Sign Me Up for Greatness

“I don’t want to go…”

I’ve heard these words a thousand times. Recently from my kids, expressing their displeasure at this thing called school. I’ve heard it from college students, days away from going on a short-term mission trip. I’ve said it too…a lot. I can especially remember having dinner with my family on some Tuesday nights, and I was scheduled to preach at our college ministry worship service in the next hour or so. Still, despite how I felt, I went…and I’d say 95 times out of a 100, I was glad I did.

I think God does something to us, and in us, when we serve something greater than ourselves. Overcoming our feelings, overcoming our busyness, and doing something for others has almost always done something for me. Sure, there might be times when my heart is in a place when I do something purely out of obligation or duty, and I walk away thinking I wasted my time. But that was, and is, rare. Most of the time I walk away and say, “Wow, I almost missed that.”

Now, I know that the motive should be that I want to bless others simply to bless them…not for what it does for me. But I think that Jesus knew that by encouraging us to serve, and building something into serving others that blesses us, that he would get us to get up and do it. I think of the story of Jesus talking with his disciples. The mother of James and John takes Jesus aside and asks that Jesus give them places of honor (sitting on his right and left), when he comes into his kingdom. She didn’t quite know what that kingdom would look like. Anyway, the other ten disciples get angry at James and John for their mom asking for those places of honor, maybe because they wanted those places themselves, and they didn’t think to ask first! Jesus puts all of the grumbling to rest when he says, “You know the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28)

Did you notice what Jesus did there…he started with “Whoever would be great,” to which most of us say, “That’s me! Sign me up!” Then he throws us off by saying, “be a servant.” Makes us take a step back. But I wonder if there is a greatness that we know and feel when we live a life of serving well.  (Because Jesus said so, I’m thinking the answer is “Yes.”)

At our church we’re going through this season of looking at what it means to be a steward. That is, what does it mean to be a caretaker of the important things that God has given, and that includes our talents and time. If you’re a part of our church, we put together a flyer called “100 Ways You Can Make a Difference as a Family,” which can be found here: (in all honesty, you don’t have to do these things with a family…but it is a neat picture to think about taking kids along for the ride of serving with you). And even if you’re not a part of things here in Sacramento, you can probably adapt them to your community.

In short, serving others, with our time and talents, is a vital part of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. And we just might discover something great when we do.

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Giving is Weird

My family and I eat, sleep, and live because people have made a decision to be generous. Now, I know that the “right”  answer is that God provides through people’s gifts to our church.  But I often wonder for people outside the church, or outside knowing God, how weird all of that probably looks. I could picture this conversation, perhaps at the soccer field watching my kids practice.

“So you’re a pastor?”

“Yep.”

“And you get paid because people decide to give out of their income each week, each month, or whenever they feel like it?”

“Yep.”

“Weird.”welcome_to_weirdsville_hat-r8d08626c61c841c0850434e3d79a40f5_v9wfy_8byvr_324

“Yep.”

“What happens if they decide not to do that anymore?”

[silence]

“I don’t know…in other places I served, there were times I had to wait to get a paycheck, because our ministry didn’t have the money. But it eventually always showed up. There are a lot of generous people out there. And most churches and ministries I know of usually put their staff first, and cut other expenses, to make sure people can feed their families. There’s this verse in the Bible that says, “A worker is worth his or her wages.”

“Huh.”

“I know it still sounds weird. But it kind of makes you believe in God. How else can you explain trying to herd a bunch of people’s hearts into giving–when times are tight, bills are due, the kids need braces, retirement account isn’t what it used to be, and people are moving into the area and out of it, trying the church for a bit, and then leaving for another one–and somehow, we all get paid?”

“Still sounds weird… So that’s why it seems whenever I go to church, they always seem to be asking for money?”

“Yep. But beyond paying the staff, keeping the building maintained, and running programs, most churches are giving money away to other ministries: to the poor, to the homeless, to be a part of social justice issues like trafficking, and a lot more. One church I used to be a part of had a goal of giving away 33 percent of its budget each year. And they did it.”

“Whoa.”

“I know. And beyond all that…we talk about giving because it’s a part of what we think God is teaching us. To see what we have as gifts from Him, and not let those things be a master over us. And, to learn how to live on less, and bless others when we give our money away.”

“I get that…but it is still weird that you depend on others getting all of that, and actually doing it.”

“Yep.”

So, that just might be how a conversation like that could go. And when you stop and think about it, giving is weird. And amazing. And profoundly freeing.

For all of those that have blessed me through their giving: in part-time jobs in two churches in Seattle, an internship and my first full-time job at a church in Boulder, Colorado; in receiving a scholarship and a job in seminary in New Jersey; an internship at a church in Charlottesville, Virginia; in years of college ministry and being an assistant pastor in Chattanooga, Tennessee; and now as a pastor in Sacramento, California:

Thank you for being weird.