Many Kinds of Service

The dictionary tells us that the word “service” means several different things: a ceremony like a church service, a set of things like a tea service, performing a job that doesn’t make anything in the end like the plumber who fixes a leaky faucet, work that is performed by someone that serves other people like a waiter and doing something that contributes to the welfare or life of others like those in military service. Sometimes we hear the word “service” used by people: “that was great service we got at dinner last night”, “I need to get my car serviced at the dealer”, “we are number 1 in customer service”, and “my phone service is so spotty.” What version of the word service matters to you?

I often talk about my “service career” that dates back to my very first job in a full-service gas station back in the suburbs of Chicago. We’d wash the windshield and check the oil if requested, no matter the weather. I went on to serve others for more than 25 years in the fire service and now I’ve been serving the public in new ways as a consultant, military contractor, and public official for more than 10 years. I could go on about each of the roles that I’ve filled but none means more than writing this blog each week. I’m reaching thousands of people with my thoughts and sharing the Word of God. How can you be of service? I’d suggest something as simple as a smile, a handshake, a “welcome aboard” greeting to a new co-worker are easy ways to start. Modeling the behaviors of Christ in this crazy world might just be the type of service that someone desperately needs. Witnessing to others is often the hardest part of being a Christian but you don’t need to write a blog to tell the Good News to others, just a little servant’s heart.

“There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.” 1 Corinthians 12:5

Paul was right; there are different kinds of service! He said this in his letter to the people of Corinth way before the dictionary was invented. However, none of the dictionary defined types of service are what God wants us to focus on. Jesus told us what to do in Matthew 28:18-20 when he said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” So, what does this have to do with service?

If we think about some of things that Jesus commanded us to do – teaching the message of salvation, loving and caring for one another, and taking care of those in need are just a few examples. These are all an act of service! People are lost all around us and God is depending on us to show them the way back to Him. Being a faithful servant, caring for and loving each other are only the beginning. Why do we perform service for others? Do we do it so that we can go to heaven with eternal life? No! We perform service for others because we want to show them the love that we have been given by Jesus. We don’t have to do anything for eternal life; Jesus already did it for it for us by taking our sins with him onto the cross. All you need to believe is that Jesus is the Holy Spirit; that is all that we must do. By being the “someone” in a person’s life, you will bring glory to God. There are different kinds of service, but we are lucky to have the same Lord, a loving and caring God who gave His only son so that we can have eternal life through Him, now that’s what I call service!

Righteousness Through Faith

Today, we said goodbye (happy retirement) to our Pastor at church. He has been in our congregation for 16 years and is retiring from ministry after 25 years as a Pastor. It was a bittersweet moment because he has earned this day and we are happy for him to enjoy the days ahead; those days that he’s dreamed of his whole life. Yet selfishly, we didn’t want him to leave because we enjoy his voice and words of encouragement each week. One of the scripture readings we heard today were the verses below. 

Occasionally, the verses just say it so well that I really don’t need to comment – these are those types of verses. I want to leave you with these comments as you read about faith and the law. Whether you have spent your life as a Pastor or spent it doing things that you aren’t proud to admit, the one thing that unifies us a brothers and sisters in Christ is our faith that Jesus is our redeemer and His death is what justifies us before God, our Father. A Pastor and a sinner will see each other in Heaven because of God’s Grace and our faith in Jesus.

Romans 3:19-30

19Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.

Righteousness Through Faith

21But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

27Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. 28For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. 29Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, 30since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. 31Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.

Pearls

I’ve mentioned before that inspiration for these weekly devotions come from everywhere in my life. I unintentionally came across today’s verse, and something just spoke to me – pearls of all things. My wife doesn’t own any and I’m certain that the necklace my mom wore when I was a kid was fake. I attended an awards dinner this past week and many of the women were elegantly dressed; no one was wearing a pearl necklace or earrings. As I get older, I am learning to accept that things today are nothing like they were in “the old days”. 

