Servants in the Flesh

After 359 Voice articles I come to the end. At times, I have enjoyed writing them, but there were a few times it felt like pulling teeth. You know, I’m not a writer, but someone in the church in years past had the pastor write an article every month, so that job was passed down to me. I did enjoy trying to be creative, enlightening, and encouraging.

As I look over my Christian life, there are two simple premises: to love God and love your neighbor (Mk 12:30-31). We are called to be servants of Jesus Christ. Especially today, in this narcissistic world, serving has become a lost art. Once it was considered an honor to serve someone, but in a “me first” culture that panders to self-expression and individualism, servanthood has virtually disappeared from our vocabulary.  

The Greek word for servant was used for under-rowers in a ship; the lowest galley slaves. This word stresses subordination and responsibility to a superior. Our example of a servant is Jesus Christ Himself who said, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and give His life a ransom for many” (Mk 10:45). D.L. Moody once said, “The measure of a man is not how many servants he has, but how many people he serves.” There is no limit to the good that a man can do, if he doesn't care who gets the credit. 

Ben Patterson noted this about the church’s attitude toward serving, “The church has produced hybrid Christians. On one hand they call themselves slaves of Jesus Christ, and on the other they regard themselves as volunteers who serve the church if they so choose. Once we name the name of Jesus, we cease to be volunteers in the kingdom. We become humble slaves.”

To be a servant requires a mental shift, a change in your attitudes. First, servants of God should be self-forgetful; they should focus on others, not themselves. Second, servants of God should think about their own responsibilities, not what other servants are doing. They don’t compare, criticize, or compete with other servants or ministries. Third, servants of God should base their identity in Christ, because they are unconditionally loved and accepted by grace. Finally, servants of God should think of serving as an opportunity, not an obligation. They should enjoy helping people, meeting needs, and doing ministry with gladness. A businessman once asked the President of the Navigators, Lorne Sanny, how he could know when he had a servant attitude. The reply was simple, “By how you act when you are treated like one!” Servants are to carry out their charges humbly, as they understand all their love, strength, time, and service rightly belongs to the Lord.

In Gal. 5:13, Paul exhorts believers to “not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” The word “opportunity” means springboard, bridgehead, or incentive. It was often used to indicate a central base from which all operations of a military campaign originated. Paul admonishes the Christians to not use their freedom as a base of operation from which the flesh is given a bridgehead to carry on its campaign of sin. Instead, we should use our spiritual freedom as a springboard to serve others. We serve others by seeking to minister to their needs rather than manipulate them to meet our needs. Thus, real Biblical freedom is not doing whatever we want, but lovingly serving others. 

The majority of us lead quiet, unheralded lives as we pass through this world. There will not be a ticker tape parade or monuments created in our honor, but that does not lessen our possible impact. There are scores of people waiting for someone just like us to come along; people who will appreciate our compassion, our encouragement, and who will need our unique talents.  Someone will have a happier life merely because we took the time to serve him or her. Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. It's overwhelming to consider the continuous opportunities that we have to serve others for Jesus Christ. Albert Schweitzer said, "The only really happy people are those have learned how to serve."            

-Pastor Mike Kotrla
 

The Dance

One show that has caught America by storm over the past years is “Dancing with the Stars.” Now I have to admit that I have watched the show a few times; the beauty, the grace, the flow of two people acting as one. But, most of the time, it brings to mind the frustration, humiliation, and awkwardness of my own dancing ability. However, I do admire watching the untalented people, who are forged together with a “pro,” move outside of their comfort zones to learn to dance. It tells me that even an untalented person (me) can be taught to dance. 

Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher who popularized the “God is dead” movement, once wrote, “If these Christians want me to believe in their god, they’ll have to sing better songs, they’ll have to look more like people who have been saved, they’ll have to wear on their countenance the joy of the beatitudes. I could only believe in a god who dances.” What Nietzsche failed to realize is that our God does dance and He dances with us. In Matthew 11:17, Jesus uses the dance metaphor to describe the generation that rejected him: “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance.” Jesus invited them to dance, and was heartbroken when they didn’t. 

Sydney Bertram Carter, an English poet, songwriter, and folk musician wrote a song called “Lord of the Dance” that gives us a perspective about the life of Jesus and the longing to dance:

I danced in the morning when the world was begun. I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun; I came down from heaven and I danced on earth, at Bethlehem I had my birth.

Chorus: Dance then, wherever you may be I am the Lord of the Dance, said He! And I'll lead you all, wherever you may be. And I'll lead you all in the Dance, said He!

I danced for the scribe and the Pharisee but they would not dance and they wouldn't follow me. I danced for fishermen, for James and John. They came with me and the Dance went on.

Chorus: Dance then, wherever you may be. I am the Lord of the Dance, said He! And I'll lead you all, wherever you may be. And I'll lead you all in the Dance, said He!

The image of the dance is a picture of two people joyfully moving in step to the music. Sydney Carter has a point, that our relationship to Christ is like a dance, and Jesus is our dance partner, but more importantly…He is our dance instructor. He wants to leads us through a wonderful journey of the Christian dance.

