A momentary lapse, a misconstrued action, or words spoken can bring about a deluge of bad press. Bad press was present long before there were reporters, microphones, and video cameras to catch our every misstep and make us a viral topic of conversation. A person’s life can be marked by one defining moment that will never be erased, forgotten, or forgiven by society. I could list the names of tons of people from our own lifetime that fits this description. Instead of doing that let me just mention one name that I think you will all recognize. One of Jesus’ disciples was named Thomas. Does anything come to mind when you hear that name? What’s the adjective that is most always attached to Thomas’ name? If you didn’t know anything about the Bible you might think “doubting” was Thomas’ first name because people always connect the two words. One act, one statement made in the course of his life, and Thomas was labeled for a lifetime.
In our Scripture for today we are going to take a look at someone else that I believe has gotten bad press. Like Thomas, one act, one statement made in the course of a long life has continued to define Martha even to our day. If you aren’t familiar with the scene that marked Martha then I want to ask you to turn to Luke 10:38-42 with me. Let’s read together.
38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” 41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed– or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42 NIV)
Jesus visited the home of Martha and Mary. On Thursday of this week we had Connie’s family and my family at our home for Thanksgiving. Lots of work went into getting our home ready for our family. If we would have been told that Jesus was coming to share Thanksgiving with us we would have ramped up the preparations even more. Family is important, very important, but Jesus…you’ve just taken important to whole new level! It’s no wonder that Martha was working her fingers to the bone getting everything ready for Jesus. When Jesus arrived Mary went and took a seat in front of Jesus and got lost in His every word. There was still much to do. The meal wasn’t ready, the bathrooms hadn’t been cleaned, and Mary was nowhere to be found. The harder Martha worked the more she thought about Mary. While Martha was working, moving from room to room, she would glance over and see Mary…sitting, relaxing, enjoying Jesus’ company…and Martha would glare at her sister. Have you ever found yourself in a situation like that? While you worked and worked others were just chillin’ and enjoying the moment. You know what happens in those times. The more we work, aware of their lack of urgency, the more we begin to fume, stew, and become distracted from doing what we need to be doing. Well, Martha was not unlike any of us. She continued to work, Mary continued to sit at the feet of Jesus, and finally Martha reached her breaking point. She didn’t ask Mary, “Will you come and help me?” Instead, she turned to Jesus and demanded, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” Pretty bold words huh?! That’s what frustration, agitation, irritation, and feeling overwhelmed with stress will do to us won’t it? Can any of you relate to Martha’s situation?
It’s pretty evident that Jesus and Martha weren’t on the same page. After Martha had unloaded on Jesus, we read,
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed– or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42 NIV)
Jesus nailed it. Martha was troubled, she was anxious, she was worried, and upset about “many things.” Jesus said that in the long list of things that could have been of great concern at that moment, at that time, there was really only one thing that was truly needed—and Mary had chosen it. At that time, at that moment, sitting at Jesus’ feet took precedence over putting together a wonderful meal in a spotless house. Martha’s attitude and busyness ruined her opportunity.
I thought about this story a couple of weeks ago while I was studying John 12. Two weeks ago we focused our time in God’s Word on Mary’s extravagant worship, but I want to go back to John 12 this morning and focus on Martha. In the first eight verses of the chapter Mary gets the most ink. The story really revolves around Mary anointing Jesus’ feet with the expensive perfume as an act of gratitude, worship, and adoration. John uses only two words to describe Martha, “Martha served.” Let’s read John 12:1 and then we’ll see what we can learn.
1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. (John 12:1-2 NIV)
When we take the story from Luke 10 and the scene found in John 12 and really take the time to pray and think through them, we can learn a valuable lesson. First of all, I want to point out to you that in Luke 10 there was only one guest, but Martha was all worked up. In John 12 there were at least 16 guests who were present for the dinner to honor Jesus and we find Martha simply serving. There’s no sign of her fuming, stewing, ranting, or raving about how she was the only one in the house who was doing anything.
I believe that something happened in Martha’s life to transform her attitude. I don’t think that’s wishful thinking and neither do I believe that I’m reading something into the text. I believe something happened in Martha’s heart and mind in John 11 when she went out to meet Jesus after her brother had died. Do you remember what took place? Martha met Jesus outside of Bethany and said, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.” Jesus said, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Then Jesus presented Martha with the most profound question. We can read it John 11:25-27. Read it along with me.
