Spiritual Habits - Service - Wellington First Assembly

Wellington First Assembly

326 W Botkin Lane, Wellington Kansas ........Family Faith Lessons - 9:30 AM........ Sunday Worship - 10:30 AM


Sunday, March 18, 2018

Spiritual Habits - Service

Service.  The action of helping or doing work for something.  Many of us have had occasion to work as service staff at some time in our life.  Maybe in a restaurant setting as a waiter, in a movie theater serving popcorn, as a clerk in a business ringing up transactions, or a hospital serving patients. 

In every paid work position, there is usually a customer service component.  Over the past decade, numerous business books have been written, extolling the virtues of certain top companies that have made customer service engrained as a primary value in their culture. Starbucks, the undisputed leader of coffee around the world and riding high on its success because of its customer service, did not think it was good enough – so on day in February of 2008, it closed all of its 7100 stores, called in all 135,000 of its employees, and devoted time to train and improve everyone on its value of the Starbucks Experience.  Their desire was to transform the habit of service into a culture of service.

Today, we continue our series on Spiritual habits.  It is evident from the passages we have explored in the past 5 weeks that God intends our spiritual habits to transform our culture.  Praying, Fasting, Evangelism, Worship and Service are five great spiritual things to do – but we won’t see our culture transformed until we make each of them spiritual habits, as automatic as regular breathing.

