David VanDenBurgh, Senior Pastor, Kettering SDA Church, Kettering, Ohio

This abridged sermon is part of the excellent series by Dr. VanDenBurgh, “Following Hard After Jesus.”

Summary: What does it mean to follow Jesus? It means living like and being like Him. Jesus’ first disciples took this very literally. They traveled with, lived with, and were taught by Him. Being Christ’s disciple today means exactly the same thing.

Following Jesus means living like and being like Him. Jesus’ first disciples took this very literally. They literally traveled with, lived with, and were taught by Him. They imitated what they saw Jesus doing, working with Him and sharing in His ministry. They obeyed Him and wanted to be like Him. Being Christ’s disciple does not mean anything different today than it meant then. It is exactly the same.

Jesus had a tremendous sense of mission. He said, “I came not to be served, but to serve. The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto but to minister, to give his live as a ransom for many” (Mk 10:45). Jesus was not in doubt about what He had come to earth to do. He did not come to please Himself, but to serve by seeking and saving lost people. He did not spend His life working for retirement. It would be hard to imagine Him spending time doing many of the things the average person does. I cannot imagine Jesus, for example, being a “couch potato” sitting in front of the television. He had more important things to do with His life.

Jesus’ sense of urgency and purpose for His life was so vital; there was no time to waste. He was not even concerned to make a living. He knew God would take care of Him, so that He could concentrate on fulfilling His mission.

Because Jesus lived as He did, His own family thought He was crazy. They could not understand why He did not behave like his brothers. Why He did not settle down and get a job, take a wife, and raise a family. At one point, they came looking for Him to take Him home, forcefully if necessary, saying that He was beside Himself. Jesus clearly marched to the beat of a different drummer. Even His mother did not understand it.

Nobody else but you

Do you have a sense of calling in your life? Do you know why God made you the person you are? What is your mission in the world—that one thing you need to do that nobody else can do? This thing named a “call” is often mysterious. People speak of being called to the ministry or say, “God called me to go here or to go there.” What do we mean by this? I want to suggest that every Christian has a calling—that God calls each of us to occupy a certain place in the world, to carry out a certain ministry, and to fulfill a certain purpose. If you really want a meaningful and abundant life in Christ, if you really want to be the person He has made you to be, you need to know what He has called you to do, what your purpose and ministry is all about.

How do you find this out? Intuitively, each of us knows we are here for some-thing more that going to school, working for forty years at a career that is more or less satisfying, then retiring only to complain about the arthritis and bunions of old age—and then dying. There has to be more, and we know it!

I have known people who were successful in their careers and admired by others, yet were deeply disappointed near the end of their lives. Though at the top of their professions during their working lives, they ended their days wondering if what they had done was really worth it after all! As they lay dying, their sense of futility would come out and people who knew them when they were young and powerful would wonder if this was the same person they had admired and respected, who seemed so sure of himself all those years?

We do not have to do great things in our lives, but we do need to believe that we are doing what God created for us to do. Otherwise, we feel disappointed and useless, no matter what other people say about us. We all need to hear God’s call, to know why He made us and to believe that we have found the work He designed for us.

One of the disciplines

This is what we mean when we talk about our mission and our destiny. This is our ministry and service to God. This service is one of the disciplines of the disciple. There are those who do not want to do the service we are talking about. They prefer to be served. They are first in line for positions of power and influence, to tell other people what to do. They love to sit on boards and make decisions, but they do not like to get their hands dirty serving, and they do not understand how to make disciples or why it is necessary. This is not the service Jesus talks about. To be Jesus’ disciple you must do the ministry God called you to do.

This ministry does not have to be the ordained ministry. Christians can serve God just as well outside the ranks of professional clergy as anyone can inside it. I know that when someone asks, “Who is the minister of that church?” they want to know who the pastor is. But there is something wrong with that question. It does not acknowledge that every member of the Church is a minister for Christ, because every person has been called to ministry. Jesus says, “Follow me.” He gives every believer an assignment. If we want to be Christ’s disciples, we must commit to that.

An example of service

How can you discover your calling if you don’t know what it is? This is where the various disciplines of the disciple come into play: the discipline of the Word, the discipline of prayer, the discipline of stewardship, the discipline of community. Today we are talking about the discipline of service. It is through the practice of these disciplines, especially the first four, that we come to understand what God has called us to in the fifth one. If you faithfully spend time listening to the Word of God, spend time in conversation with Him, and you carefully consider how to be a good steward of that which is given to you—knowing it does not belong to you, but to Jesus—if you are in community with honest, truth-telling fellow disciples, then you are right where you need to be to discern God’s calling for your life. We should be looking each minute of every day for opportunities to serve Jesus by serving others. We should be constantly reminded that, like the Lord, we are not here to be served but to serve. Like Him, we are to spend our lives serving others.

Mother Theresa insisted on cleaning toilets every day. She chose to be a servant and she wanted to remember what it means to serve. So, even after she received the Nobel Prize, she still cleaned toilets. You would think that the work she committed her life to—serving the poorest of the poor in the name of Jesus— would have been servanthood enough. But she felt she needed to set an example of service and be constantly reminded that Jesus became a servant to all people.

