Reckless Generosity

In our world, we like to measure ourselves by comparing ourselves to others. We don’t like unchanging standards. We can always find somebody who is worse, greedier, further away from God’s standards. We can do this in many areas of life:

  • Generosity: We can say, “My heart’s generous. I want to be generous. I just don’t have very much money right now. Things are kind of tight. Someday, I’ll have more money and then I’ll help take care of people who are in need.” But for now, we go on spending every dime we have on ourselves.
  • Serving: We can say, “I’m really busy right now. I’d love to serve people who are in need, but I can’t fit it into my schedule. Maybe when I have more time and get on top of things, then I will serve.” But our schedule never seems to open up and serving never fits into our day planner. 
  • Reaching Out: We can say, “I’d love to form a relationship with somebody of a different ethnicity or culture. I really want to be part of God’s solution to breaking down the walls that divide us, but it involves taking risks, and I am not up for that. I will wait for someone else to reach out to me; then maybe I can respond instead of initiate.”

But time passes and the walls grow higher and higher. We can measure our lives by comparing ourselves with others, but God does not. He sets a standard that is radically different from the constantly changing world in which we live. We need to look to his Word and discover his standard and then ask him for the strength to grow in our devotion to live with the justice, righteousness, and compassion that marks the heart of God.

God says, “I will measure my people by the one standard that counts. It’s very simple. Are people hungry? Feed them. Are people sick? Help them. Are people oppressed? Stick up for them. Are the widows lonely? Visit them. Are there uneducated children? Teach them. Are people rejected because of the color of their skin? Befriend them.”

The widow of Zarephath fed Elijah even though she had but a handful of flour and a little oil in a jug. (1 Kings 17:7–24) In this story she is recklessly generous. She gives the last of what she has to Elijah.

We should all pause occasionally to ask if we are living with that kind of generous spirit. Maybe we have an abundance of oil and flour in our jars. Maybe we only have a little. Maybe we have a huge flour jar, or perhaps a very small one. No matter what we have, we can still learn to live with a generous spirit.

Here are some questions we might want to ask occasionally:

  • Am I being faithful with my tithe to God?
  • Am I being responsive to the needs of the poor?
  • Am I learning to take risks in giving that stretch my faith?
  • Am I giving in a way that is becoming a natural part of how I live?
  • Am I noticing God’s generous provision in my life and responding with a thankful heart?

Dallas Willard says the law of the kingdom is the law of inversion, where the last are first and the servants are the greatest. This is modeled in a striking way in the life of this widow. The weakest, most vulnerable person — an impoverished, pagan, Gentile widow — becomes the one whose generosity keeps the prophet Elijah alive.

If you were the widow in this story, how do you think you would have responded to Elijah’s request? What an amazing example for all of us!

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[ This is directly from Bible Gateway e-mail Devotion, 2017-01-12 ]

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Servant Leadership

There is a lot of talk about leadership, but one resource I have experienced is called, “Lead Like Jesus” by Ken Blanchard. He promotes Jesus as the extreme example of leadership, servant leadership.

Do you have what it takes to be a servant leader? Let’s take a look at John 2:1-11 for a few principles.

In this story we learn of the time when Jesus attended a wedding with his brand new disciples. The host of the wedding ran out of wine. From this story and others from Jesus’ life, we find what it means to be a servant leader.

Servant leaders serve at all times: Even as an honored guest, Jesus was “on the clock” to serve the people around him. When people come to a wedding, they expect to be served! Jesus didn’t come to the wedding expecting to serve, but he served anyway.

Servant leaders take initiative: Even though Mary brought the matter to his attention (John 2:3), Jesus knew what needed to be done to meet the need. Notice in John 2:9 that the wedding host is not present for the miracle; Jesus performs this miraculous event without the wedding manager’s knowledge or consent. Jesus knew what needed to be done, and does it, behind the scenes. When you see something that needs to be done, do you take action or assume someone else will take care of it? Don’t reason within yourself that it is someone else’s job to do it. See the need; meet the need; call for help if your need it (which enlists others into service).

Servant leaders know their resources: When the need arose for more wine at the wedding, Jesus looked around and discovered those six stone jars (John 2:6). A servant leader never has excuses for why something can’t be done, but rather is a problem-solver who looks for ways to use old resources or discovers new ways to meet a need.

Servant leaders serve with excellence: When the banquet master at the wedding feast drank the wine that Jesus had produced, he said it was the best (John 2:10)! There’s no such thing as “good enough” with a servant leader, because this kind of leader is always striving to do his or her very best.

Servant leaders are not concerned with who gets the credit: Jesus was so behind the scenes with this miracle that the host goes to the bridegroom to brag about the quality of this recent discovery of wine (John 2:10). How many of us would have corrected the host to make sure Jesus got the credit? John 2:9 tells us that the other servants knew from where the wine had come (but did not tell the host). I think this happened because servant leaders take joy in the act of service, not who gets the credit.

Servant leaders serve thankfully, not grudgingly: In another event in the life of Jesus (John 6:11) he took the loaves of bread and gave thanks. He didn’t grab them, sigh heavily, and begin breaking them impatiently. He graciously paused to give thanks to his father. When you serve thankfully, your volunteers and your ministry will be blessed in abundance.

So how do you measure up? Determine which areas need strengthening and what you can do to move forward. Servant-style leadership begins with a spirit of genuine humility. Are you an open vessel ready to be filled with whatever God has for you to build up his kingdom?

