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You can go ahead and get I Peter 4 open in your textbooks.  I hope you brought your Bibles.  If you didn’t, there is a table in the back of the sanctuary with Bibles on it.  Feel free to grab one and follow along.

Here at TVCOG, 2009 was the “Year of the WORD” where we “Worked On Reading Daily.”  The goal was to emphasize Bible reading and bringing your Bibles to church.  We want to continue to challenge you to do that, but as we move into 2010, we’ll be shifting our focus onto another word.  2010-YES, is the theme for this year.  “Yes” stands for “Year Everyone Serves.” I will be providing 52 ways you can serve someone this year, one for every week.  You can take my suggestion or come up with a service idea of your own, but I’m trusting that at the end of 2010, every person present on the last Sunday of the year can say, “I have served several people this past year, both folks I knew and folks I didn’t know.”

I believe I am to challenge each of you to build serving your family and your community into your DNA.  I get my commission straight from the Bible.  Listen to Ephesians 4:11-13, “11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for WORKS OF SERVICE, so that the body of Christ may be BUILT UP 13 until we all reach UNITY IN THE FAITH and in the knowledge of the Son of God and BECOME MATURE, ATTAINING TO THE WHOLE MEASURE OF THE FULLNESS OF Christ.”

One of God’s scriptural mandates for pastors and teachers is that they are to prepare God’s people for works of service.  Why?  What does it say?  Because serving builds up the body.  Serving grows us up in the faith.  Serving puts us in a position where we obtain a greater knowledge of Jesus; how He lived, how He walked, how He ministered, what the life of a true servant is like and in that process we become mature and achieve the perfection that when someone looks at us, they see Jesus.  I think those few sentences were so good and critical and unfold so beautifully from Ephesians 4 that they bear repeating.

Your acts of service are going to build up the body.  Not only are all of us going to be encouraged by whatever you do, but those you serve outside the church will eventually come into the church because they want to be where people demonstrate love, humility and hospitality.  In that respect the body of Christ will be built up as it increases in number.  Verse thirteen says that serving is the way to unity in the faith.  Why?  As I serve I become more like Jesus.  As you serve, you become more like Jesus.  If you become more like Jesus and I become more like Jesus, we become more like each other.  There is an even greater unity than the oneness we already enjoy when we live as servants.

The bottom line is this:  Servanthood is the way to becoming like Jesus.  You can’t skip steps A, B, and C and wind up at D in the process of becoming like Jesus.  You can’t bypass serving to attain spiritual maturity, and you can’t buy your way to fullness in Jesus.  You have to walk in His steps if you want to arrive at His same destination.

I’m just going to offer something else for free as I introduce this message.  I believe it is ongoing serving that will sustain and keep you in the hard times.  Anyone have some troubles in 2009?  Pastor Thom and I did.  In fact, it was personally the most difficult year we have ever faced, and I believe that it was our ongoing service that kept us plugged in to the person and power of Jesus which kept us going.  When you serve people, you have a reason to get up.  When you serve people, you keep your eyes on Jesus and others who are hurting and you don’t get stuck in throwing yourself the pity party that is so easy to give.  In fact, serving is key to your good mental health.  It will keep you refreshed in your mind and keep you moving forward in Jesus.

Please stand for the reading of God’s Word as I begin a two-part message, this week and next week on serving.

I Peter 4:8-11 8Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.

“Servant” in our English New Testament usually represents the Greek word, “doulos” (bondslave). The word refers to a person who is not at his own disposal, but is his master’s purchased property. Bought to serve his master’s needs, to be at his beck and call every moment, the slave’s sole business is to do as he is told. Christian service therefore means, first and foremost, living out a slave relationship to one’s Savior. 1 Corinthians. 6:19-20 says, “19 Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.”

“Well isn’t that cheerful?  You mean I came to church this morning to hear you tell me I’ve signed up for slavery?”  I can see some of you are checking out right now.  Any minute you’re going to get a critical cell phone call and you’ll have to leave right away.  Let me tell you that earthly masters who purchase slaves do so because they need the slaves to work for them.  They need the slaves to do what they can’t do for themselves.  Or they want the slaves to acquire some kind of wealth or status for them.

Listen clearly.  God doesn’t need any of that.  God doesn’t need anyone to work for Him.  He is God and can accomplish whatever He needs to with or without my help.  He can’t be added to because He already is as big as it gets.  Unlike an earthly master, God doesn’t get into a relationship with us because He needs us but He does it because we need Him.  He didn’t just buy us with some silver or gold, but He gave His very self for us.  In this servant relationship with and for God, we will have more and be happier being in constant relationship with Him and doing His will.  That’s why He wants to keep us as close as possible.

