This is the last week of our stewardship “check-up.” I hope that during the past week you have found quiet times to allow the Lord to search your heart, give you insights into His will, and give you the passion to become a godly steward of all that He has given to you. He has given so much hasn’t He? This past week the Lord has reminded me, in so many ways, of the abundance of His blessings upon my life. On Monday I drove to Hydro, OK. to share in the graveside service of Harold Spies. While I was heading back to Oklahoma City I was listening to a sermon by Pastor Jim Cymbala of the Brooklyn Tabernacle and tooling down the road when out of the blue I was overwhelmed with gratitude for a reliable vehicle to make it to Hydro and back. That may seem so strange to some of you, but I remember a time when I couldn’t count on a 90-mile drive with no breakdowns.
Later on in the evening I took my sons to Wal Mart to pick up some things. As we were getting ready to come home Connie called me and told me that an officer had come to our door and told her to stay inside because a SWAT Team was in our neighborhood to pick up some folks. When I got home my heart broke for the children who watched their mother and father taken away in hand cuffs in a police car. My family knelt beside my bed and prayed for each of the children and their parents. Later in the night, after Connie and I had gotten the kids to bed, I was overwhelmed with gratitude for a peaceful home. I told Connie as much before I closed my eyes and went to sleep.
Later on in the week a friend called me to ask if I would pray for him as he was going for a job interview. I hung up the phone and gave thanks for the privilege of lifting up my friends in prayer.
Another friend, Kelly Sullins, called to let me know that she and Jeff’s precious little girl, Lindsey, is going to have surgery on her eyes on January 11th to correct a problem that they have discovered. They asked if we would pray for them. What a blessing it is to have access to the King of all kings – the One who is able to meet those who hurt at their point of need. I could go on with the list of things that the Lord has shown me this past week, but suffice it to say that I am one blessed man. God has showered my life with blessings beyond number. Who am I to keep those blessings to myself? It is not enough that the Lord has blessed me – I want to be a blessing, to share His gifts with others, and seek to be a blessing to them for the glory of God.
Beginning today we are going to give you an opportunity to make a commitment towards what the Lord is calling you to give. We are asking you to make a commitment because studies show, and our own experience confirms, that when God moves upon our hearts and gives us a desire to serve, to give, and to be a blessing in some tangible way – if we do not make a commitment then we will lose the passion. How many times has the Lord burdened my heart with someone in need that I knew He wanted me to help, but I was on my way to an appointment, I had a meeting to attend, or a Bible study to teach, and so I said, “I will do it later.” How many times has the Lord impressed upon my heart a need that He wanted me to meet, but I said, “I don’t really know if I can do that,” “I don’t have any experience with that kind of situation,” or “I’m not qualified.” As time went on the passion and the urgency faded and I never got around to it. Can you relate to that? Has that ever happened to you? I am so glad that the leaders of this church are asking me to make a commitment, to say “Yes” to God’s call upon my life. I hope you will join me and my family in saying, “Yes” to the Lord. I am convinced that for so many of the followers of Jesus today there is a hesitancy to get involved, a reluctance to give, because we don’t think our giving will make that much of a difference or we might mess up in some way in trying to do good for the Lord. I want to speak to you who feel that way today. I want to spend our study time this morning encouraging the “insignificant servants” among us. My prayer this morning is that each and every one of us would recognize that God has blessed each of us with the opportunity to be a blessing in a myriad of ways. Our labor, our gifts, and the sacrifice of our hearts and hands will be used by our King to bring glory and honor to His holy name. Let’s take a look at some of the heroes of our faith, people who would have been categorized as “insignificant” by the world’s standards, but who were praised by Jesus. Turn with me to Mark 14:3-9 and let’s take a look at the first “insignificant servant” of God.
3 While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. 4 Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? 5 It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly. 6 “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7 The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. 8 She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. 9 I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (Mark 14:3-9 NIV)
Jesus had gathered with His friends in the home of Simon the Leper. Simon the Leper – he was one of Jesus’ friends. Didn’t Jesus know that if He wanted His ministry to surge, expand, and prosper that lepers really didn’t possess the clout to help Him get where He wanted to go? Nonetheless, this is where Jesus had chosen to spend His time – in the home of His friend. Not in the home of a leper, but the home of His friend. While He was talking with the men who had gathered, a nameless woman came into the room. Her head was hanging low in the company of the men. Her palms were sweating with anxiety. Her heart was racing. With all of the thoughts that raced through her mind and her feelings of insignificance swirling about her, she had to see Jesus.
When she got to Jesus she broke open her box of expensive perfume and poured it on Jesus’ head. With nervous tears, joyous tears, streaming down her face she poured her most precious possession on the head of her Lord and Savior. You would think that those who had gathered there would be so in awe of this humble, precious act of love that the room would break out in worship and praise, but that wasn’t the case. It never is the case with the religious crowd. The religious folks among us will never understand radical acts of service offered to the Lord. They were indignant. “Why would you waste such expensive perfume when we could have sold it and used the money to help the poor!”