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” (John 11:25-27 NIV)
“Yes Lord, I believe…” Four little words, but four of the most powerful words we can ever speak and take to heart. “Yes Lord, I believe.” That profession is so powerful that it can ignite a change in the human heart that none of us would ever think possible. I believe. It’s not simply a cerebral belief, it’s not isolated to the head, but the profession is a matter of the heart as well as our mind. My “belief,” conviction, that Jesus is who He says He is leads me to surrender my heart, mind, will, and everything about me to His will for my life. If we believe that Jesus is who He claimed to be, that will lead to change in our lives. I believe that the contrast of Martha serving in Luke 10 with her service in John 12 is a picture of that change.
If you noticed, in John 12, not one negative word was said about Martha’s service. She never sat down and yet Jesus never reprimanded her. You may wonder how I know Martha never sat down during the evening. Let me show you. The Greek word used to describe what Martha was doing at the dinner, “serving,” is “????????” (diakoneo). The word is in the “imperfect” tense which tells us Martha’s serving wasn’t completed. She didn’t sit down the whole meal. Martha was waiting on folks, but while she was waiting on them, she was serving Jesus. She was busy making preparations and waiting on those who had gathered for the meal to honor Jesus, but underneath all of that activity, Martha was serving Jesus. She wasn’t in competition with her sister, she wasn’t supervising to make sure that everyone was pulling their weight, she was doing what she had been “wired” to do and she was doing it with peaceful satisfaction. Wow! What a powerful picture for you and me! What a powerful lesson for you and me.
Each and every one of us has been given different gifts, abilities, and they are given to us by God. I talk to people all the time that try and convince me that they really don’t have a “gift.” They say, “I’m not really good at anything.” I don’t believe it. First of all, “good” is relative. Good compared to “what?” or “whom?” Secondly, God’s Word makes it clear to us that we do have gifts and those gifts vary tremendously. Turn with me to Romans 12:4 and let’s read together.
4 For 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, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. (Romans 12:4-6a NIV)
There are a variety of gifts identified in the verses that follow. You can also read about other gifts or abilities in 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; 12:28, but don’t think these lists combined provide you and me with an exhaustive list of the gifts God gives to His people. God gives His people gifts, abilities to be used in order to bring Him glory and honor and to bless and serve others.
I’ll be real honest with you, we as a church don’t lack in the area of gifts. You are some of the most talented, gifted people I’ve ever been around in my life. We are not lacking in gifts, but we are lacking in two areas: First, many are lacking the willingness to use their gifts to bring honor to God and bless the lives of others. At no time in all of the years I’ve been here have we ever had to announce, “Please stop volunteering to help. We have way too many volunteers.” We are always praying for the Lord to raise up new volunteers to help in any number of ways in the ministries that take place here at BCC. There is another way in which we lack and I would say that this will hit home with all of us. There are times that we lack the proper mindset to serve in a way that honors God and blesses others.
I want to be the first to confess. Sometimes my attitude stinks. I wish there was another way to describe it, but “stinks” fits perfectly. Sometimes I go through the motions of serving, of using the abilities the Lord has given me, but my heart isn’t in it. I don’t find any joy in doing what I do. Like Martha, I moan and bellyache because I’m working so hard. Because of my attitude God is robbed of the glory that is due Him and others are not blessed. They don’t see Jesus working through me. I’m sure they walk away from our time together and believe they were a burden to me, that I would rather be doing something else. How hard and dark my heart can be at times.
I was reading Psalm 100:2 this past week. Psalm 100:2 says, “Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.” (Psalm 100:2 NIV) I read six different versions of this Psalm and half say, “Worship the LORD…” and the other half say, “Serve the LORD…” That’s not confusing, that’s perfect. Our work is to be our worship and our worship is our work. The Hebrew word, “?????” (aw-bad’) most often means, “work, serve, or to work for another,” but sometimes it is used of the Levitical priests and their worship/work. Regardless of whether it is the work we do every day at our jobs, the work we do in seeking to be a blessing to our families and friends, or the work or worship we do in the Lord’s house—we are to go about it with “gladness.” The Hebrew word translated, “gladness,” is “????????” (simchah) and it means, “joy, pleasure, or gladness.” Let me show you a couple of places where this same word appears in Psalms so that you might discover what I’ve been reminded of this past week. First, turn with me to Psalm 16:11 and let’s read together.
