"Share Good News - by Serving"

June 10, 2007 Acts 9:36-42

The Blessing of Being Served

Can you remember a time when someone did something especially thoughtful for you, and their service to you was a very real blessing?

The first five months of this year were somewhat stressful around the Dow household because of variations in Yvonne's condition. She was still able to look after the laundry most of the time, but gradually she needed help with more of the housework. When meals were up to me to get ready, we got by with the basics - you know, a potato baked in a microwave with cheese melted on top started to look pretty good! Several of you, and our neighbours across the road, were very kind and offered an occasional meal which was appreciated - although the need wasn't as dire as when she was recovering from her surgeries.

Still, while the essentials like meals and dishes and vacuuming got covered, we tended to leave til later what could be left. I didn't like to admit it, but the extra load of personal care and uncertainty resulted in mild stress, discouragement, and a fight to simply "get by". The kitchen table would gradually get covered with mail and magazines until having a guest for a meal required the whole thing to be cleared - at which time a pile was created. As the months passed, one was forced to become resourceful at finding new locations which would hide the 'piles' so the house did not start to look like certain aging bachelors' homes I've been in where there were stacks of old newspapers practically everywhere you looked!

We had been deemed eligible for homecare help from Town & Country, which was great; it helped immensely on some days just knowing someone was there to help while I was out. But you daresn't set some stranger to work sorting your personal papers and mail - they might throw out something valuable! Plus it was a job keeping track of where to find the most important things WITHOUT having it all relocated. So the piles quietly multiplied at the edges of consciousness.

To complicate things further, spring came - and the gorgeous flowerbeds my wife had designed and nurtured in previous years were sprouting grass and weeds in a fertile fury. And sometime over winter the antique lawn tractor we'd been using the last 5 years decided it was time for permanent retirement. So, once May came, dandelions and lawn-grass mounted quickly to new heights. Yikes! The place was starting to look like a mess!

This is the point in an old 'western' where a bugle would sound and the cavalry would come charging over the hilltop. In this instance, the cavalry came from Korea: our oldest daughter Emily, moved by her mother's worsened condition back in January-February, had offered to come stay with us a few months to help out while her husband finished up his teaching contract up to mid-August. What welcome assistance! The other day, Emily was wearing a black T-shirt that said, "You are being served" - and we sure have been. As soon as she arrived she began attacking all sorts of housework that had been crying for attention. She's an excellent cook, so we've enjoyed some new international flavours. She took over the kitchen including the dishwasher. I've learned I can't leave something on the counter if I want to use it again - it'll have disappeared! Next the living-room got a thorough going-over. Downstairs we have a ping-pong table which (since it had been cleared after income-tax time) had been slowly accumulating; this surface was designated the new Sorting Area. The recycling truck and garbage pickup people must have wondered what hit us, for suddenly there were many bags to haul away! Reminds me of the old commercial jingle - "Cleans like a white tornado." Next the ping-pong table itself was folded, and our cluttered downstairs tastefully rearranged into an actual inviting 'rec room'. And so on through other rooms of the house.

Meanwhile Emily's attention turned outside. Bit by bit, bed by bed, she weeded the flowerbeds so the perennials beginning to blossom discovered they were no longer upstaged by weeds. And about the lawn - I'd replaced the machine with a newer wider used model; one day I left for the hospital and when I came home, the whole lawn was all cut! In just one afternoon...What a weight seemed lifted as gradually our home once more looked orderly and well cared-for.

What a change has been brought about by these hours of serving love! Have you been in a similar spot? Or perhaps you've been one of the servers, coming alongside to help - merely delighting in the relief crossing the face of the recipients, thankful you haven't required similar assistance. Nevertheless you'll agree that in time of need, it is a blessing to be served. When problems mount up and the situation is beginning to look unmanageable, God's love and compassion is shown by hands-on help.