Jesus astonished His disciples by washing their feet. There are characteristics of the follower of Jesus we would rather forget, like obedience, humility, and service. But these are the very qualities Jesus urged on His disciples. He said, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mk 9:35). In Mark 10:43-44 Jesus says, “I know how it is among the great people of the world…. They lord it over others and expect to be served. But it shall not be so among you.” “Instead,” He says, “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.” So easy to say and so hard to do—to actually live by the mindset that I am a servant to every person I meet!

I once heard someone say, “Every time I meet somebody I say to myself, ‘How can I add value to that person’s life? What can I say to help the person experience more fully the value that God has placed upon him or her?” There is a great mindset! I have tried to remember this as I meet people and think not about myself and what they are thinking of me, but how I can build into their lives something that will add value; it is a kind of servanthood.

Columba and the Picts

In the seventh century, the Irish Christian Columba wanted to evangelize the pagan Celts and Picts of Scotland. He had an interesting method for doing it. He established a community on an island off the coast of Scotland and gather people together who wanted to be missionaries. Each had to have some skill, such as being an iron or leather worker or knowing how to write or bake bread. Skills that were in need and preferably skills the people of the mainland did not already have. Then, when they were ready, they would take a boat from the island to the mainland and would move into a community, but would not say a word about being missionaries. As part of the community they would begin to add value to it by making iron tools, by teaching people to read and write, or by providing some service the community needed. Ministering to and serving the people, they would win their confidence and the right to have a conversation with them about their belief in God—sharing the gospel story of Jesus. That was how Columba and his mission evangelized Scotland. Years later, when England had lost the gospel and was again overrun by paganism, it was Scotland and Ireland that actually re-evangelized the English. It was so successful it might be a good model, even today.

When we serve people, we earn the right to have a conversation with them about spiritual things. It is a great way of being a missionary and is exactly what Jesus modeled for us and called us to do. Suppose we had a similar way of thinking. Suppose we thought of our jobs, our participation in sports, our attendance in school, our residence in our neighborhood, as a way of mingling and serving and gaining a hearing for Jesus? It is not a job, it is not a career, it is not life—it is ministry! Jesus says, he who would save his life (meaning he who would guard or protect it), he who would try to increase it, will lose it. But “he who loses his life for my sake [and for the gospel’s sake], will save it” (Mk 8:35).

This suggests that the more I give of myself in serving others, the more my life increases. And the more I think about myself and my wants and pleasures, the more my life diminishes. James says “be doers of the Word and not hearers only, deceiving your-selves” (Jm 1:21). We do not need a longer list of things to do. We want to be doers. It is self-destructive to focus on what you know. You must focus on what God has called you to do.

Here are some questions to help you know what God wants for you. First, do you know what God has called you to do? Have you heard His call? Second, do you know what ministry God has assigned to you? Third, how much time are you giving to ministry? This gets a bit difficult to sort out. Ask yourself the question, “What would I do if I didn’t have to do anything?” If you won the lottery, for example, would you keep your job? If the answer is no, then you are probably just doing your job because you need to, rather than as a means of ministry. How much time each week are you spending on ministry? I do not mean if you are a factory worker that you put in a full day’s work. How much time each week are you actually engaged in the ministry of serving?

Tithing time?

The next question is, how much time are you willing to set aside for ministry? Suppose you were to create a ministry allocation as you give tithe. What would happen if we tithed our time? If we said, “Here is a piece of time that I am going to set aside specifically for ministry.” Again, this gets tricky because much of the very best kind of ministry takes place in the context of living. It is not something we go out to do; it is something we do as we go. If we are not intentional, we can find ourselves just living life—earning a living, coming home, going to bed, getting up, and doing it all over again—without any conscious thought that we are serving and ministering by doing this. And we probably are not. We are just living.

Service starts in your mind. I found this in Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose Driven Life. Warren does so well in talking about living life with purpose. He ably develops the idea of servanthood and what it means. Let’s go over some statements he makes: Servants think more about others than about themselves. Servants do not wake up in the morning and say “I wonder what I will do today?” Servants wake up in the morning thinking, “I wonder what the Master has for me to do today?” Servants spend most of their time and energy thinking about serving, about what other people are asking of them, what it means to be a servant.

A figure, a fire, and fish

Characteristic of Jesus, Paul says “He emptied himself” (Php 2: 7). He gave up all thoughts of Himself—what He could get or what He wanted—in order to serve, because that is who He was. God is a servant! The next point states: Servants think like stewards, not owners. Servants do not own anything. They have things entrusted to them that they can use wisely for the sake of their Master. Jesus says no one can serve two masters (Lk 16:13). You cannot serve both God and money. If my life is controlled by the need to make money or to build up my retirement account, then I immediately have a conflict. If Jesus is right, and no one can serve both God and money, then every Christian trying to live anywhere in a society like ours that revolves so much around money, has a real challenge on his or her hands.

