Sermon Video: Saved People Serve People

God wants to do a great work in you! You may or may not believe that, but it’s true. And, the word he wants to do IN you is not for your mere enjoyment alone – it’s so that you can impact the world AROUND you. In this first message in our new InsideOut series, we scratch the surface of what it means for God to want to pour his truth, grace, love, and power into our lives to prepare us to make a difference by serving others.

My speaking notes…

Saved People Serve People: ?How to Grow From Consumer to Contributor

On March 5, 1995, I was reading Jeremiah 1:5 and KNEW in that moment God had shaped me and prepared me for a life of preaching ministry. It didn’t seem to make any sense at the time, but I trusted the Spirit of God and have had a sense of deeply humbling gratitude ever since.

Jeremiah 1:5 MSG
Before I shaped you in the womb, I knew all about you. Before you saw the light of day, I had holy plans for you: A prophet to the nations — that’s what I had in mind for you.


BIG TRUTH: Before you were ever born, God knew how he could use YOUR life in HIS big mission for the world — saving people into his family — and he is inviting you to join him in what he is already doing around you.

God is in the business of using ordinary people to do extraordinary things!

2 Timothy 1:6-14
5 I remember your genuine faith, for you share the faith that first filled your grandmother Lois and your mother, Eunice. And I know that same faith continues strong in you. 6 This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you. 7 For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.
8 So never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord. And don’t be ashamed of me, either, even though I’m in prison for him. With the strength God gives you, be ready to suffer with me for the sake of the Good News. 9 For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time—to show us his grace through Christ Jesus. 10 And now he has made all of this plain to us by the appearing of Christ Jesus, our Savior. He broke the power of death and illuminated the way to life and immortality through the Good News. 11 And God chose me to be a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of this Good News.
12 That is why I am suffering here in prison. But I am not ashamed of it, for I know the one in whom I trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until the day of his return.
13 Hold on to the pattern of wholesome teaching you learned from me—a pattern shaped by the faith and love that you have in Christ Jesus. 14 Through the power of the Holy Spirit who lives within us, carefully guard the precious truth that has been entrusted to you.

What God wants to do IN you…

  • To put people in your life.
  • To pour his truth into your life.
  • To give you a spiritual gift.
  • To give you courage and boldness.
  • To give you the ability to love him and others.
  • To help you become holy like him.
  • To show you his grace when you mess up.

What God wants to do THROUGH and AROUND you…

  • To use you to bring others into his family.


Why You’re Not Qualified for the Position… Yet

PositionIf they’d just make me a manager, I’d make this company better.

If I could just find a staff position, I could really serve people.

If I just had a church of my own to pastor.

I used to think that way. When I went to college, I wanted nothing more than to serve as the Pastor of a church. It took a while for it to happen, so in the meantime, I looked up a local nursing home and started walking eight blocks weekly to lead a bunch of really sweet, old people in a Bible study.

A little church finally called me as their Pastor and within a few months I was beginning to realize just how ill-equipped I was for the position. It nearly ended my ministry career. I think I should have served people a little longer without a position.

Here’s the point. Stop seeking a position. Start serving people.

If you were to build the company and inspire others with extra encouragement right where you are, or volunteer to take on a project and grow it, or pastor and shepherd a circle of people without a paycheck, you’d essentially make it very clear that you’re the right person for the position.

Leadership IS serving others. So with or without a position, start serving others today and helping them to move forward. Your dream position will likely be the result of having earned it ahead of time.

The question isn’t what would you love to do if you were given the position? It’s what are you already doing even before you’re in the position?

Photo by Alberto Lugli via Unsplash.

Three Prerequisites to Leading Others Well

Ninety and Nine
I have no idea who this is, but the dog looks nice.

Being loud doesn’t make you a leader. Neither does being popular. Leadership is influence, and influence means taking people in a direction they wouldn’t otherwise be going – hopefully forward. Ambition isn’t enough to qualify you to lead. There is more to the equation.

You need to be led before you can really lead. This one is tough for eager leaders, but in order to lead well, you must first be okay with being led. One of the greatest leaders I know who was in charge of 350+ staff in a well-known megachurch said, “I’m a man under authority.” If you don’t know what it’s like to follow or if you’re unwilling to learn from those ahead of you, you’re not quite ready to lead.

You need to love people before you can really lead. You can lead and love self, but the end result is pretty pitiful. Great leaders love those they are leading. Good shepherds have a tendency to lay down their lives for their sheep, and great leaders are always thinking about how to move their followers to the next level.

You need to become a servant before you become a leader. We know that servanthood is the prerequisite to kingdom influence based on Jesus’ example and His words, but we don’t like to let go of our identity as a leader to fully embrace it. We even like to call ourselves “servant-leaders” so we’re not leaving out the leadership part of the equation. But think differently for a moment. What if you saw yourself as a servant first and as a leader second? How would it change the way you lead people?

Can you lead and influence without being led, being a lover of people, and being a servant? Sure, but why would you want to? Your reward for such leadership is shallow and short-lived. Instead, choose the Jesus path – be a servant and a shepherd. Be led well, and then lead with confidence!