Oysters (mollusks) make pearls and are formed by the soft tissue of the oyster. I immediately thought of a callus that is formed on the surface of the skin – something hard that comes from something soft. Not really the same but you’ll see in minute my comparison. The term pearl is also used as a metaphor for something rare or admirable. When I think about how people live their lives, they can either be a pearl or a callus. One is rare and admirable while the other is hard and often painful. Ironically, we use the term callous (different spelling but same pronunciation) to describe someone who lacks pity or mercy. I’d suggest that our lives, simply as human beings, are to care for one another and show compassion and mercy on those around us. We should all strive to be the pearls in someone else’s life. You’ll never know when something you do or say will become someone else’s pearl.

45“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”  Matthew 13:45-46

I’ve been told that when searching for fine pearls, you will look through hundreds before finding the one that is just right. People are like pearls, you can search a hundred people but when you find one that is just right, you bring it into your life. Some of those pearls you marry and others become your dearest friends. Think about what you traded in (sold) when you found that great one. In your life, you come across hundreds of people, but you have only a few friends and even fewer close friends. When you marry your pearl, you trade your biological family to start a new one. As we have sought the pearls for our lives, we should seek to become pearls in other people’s lives.

God has looked at billions of people and still loves them all. The kingdom of heaven is filled with the finest of the pearls. God gave us the laws to follow and wanted us to become sin free. We remained blemished pearls because we are not able to follow the laws perfectly. So, God “sold everything” by sending His Son to pay for our sins so that we could become a fine pearl and share eternal life with Him. He bought us from the slavery of sin with His Son. As John 3:16 said “Whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Today, know that you are a precious pearl to God. 

Make a Difference Day

Make a Difference Day is officially October 23rd this year. Each year, our city has about one hundred people volunteer to perform projects all around our city. We’ve had Boy Scout troops, church groups, a group from a local college, several high school groups, and various community minded residents all volunteer to make a difference. So what is this day all about? According to Makeadifferenceday.com; “For more than 25 years, USA WEEKEND Magazine and Points of Light have joined together to sponsor Make A Difference Day, the largest national day of community service. Millions of volunteers around the world unite in a common mission to improve the lives of others.” As an annual event in our city, it always seems to get me thinking about why should we make a difference just one day a year? 

We all make a difference to someone, each and every day. Sometimes we know when we do and other times we don’t. We all do our jobs faithfully, day in and day out. We don’t really expect people to notice what we’re doing. Many times you will hear a public safety professional say, “We were just doing our jobs”. In reality, they were making a difference. Today, as you read this, I challenge you to make a difference for someone. Go out of your way to help someone. A few years ago this was “random acts of kindness”. I’m not saying hold open a door; I’m challenging you to put someone else’s needs before your own. You’ll never know what impact you might have on someone’s life.

“If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!”  Ecclesiastes 4:10 

Make a difference, today and everyday, had to be what Jesus was trying to teach His disciples. However, Ecclesiastes was written in the Old Testament. On the surface it sounds like we are being told to make sure that we have friends so they can help you up. If it was that simple, we wouldn’t have half the troubles we have today. What about the man who has no one to help him up? Who will help? God’s commandments teach us to love one another (among other things) and care for each other. 

This means everyone, not just our friends. God took His love for us and sent us a friend that will never leave our side, Jesus. No matter what is happening in your life, you are never alone. God is with you. When you feel distant, God is with you, just hold out your hand and open your heart. When you feel cold and alone, close your eyes and feel God’s warmth surround you. You are forgiven for everything you’ve done. Jesus, your friend, has helped you up after your fall. He sacrificed everything so that we could have eternal life. Now that is someone who made a difference!

Take Heart!

I love phrases about futility. “The faster we dig, the farther behind we get.” “Trying to get the water out of a boat by putting a hole in the bottom.” These “old school” phrases are also used to describe being overwhelmed. I’ve worked in local government for almost 40 years, and I continue to consult for them more each year. I am easily frustrated by the futility of trying to get things done in local government and since I own my own business, I can also get overwhelmed – in non-pandemic years. Having huge swings in workload or enduring the feast or famine cycles of when projects come in adds a lot of stress to my life. I go through this about every other year and with all of the experience that I have in the famine years, you would think that I would have mastered my emotional roller coaster. I’m still learning.