Serving for Jesus' Sake

We live in a me-first, do-what-you-want, self-serve culture. But, by contrast, a serving lifestyle should be almost second nature for Christians. Jesus taught His followers that whoever wants to be great must become a servant, even as the Son of Man Himself came not to BE served, but to serve (Mt 20:26,28). Philippians 2(7) describes Jesus' self-emptying approach as "taking the very nature of a servant". His serving has translated into immense BLESSING for us. A key way to bless others is to serve them. Peter explained after Pentecost that God had 'raised up His Servant' and sent him first to bless the Jews by turning each of them from their wicked ways. A servant blesses.

The action of serving is not on our own steam, but energized and guided by the Holy Spirit. Romans 12(7), in a list of spiritual gifts, exhorts: "if it is serving, let him serve." Straightforward enough. If we have been redeemed, bought back from hell and God's wrath (justly deserved) through Jesus' sacrifice at Calvary - and benefit from His ongoing prayers for us at the Father's side - gratitude would prompt us to live for others as He died for us. Thus the very shape of a Christian's life ought not to be consumptive and self-directed, but flowing out, giving generously to others. Such a prominent leader as the Apostle Paul explained, "For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, [get that? not us as 'lord' but Jesus as Lord] and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake." (2Co 4:5) It's a response, gladly, not conditionally, as if to earn brownie points from God. Your servants - through / by / on account of Jesus, for His sake. Not because we belong to some philanthropic club, or happen to feel good today. It all starts with Him.

It's not a bondage, as if we're constrained by "shoulds" and "oughts", or the threat of some dart-wielding deity looking over our shoulder. We are FREE: but it's a freedom that offers us opportunity to discover the fulfilment of other-centredness, Jesus' own love-one-another style that's inherently rewarding. Hear the balance between freedom and service as two apostles, Paul and Peter, describe it - in Galatians 5(13) and 1Pet 2(16): Paul says - "You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love." Peter echoes, "Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover_up for evil; live as servants of God." See how they're making the same point? You're free - but apply that as servants. See how God's Spirit comes alongside to empower and steer your serving. After all, it's the Lord's participation in it that's going to bring glory to Him (not just highlight your good-naturedness). Peter commands, "If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ." (1Pe 4:11)

The Saviour has purchased our freedom - yet as we live that out in serving others, they'll take note that there's something different about us: that difference is our IN-Christ-ness, and they'll honour God for it. Actions do speak loudly: they're proof what we're talking about is genuine. Paul writes in 2Corinthians 9(13), "Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else." In a sea of rebels, obedience sticks out like a lighthouse: 'something real here.'

Gazelle Eyes - Observant & Opened

In Acts 9 we learn about an exceptional woman who served many needy people throughout her life. Joppa is Jerusalem's port on the Mediterranean (nowadays Jaffa, a suburb of Tel Aviv). There lived "a disciple named Tabitha"; Luke adds for his Greek-speaking audience, "which, when translated, is Dorcas". Both the Aramaic and Greek names mean "gazelle", "small graceful soft-eyed kinds of antelope". why would someone name their girl "gazelle"? We may think of gazelles as hopping along through the grasses over the savanna. But in ancient times they were known as "the creature with the beautiful look" or "beautiful eyes". Perhaps this woman was blessed with particularly attractive eyes.

Yet she was beautiful in another way - how she used her eyes. When Tabitha looked at someone, she didn't just see the person: she saw their particular need. V36 says she "was always doing good and helping the needy." She was, literally, "full of good works" and a "mercy-doer". V39 gives a more complete picture: when Peter enters the room where she's 'at rest' Luke says "all the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them." She must have been talented with a needle, sewing both inner and outer women's clothing for those who couldn't afford them.

Tabitha shared good news without uttering a word: she let her fingers and kind-hearted actions speak volumes instead. She was always doing good, full of kind actions; it was her nature in Christ to show mercy. If she saw a need, she responded. So when she dies apparently prematurely after becoming sick, the room is filled with those who've been touched by her generosity. They're missing her greatly, appreciating the kindness she continually showed through the years.