11 You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. (Psalm 16:11 NIV)
Did you see it? David writes, “you will fill me with joy in your presence…” I will find joy and satisfaction in my work and in my worship only when they are engaged in while I’m in His presence. This awareness of the presence of the Lord isn’t innate, it isn’t something that comes naturally to us, it isn’t even something that takes place once we ask Jesus into our heart as our Lord and Savior. We have to consciously think about living in the presence of the Lord and of serving the Lord as we serve His people. God is present at all times and in every place, but I lived for years without a clue of His presence. There are still times since I’ve become a follower of Jesus that I’ve lost sight of the presence of the Lord. Now let’s turn to Psalm 43:4 and read together.
4 Then I will go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight. I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God. (Psalm 43:4 NIV)
“I will go..to God, my joy and my delight.” Most of us at some point in our life wonder, “Why am I here?” and we try to figure it out on our own. At other times we think, “There’s got to be more to life than this.” And we try to figure it out on our own. God has designed us to be people who live with an understanding of our purpose, but we can only know our purpose in Christ. Remove our purpose and our work, our service, might provide for us pleasure and satisfaction at times, but it will also produce lots and lots of frustration, sometimes it will feel like drudgery, and we’ll find ourselves more often than not just going through the motions. When we know our purpose—to bring Him in honor and glory in all that we do while we serve His people—then we can find pleasure and satisfaction with greater consistency. Paul understood this and that is why he encouraged the people in Corinth and Colosse with these words.
31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31 NIV)
23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, (Colossians 3:23 NIVO)
Something as mundane as eating and drinking becomes meaningful when we understand our purpose. Every action, every task, every opportunity is done as if we were doing it for the Lord and not simply for those we are serving. A film crew was doing a documentary about Mother Teresa one time and one of the men saw her cleaning the wounds of a leper. The man said, “I wouldn’t do that for a million dollars!” Mother Teresa looked up at him and said, “Neither would I. But I would gladly do it for Christ.”
There’s one more thing that I learned from taking a long look at Martha this past week. One of the greatest distractions that can prevent us from serving the Lord and His people with pleasure and satisfaction is comparing ourselves to others. This comparison comes in all kinds of forms. Sometimes we compare ourselves like Martha who saw that her sister wasn’t pulling her weight in preparing the meal for Jesus. There are other times that we compare ourselves to gauge our success in life. We who are followers of Jesus can fall into both of these traps, but there’s another trap that we can fall into that can be paralyzing and that’s making spiritual comparisons. We see others who appear more godly, they know more about the Bible, they seem more spiritual, and we feel like losers. We can also compare ourselves to those we feel are less godly, know less about the Bible, don’t go to worship or Bible study like we do and so on. This kind of comparison can easily lead us into the sin of self-righteousness. Truth be known I’ve fallen into all of these traps and I’ve learned that nothing good can come out of the comparison game.
I remember many years ago when our church had gone through a growth spurt. I was told there was a lot of talk around town about Britton Christian Church and a couple of other churches in Oklahoma City that were growing and making a difference in the community. I began to keep track of the growth of the other churches and it didn’t take long until their growth outpaced our growth by a mile. I began to question myself. What’s wrong with me that I can’t help our church grow like their churches? What am I doing wrong? What can we do to bring greater growth to BCC? Do you know what all that nonsense did for me? It distracted me from doing what God had called me to do. It was an exercise in futility that was harmful and not helpful for me to do what God had called me to do.
There was another time several years later that a friend of mine who is the head of a national ministry and a tremendous leader came to visit our church. I picked him up at the airport, we went to grab something to eat, and we had time to catch up on what had been going on in each other’s lives. We were sitting in my office waiting for the service to start when he looked up and said, “Hays what are you still doing in this little church?” I said, “There’s no place in the world I’d rather be.” Later, I couldn’t shake his words. I began to question myself, doubt myself, and think about friends who were serving larger churches or in bigger ministries. Once again I fell into the trap of comparing myself to others. At some point, I don’t know exactly when it happened, but I can look back and know that it happened, I came to the conclusion that I’m to live out my calling to be a husband, father, pastor, and brother-in-Christ for an audience of One.
Martha served. Period. Her heart had been changed by Jesus and she no longer had to serve better than Mary or with a greater impact than Mary, she simply served. And so must I. I’m called to serve the Lord in whatever I do, whenever He calls me, and however He leads me. How about you? Is this the mindset you have as you serve the Lord and His people? If not, then the Lord wants to do a work in your heart and mind this very morning.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
November 29, 2015