We can all play the “at least it’s not…” game with ourselves to stay positive. Being positive is always the way through troubles in our lives but it is easier said than done. When life starts to get us down, we tend to shift to asking the question, “why me?” There is never an answer to that question and I believe that the reason for that is because it isn’t about you! Troubles in our lives are not a punishment for something we did or didn’t do. We can have troubles in our lives because the devil is at work trying to break our spirit or because God is trying to prepare us for something else or simply, life is full of troubles. No matter the case – futility or being overwhelmed, we always seem to make it work and in the end we are stronger because we overcame the circumstances. When we seek the help of others and look at the situation from a step or two away, we see it with a little more clarity. It is this newfound clarity that we can make peace out of the trouble in our lives. We are not alone on this earth for a reason; we need to learn to lean on each other once in a while.

“…In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33 

This verse from John is a quote from Jesus telling us that we WILL have trouble. There was no sugar coating it, no “technically correct” answer or avoidance; Jesus tells us straight – you will have trouble. God never promised us a trouble free life. Look at the Old Testament; the People of God had plenty of trouble. Even Jesus faced trouble in His life on earth. The old saying is that you can count on two things in life – death and taxes. I would argue that we should a third thing to count on – trouble. We know that God does not give us more than we can handle, and we also know that God has a plan for us. 

The trouble that we find in our lives may be there so that we can be a witness for others, maybe it’s to strengthen us for the future or, maybe it’s simply to prepare us to help others in need. Whatever the reason, and we will never know what it is; we can handle it. Jesus tells us to take heart! He overcame the troubles of the world by defeating Satan, and sin. Jesus took it all upon Himself in death but delivered us from the chains of sin when He rose to take His place at God’s right hand. Sure, we’ll have trouble but know that through God’s grace and our faith in Jesus, we will not suffer but have eternal life. Just thinking about it makes me overwhelmed but now it’s with joy!

Leading or Managing but Never Both

Often, we come face to face with people who are either a manager or a leader but rarely are they both. There have been plenty of books written that describe a leader, so I’m not going to do it in a short blog post. The verse for today talks about: “teaching, rebuking, correcting and training”; all good signs of a leader. Taking the time to ensure that your people are trained to do their job is a management function. Taking the time to build their skills and knowledge so that they can grow/advance is leadership. Rebuking, which is the expression of disapproval or criticism is the management skill of correcting unwanted behavior. Leaders that have courage, will not only help others correct mistakes, but they also take the time to coach their staff toward improvement while allowing the staff space to make mistakes. These “mistakes” should serve as learning points and not disciplinary moments. 

A “manager” will spend time correcting every little thing that people do; we call these types of people. “micro-managers”. Every one of us has worked for someone who wants things done a certain way within a certain time period. A real micro-manager takes their “certain way” and makes changes to everything we’ve done. A “leader” will correct someone by teaching more effective processes, they will teach by explaining what and why certain things are important but most of all, they will acknowledge when they too are wrong. Training employees is critical for an organization’s overall success. Teaching is about learning new skills and training is about taking what you know and making it better. Leaders view training as an opportunity to let people experiment and get comfortable with concepts and processes. The signs of a good leader can be found in these traits, modeled by the greatest leader there will ever be. 

16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17

This is one of those verses that help summarize the Bible – “All Scripture is God-breathed”. It’s amazing to think that these are the words of God given to us through His writers. If you look back through the scriptures, you will see Jesus use teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in all that He did. Whether he was addressing large crowds, small groups, His disciples, His mother, or the Pharisees; He was working toward righteousness. 

The “man” referred to in these verses is all of us. We should use these traits to become equipped for every good work. No one will manage us, there is no one to “make” us do it; Jesus (our leader) has given us examples to follow. As sinners, it is easy to fall away from the teachings; no one really knows when we fall and there is no one to discipline us. Our coach and our leader, who is there all of time, is God. He is the one who inspired the scripture and sent His Son to be our savior. We shouldn’t fear that God is a micro-manager, we need to embrace the One whom we call “teacher”; He is the one that makes it all right in our Father’s eyes. 

Work, the worst four letter word!

