Monday, October 19, 2009

Significant Servant, October 4, 2009 Essential Reproducble Quality 1

I was witness to an interesting conversation some years ago. My father, a Southern Baptist pastor and missionary for half a century was debating a pastor from a small Eastern denomination about how pastors were selected. Baptist churches are in charge of their own pastoral selection, using pulpit committees to sort resumes, ask questions and select a pastor to recommend to the local church. In the other pastor’s denomination, the local denominational representative selected and appointed the pastors and the local church had very little say in the matter. It was an interesting debate. My dad maintained that no system could be less effective than the Baptist system. The other pastor disagreed. He maintained that the power politics inherent in his system had to be worse than the independent system of Baptist churches.

Selecting pastors and church leaders is not an easy task. How often has a church voted with enthusiasm to extend a call to a new man, embracing him with excitement, only to develop a severe case of buyer’s remorse within the next year or two? I spent a year and a half as First Vice President and two and a half years as President of the Baptist Convention of Iowa. We had many discussions about the difficulty of attracting and holding on to qualified, capable and faithful pastors for our churches. When we found the right man for the right job, things seemed to click and some successful churches have been planted. But way too often we found square pegs to fit round holes and after one Iowa winter the pastor headed back to the south.

I know of a church in Florida that was thriving and growing, until the pastor that had led that growth resigned to pursue different ministries. The people of the church were thrilled when one of the luminaries of our denomination recommended the “perfect” man for the church. And he was an amazing candidate – good looking, impressive, gifted speaker, charismatic personality and presence. Actually, he had a lot of the same character qualities as Saul, the first king of Israel. What no one knew was that behind the impressive exterior was a heart of immorality and greed. It took him only 7 years to reduce that once thriving church to about fifty people. The candidate’s promise morphed into a pastoral nightmare.

Many who are involved in Christian organizations will tell you that finding qualified leadership is their most challenging task. Who of us does not know of a church or Christian organization that has had serious problems because of the actions of or conflicts with a leader?

So, that makes this question essential: what does it take to be an effective leader in the Kingdom of God? Or, perhaps more fundamentally, what is required of me to become an effective, significant servant of God?

We have studied the first two steps in this process. To become significant in God’s Kingdom, we must die to self and yield ourselves to the eternal purposes of God. We must then seek the specific and personal plan that God has for our lives. These are revealed by God as we submit ourselves unreservedly to him. God reveals his purposes. God reveals his plans. But is there anything that I have to do? Is anything required of me to become significant?

. On October 1, 2000, I began the longest sermon series of my life on Sunday nights at Northbrook Baptist Church. It was called, “Through the Bible, Hopefully before Jesus Returns.” We started in Genesis and worked our way book by book through the Old Testament. On August 14, 2005, the last Sunday night I preached at Northbrook, I finished the Old Testament. It was the study that formed the basis of what I am teaching in this series.

As I began the series, I was in at a point of frustration with my own ministry. I read the scriptures and saw God working in power throughout them. But I looked at my life, my church and the churches around me and felt as though there was little of that power being revealed today. So, as I studied Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David and so many others, I asked myself what made them tick. What made these people successful in Kingdom work? I began to notice a trend, a pattern in the way God worked.

One thing became clear to me. These men would never have been selected by leadership experts as models of efficiency or administrative efficacy. Most were not impressive in human terms. We value talent, charisma, or force of personality, creative problem-solving and innovative strategy. These were the abilities that got King Saul in trouble. He was everything we value today in a leader. In God’s eyes, he failed.

Human abilities do not produce Kingdom success. God saves us by grace, not our own merit, and He chooses and uses leaders by that same grace. It is not our merit, or talent, or ability that matters, but the power of God within us. God chose ordinary people – people just like you and me – to do his work. God is not a talent scout, looking for the best, the brightest, orthe beautiful to accomplish his kingdom work.