What does it mean to live in our society and to not serve money—to not worry about money and how to pay the bills, how to save enough for retirement and provide for the children’s education? What does it mean to serve Christ instead of serving money? The answer seems to be in the area of stewardship. When we understand that we are not owners of anything but simply stewards using what God has entrusted to us for purposes He has in mind, then it makes it easier to understand.

Thirdly, servants think about their work, not about what others are doing. One of the great stories that illustrates this comes at the end of John’s gospel. It is after Jesus’ resurrection and Peter says, “I am going fishing.” And the other disciples say, “We will come with you.” As they go down to the lake, dawn begins to break, and they see a figure on the shore and a little fire burning there. The figure on the shore says to them, “Got any fish?” That was an interesting remark! Eventually they realize it is the Lord. Peter jumps in the water and swims ashore. Jesus has a fire going—charcoal and fish—and He serves them breakfast.

After breakfast, Jesus asks Peter, “Peter, do you love me?” Peter replies, “Lord you know that I do! Jesus asks him the same question three times and each time Peter answers, “Lord, you know that I love you!” Jesus is putting Peter back together again after his failure and betrayal. Jesus is reinstating Peter to his office. It must have felt good for Peter to know that he and Jesus were all right, that they still had a relationship and that there was still something there for him to do.

Forget what he is doing!

Right after that, Jesus sets off down the beach. He and Peter walk and talk. Then Peter turns around to see John following them at a distance, and Peter says to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” And Jesus says to Peter, “Do not worry about him; that has nothing to do with you. You just follow me.”

Isn’t that interesting? This account is a paradigm—something more than just a report of a casual conversation. What Jesus is telling us is that following Him is a highly individualized thing! Following Christ, being His disciple, is all about how you relate to Him. It has nothing to do with how other people relate to Jesus, for other people may be able to go places and do things that Jesus will not let you do.

Others may be able to shirk responsibilities that you cannot shirk. You may find yourself saying, “It is not fair! I do not understand why he can do this and I cannot.” And Jesus would probably say to you exactly what he said to Peter, “What is that to you? You just follow me.” Servants do not worry about what other people are doing. They simply focus on what they are supposed to do. In Romans 14:4 there is an interesting statement. “Who are you to criticize someone else’s servant? The Lord will determine whether his servant has been successful.” When I was a new Christian, I was very concerned about what others were doing. I have discovered that my concern is enough, if I focus on myself and how I am serving the Lord.

The next point: Servants base their identity in Christ. The only approval that counts is the Lord’s approval (2Cor 10:18). I have come to realize that much of what I do, I do for the sake of others’ approval, and I am actively trying to get unhooked from my need for this. The only thing that matters to me is what Jesus has to say. The only approval that counts is His approval. It does not matter whether others think I am a good guy or a capable person or a good pastor. The only thing that matters is what Jesus thinks. This is true for servanthood.

One more for Jesus

Lastly, servants think of ministry as an opportunity, not an obligation. Psalm 100:2 says, “Serve the Lord with gladness.” Warren tells a story about his father in his section on servanthood in Purpose Drive Life. He says, “My father was a minister for over fifty years, serving mostly in small rural churches. He was a simple preacher, but he was a man with a mission. His favorite activity was taking teams of volunteers overseas to build churches for small congregations. In his lifetime, Dad built over 150 churches around the world. In 1999 my father died of cancer. In the final week of his life, the disease kept him awake in a semiconscious state for nearly twenty-four hours a day. As he dreamed, he would talk out loud about what he was dreaming.

“Sitting by his bedside, I learned a lot about my dad by just listening to his dreams. He relived one church building project after another. One night near the end while my wife, my niece, and I were by his side, Dad suddenly became very active and tried to get out of bed. Of course, he was too weak and my wife insisted he lay back down. But he persisted in trying to get out of bed. So, my wife finally asked, ‘Jimmy, what are you trying to do?’ He replied, ‘Got to save one more for Jesus, got to save one more for Jesus, got to save one more for Jesus.’

“He began to repeat that phrase over and over. During the next hour he said the phrase probably one hundred times, ‘Got to save one more for Jesus.’ As I sat by his bed with tears flowing down my cheeks, I bowed my head to thank God for my dad’s faith. At that moment, Dad reached out and placed his frail hand on my head and said, as if commissioning me, ‘Save one more for Jesus, save one more for Jesus, save one more for Jesus.’”

Conclusion

I intend to do that. I intend for that to be the theme of the rest of my life. I invite you to consider it as a focus for your life too, because nothing will make a greater difference for eternity. If you want to be used by God; you must care about what God cares about. What He cares about most is the redemption of the people He made. He wants His lost children found. Nothing matters more to God, the cross proves that. I pray that you will always be on the lookout to reach one more for Jesus, so when you stand before God, you can say, “Mission accomplished.” That is a purpose, a call, a ministry, and a focus! And that gives real meaning to everything that we do in our lives.

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October–December, 2006

Service