Why Do You Serve?

Neal Pollard

Has a preacher ever been motivated by finance, popularity, or fame? Has an elder ever been motivated by power, influence, or notoriety? Has a Christian ever served in any way for notice, accolades, or to satisfy pride? In individual cases, it’s so hard to tell (ultimately, it’s impossible). But, knowing human nature, we would have to say motivation can be tainted and corrupted.

Paul says as much of preachers, that they preached Christ from envy, strife, and selfish ambition (Phil. 1:15,17). Greed propels some preachers (1 Th. 2:5; 2 Pet. 2:3,14). Woe to the preacher who falls into traps like those! He may do harm in this life, but it cannot compare to the ultimate harm he does to himself and others. Peter calls out elders who he says serve for sordid gain or on a power trip (1 Pet. 5:2-3). Woe to the elder who serve from such a base motive! He will not joyfully anticipate the appearing of the Chief Shepherd (cf. 1 Pet. 5:4)! Christians have been led by their appetites and an earthly mindset (Phil. 3:19). Woe to the Christian who serves God for selfish reasons. Such will not be able to successfully endure their spiritual race.

Sometimes, our words and actions betray our motives and intentions. So often, what gets in the way is self— self-service, self-will, self-interest, self-indulgence, self-importance, selfish ambition. It leaves a sour taste and sounds ugly when said. It is manifestly unattractive to even read the words. It is detestable when witnessed in others. But “self” is such an impediment to spiritual service.

I don’t know why anyone else is serving Jesus. But I need to be careful to examine myself. How terrible to let my speech and actions be the cause of anyone questioning what moves me to render any act or service. Let our goal be to live so selflessly that no one has legitimate cause to ask why we do what we do in God’s Kingdom. Paul contrasts Timothy with others, saying, “ For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:21). Let’s be a Timothy, moved by a genuine concern for others (Phil. 2:20). That’s just what this cynical world needs to see!

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Service With A Smile

Neal Pollard

Jesus showed the greatness of service by washing the disciples’ feet (John 13:12-17). As they fought over who was the greatest, Jesus revealed that He came to serve and not to be served (Mat. 20:25-28). God refers to Him in the great prophesy about His suffering as “My Servant” (Isa. 52:13; 53:11). Why, then, are we more apt to jockey for prominence, position, power, and prestige? Is it not that, in such times, we’ve lost our focus and stopped “looking unto Jesus” (cf. Heb. 12:2)? What are some practical ways we can reflect Jesus through service? Consider the following as a pump-primer:

  • Write a note of encouragement
  • Pleasantly let a merging driver merge in front of you
  • Fervently pray for the good of someone who has been hurtful to you
  • Meet a widow(er) for lunch or coffee
  • Volunteer to babysit so a young couple can go on a date
  • Anonymously send a small amount of money or gift card to a college student, preacher student, or missionary
  • Visit a shut-in
  • Participate in a feeding the homeless event
  • Tell an elder you love and appreciate him
  • Pay for the meal of a young family who looks like they could use the help
  • Ask a neighbor if there is something you can be praying about on their behalf (and, if they’re willing, pray for that on the spot)
  • Text or email someone you know is in a stressful circumstance and express confidence in them
  • Take a small group to go sing for someone confined to a hospital or nursing home
  • Volunteer to work with small children to make a craft or baked good for the elderly
  • Police the bathrooms and pews at church and tidy up little messes you see
  • Make visitors to our assemblies feel welcome and help them find a class or a seat (with a pleasant smile)

There may be profound ways we can serve, but realize that any act of service may be far more profound than we think. We may not know in this life how a simple act opens a heart and opens a door of opportunity for Christ. Think like a servant and seek ways to serve! The greater others think you are, the greater your need to serve. But however much or little you think of yourself, think of others. Then, serve them!

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Help Them On Their Way!

Neal Pollard

As Paul nears the close of his short epistle to Titus, he urges, “Diligently help Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way so that nothing is lacking for them” (3:13). Whatever Paul had in mind, whether financial, transportation, lodging, emotional, or similar help, it is an interesting plea. It isn’t said, but is fair to infer, that “their way” involved spiritual business. Lange and others surmise that these were on Crete but wanting to head out on a missionary journey and that Titus must have been a man of financial means who could see to their provisions. Maybe, but let’s not miss the bigger principle. One Christian is told to help others along their way.