Look at 1 Corinthians 1:26-31. “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’"

In case you were wondering, this passage is not a compliment to you or me. God does not choose the human intelligentsia to accomplish his work. He chooses the foolish ones to proclaim his wisdom. God does not choose the strong and mighty to advance the borders of his kingdom. He chooses the weak. His power is make perfect in our weakness. He does not choose the influential, powerful and popular. He chooses the lowly people, those the world treats as if they do not even exist. And with these foolish, weak, lowly folks, God by his own power and grace confounds the wise, defeats the strong and nullifies the powerful.

He makes his purpose clear in verse 29. “So that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” God delights to take people whom the world views as ordinary and lacking in ability and pour out His power on them. He does extraordinary works through ordinary people, for one very clear reason. He wants the credit and the glory. Those with great talent and ability may believe that they should receive some of the glory. God will not share his glory and chooses to work primarily through those the world rejects and scorns.

Are you average? Ordinary? Just a normal person? No one special? Congratulations! You are a prime candidate for the powerful work of God. Are you massively talented and gifted? Do not worry. God can still use you, if you humble yourself. Notice that the passage says “not many.” Talented and gifted people can serve God. But God is not a talent scout or a leadership guru. He does not need your talents and does not rely on your wisdom and insight. He is a powerful God who works through ordinary people to do extraordinary things so that he will receive the glory. He wants fools who know they cannot figure things out on their own and will look to him for wisdom. He wants weak people, who will depend on him for strength. He wants the lowly, who will give him all the glory for the work that is done. He wants the “things that are not,” – the people who just don’t matter in the eyes of other people – for significant service to him.

Essential Reproducible Qualities

As I marched through the Old Testament, looking at the significant servants who accomplished great acts of power in God’s name, I began to identify two “ERQs” – Essential, Reproducible Qualities. These are character qualities and behavior patterns that marked God’s most significant servants. They are “essential” qualities. If they were present, the person accomplished significant work. If they were not present, nothing of spiritual or eternal significance was accomplished. God requires these qualities to be present when he uses someone for his purposes.

And the qualities had to be “reproducible.” If God said, “I will use redheads to accomplish my work,” I am out of luck. Unless I get some help from Clairol, I am not nor will I ever be red-haired. If God only used tall people, my 6’4” frame might qualify me. But what good would it do to identify these things? They are not reproducible qualities. You are either tall or not, red-haired or not.

But the qualities I will be describing, one here and one in the next message, are both essential and reproducible. You will never be significant unless you possess these characteristics – they are essential. But you can possess them – they are reproducible in your life. Whether you sing or not, you can have these ERQs. Whether you are tall or short, charismatic or dull, good looking or not, these essential, reproducible qualities can become part of your life so that you will become a significant servant of God. The God who worked through the great men and women of history can work through you.

Essential Reproducible Quality 1: Obedience

Let us look at some of the earliest acts of God and see how the pattern developed. God spoke to Noah and revealed his purpose to him. God was going to judge the world with a flood. He also revealed his plan. Noah was to build a boat. What happened next? Noah took the plans that God gave him and began to build the ark. He obeyed God.

God revealed his purpose to Abraham, that he would be the father of a great nation through which God would bless the world. He also revealed the plan he had for Abraham. He was to leave home and go to the Promised Land, the land God would show him. What happened next? Abraham left home and headed toward Canaan. He obeyed God.

When God revealed his purpose to Moses (to redeem Israel) and his plan (to send Moses as his representative), Moses was flabbergasted. In Exodus 3 and 4, Moses offers five powerful excuses why God must have chosen the wrong man. It is interesting how often the men God chose tried to argue that they were not right for the job; that the job was beyond them. They were right. The job was beyond them, but wholly within the power of Almighty God. But, once Moses’ questions were answered, we see what he did next. He packed up and headed by to Egypt. He obeyed God.

Both Moses and Solomon were called to be a part of God’s purpose to provide a place of worship and sacrifice for the people of God. Not only were they called to the purpose of God, but they were also given detailed plans on the building process. Read the later chapters of Exodus, especially chapters 39 and 40. Watch how often it says that Moses did everything exactly as the Lord has told him. When the process was done, the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Solomon built the temple according to the plans God had given and the same glory filled that temple. Those who wish their lives to be marked by the power and glory of God would do well to do just as they did – to walk in complete obedience to God. In the divine system, obedience precedes the experience of glory.

