At Gateway Church in Austin, we honored and celebrated all of our amazing volunteers!
The Church isn’t a building or a program; it’s people. And surprisingly enough, it’s primarily run by volunteers. God gives us gifts, and we can use them in great ways, especially to serve others both inside and outside the church. As we serve others with others, we discover how the church is meant to work and how our service reveals deep and meaningful friendships forming as we make a difference in the world around us. How will you get involved?
These discussion questions are designed for your life group or family dinner to help you apply the message to your life.
HERE IS THE AUDIO OF THE MESSAGE I SHARED:
HERE ARE THE NOTES FROM MY MESSAGE:
Today we honor and celebrate all of our amazing volunteers!
In the 7 years we have lived in Austin, Gateway South you have made our fast growing city feel like a small town.
You have not only done that for me. You have done that for my family, for my friends and neighbors I have invited. You have done that for others who grew up in Austin and others who are new to town.
That’s no easy task. Austin like any big city can be a lonely place. I shared a couple of weeks ago, in the top 20 cities in the U.S., 1 in 5 polled say they are lonely. In Austin, it was 2 out of 5. 40% of the people living in Austin feel lonely.
So Gateway South, as we serve others we are demonstrating a genuine love to people who need love.
This morning, I want to talk about the benefits of serving as an encouragement to all of the amazing people who are volunteering and an invitation to those of you who have considered doing so.
You see, when we serve we not only meet a need, we unlock something spiritually within our own hearts and souls.
- We discover our purpose.
- We live out our identity.
- We experience the fullness of life.
First, we discover our purpose.
Recently, we hosted a workshop called Advance which was designed to help people discover their purpose. During Advance, in the midst of all of the important work understanding our strengths, motivations, preferences, and areas of brokenness, we ended with a discussion about God’s purpose for all people.
“Be fruitful and multiply….” – Genesis 1:28
In the New Testament, bearing fruit takes on more than simply having babies.
- Bearing fruit means being transformed and transforming others.
- Bearing fruit means with God’s help we live lives of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control (known as the fruit of the Spirit).
- Bearing fruit also means helping others find faith.
As Jamie said last week, we can all be mothers and fathers, aunties and uncles in God’s family!
When asked the greatest commandment, Jesus answered:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love you neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-39
To become who we were meant to be means having a healthy relationship with God and a healthy relationship with people. Our relationships affect every arena of our lives. We need to learn to love God and love people. These two truths are interconnected. Jesus was asked for one commandment and he gave us two.
You and I cannot truly love God unless we also love people.
- We get caught up in wanting to learn more about God for what He can do for us.
- Some of us love to sing to God because of how it makes us feel.
- Some of us get caught up in a selfish relationship with God where it’s just about me and Him.
In reality, that’s not a healthy relationship with God at all.
- We trick ourselves into thinking we don’t need a church at all or going on Sunday once a week is all we need.
- We trick ourselves into thinking we don’t need community or even that we don’t need people.
- A healthy relationship with God points us towards healthy relationships with people.
You and I cannot truly love God unless we also love people, and let’s be honest, you and I cannot truly love people without God’s help because people can be hard to love.
At its basic level, to “live connected” means to know others and to be known by others. But there’s some intentionality there as well.
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching”- Hebrews 10:24-25
You see a loving community is both inclusive and willing to have the hard conversations.
Come as you are, and let’s help each other not stay that way. We should not stop meeting together but instead encourage each other and spur each other on.
Everyone us needs a transparent community. By transparent community we mean confessional community where people truly know what is going on in our lives. Our goal is to help you move from being “Strangers” to “Acquaintances” to “Friends” to “Transparent Community”.
This takes time and commitment to get there, but transparent community (living connected) will change your life, and you will get to see the lives of others changed.
Second, we live out our identity.
Jesus was a servant.
“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant….” – Philippians 2:5-7
Jesus said of Himself:
“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” – Mark 10:45
The followers of Jesus referred to themselves as servants.
Paul who wrote most of what makes up the New Testament which are letters to churches and church leaders said this:
“Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” – 1 Corinthians 4:1
If you follow Jesus, do people see you as a servant of Jesus? Do they come to wanting to know the mysteries of God that you have discovered?
Perhaps even more remarkable, two of the letters in our New Testament were written by two of Jesus’ brothers. They shared the same Mom in Mary, but they had different Dads.
At the beginning of their letters, listen to how they describe themselves:
“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ…” – James 1:1
“Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James….” – Jude 1:1
This is really remarkable! They did not always have that perspective.
You see, they were embarrassed of Jesus.
“While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
Matthew 12:46-50 NIV
They doubted Jesus and then became his servants – even giving up their lives to spread the message of Jesus as Messiah.
They are an interesting case study in going from religion to relationship.
To me, the fact James and Jude followed Jesus and willingly died insisting Jesus died and rose again is one of the greatest proofs that Jesus is the Messiah.