God’s great work is still going on today. Each of us has a role to play in advancing it, but we should not discount the importance of helping others on their way in this effort. We should do so thoroughly and thoughtfully. As we look within the local congregation, we should ask who we could help on their way.

  • Those who organize the Bible School program, as they look for teachers and helpers
  • Those who organize the worship services, as they seek those to lead it
  • Those who desire to engage in mission work, as they try to raise the necessary funds
  • Elders and deacons, who appeal for help in their respective works
  • Those who need a ride to the doctor
  • Those on our prayer list, as they have various needs we can carry to the throne of God
  • The homeless, imprisoned, and otherwise needy, as they represent Jesus (Mat. 25:35ff)
  • Our youth who would benefit from godly, spiritual leadership and mentoring
  • Young mothers who would be encouraged by sympathy and kindness as they strive to train their children in the assemblies
  • Those who organize workdays and need help from the rest of us
  • Those who have recently suffered a loss, as they struggle to retain balance and stability
  • A lost neighbor, co-worker, and family member who may be struggling to find the truth
  • Whoever I may have missed who needs you or me to be God’s hands and heart

Mary Barrett wrote, “Lend a hand to help a brother who is striving hard and true, don’t forget that in the valley there is someone needing you.” May we take that personally. Don’t discount what you might do to help a brother or sister on their way. What might we find, when we get to heaven, which came of taking that precious moment to supply what they needed in such a situation?

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Would Jesus Scrub Grape Juice Stains?

Neal Pollard

Bob Russell tells the story of Dwight Day, a UPS pilot who had come back to church after many years away. Russell walked into the auditorium one day to catch Day scrubbing grape juice stains off the pews. This pilot was an important man with sufficient money to hire someone to do the job, but there he was scrubbing. He “wasn’t too important to clean the pews” (When God Builds A Church, 178).

Who visits the elderly members in the nursing home? Who participates in the workday? Who takes the poor, ill member to a doctor’s appointment? Who prepares the communion? Who teaches the cradle roll class? Who grades the correspondence courses? Who gives a lift to someone who needs a ride to church? Who does the many “invisible,” thankless tasks that must be done for the church to grow and meet its many responsibilities? The servant!

The serving Christian is not necessarily the one-talent, lower-class, uneducated person ill-equipped to do something more “sophisticated” and “important.” These are the kinds of things anyone can do, but only the servant does them. Lest we consider such tasks too menial and such people meaningless, we reflect on John 13. That chapter records the all-knowing, all-powerful Creator of the universe (you can’t one-up that) pouring water into a basin, washing the disciples’ feet and drying them with a towel he had put around Himself (v. 5). They had to have been baffled, this group who had been jockeying for a seat on His left and right hand in the vision of Kingdom greatness they had imagined (cf. Mat. 20:21). What were they thinking as Jesus tells them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” (12b-17).

This was a gut-punch to them and to so many of us. We can be more interested in getting the good seat than stooping to wash the dirty foot (or scrub the grape juice-stained pew). But we will miss the heavenly definition of spiritual greatness unless we lower ourselves. Jesus told the Sons of Thunder and their mother to remove the worldly gauging of greatness out of their thinking (Mat. 20:25-28). Perhaps He’d have that conversation with you and me, too. May God grant us the humility to see the opportunities and serve as stain scrubbers and every other, similar task that allows Him to use us for His glory. If that spirit permeates a congregation, it will turn the whole world upside down (cf. Acts 17:6)!

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Tools In God’s Toolbox

Neal Pollard

Romans 6:13 tells us our body is an instrument, and we choose to use it for righteousness or unrighteousness. The Greek word translated “instrument” there means “tool or weapon.” What kind of tool or weapon are you? Are you an instrument God holds in His hand to do His will?