This is not an isolated pattern. Joshua was told to march around Jericho thirteen times in seven days. He obeyed and the walls fell. Gideon had a horribly mismatched army before God reduced it first to 10,000, then to 300. When God told him to take these 300 soldiers on a suicide mission against the Midianites, he did as he was told and won one of history’s most amazing victories. Mary was told she would be the mother of the Son of God. Her response is classic. “May it be to me as you have said.”

From the beginning of time to today, the first essential, reproducible quality any servant of God can have is obedience. In fact, it is the chief American religious conceit that we can experience the blessing, presence and power of God without submitting our lives in obedience to him. We have reduced the love of God to a lack of standards, acting as if God were a spineless wimp. He is not. Those who would experience his presence and power, who would be significant in his service, must yield their lives in obedience to him.

A young couple came into my office, asking me to perform their wedding. They were living together and I confronted them about their sin. They were living contrary to God’s revealed will and yet expected me as a pastor to stand before a group of people and declare the blessing of God on their lives. They left my office angry at me. They simply could not see the idea that God would expect them to control their desires or to obey his laws. They assumed they could seek his blessings regardless of their lifestyle. They are, I am afraid, typical Americans. But it is a clear and uncontroverted pattern in scripture. Those who experienced the power and presence of God first submitted their lives to God’s purposes and plans. They obeyed God.

Significant servants obey God.

Obedience is Costly and Difficult

I am amazed at the expectations that many Christians have exhibited. We expect that if we obey God, there is some kind of guarantee that everything will work out fine. We seem to believe that obedience is our means of avoiding hardship, hurt and pain. This is simply not true. In fact, in the Bible, obedience was costly and difficult. God called people to acts of obedience that were difficult; that cost them all they had.

Look at Genesis 22:1-3. “After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here am I.’ He said, ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.’ So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.’

God is clear about what is at stake here. He identifies Abraham’s son, his “only son Isaac, whom you love” as the target of the test. Whom did Abraham love more, God or the gift God gave him? Would Abraham obey God even at the cost of his son?

We often assume that Jesus did not mean some of the things he said. Luke 14:26 says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” That is a simple and straightforward statement, but it is also shocking. If you want to be Jesus’ disciple, you must hate your family and even your own life. It is so radical we assume Jesus did not mean it. He did. “Hate” is not an emotional term here. It is an action word. To hate someone is to choose someone else over them. Jesus is telling us that we must choose him first over family, friends or anything else in this whole world.

Abraham had a chance to apply this principle. God told him to take his only son to Mt. Moriah and to sacrifice him there. Genesis 22:3 is one of the most amazing verses in the Bible. “So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac.” It was a costly decision for Abraham, but he did not struggle. Early the next morning he set out to do the very difficult, unbelievably costly thing God told him to do. And God intervened.

Our obedience can be costly. God does not intervene in our lives to help us be more successful in the lives we had. He calls us to lay down those lives, to leave them behind to follow him. Jesus came to his disciples and called them to leave their fisherman’s nets behind and follow him. Every time someone decided to follow Jesus, they had to leave their lives behind to do it.

Sometimes, when we lay down our lives, those things are gone. Perhaps God will call you to give up a successful career or put your talents on hold. I know a successful surgeon who heard the call of God to leave his practice to serve as a missionary. Often, God gives us back what we have given up; sanctified and ready to be used in his service. But when we come to him, it is as living sacrifices – all on the altar.

When I was a young preacher, I was willing to go anywhere God wanted me to go, as long as it was in the United States. I just was not willing to go oversees as a missionary. Then, in 1984, I went to Honduras on a mission trip. In 1988, I went to Honduras in the spring and Tanzania, Africa in the fall. During this time, my heart began to change about missionary service. The next summer, at a camp, I sensed a call to mission service and Jenni and I applied to become missionaries. I had given up the United States to serve the Lord. Then one day we got a letter in the mail telling us that because of a medical problem in one of our children. I have spent my life serving American churches. But I could not serve God in America until I was willing to serve him anywhere.