Tabitha's evangelistic style was serving. Bill Hybels & Mark Mittelberg comment in Becoming a Contagious Christian, "People who take this approach find it relatively easy to serve others. It's how God made them. They naturally notice needs others don't see, and they find joy in meeting them, even if they don't get a lot of credit for it. Often more quiet types, these people enjoy expressing compassion through tangible forms of action."

They notice needs others don't see. Tabitha's eyes were beautiful not just physically but in that they saw beneath the surface to the person's hidden needs. God made it possible for those eyes to go on seeing. Though she was dead, when Peter prayed, turned, and spoke to her, Scripture says: "She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up." The Lord performed and awesome miracle, bringing her back to life! Luke concludes, "This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord." Now not only her handiwork witnessed for her: God used the miracle of rising from the dead to catch people's attention. She kept on being full of grace to the people in that region.

Quiet Evangelism

Hybels & Mittelberg say of these quiet evangelists, "People with the Serving Style do not serve others instead of telling them about Christ; rather, they share Christ through their serving. They serve others in a way that brings attention to Christ and the difference He has made in their lives. Their acts of kindness also give them opportunities to talk about spiritual things, often with people who would be difficult to reach with any of the other styles."

What are some characteristics of those with a Serving Style? They're humble; others-centred - think of others first; patient; they see needs and find joy in meeting them; they show love through actions more than words; and they recognize how even small tasks can be meaningful to others. Does that describe you?

If so, here are some suggestions and cautions. Look and listen for even small ways you can show others they matter to you and to God. Even just pitching in to help with the load in a small way when they're sick can show you care. Ask God every day for opportunities to serve your friends. He'll open your eyes to possibilities you may have missed. Be ready to follow where God leads, even if those leadings sometimes seem out of the ordinary. But remember respect: be careful not to impose your service on others (it can become manipulative if you're not careful). Pray for wisdom to know where your service will do the most good.

We've heard the saying "actions speak louder than words" - but remember that, to be truly "gospel" good news, actions cannot substitute altogether for words. Rom 10:14 says, "And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?" We need at some point to verbally tell people about Jesus. Let others know He's the reason for your acts of service. Also, balance your time and efforts wisely; don't neglect your family or yourself as you serve others.

And though you may be happy you're low-profile - don't underestimate how important your service is. The Serving Style can reach people who are the most negative and resistant to God. Acts of loving service are hard to resist and difficult to argue with.

Actions Overcome when Words Aren't Enough

The authors share this story about the power of loving service to convince those who find it hard to believe just words. "Ginger, a woman at our church had a brother with whom she was trying to share Christ. But he was into New Age ideas and was disinterested in Christianity. So she did what came naturally to her and her direct style -- she challenged him with the claims of Christ. When that didn't seem to make a dent, she studied and came to him with reasons why he should change his position. She tried everything she could think of, but nothing got through. Finally, all hope seemed to dissipate when he moved his wife and kids out of state to join a New Age religious sect.

"But God had another card up His sleeve. When Ginger's brother moved into his new home, he soon met the people who lived next door. They turned out to be wonderful neighbours. These people were constantly doing things for him, like helping him get settled in, lending a hand when something needed to be fixed, bringing over food when someone in his family was sick. Just ordinary acts of service--done out of their love for Christ.

"These people brought down the wall between Ginger's brother and God, brick by brick. And within a year's time, he had committed his life to Christ, moved his family back home, and celebrated his first communion sitting next to Ginger at one of our worship services!

"Can you see why this style deserves to be celebrated? Those neighbours will probably never be famous, but God is using their efforts to reach those the rest of us haven't got a clue how to reach."

They conclude, "You may not have the knowledge of Paul or the courage of Peter and he Samaritan woman. But you're a whiz at making meals or fixing cars. I hope you can see how those things, and so many others like them, can be done in a way that points people to God." Just like Tabitha! Let's pray.