We just spent a long weekend with our son and his girlfriend in California to celebrate his birthday, his new job and our 35th wedding anniversary. We jammed everything we could into 3 days. Our son is working in the television industry as an audio engineer – a post all by itself just to explain that end of a production. He loves his new profession and learning new techniques each week as he mixes sound for a popular TV show. He says that he is working to make the music, the dialog and the sounds be as crisp as possible. He works for the production company, but he is also working for his own pride in workmanship – we’re very proud! 

Who are you working for? We often hear the phrase in response – “working for the man” when people describe their jobs. Do you know why you are working like you do? I’d like to suggest that you might consider yourself working as though you are working for God and that His influence shows through in everything that you do. If you had to go to work for God everyday, I bet you would approach your daily work much differently than you do today. Change your outlook, always do your best and at the end of each day pause, close your eyes, tilt your head towards heaven and imagine God’s smile, a wink and Him telling you, “You’ve done a good job today!”

Colossians 3:23-24 “What ever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men… It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

Do your friends and family ever wonder why you work so hard or have the patience that you do for your work? The “man” doesn’t care how hard you work, just that you keep showing up, keep your mouth shut and do your job. Working for the “man” is what many people feel destined to do. But the “man” in Paul’s letter is the Lord! Feels different now doesn’t it? We are a reflection of the goodness of God and all that Jesus Christ taught us about living our lives. He didn’t say, “go and work just for yourselves and leave the others to suffer”. 

Jesus taught us to care for each for other and give willingly. While many of us do just that and it can be hard at times. We do a good job and are thankful for the opportunity to serve others. God’s plan for us includes using us as examples for others to see His goodness. When you smile at or encourage someone at work, you are reflecting God’s goodness. When you continue to work hard when everyone else is taking advantage of the workplace, you are reflecting God’s goodness. When you un-jam the copier after someone else walked away from it, you are reflecting God’s goodness. We can see God’s goodness if we just look for it – its everywhere. It is the Lord you are serving, do it with all of your heart!

Do Not Despise the Discipline

No one likes to be corrected, especially when it’s done in front of other people. What about our adult children, when do we stop parenting them and let them learn from their mistakes? When should parents stop correcting and forcing advice upon their kids? I’m not sure that I have the answers for these questions, and I’m sure my kids are disappointed to hear that I don’t know when to stop. Have you thought about how you correct or advise others? The old guiding principle that most good supervisors follow is, “praise in public and punish in private”. However, I’d argue that correcting someone is not the same as punishing them. Granted, there are some people who view being corrected as punishment. When we correct someone, we are engaged in using the situation as a “teachable moment”. If others are around and correction is warranted, we should take the opportunity to “teach” everyone or to improve their understanding when someone mis-speaks. As with all communication, the key is in the delivery.

When correcting someone, you can start by asking an open-ended question about the subject and then asking if there are any other options. Ask them to describe what they intended or meant and then describe your “other way to look at the situation”. The point here is to make it more of a discussion and less about them needing to be corrected. When dealing with misinformation, start by asking where they obtained their information. This will prevent you for needing to be corrected if you are the one not up to speed on the topic. If they do not have the current information, start your sentence with your source of the information. Be mindful of everyone’s feelings and the current situation. If you do not correct misinformation immediately, it will become fact and as a leader, you cannot afford to have bad information in your workplace.

“Blessed is the man whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.” Job 5:17

 I can think of thousands of ways that God “corrects” me. It is hard to argue with Job about being corrected by God and what we should do in response to it. In the beginning, God was constantly trying to “correct” His people. He sent signs, angels, prophets, and the Holy Spirit even appeared to a selected few to provide corrective action. It was all to no avail, we still wouldn’t listen or follow God’s laws. Job tells us not to “despise the discipline of the Almighty.” God, like all good fathers, was disciplining us for our own good. We didn’t pay attention though and yet he still tried to help us. 

God could have turned His back on us but He loves us too much. So, despite our behavior and continued disregard for His law, He still offered us a chance to be saved and share eternal life with Him. He did this through His son Jesus Christ. As John 3:16-17 tells us 16“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” We are saved! So despite what you think that you’re being punished for, God loves you and is making you stronger with each challenge. You might not need the strength today or even 10 years from now, but He is working through you for something great.  