The final focus in our Lenten series is on the spiritual habit of service.  If you take more than a few seconds to browse practically any chapter in the Bible, you will quickly find examples of people serving each other and serving God.  The ancient value of hospitality is a theme in nearly every story.  From Ruth serving Naomi, to David serving Mephibosheth, to Martha serving the disciples, the list can go on and one.  What we quickly begin to see is that the times of success in the story of Israel, the times of rapid expansion of the gospel in the New Testament – all revolves around the concept of the people of God mutually serving each other with the gifts that God has provided to them, uniquely sharing what they have to make the parts even greater than the whole.
Please stand with me as you are able as we read together from the letter that Peter wrote from Rome to the areas of western Asia minor.  1 Peter 4:7-10
The end of all things is at hand; therefore, be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
If there is one person in the New Testament canon that can be identified as the epitome of someone who allowed the spiritual habit of service transform his life, it might be Peter.  The gospels don’t give a very flattering account of the young Peter.  An early follower of Christ, a rugged fisherman, he was known more as the person jostling for power, pushing others out of the way, seeking to be in charge, taking the convenient route, even to the point of denying Christ.  I don’t think there would have been anyone who would have described him in those days as someone with a servant heart. 
But something changed.  The spark came on an early morning in a garden where the risen Christ had a come to Jesus meeting with Peter.  For the first time ever, Peter fully understood that the path to greatness did not lie in the swords of the Zealots, but in the humbleness of the resurrection.  His re-education was completed with his vision of the clean and unclean animals, as he learned that the mission of the church was not just to the Jewish believers, but the Gentiles as well.  His encounter with the Italian centurion Cornelius confirmed that money and power and status does bring one closest to God – but the empowerment of the Holy Spirit upon God’s people in their active works of service bear witness to the continuing work of God in this world.
By the time of this letter, written to congregations flung across the countryside, Peter is in Rome, where he will soon face his death by crucifixion.  The might of Rome hangs heavy against the city of Jerusalem – that city and the temple there are destroyed in 70 AD.  Authorities can destroy fads, but they cannot stop cultural movements.  And the culture of service and hospitality that had become a spiritual habit in the daily lives of believers was not extinguished due to persecution.
This the context which the letter is written.  It is a chaotic time.  It is an era when the easiest thing to do is fend for yourself.  Not unlike today!  But Peter knew the message of the gospel, the message of freedom, the message of new life would thrive when the communities of faith would serve each other.
Do you know what drives more companies to bankruptcy and ruin than anything else?  It’s not missing the latest trend or developing enough capital.  Those might be the external perspectives.  But the internal factors lie in the strife of the boardroom.  The toxic environments created when people don’t see eye to eye and begin whispering campaigns.  The over the top fights over who should lead.  Strong businesses, strong organizations have a resolute core of shared values – when everyone from the CEO to the front-line clerk serves those values – the company thrives.
As Christians, we have core values.  The simplest list of them is commonly described as the Fruits of the Spirit.  In the three chapters of Spiritual gifts found in 1 Corinthians 12-14, Paul identifies love as the greatest value of all.  And in our passage today, this is what Peter reiterates.
A spiritual habit of service demonstrates authentic love for each other. (vs 8)
What is authentic love?  It’s love that never fails.  It’s love that keeps going on in the face of trials.  It’s love that disregards the faults, the moles, the wrinkles, the annoying quirks of others.  It’s love that goes beyond skin deep.  It’s love that sees the created image of God in the spiritual person in front of you, even when the spiritual being is covered in the dirty, dank sins of the world.  It’s the love of a mother who sees their daughter walk away.  It’s the love of the Father who waits by the road each day, waiting for a return.  It’s a love that doesn’t excuse the sins of the past, but instead of focusing on condemnation looks forward to what still can be.
We see this love reflected in the story of the Prodigal son.  Where the Father waits with welcome arms, despite the misdeeds of the son.  In their new-found joy and restored relationship, they mutually love and care for another.  Peter knew that authentic love first hand.  Because Christ awaited him at the tomb with welcome arms, despite his own misdeeds.
It’s easy to demonstrate love for the person we get along with when we are in a good mood.  It’s a lot more difficult to do that in the rough times.  This is where the habit comes in.  Habits build culture.  Habits create values.  There are times that I don’t feel like going to the gym, but because I am in a habit to do so, I go.  There are times I don’t feel like showing my love to others, but because I am in the habit, I do so.  By the way, authentic love doesn’t mean that everything is perfectly awesome, coming up roses all the time.  Anyone who has been committed in marriage knows that authentic love includes the bad days when the kids are screaming, the dinner is burning, the house is a mess, the bank account is empty, and your spouse is clueless.  Authentic love doesn’t cover up the bad days – it is what gets us through those bad days.  Peter is reminding his readers that it is authentic love mutually shared that will get them through this time of trial.
A spiritual habit of service creates a generous heart. (vs 9)
What does it mean to go above and beyond in a habit of service?  I recently read a story of amazing customer service that relates what happens when service is cultivated each day. 
A couple traveled numerous hours and arrived at a five-star inn for a three-day celebration of their anniversary.  As the staff unloaded their car, the wife said don’t forget to get my hanging bag.  That’s when the husband realized he had forgotten to place it into the car – and their carefully planned anniversary dinner was scheduled for that evening.  You can imagine the angst going on with their demeanors and attitudes.  The hotel staff was trying desperately to come up with ways that could rescue this couples retreat.  Then a longtime staff member pulled up in a company car, took the couple’s keys, and spent the next 8 hours driving collecting the missing bags and returning it to the hotel in time for the evening dinner.  No one told him to do it, but there wasn’t any hesitation on his part.  This was part of the generous service culture engrained upon him.
It’s an amazing story – probably not what you can expect from the local Motel 6!  But it points out that when we develop habits over time, our hearts become generous and know just what to do.
Generosity is not always related to money.  We can be generous with our time, generous with our concern, generous in our prayers.  Generosity cares deeply for the other person and strives to ensure that their needs are met.  Generosity can pick out unmet needs and unlock gifts of service to meet those needs.
I already have mentioned the 9 fruits of the Spirit found in Galatians.  A common translation for one of those is goodness.  A better translation, however, is generous.  This captures the 1st century meaning moving away from the moral connotations of good versus evil, but into the attitude of serving others out of your own resources.  This is the habit that James developed within the early church of supplying the needs of the widows and children through temple services – not just for Christian believers, but for all who were truly in need.
The second half of this verse is crucial though.  Generosity and Grumbling don’t go hand in hand.  Ananias and Sapphira found that out first hand.  It’s not generosity when you go, OK God, if you I have to, I’ll give a little bit.  If you are guilted into doing something, it’s not generosity. 
This is the lesson of the widow’s mite.  Where the person who had very little gave what they could because they realized that a generous heart is better than a full account.  She epitomizes mutual service.  This brings us to the next point.