I have a younger brother, and I have tried hard over the years to get him to become my servant and it never worked!
He knows everything about me! When he was little he looked up to me, just because I was taller!
As teenagers we became bitter rivals.
We would gamble on everything. Scott is highly competitive but almost 3 years younger so at one point he owed me $360. At the time, we made a nickel a week for an allowance. I grew up in the 1980s, I realize my parents generosity makes it sound like I grew up in the 1920s. Do you know how many nickels it would take to pay off his $360 debt?!
Eventually we outgrew our rivalry and have become the best of friends.
As close as we are now, he still does not worship me. He still is not my servant. He would never claim I am the Messiah.
Jesus’ brothers went from embarrassed by Jesus to willing to lay down their lives proclaiming Jesus is the Messiah!
They were transformed because they saw him alive!
Our identity as servants allows us to develop muscles of selflessness which ironically helps us discover who God created us to be.
“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.” James 1:19-25 NIV
The greatest proof that Jesus is God, that Jesus is the Way to experience God both now and in the life after is that He has shown Himself to be alive to us!
I have not seen Jesus or heard Him audibly, but I know He is real. He has been real to me. More real than I can express in words!
When we experience the forgiveness and love and joy and peace that Jesus offers, we are motivated to live a new life! We are motivated to let Him take away our sinful and destructive habits and renew us! Because of our faith, we want to do good works!
Our identity as servants moves us from religion to relationship.
Religion is our attempt to get to God.
Have you ever thought: I will do something good to get God’s attention.
I will do something good so God will answer my prayer.
I am a good person, so I don’t really need Jesus’ forgiveness.
I love God, but I am not so sure about Jesus.
I trust the Universe will work things out.
If you have, you may be more caught up in religion than a relationship.
We live in a world that pressures us to be religious or to reject religion, but this is a false choice! There is a third way! A personal relationship with God based on faith. Because of our faith, we do good as an act of appreciation for God’s love and forgiveness available to us through Jesus’ sacrifice.
Listen as James explains the connection between faith and works.
“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”
James 2:14-19, 23-24, 26 NIV
When we serve, we are putting our faith in action.
We exercise our faith muscles which leads to spiritual growth.
Our identity as servants allows us to see a genuine difference we can make.
Listen to what Jude says:
“But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.”
Finally, we experience the fullness of life.
Jesus sent out those following Him to go meet the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of others. When preparing them for the journey, Jesus said:
“Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.’ – Matthew 10:39
Lose life in serving others then find life.
Lose life faster.
Make friends by being a friend.
“I want to serve, but I have just gone through a really difficult time.”
In reality, we don’t get better until we serve. In serving we find healing.
Don’t get better to serve, but serve to get better.
You are never too weak to serve.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus…. For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.” – Philippians 2:3-5, 21
What is the interest of Christ? The needs of others! (v. 21).
We misunderstand Jesus’ interests.
- Some think Jesus wants us singing to Him all day long…
- Some think Jesus wants us to be happy above all else…
- Some think Jesus wants us to just join Him in heaven…
- Some think Jesus wants us to fight against those who do not share our viewpoint on things…
Jesus is passionate about the needs of others.
In serving together, relationships are born.
Some of us have been hurt by a local church. We need to understand that some of us were hurt by the religious and not those who have a relationship with Jesus. Often we do not know the real meaning of the church.
We often use the word “church” incorrectly. Church is not a building. Church is not a service. We don’t go to church. When we become Christ-followers we are part of the Universal Church.
Throughout Ephesians and the New Testament the word “church” is used. The actual word means “gathering” or “assembly”
The word “church” is used two ways in the New Testament – The Church is made up of all who follow Christ. This is the Universal Church. The word is also used to describe a specific local group of Christ-followers. This is the local church.
“The church is not here to meet our needs. We are the church, and we are here to meet the needs of others.” – Erwin McManus
For those of us who are Christ-followers, we are also to find a local church where we can connect, grow, and serve. Coming to our Sunday inspire service is a great step, but really this is just one thing we do. There are so many ways to connect, grow, and serve throughout the week!
Do a quick personal assessment:
- Who knows you? Who is encouraging or spurring you on?
- Who do you really know? Who are you encouraging and spurring on?
Some of you may be here thinking: I just got here. I am not ready for anything more than checking things out on Sunday. That is certainly ok. Let me encourage you though, when you are ready (and it may be sooner than you think) we are here to help you.
Here’s the amazing part. When we live connected we get to experience what Jesus said:
When we lose our lives in serving, that is when we find our lives.
You and I need community now – even if we don’t feel like it. There are other times in life, when our need for community is obvious. We shouldn’t just plan to find some community when we are desperate. We need to make decisions to make progress in our lives now and to be preventative.
Living connected means knowing others, being known by others, encouraging and spurring on others, and being encouraged and spurred on by others. We were designed to experience meaningful, healthy, and life-giving relationships with God and with others, but we’ve allowed the inadvertent mistakes and the evil choices of others to keep this from happening.
