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greatness humility obedience service

GOD’S RECIPE FOR GREATNESS

Monday’s Column: Neal at the Cross

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Neal Pollard

Traditionally, people have pursued greatness by achieving prominence in politics, athletics, entertainment, business, and the like. The names of such stand outs live on through the records the world keeps–halls of fame, history books, registers, even buildings and monuments that “immortalize” them after they’ve gone. Every community has its men and women who are held up as paragons of greatness. 

How often do we stop and how much do we focus on what God considers greatness? Interestingly, He has quite a bit to say on the subject. The word is found 49 times in the New Testament and is a word from which we get our English word “mega.” As it is used in the Bible, it refers to a state of greatness and preeminence in quantity, quality, intensity, importance, and excellence (BDAG 623-625). You have God through His inspired writers trying to get our attention, saying, “Here is how you grab My attention and stand out in My eyes.” It is important to know what makes God’s list because “that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15). Surely, the opposite is true, too (1 Cor. 1:26-28). 

God lists the ingredients that, when incorporated into one’s life, renders her or him truly great. Do you want to be great?

Obey God’s Commands (Matthew 5:19)

While Jesus is speaking of the Old Law in context, the application lives on. Jesus ties greatness to having a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees (20). Without that, one cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. He goes on to demonstrate the difference between their righteousness and true righteousness. How do I handle what God’s Word tells me to do? By submitting to His authority in my life, I will become great.

Be Humble  (Matthew 18:4)

Ironically, the point of discussion in this context is, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (1). Surely, Jesus blows their mind by placing a little child in their midst and saying, “Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (4). They were “little ones,” dependent upon others for their care, looking to others for guidance and instruction, and not concerned with status. Do I see my utter dependence upon God? If so, will I be arrogant and haughty in my dealings with those around me?

Serve Others (Matthew 20:26)

Those frivolous disciples were frequently looking for prominence and recognition. It’s a good thing we don’t fall prey to that today, huh? These very men who walked with Jesus every day, seeing His power and greatness, succumbed to the temptation to want others to esteem them as great. In Matthew 20, James’ and John’s mother comes asking for places of distinct greatness (20-23). The other ten “became indignant” (24; was it because they struggled with the same tendency, Luke 22:24?). Jesus explodes their idea of greatness by saying that “whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant.” About this time, Jesus models this principle by washing their feet. He does so to give them an example, then says, “A slave is not greater than his master, nor is he who is sent greater than the one who sent him” (John 13:15-16). 

Let’s make that practical, especially in the church context. Who’s the greatest in the Lord’s church today? You’ll find them steadfastly, conscientiously striving to follow Scripture. It’s what brings them “through the doors” to assemble, but it’s also what drives them out into the community and into the lives of others leading righteous, godly lives against the tide of the culture. You’ll find them respectfully listening to others ideas and concerns, not having to be the center of attention or constantly propped up and petted. You’ll find them doing for others, looking for ways to encourage, help, and support them. Obedient, humble, unselfish servants make great elders, deacons, preachers, teachers, soul-winners, parents, children, and disciples! Fill a church with great people and it will turn the world upside down (Acts 17:6). 

Let’s be great, God’s way!

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Categories
involvement Uncategorized work

I Am Not Irreplaceable 

Neal Pollard

It is said to have housed between 400,000 to 700,000 scrolls containing essentially everything that had been written up to its point in time. But the Royal Library of Alexandria, Egypt, was eventually destroyed. The first residential university, home to perhaps 2000 teachers and 10,000 students from the fifth to the 12th century in Nalanda, India, was destroyed by the Turks and never rebuilt.  In the heart of Germany was an opulent room, a thing of beauty so incredible some called it an eighth wonder of the world and said to be worth $142 million in today’s money. But the Nazis destroyed The Amber Room. The same can be said of Herod’s Temple, the first library of Japan, the first Byzantine encyclopedia, and countless other artifacts, buildings, and writings (via historyofinformation.com). 

How many considered these institutions and items that which would endure forever? Of course, Jesus warned that the things of this world cannot last (Mat. 6:19-20; cf. 2 Pet. 3:10ff). 

Most Christians understand that principle. We know material things cannot and will not last, being eventually effaced by the hands of time. But what about us? We rightly preach how the church needs us and that each of us fills a unique, needed position in the body of Christ (Eph. 4:16; 1 Cor. 12:18). As long as we have health and opportunity, we need to leverage our talents for the good of the Lord’s kingdom. Wherever we’re planted, preachers, elders, teachers, deacons, professors, directors, presidents, house parents, custodians, secretaries, counselors, etc., we need to give the Lord the best we can for as long as we can. 

But, no matter how effectively we are doing our work and what results we are seeing, we are not irreplaceable. What a horrible day it must have been for the church when Paul and Peter were martyred. Yet, the church continued its work (cf. Dan. 2:44). The same is true today. This will prevent any of us from feeling too big for our britches. It’s also a good reminder for the church itself, who may place too much importance on a single individual. Truly, some people leave big shoes and large holes to fill. But, it shall stand until Christ comes again. Perhaps one’s leaving a work (however that occurs) will force someone (or several someones) to step up and carry on the work. So much good can come from that!

Let’s do our best for as long as we can and trust that God can continue to work through men and women to continue his work after we no longer can!

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Categories
humility service spirituality Uncategorized

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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