And here’s a follow-up thought…

Ranting on Facebook versus Doing the Hard Stuff

Soup Line
My ten-year-old, making an actual difference, without even having a Facebook account even though she’s begging for one.

Ranting and raving on Facebook about how the immoral, evil, liberal, leftist, socialists have taken over and will be the demise of our country doesn’t equate to you “standing up for what is right” or “making a difference.” It means you can type. Congrats.

I understand posting about issues you feel strongly about and have no problem with anyone who expresses their beliefs publicly. But when you get hateful, think about how your tone reflects on what you say you believe (or WHOM you say you believe in).

It’s easier to curse welfare than to help serve a meal at a local homeless shelter or mentor a young person toward success. It’s easier to hold up a sign about abortion being murder than to befriend someone experiencing the panic of an unexpected pregnancy with no one there offering to help if they choose life over death. It’s easier to shout about liberal fiscal spending than to curtail our own out-of-control consumer materialism and credit card craziness.

Maybe we need less ranting, which is easy, and more of the hard stuff. Then again, stooping to serve doesn’t feed my need to feel powerful nearly as well.

8 Reasons to Take a Sunday to Serve Outside the Church Walls

Ella ServingWe called ours We Love NWA because that’s how people refer to our community. Whatever you call it, we’re glad we took a weekend away from having a worship service in our theater to serve our neighbors. We’re not the first, by any means to have a weekend to “be” the church instead of “doing” church. Other churches have cancelled their regular weekend worship time to go serve in various capacities. But why?

As we geared up for our big weekend, contacted local charitable organizations, and signed up volunteers, we kept the conversation going among our leadership about why we were doing this to begin with. Ultimately, we decided the concept reflected the culture of our church very well, and would accomplish some big goals for us. Let me clarify first, however, the reasons we ruled out:

  • We will not do this simply to attract attention. Attention is valuable, but is never the big goal.
  • We will not do this to “get people to come to church.” It wasn’t about serving in hopes of the return favor of a visit.
  • We will not do this to “take a break” from worship. If this isn’t worship, nothing is.

Instead, taking a Sunday to serve outside the walls might be a good idea because…

  1. It’s what Jesus did and would do, if He were physically still among us. He would love and serve people in tangible ways.
  2. It’s a break for people who devote time “within the walls” to be free to go outside the walls, which is where our bigger focus lies.
  3. It’s an introduction to serving, and we heard repeatedly, “I’d like to do this more often, not just on this Sunday.” Bullseye!
  4. It gives us a chance to practice “with reach.” That is, we can serve alongside non-members and even non-believers, creating community so that people can belong, even before they believe.
  5. It’s a bonding time for the people serving together on a project.
  6. It’s a way to communicate that “giving” involves more than the offering plate. It also involves our time and talents.
  7. It blesses people around us, earning the church a bit of trust for the hearing of the gospel when the door opens.
  8. It’s fun. This wasn’t our primary motive, but it was certainly fun!

This was our first experience with this kind of project. All in all, 108 volunteers gave 371 hours to eight different community service projects. That thrills me, and it made a definite, visible impact on our community and helped us to build relationships with local agency leaders. Would we do it again? Absolutely! And we will, next year!


Chuck Swindoll: Serve God By Serving People

Chuck SwindollMen like Chuck Swindoll have a way of articulating profound truths in rather simple statements. In my own mind, I’ve struggled to figure out how to get the idea across that we need to serve people in order to serve God. In today’s insight for living Chuck had this to say…

We find it encouraging to think of ourselves as God’s servants. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be a servant of the King? But when it comes to serving other people, we begin to question the consequences. We feel noble when serving God; we feel humble when serving people. Serving God receives a favorable response; serving people (especially those who cannot repay) has no visible benefit or glory from anyone except from God!

Christ gave us the example: “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). To be a servant of God, we must be a servant of people.

via Chuck Swindoll’s Daily Devotional: When You Grow Up.

If we talk too much about serving people, some get the idea that we’re substituting social service for the gospel. On the contrary, serving people paves the way for the gospel, expresses the results of the gospel, and is simply the right thing to do.

If you really want to serve God, serve people for God’s glory.


How To Discover Your Spiritual Gifts

ShapedEvery believer in Jesus has been granted abilities that are empowered by the Holy Spirit. We are all born with various talents, but spiritual gifts are given to us when we become a Christian. The seeds of those gifts are often evident from birth, but the Holy Spirit empowers believers for ministry in supernatural ways.

In one sense, spiritual gifts are overrated. What I mean is that we often fail to examine the other aspects of how God has shaped us for His purposes. He has also given us passions, talents, a unique personality, and both positive and negative experiences from which to draw. In another sense, spiritual gifts are underrated in the sense that we allow our feelings of personal inadequacy to convince us that we couldn’t possibly be “gifted” even though the Scriptures explicitly state that we are.

