Sunday, May 29, 2016, Nathan Williams preached on Deacons: Patterned after Christ. Listen to the audio here:
Lindie’s marriage had been crumbling slowly over the past three years, ever since her husband Charles had decided to take a high-profile and demanding position at a local law firm. Slowly, their time for walking in the neighborhood, holding hands, and reading together in the evenings evaporated. She had suspected for a while that he’d been unfaithful, but she couldn’t prove it.
Her job was wearing her thin, as her boss continued to pile on extra responsibility with little extra pay. No longer did she covet the corporate life; now she just wanted to stay home and rest for a while, but Charles insisted she hold out for just a little while longer until they were financially sound. When will that be? she wondered. When will he be ready to have the kids we talked about before we married?
One weekend the perfect storm seemed to be brewing, as her overbearing boss demanded she finish a project over the weekend, her husband texted that he’d be flying to Chicago for a weekend work thing, and a sore throat was coming on. Life was the pits.
Lindie decided to call Sally, a spiritually-minded friend from church, and ask her to meet at a nearby Starbucks. Sally arrived to find Lindie almost in tears.
“What’s going on?” she asked, concern ringing in her tone.
Lindie proceeded to unload her worries, concerns, and headaches right out on that little Starbucks table. As she unpacked each one, Sally felt more and more deeply the weight of Lindie’s life situation. Finally, Lindie took a breath.
“How long have you been keeping all this bottled up?” Sally asked. Lindie managed a small shrug. “Lindie, you don’t need to carry all this yourself!”
“I know. But Charlie–”
“I’m not talking about Charlie right now; I’m talking about me and the church! That’s what we’re here for, Lindie. And I’m talking about God. Have you shared any of this with Him?”
That question startled Lindie. In fact, she was surprised at herself. She had not even thought to pray about this for quite some time. Maybe she didn’t want to bother God with her situation. Maybe she felt it would reveal her weakness, her failure as a wife and a woman, to have to ask God for help in this. She felt like it was her duty to deal with all of it because it was her life.
“No,” she finally admitted, “I haven’t. But I now see I should. I suppose my life has finally come to the point where all I can do is pray.”
Sally smiled at her friend, but her head was gently shaking from side to side. “No, Lindie, I want to show you something.” She opened her purse and pulled out a small Bible, flipping to the middle. “Here it is. Psalm 103. I just read it this morning:
“Bless the LORD, O my soul;
And all that is within me, bless His holy name!
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
And forget not all His benefits:
Who forgives all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases,
Who redeems your life from destruction,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,
Who satisfies your mouth with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”
After a pause, Sally asked, “Does it sound to you like David’s prayer here was a prayer of last resort?”
“You just said it seems like all you have left is prayer–like it’s your last resort. Does it sound like David prayed that way?”
“I guess not,” Lindie admitted. “But what’s your point?”
Sally looked into Lindie’s eyes. “I think you haven’t been talking to God about your life at all, Lindie. You are walking this life as if you have the power to figure everything out all by yourself and bear the whole load all by yourself…and God never intended for you to live like that! If you read the rest of Psalm 103, you find out that God loves His people very much.” Sally began scanning the chapter again. “He does not deal with us according to our sins. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear Him. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear Him. For He knows our frame, He remembers that we are dust.
“Doesn’t that make you swell up with just little bit of pride in God? Doesn’t that make you want to love Him?”
Lindie had to admit those ancient words did cause a certain swelling of joy in her heart. As she listened to her friend read, she began to realize how small she was…and how BIG God is.
There would be much more conversation between the two friends, but that moment served as a catalyst to begin changing her thinking. She shouldn’t just pray to God when things seemed the worst, when the night was darkest, when she had no alternative. She had been walking a lonely and (she had to admit) sinful walk by keeping her Creator at arms length. She began to see how much she needed God every single day, every step of the way, in both the bad times and the good. And God really did care about her. Her! Not because she was so special, but because God is so awesomely kind and merciful!
Indeed, bless His holy name! she thought to herself, feeling hope.
- Maralyn Monroe overdosed on barbiturates and was found dead in her bed clutching a telephone receiver on August 5, 1962.
- The king of rock ‘n roll, Elvis Presley, overdosed on prescription drugs on August 16, 1977, and died of cardiac arrest.
- The king of pop, Michael Jackson, overdosed on a cocktail of antidepressants and pain killers and died on June 25, 2009.