Values

Temptation is everywhere and we all know it. Sometimes it shows itself at Costco when we see a “deal that we can’t pass up” or it shows up at work when we don’t need to “tell the whole story” Or we agree to get “creative with the accounting” because our boss told us to. I’d like to talk about the type of temptations that shape us as people, not those that tempt our waistlines or willpower like a donut or one more glass of wine. The people in our lives, the experiences that we’ve had and what we’ve been taught all shape our morals and values. Values are the inner judgments that determine how we will behave and morals are about how we execute those judgments. While some people interchange those definitions, it is clear that they are different but both of them influence how we behave. 

When we don’t experience negative consequences from “deceiving or cheating” our brain stamps it, “okay for use again”. We will continue to deceive ourselves until there are consequences and we are forced to “re-learn” to do it right. The best way to continue to train our brains is for us to keep doing the right thing, even when no one is looking; being people of integrity. If we give in, we are only deceiving ourselves and that will have life-long implications.

Romans 13:12 – “…let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.”

An armor of light sounds awesome, doesn’t it? I envision a brilliant white, shining armor chest plate and a matching shield. What can’t you defend off with such protection? We know, of course, that the white armor is the protection given to us from our Savior, Jesus Christ. He has clothed us in white as we go through our lives “not guilty” of sin because of His sacrifice for us. We must guard that our light does not dim by remaining true to our Father in Heaven and to His Son, our Savior. 

Our light dims every time we submit to darkness. When we do not live, as God wants us to, we dim our light. The good news however is that our confession of those sins and our faith in Jesus Christ allows our light to shine brightly once more. We all know people who have fallen in to darkness. We have a responsibility to shine our light on their lives and show them the way. Reassure them that they too, can put on an armor of light by turning their lives back toward God and then “get fitted for their suit” through Jesus Christ. We do not ever have to live in darkness; Jesus is our light.

Give the World Your Best

I’ve written before about one of my favorite books titled “Anyway, The Paradoxical Commandments” by Kent Keith. He lays out 10 paradoxical commandments of life and my favorite is # 10 which states, “Give the world the best you have, and you’ll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway”. Throughout my life as a leader, I have learned that no good deed will go unpunished. I have gone out of my way for someone to only have them do something that caused me more aggravation later. As I look back this Labor Day, I am reminded of the “kicked in the teeth” moments throughout my working life and realized that this type of thing happens in life too. We do our best work, give others the benefit of the doubt and then later regret it. These days, we all must continue to give our best despite what might happen. 

I’ve seen organizational leaders lose faith in their people because they’ve been “kicked in the teeth” and now think that everyone in the organization is just a bunch of “winey babies”. They have no trust in anyone, they no longer involve the employees in decision-making; all of which creates a hostile work environment for their employees and themselves. Leaders must stand tall and continue to do what is right, at the right time and for everyone they lead because it’s their responsibility. Sure, leaders will “get kicked in the teeth” but that’s why it’s lonely at the top. People don’t always understand the role of the leader but we know that we will make a difference and that is why we “give the world our best anyway”. 

9Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”  Galatians 6:9-10

This verse had a couple of options for things to talk about – doing good and not giving up. While I focused the first part on doing good, I’d like to add the “not giving up” part here. It is tiring always doing good, our sinful nature says “when will someone do good for me?” We seem to be able to justify shortcuts and doing the minimum in our minds. We go around doing things for others, for little recognition I might add, and all we ask in return is a little good coming our way; that’s not too much to ask. The end of verse 8 gives us the answer “the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” 

The “good” coming to you will come from the Holy Spirit. We are encouraged to “do good to all people” but “especially those who belong to the family of believers”. There are no options to be good only to those that are good to us or who won’t make our lives harder. Whether you are a leader, a follower, or a loner, do not become weary of always doing good. In today’s world, there is enough going poorly or plain wrong. I urge you to look beyond today or even tomorrow and see how much more we all gain by doing good. No one said it was easy to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, but the rewards are eternal. Go and do good – Anyway.