Jesus would have none of that. He said, “Leave her alone!” Jesus saw the heart of the humble woman and He said, “Leave her alone!” Jesus said, “You will always the poor among you to serve, but you will not always have Me with you.” If that were the end of the story it would be enough to cause you and me to find our most precious possessions and pour them out as an offering to the Lord, but that is not the end of the story. There is a little sentence tucked in at the beginning of verse 8 that jumps out at me. Take a look. Jesus says, “She did what she could.” Isn’t that beautiful? “She did what she could.”
That should be such an encouraging affirmation for you and me today. I may not be able to do much, but I can do what I can do. I may not be able to give money like a Hollywood star, or a millionaire, but I can give what the Lord has given me. I may not be able to preach like T.D. Jakes, Max Lucado, or Billy Graham, but I can use the voice God has given me to proclaim the Good News. I may not be able to sing like Connie, Tamara, Jeannie, Harry, Mike or Troy – but I can use the voice the Lord has given me to make a joyful noise. I may not be very gifted, but I can use the gifts the Lord has given me to bring Him glory and honor. I can do what I can do with what He has given me.
How many of you know that most of us look around at others with their gifts, abilities, and money and say, “I wish I had what they have.” Oh, how I wish we would be like this nameless woman who simply did what she could do.
There is another woman in God’s Word who would be categorized as insignificant by those in our society today, but Jesus took the time to shine His spotlight on her. Take a look at Mark 12:41-44 with me.
41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched
the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people
threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small
copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. 43 Calling his disciples to
him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the
treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she,
out of her poverty, put in everything-all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:41-44
I went to a church several years ago where a friend of mine was pastor. I experienced something that I had never experienced before while I was in the service. When time came for the offering everyone who was a tither was invited to walk down to the front of the sanctuary for what they called “The Tither’s Walk.” The music was upbeat, the minister stood at the offering plate ready to greet all of the tithers who were making their way down the aisle with their chins held high and their chest stuck out. I don’t mean to sound critical and I know that there were wonderful, faithful, committed men and women who were just doing as they were told, but it kind of disturbed me.
It seemed like something the Pharisees would do. I also wondered what they were going to do with the rest of us who wanted to give, but weren’t going to be giving 10% on that particular morning. Well, after the last tither made his way down the aisle the minister returned to his seat and someone got up and said, “Let’s collect our morning’s offering.” Deacons came from the back, passed the plate, and we were done. Needless to say, I didn’t feel the need to bring that practice home with me.
I think Jesus would have a problem with the “Tithers Walk.” Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that we shouldn’t “tithe.” I believe that tithing is biblical and my family has subscribed to that practice since Connie and I were married, but I believe that Jesus would have a problem with the “Tither’s Walk” because it seems to a wonderful breeding ground for pride. Jesus taught that we are to be humble, that we are to give without demonstration or fanfare, and that we are not to put on a show.
In society we see demonstrations every day of people’s generosity. I am grateful for people’s generosity. I am thankful for the huge gifts that are given for education, humanitarian efforts, and the like, but it seems that in the world there is always publicity for the givers. Look around our city and you will see the Lloyd Noble arena, The Reynolds Center, and other buildings that are named for those who gave the money for them to be built. That is the way the world has decided to raise money for their efforts, but that is not the way the Body of Christ operates. Jesus said,
1 “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen
by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 “So
when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the
hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I
tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you
give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is
doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees
what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matthew 6:1-4 NIV)
Jesus understood the pull of pride. I think He also understood the oppression of insignificance. If the rich are rewarded for their gifts and the amount they have given is made public then I am immediately reminded that my gift is puny and weak. What difference will it make if I give it or not? I’m sure the lowly widow had to have wrestled with that question as week after week she heard the loud clanging of the rich who put in their offering while her offering barely chimed the offering plate.
Jesus knew her struggle and He said, “Look, look at that woman! She gave more than all of the rest of the givers because she gave all she had. She did what she could do.” The widow was like the nameless woman who poured her perfume over Jesus’ head – she did what she could do.
I know of a man here in Oklahoma City who walked into his priest’s office and gave him a check for $1,000,000.00! I may not have a million to give, but I can do what I can do. I can give from the blessings God has given me and God will use that gift, He will magnify that gift, He will make that gift more effect for ministry than I could ever dream.
Mother Theresa once said, “Any gift that is given that we could live without is not a gift at all.” God is calling us to live lives of sacrifice.
Many folks can give much and never miss it, but there are many of us here this morning that when we give we are going to have to figure out what we can do without. You will be tempted to believe that your gift will not make any difference at all, but I want to assure you that it will make a difference inyou as you learn to trust in the Lord, as you learn to walk in obedience to the Lord’s will.
There is another area of our life where we can suffer from insignificance. When we take stock of our abilities it seems like Satan will always include in the assessment someone else who is more talented, a better whatever. I have to tell you that I have done that more times than I care to remember. I have stayed away from preacher’s meetings because for years I always suffered from feelings of inferiority when I attended those meetings. I would come away from those meetings feeling like such a loser. I would meet pastor’s who just seemed like pastors to me. They seemed to have their act together, they understood “church business,” and they seemed so successful. I have never felt that way. I don’t feel that I know what I am doing any better than I did when I told the Search Committee of this church, “I have no idea what it means to be a pastor, but if you will let me keep working with kids then we will try to figure out this ‘pastor’ thing.” I don’t know “church business.” When I look at the results of 11 years of our work together and I compare it to other churches where friends of mine pastor, I have a hard time coming to the conclusion that we are “successful” in the way that success is defined in society today.