- Robin Williams was found on August 11, 2014, hanging by a nylon belt with wrists partially slashed after having dosed himself with antidepressants, caffeine, and a drug for Parkinson’s disease.
The world loved (and many sill love) these icons for their ability to perform, entertain, shock, and amuse. All were top of their game, making headlines, and amazingly successful as this world counts success.
What went wrong?
Obviously drugs were a major factor in each and every case.
But why the drugs? These were not illegal drugs; they were prescription. After brief consideration, you may easily observe that these women and men were not happy with their super-successful lives! In fact, we might conclude they were actually not successful in life.
These folks were, evidently, seeking happiness in all the wrong places. They did not find joy in their beauty, sexuality, money, or fame–yet upon those things it seems they centered their lives. They built upon a shifting foundation of lies.
From where, then, does true worth and abiding happiness come?
7 I will bless the LORD who has given me counsel;
My heart also instructs me in the night seasons.
8 I have set the LORD always before me;
Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved.
9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices;
My flesh also will rest in hope.
10 For You will not leave my soul in Sheol,
Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.
11 You will show me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
It saddens me to think of all in this world who are so far away from true spiritual blessing. How gracious God has been to me in showing me this path to peace, for I surely don’t deserve it. To be allowed into God’s presence boggles the mind, doesn’t it? For Him to forgive our sins and give us the opportunity to experience the fullness of joy and everlasting pleasures, does it not fill you with inexpressible delight, humble thanksgiving, and the motivation to serve Him forevermore?
So spread the gospel, the good news of our Savior, who makes it possible for us to approach God’s throne of grace (Heb. 4.16), because millions of fellow men and women are searching for their lives’ meaning. They won’t find it in themselves, in their friends, or in their fans, and they certainly won’t find it in those pills they pop every day to mask their pain and depression.
Jesus has the words of eternal life (John 6.68-39), and He has commissioned us to spread it. Let’s get to work!
Well…that’s often what the world looks for in a leader.
Jesus challenges and colors our understanding of leadership and greatness in His kingdom:
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20.25-28)
It’s not about lording it over others, getting them to do what we want. It’s not about exercising authority over others, always getting our way.
Godly leadership centers on serving others. In fact, Jesus used two words in our passage above—servant and slave—to express this thought. Servant in the Greek is diakonos, from which we get the word “deacon.” Slave in the Greek is the word doulos, from which derives the modern-day “doula,” one who assists during childbirth.
The diakonos was a minister of some sort; the word was often used of a waiter serving tables. Jesus used the verb form (diakoneō) of Himself: He “did not come to be served, but to serve.” Jesus was a deacon servant to us, going so far as to wash His disciples’ feet in John 13 and then offer His body as a crucified sacrifice!
How ought we, then, to serve one another?
Some folks habitually “play it safe.” They won’t board an airplane. They won’t go overseas. They won’t step too far out of their comfort zone. In their minds, life is too precious to jeopardize it in such frivolous ways.
Jesus told a story in Luke 19.11-27 which included a man who played it safe. It’s the story of the ten minas (one mina was about three-months’ wages) which a nobleman distributed evenly among ten servants, telling them to “Engage in business until I return.” When he returned, the nobleman found several servants who had multiplied his money. But one fearful servant returned the single mina he’d been given, saying, “Lord, here is your mina, which I kept laid away in a handkerchief; for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man.”
The nobleman-now-king took the mina away from him and gave it to another servant who had most-successfully multiplied his money. Everyone was dumbfounded that he would take away what little the one servant had and give it to the one who had the most, but he answered, “I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”
The fearful servant tried to play it safe, but too late he discovered he had done exactly the opposite. The king told him he should have at least put the money in the bank so it would have earned a little interest! Do SOMETHING, even if it’s small.
Fear freezes. We must not let fear control us to the point that we fail to DO SOMETHING. Everyone knows there is something wrong with the lady shut up in her house, refusing to come out because of her phobias. But many live that way, holding to their daily routines, their safe routes, their points of protection, their comfortable zones, and woe to the one who would nudge them off course!