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The Monster in the Manger

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… you can’t read those words without adding the tune, at least in your mind. Christmas is a wonderful time because it is the time of celebration of the coming of the long-awaited Messiah. He was to be born in Bethlehem of Judea (Micah 5:2). Christians recognize the Messiah to be the baby born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14). The sign to the shepherds was finding the baby lying in a manger (Luke 2:12). So, much of Old Testament prophecy pointed to this great event in the life of the community.

In America, we have removed the Messiah in the manger and replaced him with the monster in the manger. To a few people, it appears to be offensive to make any reference to Jesus during Christmas, preferring to emphasize Santa, reindeer and good old fashioned consumerism (dare I say, materialism). In a lot of places we have to remove the word “Christmas” and insert “holidays.” Hey, if this is the only persecution the church receives, it is pretty mild compared to what believers are enduring around the world, just for professing faith in Jesus Christ.

Today I want to remind you of an over-used story in the Bible (although never to my knowledge is it in the context of Christmas). It is used often in the context of choices, women’s roles, discipleship, service, or the need to spend more time with Jesus (Luke 10:38-42).

38 As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. 40 But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”

41 But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! 42 There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”

This was a family whom Jesus loved very much. It was sort of like family coming home for the holidays. The first thing I notice is that Martha spent so much time serving Jesus that she had no time to enjoy his company. As a pastor, I fear this happening in my life and must constantly be on my guard against it. After all, Jesus called his disciples to first BE WITH him (Mark 3:14) before he sent them out to serve him.

Frustration apparently arose over Mary not doing her part to help out. Everything had to be perfect for the guest who were coming over. That which started out as gladness and celebration ended up in resentment and envy.

Christmas is a special time when we want everything to be perfect… the right thoughtful gift that expresses our feelings for someone; the party plans require cleaning, and shopping, and invitations, and cooking, and decorations, and all of this leads to exhaustion. If it is not perfect, then we are just a failure. How many times have you been so spent physically and emotionally that you are unable to enjoy the Christmas season?

We must keep the baby in the manger as our primary focus during Christmas, because we can be all about being so busy during Christmas that we forget what the nativity is all about. If the Messiah is being diminished, we are replacing him with a monster!

Even if what you are doing is for the glory of God, God will not ask you to do something that will hinder your relationship with him! Spend time with him rather than just serve him. Sometimes we actively serve him and at other times we quietly sit at his feet.

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Volunteering in the Church

I’ve been thinking about volunteers and serving in the church lately… it’s that time of year in the Baptist tradition to enlist and secure capable and willing volunteers to ministries all over the church… teaching classes, serving on committees, nominating new deacons.

The goal is to have people serving in positions lining up with their giftedness. Once we understand how we are wired, we are better able to connection people into places and positions that allow them to accomplish the task with a certain ease and effectiveness. You know what it is like, sometime you have been assigned a task way outside of your strengths, but you were willing, so the job was yours!

Today I hope that you will see that some people in the church have a job while others involve themselves in ministry. What’s the difference?

If you do it just because no one else will… it’s a job!
If you do it to serve God… it’s a ministry!

If you quit because someone criticized you… it’s a job!
If you kept on serving in spite of challenges… it’s a ministry!

If you’ll do it only so long as it doesn’t interfere with other things… it’s a job!
If you’re committed to staying with it, even when it means letting other things go… it’s a ministry!

If you quit because no one ever praised or thanked you… it’s a job!
If you stay even though no one notices your efforts… it’s a ministry!

If you do it because someone else said it needs to be done… it’s a job!
If you do it because you sensed God saying it needs to be done… it’s a ministry!

If you do it because there is a need… it’s a job!
If you do it because it is your passion… it’s a ministry!

It’s hard to get excited about a job.
It’s almost impossible NOT to get excited about a ministry!

I pray that our church is NOT filled with people doing jobs, but ministries! If we desire to be a growing church, we need to be filled with people involved in ministry!

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God’s Greatness and Service

So, just how can we get people to take the call of God seriously? I’m not talking about God calling them to salvation, but God calling people to a live of sacrificial service. Why is volunteerism dead in so many places? What will it take to get people on board with God’s purpose and mission in the world?

As you read through the Bible, you’ll notice that whenever people come face to face with God’s greatness, the next scene often shows them on mission.

  • Moses trembles before God in the burning bush. Next he is standing before Pharaoh saying, “Let my people go!” The majesty of God displayed before Moses’ eyes on a faraway hillside is the same majesty God displays before the greatest empire of the day.
  • Isaiah caught a vision of the Lord in His temple that was so staggering that he fell on his face like a dead man. Notice God didn’t even have to tell him what to do. God simply asks, “Who shall go?” and the awestruck Isaiah volunteers: “Here am I. Send me!”
  • The Samaritan woman at the well was amazed at the supernatural knowledge of Jesus. Next we see her running into town telling her friends and family about His greatness.
  • The women at the tomb are the first to witness the resurrection power of God. Next we see them telling everyone, “We have seen the Lord!”
  • Peter denies Christ and hides. After encountering the greatness of King Jesus, we see him boldly proclaiming Christ as Messiah and Lord before thousands of people.
  • Paul has an encounter with the risen Jesus, and then he spends the rest of his life seeking to help the Gentiles see the very One who initially blinded him.

Why should it be any different with us? Missional fruitfulness comes from a heart gripped by God’s greatness and overwhelmed with His grace.

May we be so mesmerized by the glory of Jesus Christ that we count it as nothing to lose our lives for the spread of His fame! Let’s get on our faces before God and then get on our feet for His mission.

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