  • Are you a battering ram? The ancients would use a log or some other hard object to break down a wall or door. Have we filled our hearts with the Word to the degree that we can, speaking the truth in love (Eph. 4:15), break down barriers keeping the honest-hearted from God?
  • Are you a crowbar? Crowbars pry objects apart. There are things we should separate from our thinking and lifestyle. Are we trying to pull away from worldliness (Js. 4:4)?
  • Are you a chisel? This is a tool that does meticulous, detailed work. Its blade carves or cuts hard materials. Do we have the tenacity and trust needed to use God’s Word and benefit from His providence to remake our lives into the image of Christ (cf. 2 Co. 3:18)?
  • Are you a level? We live in not only a dishonest world but also a corrupt world. So many call good evil and evil good (Isa. 5:20). Can people find in us a reliable standard of right and wrong, as we reflect the principles of God’s Word? Levels are used to determine whether something is true and as it ought to be.
  • Are you a plane? The plane smooths rough surfaces by repetitiously moving back and forth across the surface. All four Gospels (Mat. 3:3; Mk. 1:3; Lk. 3:4; Jn. 1:23) speak of John the immerser’s work as making ready the path of the Lord, making His paths straight. We are not forerunners of Jesus; we follow in His steps (1 Pe. 2:21). As we do follow Him, we are going to forge a path safe for others to follow (1 Co. 11:1).
  • Are you a magnet? A magnet is an object that draws and holds another object disposed toward such attraction. Magnets can be used as tools themselves, but they are often made a part of other tools, such as hammers and screwdrivers. By living like Jesus, you will draw people to Him.

Paul also referred to “tools” or “weapons” when talking to the Corinthians. He mentions “armor of righteousness” and “weapons of our warfare” (same word). In both cases, the tools or weapons are spiritual and figurative, yet with them we can help shape and build up those around us. Be a tool in God’s toolbox!

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Are You Willing To Be A Maintenance Worker?

Neal Pollard

Near the end of the epistle to Titus, Paul writes, “And let our people also learn to maintain good works, to meet urgent needs, that they may not be unfruitful” (3:14). This verse teaches that Christianity involves maintenance work. Everyone enjoys a finished product, few like putting it together, and fewer enjoy repairing or maintaining it. In the same way, “maintaining good works” in the local church can be tedious business. Everyone enjoys a comfortable building, but who will help work on it? Everyone is concerned about the sick and hospitalized, but who will take the time to call, write, and visit them? Everyone likes hospitality and good fellowship, but who is willing to provide it?  The church must be filled with maintenance workers.

On the personal level, it is sad but true that some individual Christians just “fall away.”  Jesus once taught, “They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away” (Luke 8:13). In this verse, Jesus laments the failure of some believes to do that necessary, personal “maintenance work.” Preventatively, He teaches that we must maintain our joy of God’s Word. Nothing does this like reading and studying the Bible. Only those who are involved daily in this come to truly appreciate the precious value of its truth. Christ teaches that we must maintain our faith in God’s Word. It is hard to believe, but Jesus says that individuals can cease to believe in Him. This is dangerous, as Peter teaches one is better off knowing Christ than rejecting Him (2 Pet. 2:20-21). Christ also teaches that we must maintain our strength by God’s Word. Otherwise, temptation will pull us away from Him.

When Thomas O. Davis accepted the presidency of a civic club, he was not facetious when he prayed, “Now I get me up to work, I pray the Lord I may not shirk, and if I die before tonight, I pray my work will be all right.” An old proverb goes, “God gives every bird its food, but he does not throw it into the nest.” Too, God has given every man a Savior, but He will not just put salvation in our lap without our doing anything. In both the case of the bird and the man, there is work to be done to obtain and maintain what is needed. May all of use do good works eagerly (“be ready,” Titus 3:1), thoroughly (“to every good work,” Titus 3:1), blamelessly (“speak evil of no man,” Titus 3:2), and gently (Titus 3:2). That’s the way to excel in the maintenance business!