Whole churches play it safe for years. Comfortable pew warmers smile, sit, chat, and go home. Did the preacher say something about helping the poor? Can we just write a check for that? Did someone encourage us to teach the gospel to our neighbor? Well, we have such a good relationship with the neighbor, it would be a shame to ruin it with talk about religion. The whole world around us is dissolving into an ethical and moral nightmare; are we content to watch it crash and burn and not speak the words of life necessary to fight against evil? We’ll complain amongst ourselves at the deterioration of society; then we’ll go home and allow Netflix to entertain us with the same filth we protest against.
Men play it safe by not addressing sin in their own lives, by not confessing sin to other faithful men who can support, pray, and help. We don’t address sin in our families for fear of straining relationships…yet the relationship is really strained because of the sin! We play it safe when we don’t stretch ourselves to grow in the talents and abilities God has given us to use for His glory.
We need to stop playing it safe. When the King returns, will He find us working to increase what He entrusted to us, or will He find us sitting on our couches, eating ice cream, and immersing ourselves in the world’s entertainment? I hate to admit I do way too much of what’s in that last sentence.
Jesus didn’t die so we could watch Netflix. Jesus didn’t die so we could play. Jesus didn’t die so we could increase our wealth. He died so we could have life and that we, in turn, could become life givers and producers in His kingdom!
Jesus didn’t play it safe…and He doesn’t want us to, either.
My friend said, “I want to send him a Bible verse to encourage him in this time…can you give me some ideas of what to send him?”
“Is he a Christian?” I wanted to know.
“Well, he’s Catholic, but he never goes to church anyway,” was the answer.
“I see.” I told him I’d try to text him some verses.
But I knew that someone who is not a faithful believer won’t get much hope from the Bible!
I finally texted my friend:
I’d encourage your brother-in-law to read one of the gospels and get acquainted with Jesus really well. I’m not sure how encouraging Bible verses will be if he’s not in a good relationship with God and Jesus.
What would you say to this man? How would you counsel someone with only a couple of months to live?
1 “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.
2 “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.
3 “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.
4 “And you know the way where I am going.”
5 Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?”
6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.
42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised can imperishable body;
43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power;
44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.
45 So also it is written, “The first MAN, Adam, BECAME A LIVING SOUL.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.
46 However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual.
47 The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven.
48 As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly.
49 Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly.
50 Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.
51 Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed,
52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.
53 For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality.
54 But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory.
55 “O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?”
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law;
57 but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.
21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
22 But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose.
23 But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better;
24 yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.
25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith,
26 so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again.
- I am confident I am wrong on some spiritual matters
- I am confident I am in relationship with Jesus Christ
Chew on those for a moment.
How can a person be confident in his relationship with Jesus, confident of his salvation, and also confident he is wrong in some of his Bible understanding?
Actually, I wonder how someone can be otherwise. Would it not seem the height of arrogance for one to think he has every spiritual matter completely figured out? The humble (and realistic) appreciate their finite knowledge and intelligence. Only God is all-wise and all-knowing. Therefore, there must always be room for growth, for adding new information, for adjusting understanding.
Our confidence must never come from ourselves. When we believe our salvation depends on how right we are about things, our salvation becomes dependent upon ourselves. Hear me now–there is a right and a wrong, good and evil; it’s just that we, in our finite selves, will never fully discern these things. We grow in our discernment, learning every day (Lord willing) to more rightly divide the word of truth.
God gives us grace despite our imperfect knowledge. How much more grace should we give each other, then? In truth, we should be strict with ourselves and gracious with one another, but we often get those reversed.
To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him. Therefore I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulations for you, which is your glory. (Eph. 3.8-13)
But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us… (Titus 3.4-5)
We can put up with brothers and sisters who understand Scripture differently than we. Sure, there are items with which we must have no disagreement, but the “same mind” Paul wanted the brethren to have (1 Cor. 1.10 and Phil. 2.1-4; 4.2) is not an exact oneness of understanding on everything but a oneness of attitude towards God and towards each other. Paul wanted them to have the same mind Jesus had (see Phil. 2.5ff), the mind of abject humility and obedience to God.
When we divide from and formally disfellowship our brothers and sisters because they have a different understanding, we may actually be demonstrating a mind which is not consistent with Christ Jesus! Sometimes we must break fellowship with one another for a season…perhaps for longer…but that does not mean we must view one another as lost in sin. Paul and John Mark broke fellowship for a time and couldn’t plow together in the same yoke, but that was only for a season. Neither was spiritually lost.
Have confidence in Jesus Christ. Hold fast that confidence! And love your brothers and sisters who also hold fast that confidence.