Love is not a feeling but a commitment to care for someone even when they hurt us emotionally, betray us, or treat us poorly.
“As long as we hang onto bitterness against anyone, it affects others close to us who had nothing to do with the pain”- Neil Anderson
Commitment is the context for growth.
Certainly there are times when we need to exercise faithfulness – keep doing the right thing no matter how small it is and even if we don’t feel like it. At the same time, we need to let every new day, every new week, and every new season be a time where we take our calendar and lay it at God’s feet and ask Him to guide us to know how to fill it up and maximize our time.
When we fail to do that, we can find ourselves overwhelmed and too busy to do the very things we need to do – the very things that give us life. When we don’t have a full tank to draw upon, we will become cynical, disillusioned, and burnout.
We will actually gain more time in life when we recalibrate our priorities to live connected.
Literally, scientists and sociologists have indicated you live longer when you have meaningful relationships. Relationships make us healthier!
In his book Everyone seems normal till you get to know them, John Ortberg shared the results of the Alameda County Study on Relationships. This study tracked 7,000 people over the course of 9 years. Here were some of their findings:
The most isolated people were 3x more likely to die than the more relational people. When someone had bad health habits but strong relational connections, they lived significantly longer than those who had great health habits but were isolated.
Ortberg summarizes the finding this way:
“It’s better to eat twinkies with good friends than to eat broccoli alone.”
In his book Bowling Alone, Harvard researcher Robert Putnam notes that if you belong to no groups but decide to join one, “you cut your risk of dying over the next year in half.”
He explains that there was a gradual rise of participation in Bowling leagues and PTAs and church attendance over the first two thirds of the last century. Then, mysteriously and more or less simultaneously, we stopped doing all those things less often.
The result is we don’t have friends any more.
We just watch reruns of Friends on TV.
Some of you have this cynical voice inside your head. I know what some of you are thinking: “You don’t know my friends! There is no way I am living longer with the amount of drama the people in my life bring!
Others of you may be thinking: “Living a long time isn’t my goal. I would rather eat twinkies on my own and live to be 80 rather than have drama and live to be 100. Is that an option in this?”
As hard as people can be, when we consider the best moments in life, someone else is either with us or helped us get there. Ortberg reminds us these findings prove what the Bible has said all along:
“You were created for community. You were made for relational connectedness. You were designed by God to love and be loved. To know and be known. To serve and to be served. To celebrate and to be celebrated. To miss out on this is to miss out on the reason God made you.”
Avoid the temptation to give up too soon on relationships. Too often, we move on when relationships start getting deep enough to have the health benefits!
As God works in us, He can work so much more powerfully through us. For the next 24 hours, move slower, listen more carefully to God and to each other, sit quietly with God, and unplug.
We need to reduce our busyness to create room for spontaneous adventures with others.
- We need to look for those who need a hug.
- We need to turn off our televisions and spend time in coffee shops.
- Ultimately, we need to reorient our lives so that we begin to invest in the people we already know and start investing in people who need a friend.
- Some of us are so exhausted doing things we have to get done or even doing good things that we are missing out on the best things God has for us.
Let me encourage you to try something if you have found yourself too busy. Some time today, take out your calendar and organize your life with the things you know God wants you to do.
Tithing Your Time
I like to think of it like tithing your time. In the past, we have talked about how the Scriptures call us to give the first 10% of our income towards God’s work through the local church. Financial Peace University says to then save 10% and live off of 80% of your salary.
Now do the same thing with time.
- Let’s say you work 40 to 50 hours per week, take 10% of that and dedicate that many hours to your spouse. That would be one really great date night – 4 to 5 hours of uninterrupted time with your spouse.
- Take another 10% (4 to 5 hours) for uninterrupted (cell phone free) time with your children.
- Then take another 4 to 5 hours for investing in your neighbors and friends.
- Then take another 4 to 5 hours to invest in your spiritual growth and the spiritual growth of others through your local church. That is enough time to participate on Sundays, serve as part of a team or network, and discipling others and being discipled with running partners and/or a life group.
Just like giving 10% of our income is just a baseline, 4 to 5 hours with your wife and kids and friends should be the minimum. I don’t mean just watching TV together, but truly spending intentional time together. Start at 4 to 5 hours and grow the time from there. You will be surprised at how much time we actually have in the day that we waste on TV, video games, or the internet.
“Well done, my good and faithful servant.” Not faithful leader, faithful teacher, faithful artist, faithful hero. Perhaps the way God has created you to serve would be as a leader, teacher, artist, or hero, but are you serving others. Are you looking to meet the needs of others with your gifts and talents? Are you willing to do things that are not in your areas of giftedness or passion in order to meet the needs of others?
Are you willing to do whatever it takes to meet the needs of others? To serve? In the Kingdom of God, the first will be last and last first. Those who serve will be promoted.
Character is more important than talent.