A spiritual habit of service validates the Father’s grace. (vs 10)
This passage is clear – we are to mutually serve each other – with what we have.  If we have 10 talents, we serve with 10 talents, if we have 1 talent, we serve with 1 talent.  If we have virtually no talent – then we serve with virtually no talent – but we always serve each other.
The reality is that each one of us has at least one gift that God has us to share with each other in our congregation.  I have always believed and preached that whatever we need right now in the life of this congregation is available right now in this congregation.  Sometimes it’s not what I might be expecting – because God is fresh and innovative – but if there is one thing that I know – everything we need to do to fulfill what God has for us in his providential will to do today is present right here, right now.
Why do I believe that?  Because it says it right here in verse 10.  There is not one person in this congregation which has the full knowledge of what God intends to do through us.  I don’t have that answer.  As the pastor, I’m not even supposed to have that answer.  My job is to use my gift to help us together unpack the various gifts that God has uniquely distributed among the people in this congregation – young or old, short or tall, male or female.  It’s when we do this together that we see the picture of the puzzle come into focus.  A puzzle only looks great when all the pieces are plugged into their right spots.  I’ve also learned over the years that sometimes God reshapes my puzzle pieces.  That where he had me fit two decades ago is different than where he wants me to fit today.  When I try to force myself into the same spot now and it doesn’t fit anymore, I can either get frustrated or ask God, where do you want to use me now!  The reality is many of us have multiple gifts.  Just like a well-stocked took kit, at times we are the hammer, other times a pair of pliers, other times a tape measure.  The toolkit doesn’t get to decide what is the best tool for the job is – that’ the job of the Master Carpenter.
There is a great word play between the word grace (Charis) and the word gifts (charisma) in this verse.  God’s gift of grace for us is validated when we use our gifts to share his grace with others.  We have gifts because God graced them to us.  We demonstrate grace when we let God use our gifts in spiritual service with others.
A spiritual habit of service reveals the Holy Spirit power (vs 11a)
I remember my Father showing me a gift that his father had given him.  One of his first tools handed down to him.  A b it and brace drill.  Oh, it was amazing.  All I had to do was hold it just right and spin my arm in circles as fast as I could and in 15 minutes I would have a perfect starter hole to put in a wood screw.
I can pretty much guarantee you that you won’t see a bit and brace at most job sites any more.  Because in the time that it used to take to drill that one hole, I could probably put in several hundred wood screws using my DeWalt 20-volt Lithium Ion cordless power drill.
Just as there is a learning curve on how to properly use a power tool, so is there a learning curve on our use of spiritual habits.  But as we begin to be more adept at our use of service we suddenly realize that we can do more than what we thought we could.  When we serve, we don’t have to rely on our arm strength alone.  We can tap into the power of the one who gave us the gift.  We serve by the strength that God supplies.
There is a big difference between the person who joyfully serves and the person who looks like they are doing a torturous chore.  You’ve heard those people talk – it’s as if everything they do for God is such a burden.  They are quickly on their way to spiritual burnout.  They are developing the wrong spiritual habits.  I’m going to guess one of several things.  They are not using the right gift at the right time in the right way, or they have not turned on the power switch.
Ever tried to drill a screw into a piece of wood with the drill setting set in reverse?  It doesn’t really work!  Ever tried to use a hammer to pound in a screw?  It’s a no-go!
Do not ever think you have to engage in spiritual habits through your own power.  We don’t have enough will power for that to happen.  Instead, tap into the strength of the Holy Spirit.  That is the promise of Acts 1:8 – But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.  The primary purpose of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit is not so that we can speak in tongues or see miraculous works.  Those are the benefits of the Baptism, the results of the baptism.  But the primary purpose of the Baptism is so that each one of us can be empowered in God’ service – to accomplish his will for His kingdom in our local community and then throughout the entire world.  Spiritual habits keep us plugged into our power source.
Finally, A spiritual habit of service points to the cross of Christ. (vs 11b)
