An old favorite chorus written by Bill  and Gloria Gaither in the late 1960s says this:

I will serve Thee because I love Thee; You have given life to me. I was nothing before You found me; You have given life to me.

The sentiment is nice and it reminds us that we have been given eternal life for the purpose of serving God. We serve Him here in this life by serving others—by being hands and feet for Jesus—and by sharing His message and the life that it brings with others. It’s what we were originally created for—serving and honoring God.

If you’ll allow me to get nit-picky for just a moment though, I will admit that as much as I like the chorus, it’s not entirely accurate for the Christian. We don’t serve Him because we love Him—we just serve Him. Granted, I do love God, and that love inspires me to be more diligent in my service to Him and to others in His name. Even so, even when I’m not so loving toward God, I serve Him. Not out of duty, or out of coercion. Not out of a sense of self-righteous pride or the need to earn more goodness points on my scorecard to heaven. I serve God because He is God and my service is due Him. I serve my fellow man, not because they deserve it, but by doing so I serve Him.

Perhaps we can change the words to the old chorus—not to take away anything from the Gaithers, but to say what we as Christ-followers should truly say:

“I will serve Thee because You are Thee; You have given life to me. I was nothing before You found me; You have given life to me.”

 “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” —Joshua 24:14-15

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I sometimes get inspiration from the most unusual places. In 1961, Earl Hamner, Jr. wrote and published Spencer’s Mountain, the inspiration for the popular television show The Waltons. I am reading this cozy little story again and came across a note that hit home for me as a church leader. Here’s what Hamner relates in the voice of Clay Spencer:

“I had this little baby duck. . . . I used to think that little web-toed quacker was the prettiest thing I ever laid eyes on. Just hated the day to come for that duck to grow kup. One day I got the fool idea that if I’d squeeze that duck hard enough every day I could keep him from growen, so every mornen I’d nearly squeeze the tar out of him. One mornen I squeezed him too hard I reckon, because he up and died, but it taught me somethen. You try to keep a thing from growen and it’ll die on you.”

I was struck by the application to the church today. “You try to keep a thing from growen and it’ll die on you.” So many of us are so satisfied with how church is (or how it used to be) that we hate to see any change. We want to squeeze the tar out of our local congregation. In theory we want to see our church advance, but we also realize that if there is too much growth, the church we love will have to change. And if there is too much change, it won’t be the church that we know.

I am convinced that God intends for His church to grow and mature. He doesn’t want to see us remain faith-babies. With that growth and maturity comes change. Not change for the sake of change, but change that indicates that we understand better, that we are developing, and that we are becoming more of what the Master wants us to be. With growth comes some pain, some sorrow, but with growth also comes the usefulness to God’s kingdom that He intends for each believer and for each local church.

Perhaps we should stop squeezing the life out of church by demanding that change all be avoided, but begin to encourage growth. God doesn’t intend for the duck to die, but to thrive–to swim and fly and produce more ducks. God doesn’t intend for the church to stagnate and die, but to thrive–to grow and mature and produce more local churches. I challenge us all to encourage growth instead of hinder it . . . to stop squeezing and start feeding the church.

Like newborn infants, desire the pure milk of the word, so that you may grow up into your salvation, if you have tasted that the Lord is good.” –1 Peter 2:2-3

A popular personality profile that is used in a variety of ways (from psychological profile to business leadership development) is called the Myers-Briggs personality assessment. From a series of questions, if answered honestly, the evaluation tool can categorize a person in a variety of types. One of the strong indicators for a person is whether they get their “energy” from being with people or being alone (extraverts vs. introverts). What the assessment often makes us think is that “if I am an introvert, I don’t like people;” and “if I am an extravert, I love people.” The truth is that introverts can love (and even want to be with) people just as much as extraverts. Crowds just wear them out, and they need some alone time to recharge. Extraverts, on the other hand, get a charge out of being with big groups, but they also discover that they need some time to be alone.

Regardless of whether you prefer your people in small doses or like to be part of a herd, the truth is that we all need other people. And in the church, we need to have time with other believers because that is how we grow. When we gather together with other believers for the purpose of worship, we begin to sense the presence of God (who insists on being with gatherings of even the smallest number of Christians), and we glean encouragement from the group as attention is drawn away from self and personality and focused on God our Savior.