There will never be books written about me. I am not a highly sought after speaker for events. I am insignificant in the eyes of the world, but the Lord has chastised me for discounting the gifts He has given me. He has shown me that He has not called me to be successful, but He has called me to be faithful to His call upon my life.
I know many of you suffer from those same feelings of inadequacy. If you have ever felt that you didn’t stack up against others around you then raise your hand. If you have ever suffered from feelings of inadequacy then raise your hand. I want to encourage you with the same encouragement the Lord has burned into my soul. You don’t have to stack up. He isn’t measuring you by putting you next to anyone else. You are His child whom He has blessed with exactly what He wanted to give you so that you might offer it back to Him with gratitude. Let me share with you an amazingly encouraging section of Scripture found in Romans 12.
1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your
bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-this is your spiritual
act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but
be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test
and approve what God’s will is-his good, pleasing and perfect will. 3 For by
the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more
highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in
accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. 4 Just as each of us
has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same
function, 5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member
belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace
given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his
faith. 7 If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8
if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs
of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern
diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. (Romans 12:1-8
God’s grace has been showered upon you and me and He has gifted us with the gifts He desired for us. There is no room for complaining or feeling sorry for ourselves because we don’t possess what someone else possesses. The gifts He has given you may not be showy or flashy, they may never gain you any acknowledgment or acclaim. You may serve the Lord in absolute obscurity for the rest of your days, but if you will be faithful to use the gifts He has given you then you will always serve Him under His watchful gaze of joy.
Let me close this morning by telling you a story of an obscure, insignificant missionary that I will guarantee you none of you have ever heard of. In the 1950’s a no name young man heard the call of God to leave the familiar and go to the mission field. J. W. Tucker was the young man’s name and he sensed that the Lord was leading him to go to the Belgian Congo in Africa. He labored sharing the Gospel with little response from the people until 1964 when anarchy broke out and he was advised to leave and go home. J. W. Tucker prayed and sought God’s will. He felt like the Lord wasn’t through with His work there so he stayed even though violence and bloodshed was all around him.
In the same year, J. W. Tucker was apprehended by some of the people. For forty-five minutes he was beaten, tortured, and it was said that his screams could be heard for blocks before he finally died. The people unceremoniously loaded his body in the back of a pick up truck and drove him down to the Bomakondi River where they threw his body in to be eaten by the alligators. The Bomakondi River flows through the middle of the Mangbeto tribe in what is now Northeastern Zaire. Many had tried to evangelize the Mangbeto tribe, but with no results. The great missionary C.T. Studd had even spent time in the late 1800’s trying to reach the Mangbetos, but he became so discouraged that he turned over his ministry to the African Inland Mission who didn’t see any results either.
The civil war that had begun in the 60’s in Zaire finally came to the Mangbeto tribe and it devastated the people. Finally, the Chief of the Mangbeto tribe appealed to the King of Zaire in Kinshasha, the capital, for help. The King responded by sending a man simply known as The Brigadier, a strong, tall, and powerful man, to the Mangbetos.
The deciding factor in the story is that just two months before J. W. Tucker was brutally killed he had shared the Gospel with the Brigadier and led him to Jesus Christ. When the Brigadier came to the Mangbetos he tried to bring about peace and he also shared the Gospel with the tribesmen, but with no results.
One day the Brigadier was sitting and talking with some of the leaders of the Mangbeto tribe when he heard them share a famous saying that had been passed down from generation to generation among the members of the tribe. The saying went like this: “If the blood of any man flows in our River then we must listen to that man.” At first the Brigadier didn’t think anything about the saying, but then one day the Lord spoke to his heart about J. W. Tucker, the man who had shared the Gospel with him. The next time the Brigadier had the opportunity to speak with the leaders of the tribe he told them that he needed to speak to the entire tribe.
With the tribe gathered before him, the Brigadier said, “I know of your saying that if the blood of any man flows in your river then you must listen to that man. Some time ago there was a man who was killed in the civil war and his body was thrown into your river, the Bomakondi River. Before this man died he gave me a message about the man Jesus Christ who died to save us from our sins and reconcile us to God. That man’s blood flowed in your river as he was killed and if he were here to speak to you today he would share with you how Jesus has died for your sins, so that you might be forgiven and be reconciled to God. Today, we must listen to that man whose blood flowed in our river.”
A hush fell upon the crowd and people began to weep and many accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Today there are thousands of baptized followers of Jesus among the Mangbeto tribe and there are between 40 and 50 churches ministering in that area of Zaire today.
Who is J. W. Tucker? He was a faithful man who used the gifts that God had given him and he continued to use them even when he saw no fruit, even when every one else told him he should go home. God blessed the commitment of J. W. Tucker and He will bless your faithfulness as well – if we will take the step of faith and surrender our lives to His service. Will you make that commitment this morning?