Our spiritual acts of service imitate the supreme act of service, where Jesus, though he was in the form of God, emptied himself taking the form of a servant and humbled himself to the point of death on the cross.  (Philippians 2:4-8)
Every time we engage in an act of service, we glorify God through Christ Jesus.  Every time we give a person a drink who is thirsty, food for the hungry, clothes or shoes for the needy, we glorify Jesus Christ.
It is good to be charitable - humanity serving humanity is a noble cause.  It can be encouraged through philanthropical organizations and stimulated by the tax code.  But for the imitator of Christ, our acts of spiritual service are motivated far deeper and reach much further into eternity.  What makes our acts different?  They must point to Jesus.  They must point to his character.  Yes, we will adopt schools, serve our communities, partner with different organizations that serve others in our county – but we do that in order that Jesus is glorified.  When young people from across the state come this week to serve in our town, they do that not because they will be exalted, but because they want to give back to God just a portion of what God has given to them.  We serve out of gratefulness for the forgiveness served to each of us from the foot of the cross.
Jesus has given you a gift to be shared with others through humble service.  Not sure what your gift is?  That’s what the rest of the people in this church is here for – to help you discover and use your gift.  How do you find it?  Start serving. Find something you like to do and is needed and start doing it.  The people around you will help guide you, refine you and point you in the right direction.
Ever tried to point a car in another direction when it’s sitting in the driveway?  It doesn’t work very well.  It’s always easier to change the direction of a vehicle if it’s already moving.  Once it’s going, you will get pointed in the right direction.
I will use the gifts God has given me for his kingdom in my community today.
Peter did not know how much time he had left.  Even at the end of his life, knowing that many of the people, including himself, were living in the last days, he wanted to continue finding new ways to serve, new ways to use the gifts God had given him.  He didn’t want to wait, he wanted to expand God’s kingdom, right now. Today.  This is how our spiritual habits of service should be.  We don’t need to wait for permission.  God has given you permission to change the world right where you are today.
Shall we pray.
Today is membership Sunday.  It’s a time when we celebrate people who are formalizing their commitment to serving God through the partnering in service with the ministries of this congregation.  People have asked me what it takes to be a member of this congregation.  It’s simple really.  Follow Jesus and serve others.  Yes, we have shared values, yes, we have a statement of belief.  But what we want is what Jesus wants – active disciples of Christ expanding the message of the gospel in Wellington and the world through the gifts and graces God has given us.
I’d like to call up those who we will be celebrating in membership.
Their actions today do not make them any more special than anyone else.  They are not joining an exclusive club.  Membership does not get you into heaven or even a better deal on anything.  It does not even make you a part of the body of Christ.
You can help, serve, give, and participate without being a member.  You can belong to this church family without being a member, and we will treat you the same way we treat everyone:  with respect, love and kindness.  You can learn about our beliefs, our ethical practices, and the “why” we do things the particular way we do it.  You can learn about our unique role in doing God’s work in this community.  You can become transformed into the likeness of Christ.
Belonging, Believing, and Becoming are even more important than Membership.
Yet membership is special too.  Membership indicates a covenant commitment to an ongoing relationship of accountability to those within our faith community, as we learn how to belong, what to believe, and where to become a new creation. It’s a public declaration that you will engage in the spiritual habits of service.

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, do you pledge:
·        I pledge to do all I can to help keep the local church in unity for the sake of the gospel.
·        I pledge to be faithful to my church family, even during the difficult times.
·        I pledge to treat members, leaders, and others at the church with ethical kindness and respect.
·        I pledge to serve the needs of the church and not my own preferences.
·        I pledge to pray for strength and wisdom for my pastor, as he cannot do all things by himself.
·        I pledge to be faithful in my contributions, my worship, and my service to the church.
Shall we Pray