encourage us and give us a sense of rightness in this world.

Go where God has already been in scripture, and see that He is walking with you through your turmoil and discouragement.

Be encouraged!

2 Corinthians 4:16-18

**So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. **

Thanksgiving and Christmas: A Fight For Peace

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Tonight I circled up the family.  All nine of us.  I reminded everyone that this was the beginning of the holiday season.  Tomorrow we would celebrate Thanksgiving with a huge turkey and all the trimmings.  Family would be joining us and memories would be made.

They listened intently to me as I went on to tell them about how we would have to FIGHT FOR PEACE these next few days.  I told them that peace doesn’t just happen, it is something that is fought for.

I led us all in prayer and asked God to give us the strength to fight for peace these next few days.

It was really a great family moment.  They were tracking with me.  They were REALLY WITH ME.

I said Amen…and everyone went their separate ways.

Not kidding, 30 seconds later…there was a blow up between two of my kids, fighting over who was going to sit in the recliner.  MY RECLINER.

And I broke up the argument by yelling from the kitchen…

“IT’S MY RECLINER AND NO ONE IS SITTING IN IT EXCEPT FOR ME!”

Talk about a win.

But instantly, I turned to my wife Mel and said: “We are OPPOSED in this!”

“Here we are TRYING TO HONOR GOD with how we treat each other and it was blown to pieces in two minutes time!”

And so here I am…sitting at my computer.  Not because I’ve figured this out, but because I haven’t.

See, the holidays, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas, are that time of year when OUR EXPECTATIONS AND OUR REALITY are often far apart.

We envision our home filled with the warmth of The Wonderful Life and the humor of Christmas Vacation.

And when our expectations aren’t met, our tempers flare, careless words are spewed, doors are slammed and tears are shed.

 

So how do we do this?  How do we fight for peace?

I can say that we have seen some success over the years.  It’s obviously not perfect, as indicated by the events I referenced from tonight.

My wife brought me this verse the other day.  Romans 12:9-10

 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 

It was the last part of verse 10 that jumped off the page at us.

OUTDO one another in showing honor.

What incredible imagery there.  Can you imagine OUTDOING your family members in showing honor?

That is hard when what we really want is to OUTDO them in a shouting match.

Those words OUTDO ONE ANOTHER could also be translated PREFER ONE ANOTHER

Here’s what I know about me.

I don’t like to PREFER ANYONE OVER MYSELF.

I prefer to prefer me.

But can you imagine…how much more PEACEFUL our lives would be if we consistently preferred others over ourselves?

What we have found over the years of navigating the holidays is that it never gets easier.

The stress is always there and our expectations are always high.

But…we come into this season with boundaries.

We declare on SPECIAL DAYS like Thanksgiving and Christmas, that they will be “fight free zones”

We will prefer one another by avoiding landmines in conversations that WE KNOW WILL BLOW UP WHEN WE STEP ON THEM.

We prefer one another by LETTING UNDERHANDED COMMENTS GO WITHOUT A SNARKY RESPONSE.

We prefer one another by asking ourselves: IS THIS REALLY WORTH IT?

Is it worth RUINING THE ENTIRE HOLIDAY in order to get the last word in?

As parents, we prefer the kids over ourselves.

It’s easiest to take our stress and frustration out on our spouse because they are the other adult in the house

What we don’t realize is that WHEN WE RAISE THE TEMPERATURE in our home because we are FIGHTING WITH OUR SPOUSE.

The kids won’t remember the Thanksgiving Meal.

They won’t remember decorating the tree.

They won’t remember making cookies together.

They’ll only remember that mom and dad always fought on holidays. 

And somewhere in there, we put up the tree, made a turkey and burned some cookies.

 

So as parents, we ask ourselves

What are the memories we want our kids to have?

I know the thought of “making memories” isn’t real spiritual sounding…

But what I do know is that our memories often shape our viewpoints and our viewpoints shape our actions

And honestly, if our home is not a place of peace…why would our kids ever want to come back to visit after they move out?

And if we can’t figure out how to be at peace with each other when only our kids are in the mix…

How will we ever be at peace when our kids marry and bring OTHER PEOPLE into our family.

So tomorrow…we will FIGHT FOR PEACE.

And as one of my favorite preachers Voddie Baucham always says:

“Better today than yesterday.  Better tomorrow than today.”

 Fight for peace.

 

 

 

 

 

Tres Dias (That Secret Thing)

I wanted to sit down and write my assessment of Tres Dias as a pastor who has recently attended the weekend.

I have been a pastor on staff at churches ranging in size from 3500 to 50 and am currently lead pastor and church planter at Grand Central Church in Conroe TX.

The reason I write is because like many para-church organizations, Tres Dias can be a thorn in the side of pastors as they wrestle with something unfamiliar.

As pastors, we are typically inundated with “great ideas” from people…and most of the time, they are.  We just have to choose what is BEST for our people, not just GOOD for them.

Because many of my flock at Grand Central are invested in and radical advocates for Tres Dias, I felt it important to attend.  People in my church and outside my church were asking me to speak on the validity of the organization and especially the implementation of their weekend events.

I had nothing to go on.  I had many friends who spoke highly of it, but no clergy that I could talk to about its credibility.   So the best I could tell potential attendees was;

 

“I don’t know a lot about it, but I can tell you this…the most committed, all-in, warm and hospitable servants at our church have been through it.  If the organization is known by its fruit, then I like what I see.”

 

To me, that wasn’t good enough.  If I am shepherd of my flock, then I can’t readily protect them from the enemy if I don’t know what it is they are encountering.  I can’t whole-heartedly applaud and endorse a ministry I have no experience with.  So I signed up to attend.

In 20 years of ministry, there is not a camp, retreat or creative experience that I haven’t already participated in, witnessed or orchestrated.  In addition, the appearance of secrecy around Tres Dias only made me that much more cynical and resistant.  So I went in with one eye open. 

After 72 hours of being ministered to by the body of Christ and seeing His hands and feet at work, I was blown away by what God is doing through this ministry.

We as pastors stand up every week and try to inspire our flock to do what is being done with great vigor by the ministry of Tres Dias.  I listened intently for theological errors and bad philosophy…but couldn’t find any.

I do want to take a moment to address the appearance of secrecy that many pastors and leaders hang up on.  Here’s what I would say…it’s no different than a sermon illustration.  Pastors wouldn’t want someone to shout out the PUNCHLINE of their sermon illustration before they were done telling the story.  It would ruin the impact.

The appearance of secrecy around Tres Dias is merely to protect some of the surprise creative elements of the weekend. 

Honestly, in the age of social media where we find out the winners of the Olympic games before we’ve even watched the event, it is harder and harder to bring an element of heart-warming surprise and wonder without someone already knowing what you are doing.

 

(Some theological troll just tripped up on the fact that I said “heart-warming”)   ;)

 

Anyhow, I believe in the mission and vision of Tres Dias.  It exists to serve the body of Christ and the local church.  The whole-hearted, invested servants that they send back to the church is something most pastors dream of.  It’s for the newest believer in Christ or the most mature of our faith.

And here’s the deal…they aren’t trying to steal people from the church.  The consistent theme was: 

“We are not a church…what you are learning and seeing here should be TAKEN BACK TO YOUR CHURCH.  In fact, go ask your PASTOR how you can serve him!”

I will encourage my flock to be a part of this ministry because it empowers them to come back to their local church and LIVE OUT their faith. 

I will encourage pastors to go through and see what their people are experiencing and who knows, maybe God could speak something fresh to a pastor like He did to me.  Tres Dias is a tool that could be wisely used by churches of any size and I highly recommend!