Spiritual gifts are by no means a simple subject. There are plenty of beliefs and opinions about the subject. Cessationists believe that certain “sign gifts” (such as speaking in tongues) were for a season of the early church only, and now have ceased. Continuationists believe that all of the gifts named in the Bible continue today. Then there are different evaluations of the various “lists” of gifts named in Scripture.

Romans 12:6-8 1 Corinthians 12:29-30 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 Ephesians 4 1 Corinthians 12:28
prophecy  apostles  word of wisdom  apostles  apostles 
ministry  prophecy  word of knowledge  prophets  prophets 
teaching  teaching  faith  evangelists  teachers 
exhortation  miracles  healing  pastor-teacher  miracles 
giving  healing  miracles  healings 
ruling  tongues  prophecy  helping 
showing mercy  interpreting tongues  discerning of spirits  governing 
kinds of tongues  diverse tongues 
interpreting tongues 

Let me point out an important word of clarification about the above lists. I’ve included all of them for the sake of being thorough, but some of the “gifts,” such as apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher are actually gifted people given to the church, not gifts given to people.

Furthermore, one reason why cessationists and continuationists can’t get along is because we feel we have to number the lists and define an exact set of gifts by those named in Scripture. But in the passages mentioned, it doesn’t seem to me that the Apostle Paul was trying to nail down an exhaustive list but rather was offering up examples of gifts. In other words, there could certainly be other gifts not included in the New Testament verbiage.


Why I Don’t Care for Spiritual Gifts Tests

Call them tests, surveys, or assessments. I’m not font of most of the existing diagnostic tools available to help people determine their gifts. I have several reasons why…

  • Spiritual gifts tests will always be written according to the particular viewpoint of the test creator, using the lists of gifts defined in the author’s mind as definitive.
  • Explanations and definitions of gifts vary from one test to the next.
  • Questions written for gift tests are written against the backdrop of the modern church context and current ministry trends, which change from age to age.
  • We tend to take tests according to what we’re thinking and feeling at the moment. I’ve taken a dozen of these tests over the years and the results change each time, depending on what I’m passionate about.
  • We tend to want perfect knowledge about perfect gifts described in God’s perfect word by submitting to rather imperfect, man-made assessments.
  • And the biggest reason of all… spiritual gifts alone present an incomplete picture of the particular ministry ability God has given to a beleiver.

Is there a better way? How can you discover your spiritual gifts and put them into action? How in the world did any believer ever serve God before the first spiritual gifts test was produced a few decades ago?

Study the Scripture

Dig into the passages mentioned above and read the contexts of the gifts named so that you’ll understand the purpose and scope of spiritual gifts. Also study how gifted people served. You’ll probably notice that most of the apostolic-era believers jumped in and started ministering without much mention of any process of discovering their gifts beforehand.

Look at the Bigger Picture – Your God-given SHAPE

The SHAPE acronym has been around for a while now, and I think it’s a highly valuable piece of evangelicalism. SHAPE is an acronym that summarizes five aspects of how God has wired us to serve. It stands for:

  • S – Spiritual Gifts.
  • H – Heart, which refers to our God-given passions and interests.
  • A – Abilities, which can often include non-spiritual, natural gifts.
  • P – Personality – the unique ways we think and relate to the world around us.
  • E – Experiences, both positive and negative, that provide us a context from which to empathize with and minister to others.

If you look at spiritual gifts alone, you’ll probably conclude that only those with the gift of teaching should be teaching the Bible to anyone. But when you look at the bigger picture, you’ll realize that someone with the gift of mercy can certainly teach others, from their personal experience, how to be more merciful.

In other words, gifts alone don’t determine what we can do for God in a fulfilling way.

Talk to Wise Believers

Often the best way to determine how we are shaped to serve is to ask other believers who have had an opportunity to observe our lives and who can usually affirm things about us that we may not realize ourselves. I also think we serve best alongside others in a mutually-sharpening, discipling relationship.

Before I joined the staff of Saddleback Church, I went through a “theological interview” with Erik Rees, author of S.H.A.P.E.: Finding and Fulfilling Your Unique Purpose for Life. In fifteen minutes, Erik was able to spot tendencies in my own heart and make accurate predictions about how I would feel in my ministry role six months later. He was right, and it was a positive learning experience.

Answer the Big “What If” Question

If you could do anything for God knowing that resources wouldn’t be a problem and with a guaranteed of success, what would it be? Usually how we answer that question can propel us in the right direction. Don’t stress about what your gift is, jump into something that appeals to you.

Jump In and Get Your Feet Wet

In other words, begin serving. Many churches make it difficult to get out of a particular ministry role once we’re in it, which unfortunately usually leads to burnout, frustration, and confusion. We should be able to serve in a variety of areas on a short term basis until we discover that place that really fits with who we are. And we’ll grow through this process of “trial and error” as we understand ourselves better.

Perhaps this is the crux of the issue. God has shaped you for significance and service. So launch out today, get started, and be flexible along the way allowing God to tweak your plans until you find that sweet, satisfying, kingdom-expanding and Christ-exalting niche for which you are divinely wired.

Graphic by Marian Trinidad via CreationSwap