Our obedience to God is costly, but it brings the great blessing of God.

Obedience is Risky

When is the last time you did something risky in obedience to God? I’m not talking about jumping out of airplanes or driving at high speeds. I’m talking about putting your life on the line in such a way that if God does not act, we will die or suffer great shame and humiliation. No, some would say. God would never ask us to do something foolish like that. Really? God sent Moses into Egypt to face Pharaoh. If God does not act, Moses would die. David went up against Goliath, hopelessly mismatched. If God did not walk into battle with him, David would die. Joshua’s plan against Jericho could only succeed if God released his power. Time and again, God sent his people into battle against overwhelming odds and overpowering foes with only the promise of his presence. But when they went into battle, obedient to Almighty God, they were victorious regardless of the odds.

In 2003, a terrorist exploded a bomb in the Davao City airport in Mindanao Island in the Philippines, killing a friend of mine named Bill Hyde. I was asked to take part in his funeral, along with Dr. Jerry Rankin, President of our International Mission Board. He called me a couple of days before the funeral to talk over the service. When I was an missionary kid in Taiwan, I lived in safety. Dr. Rankin told me that this is a dangerous world for missionaries. I received a call from Fox News and was on Great Van Susteren’s show “On the Record.” She asked, with some amazement, why we would continue sending people into places where their lives were at risk. I think she thought it irresponsible. But I told her that we had a job to do, a commission to obey. I told her that Bill was more committed to the service of the Lord than to his own safety. Bill had a life of significant service to God and even his death was a great testimony to the work of Christ, because he obeyed God even at great personal risk.

Step in the River

There is a story in the book of Joshua that explains why we do not see the power of God. Israel came to the Jordan River when it was at flood stage. In Joshua 3:13, God told Joshua to have men carry the Ark of the Covenant and stand in the River. This was a foolish, risky act. When they stepped into the river, the water would stop flowing and the people would go through on dry ground. Note the sequence there. The men carrying the Ark had to step in the river first, then it stopped. Had they stood on the shore waiting for the flow to stop, they would not have gone across. Imagine being one of the men holding the pole that carried the Ark. You have to take that step of extreme faith and obedience into the river knowing that if God does not do as he said, you will drown. But those men stepped in the river and the power of God was released.

We stand at the river telling God that as soon as he stops its flow, we will walk through in faith. He says that we must step in. We are called to risky obedience, to act in ways that all we have is on the line. We want to walk by sight, but we must learn to walk by faith; by an obedient, costly, risky faith.

As I studied through the Old Testament, I began to see what made someone a significant service. Few of these were men of natural talent or ability. They were not charismatic personalities. But they did share an essential, reproducible quality. It was pretty simple. They went where God told them to go. They did what God told them to do. They said what God told them to say. And God worked his power through them.

It does not take amazing talent to serve God. You do not have to be creative or charismatic. Just seek God until you know his will – and do it. Go where he wants you to go; do what he tells you to do; and say what he tells you to say.

It is helpful to know the Lord’s Prayer. It was given to the disciples as a model for our prayers. And it is good to study Jesus’ prayer in John 17, in which he poured out his heart to the Father the night before he died. But I would suggest a five word prayer that would set us on the path to significant service to God.

“Lord, whatever, whenever, wherever. Amen.”

1 comment:

John Wallace said...

Thanks, Dave. I stumbled across this post while doing some research today and discovered that it was written by you:). It's a good post.

I've been thinking a lot about vision lately and feeling that vision in the institutional church has become too proprietory, too man-driven. We have brilliant examples of successful megachurches yet we're loosing North America. It occured to me that authentic spiritual awakening has occured historically in the margins, outside the so-called "successful"institutions. Has our infatuation with megachurch methodologies and neglect of spiritual disciplines put us in a delusional state? I wonder. Having ceased to trust the Holy Spirit, have we settled for turn-key, franchise culture clubs. I keep reading about these successful new churches yet keep meeting pastors and church planters whose churches have failed or are failing. I sometimes wonder if the enemy is letting us have just enough success to keep us distracted. Just thoughts.

God's best to you, Dave.