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19 WAYS TO TANGIBLY IMPROVE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD TODAY

Neal Pollard

  • Try to spend 5 minutes of prayer in which you do nothing but praise Him.
  • Do something for Him that requires you to step out of your comfort zone—initiate a conversation with a stranger, give a tract to a co-worker you’ve been talking with, etc.
  • Have a devotional with your family.
  • Call a shut-in or stop by and visit a widow(er).
  • Write a missionary, expressing appreciation and giving encouragement.
  • Anonymously give a sacrificial amount of money for a family in need or someone dependent upon support (school of preaching student or teacher, missionary, etc.).
  • Contact an elder, asking him something you could do to help them in their work.
  • Make a list of at least 20 blessings God has given specifically to you.
  • Speak to someone at church services you have never spoken to before.
  • Invite a family from church you don’t know well over for dinner.
  • Put a packet with bottled water and granola bar, along with a tract, into a Ziplock bag to give to the person at the intersection asking for assistance.
  • Pick out a Bible book you are unfamiliar with and start breaking it down, looking for key words, purpose statement, and other clues to better understanding it. Take copious notes.
  • Pray for someone you are having problems with, an enemy, critic, or one who has offended you.
  • Alone or with your spouse and/or children, sing several songs of praise and admonition.
  • Carry a meal to a young mother who has had a difficult day.
  • Give a big smile and warm greeting to a fellow shopper or employee at a store or restaurant.
  • Ask the secretary for a list of last Sunday’s visitors and send them each a warm, brief note.
  • Think of an area for spiritual improvement in your life and ask God to help you focus on it, being transparent and sincere as you petition Him.
  • Ask the person closest to you (parent, spouse, sibling, etc.) something they need for you to pray for on their behalf.

Can you think of additional ways?

May I Help You?

Neal Pollard

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly all the top 1o most common U.S. occupations are in the service industry—retail salespersons, cashiers, fast food workers, office clerks, waiters and waitresses, and customer service representatives, just to name a few (http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/ocwage.pdf).  But one of the most common complaints you hear is about poor customer service, rude or unhelpful customer service staff, being overcharged or neglected, or a bad attitude.  There may be a great many reasons behind this, but one may well be that our culture is not conditioned to serve, but to be served.  Those in positions of service may just be reflecting the culture.

This is not a new problem.  Jesus addressed that mentality with His followers in Matthew 20:25-28.  In a world insistent upon being the chief and asserting their own rights, Jesus’ message does not play well today.  Yet, it did not play well even when He taught it on earth.  Jesus was very clearly the suffering servant (Isa. 53:11), and how did the masses ultimately react to Him? They shouted, “Crucify Him” (Mark 15:13-14).

The concept of serving others turned out to be a struggle for the church at Philippi.  To that end, Paul urged them to adopt a better mindset, a proper attitude (Phil. 2:1-4).  Paul reminded these Christians that they were in the spiritual service industry.  It was their job to serve one another.  We can understand why this teaching is a bitter pill to swallow.  We all know those members of the spiritual family who are difficult to deal with, the ones who can be like fingernails on the chalkboard to us or who set our teeth on edge.  We might enjoy doing for the benign brother, the sweet sister, or the friendly family.  The real test comes in serving someone who does not make serving a pleasant, happy task.  A servant heart was lacking among some at Philippi (cf. 4:2), and an unwillingness to put others first will have a dangerous, negative impact on a church if such a spirit is allowed to grow unchecked.

Gordon MacDonald said, “You can tell whether you are becoming a servant by how you act when people treat you like one.”  Paul is urging a united, humble, and serving attitude on Philippi and on us.  Our task is not to gauge how others are growing in service, but to examine self.  May we live what we sometimes sing to God, “Make me a servant, Lord, make me like You, for you are a servant, make me one, too!”

What Is “Selfism”?