I believe everything God has designed for us to experience in this life is meant to further our relationship with Him.  It’s always been about relationship.  Prayer was given to us so that we would talk to Him.  Bible reading was put in place so we would hear from Him.  Worship was instituted so that we could experience Him.  And servanthood puts us in a position where we are always having to listen, talk, and make adjustments in our relationship with Him in order to do His will.  That’s for our benefit.

Isn’t the world always pursuing the next big relationship, the next big hook up, the next big networking connection that will make them feel important or have access to some kind of power?  We have need for none of that when we serve God because He is all of that and more.  It is to our benefit to be hooked up with Him as His servants.

I think I’ve made a pretty clear case that serving God is a God thing and something we should all sign up for.  But how are we to do it?  I can come up to you as a server in a restaurant and say, (rolling my eyes,) “What do you want?”  or I can come to your table with a smile on my face, introduce myself and say, “How may I serve you today?”  It’s not just about serving, but it’s also about how we serve that God is interested in.

Go back to the text in I Peter 4.  First of all, we are to SERVE IN LOVE.  Verse 8 says, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”  If I don’t love you deeply, I’m not going to serve you with the correct attitude.  Love is a commitment I make to see that you get to live the best life possible.  That’s pretty good, isn’t it?  You might write that down.  That doesn’t mean I watch you from afar and give you a pat on the back now and again.  It means, rather, that I get personally involved in helping you achieve, in helping you be at your best for God.  That means I’m going to have to serve you somehow.

It also means that by loving you, I have served you.  Did you see the second part of the verse?  “Love covers a multitude of sins.”  If I truly love you, I’m not going to try to beat you down, expose your faults, point out your weaknesses, rehearse your failures, and keep track of everything stupid you’ve done.  I’m not implying we should never challenge one another to altar behavior or improve in an area of life, but love doesn’t want to beat people down.  Love accepts people where they are.  Look at your neighbor and say, “You are flawed.” Love understands that but instead of trying to spotlight the flaws, it covers them with acceptance, patience and an understanding that none of us is perfect yet.  So in loving you I have served you by accepting you and by trying to protect you in areas where you are weak or have not yet arrived.  Even if I have something to speak into your life or to challenge you with, I do it privately, in a way that doesn’t expose or hurt you unnecessarily and according to Ephesians 4:15, with love!

Love works as a shock absorber, if you will, cushioning and smoothing out the bumps and irritations caused by fellow believers.  If I haven’t offended you yet in these past three years that I’ve been here, chances are good that I will next week!  If you make up your mind to love me deeply, you’re going to let some of the little stuff go.  You serve when you just forgive people in love before they even ask or if they never do.  You’re going to let an irritation or a comment that you weren’t quite sure about just go in one ear and out the other.  You see, when you decide to love deeply, it keeps you from getting your feelings hurt, it keeps you from jumping to conclusions that someone doesn’t like you, it keeps you from thinking that the laughter in the room is about you.  It actually gives you a protective armor that is for your benefit.

If you think someone has something against you or has a problem with you, you show that you love deeply by wanting to find out. In love, go to the person and say, “Brother, Sister, what did you mean by that comment” rather than take offense and assume you are the target of some kind of spiritual or emotional assassination.

We are not surprised to find the Apostle Peter insisting so strenuously on love. Could he ever forget the interview the Lord had with him when Jesus reminded him three times in John 21 that the supreme qualification for ministry was love.  “Do you love me,” Jesus asked?  “Then feed my sheep.”

You want your spouse to change?  Serve them in love.  You want your kids to change?  You want your co-workers to change?  Serve them in love.

There was once a married couple who didn’t love each other. The day they got married, the husband handed his wife a list of chores for her to follow. He insisted that she do all the tasks on her list every day. The wife worked hard to accomplish her assigned duties, but she was miserable as she performed them. Ironing his clothes, preparing his meals, cleaning house—every task was burdensome. Although she obeyed all his rules, she never enjoyed a loving relationship with her husband.

Her husband died. After several years had passed, she fell in love and got married. The new husband never required her to do anything, much less a list of jobs. Instead, he showered her with love and did everything he could to make her happy.  He was constantly serving her.

One day this wife was joyfully cleaning house when she discovered her first husband’s list of commands tucked away in a drawer. As she read the paper, it dawned on her that she was performing every task on the list, but now she was serving with joy instead of misery. The servant kind of love of her second husband inspired her to automatically do the same jobs that her first husband had required. She had served her first husband out of duty, but her second husband out of love.

Fall in love, deeply in love with people, and you’ll want to serve them.  You won’t be able to help yourself.