Togetherness is also an opportunity for each of us to grow in our faith as we study God’s Word together to gain insight, pray together to make connection, and fellowship together for encouragement. Let’s stop trying to do life in isolation and help each other (regardless of personality type) to grow in our faith.

 “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”  —Hebrews 10:24

The song is an old one that was a favorite during revival times when I was growing up. It was especially endearing because it spoke into the heart of both the young and the young at heart. It spoke of the attitude that accompanied living the Christian life and being part of the work of God known as the local church. Perhaps you remember some of the words from your younger years:

Every day with Jesus

Is sweeter than the day before.

Every day with Jesus

I love Him more and more.

Jesus saves and keeps me

And He’s the One I’m living for.

Every day with Jesus

Is sweeter than the day before.

The little chorus is a reminder to those who are followers of Jesus that it is a happy privilege to be part of God’s family. Why, then, do we spend so much time whining and complaining about our lot in life? I think that it is because our attitude has soured, and perhaps it is time to have our attitude re-stored by the One who makes it “sweeter than the day before.”

In thinking about my church—the local congregation of which I am a part—it becomes even more evident that I (we) begin trusting Him to create newness of heart on a daily basis so that we can be better representatives of His kingdom.

“By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”  —Jesus, John 13:35

It is only a moment until we turn the last page on 2017 and place its volume squarely on the shelves. Maybe it will be a year whose memories stay in their place most of the time, or maybe we will want to take it down to remember some of the events from time to time. At any rate, with the passage of time, we must now look back onto all the events—good and bad—from this year. Some of the memories will make us laugh, others will bring a tear to the eye, while even others will find us screaming to ourselves, “Why!” Why did I do that, say that, or did that other thing have to happen?

Let us also make 2017 a year to build on. Learn from mistakes, and do better. Bolster successes and strive to make them the commonplace of our next years. But most of all find the thankful moments that made this year what it has been. Thank God for the friends you have made. Thank Him for the reminders of salvation that you encountered, and determine that you will be more grateful, kind, and generous in the future.

And speaking of the future, don’t forget that as we close and shelve the books for 2017, we have an entirely new and fresh 2018 just waiting to be written. What will you write on the pages of your year? No doubt it will be something grand!

 “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Share your master’s joy!’.”  —Jesus, Matthew 25:21

Traditions help us to celebrate. And because Christmas is a really big celebration in our culture, we have a multitude of traditions tied to this one holiday. If you were to conduct a door-to-door survey, you might find that each family has a different set of traditions surrounding this holiday. Some traditions are tied immovably to our faith, while others have developed because of our geographic region or personal preference. For whatever reason, there are certain aspects of the holiday that just say, “Christmas!” to us.

One of my traditions centers around the Nativity Scene(s) finding prominence in our Christmas decorations. Over the years I have purchased more and more pieces to build a little town out of statues—but the town centers on and focuses in on the Christ-child lying in a manger. Another tradition is to always place a small Nativity beneath our tree—not mixed in with the other shinily wrapped gifts, but as a reminder to all who see it that the One Gift of Christmas is the Baby who we celebrate. But my favorite Christmas tradition has now earned a spot in our year-round decorations—it never gets put away—that I like to call my “Extra Jesus Nativity.” The rustic clay scene came with two babies. It reminds me of Christmas and of the fact that I need more Jesus all the time. I think that perhaps I should remember that He also wants more of me! Merry Christmas!

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation.”  —Simeon, Luke 2:29-30

Every year I hear the statement that Christmas is for children. The statement is thrown out as if people beyond the age of twelve have no stake in the holiday. I will admit that there are parts of our traditional celebration that make my heart skip a beat, and pull an all-to-seldom-used smile to the corners of my lips simply because of the wonder and excitement that I witness when children are fully engaged in Christmas.

To be sure, some of the greatest stories about Christmas center around the child-like celebration of the event. Stories like The Greatest Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson which has been adapted for stage and screen and tells of the Herdmans—a family of underprivileged children who invade and disrupt the church Christmas pageant only to teach those who will listen the true meaning of the season—and (one of my favorites) a story related by radio personality Mike Trout of a Church School pageant that is filled with chaos and children who don’t really want to be there, but warms the hearts of everyone involved, bring us to a point of realization: if indeed, Christmas is for children, it is for the child in all of us. After all, that’s how Jesus invites us to come—like a child.

 “Jesus, however, invited them: ‘Let the little children come to Me, and don’t stop them, because the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I assure you: Whoever does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’.”  —Luke 18:16-17