Neal Pollard

I came across the term “selfism” in Dick Meyer’s 2008 book, Why We Hate Us: American Discontent in the New Millennium.  He defines it as “American individualism redefined by the age of marketing, self-help, moral relativism, and the belief that the “self” is something that can be deliberately found or made” (36).  He warns that “it is different than the older, can-do, self-made-man American spirit because it substitutes feeling for doing” (37). Later in the chapter, Meyer ties this hyper-emphasis on self  to a growing belligerence in society.  He writes, “On the Internet, belligerence can be anonymous, faceless, and hence risk-free. In schools and offices, for example, the Web is a problem, because parents and workers say nasty things in e-mail that they would never say in person. Chat rooms, blogs, and online comments are clogged with vitriol and hate-mongering…the need to make others wrong has turned into an addiction” (44).  One of his points in the chapter is that the elevation of self is not just a problem of narcissism, but it has become commonplace to vaunt self by stepping on, insulting, and ridiculing others to do it.  We are witnessing an ever-growing game of “King of the Mountain,” where in a rush to get noticed we are shoving off anyone who might eclipse or overshadow us.

Selfism is Satanic rather than sanctified behavior, but each of us must wrestle with it.  The temptation to join them rather than “beat” them through Christlike humility is ever-present.  What is “one-upmanship” if not an effort to present self as above another? In certain circles, the ability to respectfully and civilly discuss differences has been assassinated by hired killers like vanity, self-importance, animosity, and contempt.

Do we have a more difficult task than obeying Jesus’ command to deny self (cf. Mat. 16:24)?  When Paul urges Philippi to eliminate selfish ambition and conceit while esteeming others as better than self (Phi. 2:3), do we appreciate the polar opposite this is to the cultural arch-hero of selfism?  Jesus came into this world to show us the selfless life.  It is scary to live that way, especially in a world full of adherents to the cult of self.  We fear that being selfless with selfish people will lead to being walked over, preempted, or mistreated.  What will help is developing the faith to trust that living the way God commands leads us to the best life possible.  The best life possible is one where self is suppressed in deference to Christ and others.  Such a life will be noticed as a beacon in our choppy seas of selfism!

WHAT I SAW WHEN A SISTER SERVED

Neal Pollard

It was such a joy to accompany the BVBII students on campaign to Greensboro, Georgia.  Chuck Ramseur, one of our graduates, is doing a great job with Brianna and their four children, and the church was so warm and hospitable.  Yet, one of the things I’ll remember the most from this trip was the continual service displayed by Bonnie Saldana. Her husband, Mario, is a freshman and we had the same host family.  Throughout the week, Bonnie would jump up and clear the dishes from the table and clean the kitchen.  Our hosts, Dean and Karen, would urge her to sit down, but you could tell how much they truly appreciated it.  She made no fanfare about it, but quietly and diligently worked.

Mario is a joy to be around, but his wife’s willingness to jump in and get involved will help raise his “stock” when he graduates and looks for a place to preach.  Increasingly, I have seen women married to preachers who, in apparent protest at the thought of being part of a “package deal,” do little if anything to be involved (clean up, teach classes, otherwise volunteer, etc.) in the local church.  This sends a powerfully clear message to the other ladies (and men) in the congregation.  Rather than greatness, it shows gross selfishness.

Jesus proclaimed service as the way heaven esteems greatness (cf. Mat. 20:26-28). I wonder how He feels when He sees those unaware and unwilling to look around and assist where work is to be done.  The particulars of the problem are not given at Philippi between the divided women, Euodia and Syntyche (Phil. 4:2), but an overarching solution to “church trouble” is to “do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4).

What is to be eliminated? (1) Selfishness (Louw/Nida—“What they do is just for themselves,” 88.167), (2) Empty conceit (“A state of pride which is without justification,” ibid.), (3) Personal interests (A selfish preoccupation with with one’s own affairs, O’Brien, NIGTC, np).  What is encouraged? (1) Humility of mind, (2) Higher regard for others, (3) Looking out for the interests of others. Apply this to cleaning up after fellowship activities, babysitting, helping with workdays, providing transportation, practicing hospitality, listening to others’ ideas and input, doing security, greeting visitors, providing meals for those in need, visiting the hospitals and nursing homes, taking an interest in the youth through the elderly, teaching a class, nurturing a new Christian, and using your training and talents however you can to help the church grow.

There are many Christian women and men out there like Bonnie.  May each of us look at examples like these and eagerly imitate them.  In noticing them, we are following heaven’s example.  In following them, we are following heaven’s advice.

Bonnie is pictured (far left) in this picture of the BVBII campaign group in Georgia.