Second, we are to SERVE WITH HOSPITALITY.  How many of you know it’s a bit of work to have people over!  I started on Sunday night to get ready for our New Year’s Eve party.  I need to schedule more parties because it seems that’s the only time the big cleaning really happens!  Having people into your home is almost a lost art.  But it is so worth it.  Did you know that Stella Young plays the piano?  I found out on New Year’s Eve.  Did you know Tami Evans can play the flute, Tracey Frederickson was born in upstate New York, Larry Evans loves ice cream cake, Melissa Collins was a Scrabble Queen and that Tommy Young is a pool shark?  It was great fun to have people into our home and go deeper in our fellowship.  But let’s face it. That was planned entertaining, planned servanthood on our part and on our terms.

How many of you know that hospitality isn’t always planned?  Hospitality means we receive people in need and serve them whether our house is clean or we’ve had enough rest or whether we even know them.  There is a lady who works at Foodland who walks from her home, somewhere down on Teays Valley Rd.  I saw her walking a couple weeks back and pulled over to offer her a ride.  That didn’t cost me too much.  I was heading toward Foodland anyway.  I wouldn’t call that hospitality per say.

But there are other times when I have to change my plans, change my schedule, rearrange my priorities because a need has presented itself and for the most part, I assume if a need is made known to me, God is intending for me to do something about it whether it’s convenient or even something I want to do or not.

Hospitality might mean taking someone somewhere even if it’s not the direction you’re heading.  It might mean putting off your dinner to listen to someone in crisis.  It might mean taking a late night phone call.  It might mean cleaning toilets, running vacuums and raking leaves.  It might mean taking a meal to someone who is recovering from surgery or offering to take someone’s children for a few hours when there is a need. Hospitality is about providing for people whatever is needed, no matter the cost.

Isn’t that the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25?  A man got robbed, beaten and left for dead.  A priest walked by and did nothing to help.  A Levite which is a priest’s helper walked by and also did nothing to help.  Two religious leaders, a senior pastor and an associate pastor, people supposed to be setting an example regarding what pleases God and they did nothing.  Then, a Samaritan, literally an enemy of the Jewish half dead man, passing by not only bandages him up but takes him to an inn, continues medical treatment all throughout the night.  The next day, he gave the innkeeper money to continue the treatment and said I’ll be back and if there is any more to pay, I’ve got it covered.

Nowhere in the Samaritan’s daytimer did it read, “Help half day guy by bandaging him, becoming his night nurse and paying the hospital bill until he gets better,” but he showed hospitality when he did whatever was necessary to meet the need even though Samaritans and Jews had nothing to do with each other back in that day.

If you haven’t seen the movie “The Blind Side,” I urge you to do so.  I believe it’s rated PG-13, so you need to make a decision about whether to take small children.  The movie is based on the true story of a white, wealthy Christian family who takes in a young, big, African-American boy who needs a home.  They loved him and took him as their own, helping him get the tutoring he needed to get his grades to the place where they were college worthy.  They did what was necessary to support his great love and great ability for the game of football.  He got a full football scholarship to Mississippi State and was drafted after that to the NFL.  His name is Michael Oher.  Unplanned and certainly unexpected, this family showered Michael with hospitality and nurtured him to success.  Isn’t that awesome?  We live in a day and time where people need to be nurtured to success spiritually, physically, financially, and relationally.

Did you catch the nuance in I Peter 4?  How are we to offer hospitality?  Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.  People aren’t to be viewed as nuisances, frustrations time stealers, and inconveniences.  They are to be viewed as brothers and sisters that we love deeply whether we know them or not; people it is a joy to give a hand to.  It’s not enough to love, but you have to love deeply.  It’s not enough to offer hospitality but you have to do it without grumbling.

In Peter’s day, those who were traveling to preach and oversee the early church would often need a place to stay.  If you got a knock on your door from one of these early church leaders who was visiting your town, whether your sheets were clean and you had clean towels, you were to host them overnight.  That’s the tone with which Peter is writing.  Do it when it’s convenient and when it’s not, with kindness, love and joy.

The third way we are to serve is to SERVE WITH GRACE.  I Peter 4:10-“ Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.

It is so humbling and cool to think that God intends to move His grace through us as we serve.  The gifts we have are supposed to be the tools through which God’s grace gets spread throughout the world.  If you are a Christian, as you serve, you’re not only doing a good deed, but you are spreading God’s grace. God is lavish and generous and the way His generosity flows is through our acts of service.

What is grace?  Grace is undeserved favor?  We have done nothing to earn it.  In fact, we’ve done just the opposite.  Because of our sin, we’ve given God every reason to want nothing to do with us.  And yet He came near in the person of Jesus and is still trying to get as close as possible to us so He can give us favor and blessing.

Do you have anyone in your life that has just almost on purpose tried to get you to not like them?  Someone who wants you to stay away or at least you think that’s what they’re actions have said?  They’ve behaved so badly that it is annoying to be around them?  They’re so obnoxious or their actions disgusting that being with them, let alone serving them and blessing them is the last thing you naturally want to do?

This whole servant lifestyle, remember is basically following the footsteps of Jesus.  If He was interested in only those who would receive Him and only those who were living upstanding lives, we’d all be lost.  He favored us in spite of who and what we were. That’s what grace does.  It lavishes good stuff on people who don’t deserve it.

Maybe this is the toughest level of serving.  We get that we should love people and that when someone needs a hand we ought to try to help, but to love those who have done us wrong and to want to see them blessed and favored and prospered and helped?  That requires a focus and determination of real discipleship like nothing else.  I’m guessing every one of you has someone in your life that you’re not personally fond of.  They’ve done nothing for you.  They’re not pulling their weight.  Maybe they’ve taken advantage of you or they’ve offended you.  Whatever the case may be.  Christian servanthood gives grace to people who don’t deserve it.

We had been given a gift card to Cracker Barrell for Christmas so last week we went there for dinner.  Our waitress was young and so sweet.  Even though we had gotten there early, like 4:30, it had taken a while for our food to be ready.  She must have come to our table five times to try to refill our water glasses while we waited.

Finally, I saw her coming out of the kitchen door with a big smile on her face. She knew our kids were hungry and she was glad our order was finally up.  It was like everything from there went into slow motion.  Hannah started licking her lips.  Josh started unrolling his silverware.  Just as the server got to our table, the whole tray went kerplunk.  Every plate broke.  It caused a major clatter and we were the center of attention like right now.  We immediately told her it wasn’t a problem.  I reached up and patted her shoulder and told her not to worry about it.  She was embarrassed and overly apologetic.  We’d have to start from square one with our order.

We immediately felt for her.  If it had been me, I could picture me fighting tears back, wanting to go hide in the bathroom, wishing my shift would end.  She did everything she could to try to make it up to us.  I never had my drink so full.  The manager came quickly.  Others were there cleaning up the scene in an instant.

They tried to rush our order, while we waited patiently.  We finally got our food.  Since we had a gift card, we even ordered dessert.  When we asked for our check, the waitress told us the manager was taking care of the whole check.  We told her it wasn’t necessary, but that it was very nice.  Okay, here’s the grace part.  We left a generous tip.  Nothing big since we had just gotten our whole meal free, but probably unexpected by our server since she had dumped our food the first time.

That’s what grace is.  Unmerited and unexpected blessing or favor.  Our little act wasn’t a big deal, but we could have made a different choice.  We could have gotten vocal about the food being dumped.  We could have gotten grumpy and demanding with the server.  We could have walked away without tipping to try to express some kind of frustration, but we made a different choice.

That’s all serving people in grace is.  It’s a choice to say, “Whether you deserve it, whether you have hurt me or inconvenienced me, I want to bless you.”

All three actions, serving in love, serving with hospitality and serving with grace-They are all choices you can make ahead of time.  They are all choices you can make today.  Before someone offends you with a comment or action, you can choose to love them.  Before someone pops onto the screen of your life with a need, you can choose to drop what you’re doing to help them.  Those people in your life right now who have inconvenienced or frustrated you, you can choose right now to bless them.

So that’s it.  2010 is the time to put our hands and feet where God’s Word says we ought to; serving people in love, with hospitality and with grace.

How many of you know sometimes it’s hardest to serve those closest to us?  This week your assignment is to pick someone you live with or a member of your family whether your nuclear family or an extended relative and serve them in some special way.  When you leave today, you’ll receive a scorecard that I want you to take seriously and take home.  It has 52 spots for you to put a checkmark on indicating that 52 weeks during this year or 52 times during this year, you went out of your way to serve someone.  This week, it’s completely your choice.  What could you do for a member of your family that you know would bless them?

Every head bowed and every eye closed.

In just a moment, we are going to take communion, the Lord’s Supper.  Everyone who claims Jesus as Savior and Lord, even if you are visiting today for the first time, may partake with us.  I ask that pass the trays down your rows rather than trying to pass individual cups and crackers, and that you hold the elements that represent Jesus broken body and shed blood until all have been served and then we’ll take them altogether.

John 13:1 says, “1 It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.”

How did Jesus show the disciples the full extent of His love?  He served them.  He washed their feet.  After He washed their feet, He had the Passover supper with them, thereby instituting this Lord’s Supper that we are about to receive.  Remember as you take these elements, that the first supper was shared after Jesus served His disciples.  It is in the context of humility that we eat this meal, and as you do, I encourage you to commit yourself to this year’s theme, to serve someone every week of 2010 and in doing so, like Jesus you’ll be showing the world the full extent of God’s love.

Pray with me

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