Do you remember when you were little and you stood on your dad’s feet as you walked around the house? He did all the work; he moved you from point A to B; as long as you stayed on his feet, he would guide you through the steps of the dance. That was fun!  Then, one day, you moved on to those dreaded dance lessons that you had to take as your friends were outside playing. But, you learned something valuable: If you follow the lead, you could learn to dance (maybe not dance well, but you would learn to dance). You see, the dance is not about talent and ability, but the willingness to follow and trust someone else as you move to the music. Likewise, that is what Jesus wants us to do in His dance with us:  Follow His lead as He leads us on a moving dance through life.

But you might say I can’t dance! I have no rhythm! Dancing is more than getting the steps right. It is feeling the music and moving together with someone you trust (remember standing on your dad’s feet). The real joy of the dance is not in the precision of your steps or the exhilaration of moment, but the joy and delight of the moving together with a trusted partner- one who accepts and loves me. This is what the dance with Jesus is all about. It is putting yourself in the Lord’s arms, following His steps, enjoying the music of life, and seeing His eyes greet you with love and acceptance. So dance then, wherever you may be, because the Lord of the dance will forever lead. 

Pastor Mike Kotrla
 

Give Your Best

Chicke and Pig.jpg

A hen and a pig approached a church and read the sermon topic, "What can we do to help the poor?" Immediately, they both felt convicted and wanted to help. The hen suggested they give bacon and eggs. The pig thought it sounded good, but then realized one thing was wrong with the suggestion, "For you to give eggs requires only a contribution, but for me to give bacon requires a total commitment." Far too many times, Christians are prone to merely make a contribution, rather than a commitment or sacrifice. We have created a nation that practices convenience over commitment, comfort over character, and compromise over conviction. Our commitment to our Lord Jesus Christ should require us to give our best to Him in all areas of our life.

What does God have to say about excellence? What are His requirements of a sacrifice? We are to bring to God the "sacrifice of praise"(Heb. 13:15). We are to present ourselves unto God," a living and holy sacrifice" as a "spiritual service of worship"(Ro. 12:1). Excellence must be at the heart of our service. Sacrifices are always to represent the best that the faithful worshipper has, not some poor specimen given with the condescending attitude that says, "That’s enough for God,” or “God will understand." One thing that stands out in Leviticus 1:10 is that the offerings in the Old Testament, whether bulls, goats, lambs, or doves, were to be the best, the finest in the flock-the unblemished ones. Unfortunate, sometimes God's people try to find a short cut, something not so costly, that will appease God. Malachi 1:8 & 14 tells us," But when you present the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you present the lame and sick, is it not evil? Why not offer it to your governor? Would he be pleased with you? Or would he receive you kindly? says the Lord of hosts. (14) But cursed be the swindler who has a male in his flock, and vows it, but sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord, for I am a great King, says the Lord of hosts, and My name is feared among the nations." Excellence has a price. It does not come cheaply. Paul says in Col. 3:23, "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men."

Howard Hendricks said, "Talent is cheap; dedication is costly!" The church today needs to hear this message, for we are in danger of producing a manageable mediocrity, one whose slogan is, "Anything is good enough for God." Our biggest fear should be that we hear God’s Word and walk away, content to settle for less than what God desires. Are we taking Jesus and the Bible and twisting it into a version that fits our comfort zone and not what God desires? Have we become the nice, middle-class, followers of Jesus who enjoy the label of being a Christian, but don’t want our spiritual life to affect our material comfort and are satisfied with nominal devotion that does not infringe on our personal comforts? The trouble has become that we are trying to model Jesus into our life, rather than becoming “conformed to the image of God’s Son” (Ro 8:29). 

God is calling us to a higher standard than the standard of the world- a call to giving our best to Him! God does not hold us accountable for another's abilities and opportunities, just our own. In Matt. 25 our Lord speaks to the importance of being faithful in using our talents wisely. The faithful slaves were rewarded, because they had realized their potential and were productive, even though they were not equally blessed. None of us are equally blessed and gifted, but the Lord rightly expects excellence and a proportionate return from each investment. Remember, the Biblical principle of sacrifice and giving offerings recognized that all will bring equal sacrifices, but all must bring their best!

To be good in the area of service to which we are called costs something. We are not to offer to God that which costs nothing. God wants and desires the best from us. Never let the good be an enemy to the best. If we are moderately gifted, our service will probably be little more than moderately good; our best is all God expects. If we are extremely gifted, we could "get by" with little practice and would probably be better than most anyone else. But it would fall short of our best, and God would know that we gave half-heartedly. Thus, we are to give of our best to our Master- our God.                         

Pastor Mike Kotrla
 

Being There

I can still recall that afternoon. The dark clouds rolled in and the wind was whistling through the trees. As a true fisherman, my dad kept fishing as the Texas sky began to rant and rave. With the sound of thunder in the background and the approaching rain, I kept casting, hoping that the "big one" that my dad always talked about would take my bait. The rain, lightning and thunder didn't interest me half as much as the tug on the end of my line. The water exploded as the bass took the bait. The battle went on for only a few minutes, but it seemed like hours as I fought this powerful fish. I could hear my dad saying, "steady," "back up slowly," and "don't let it get away, it's a big one!"  With the encouragement of my dad and the visions of being a guest on ABC's American Sportsman, I landed the 7 lb bass. 

There are certain events that are sketched crystal clear in one's mind- for me, this is one of them. Standing beside my dad with the lightning dancing around the rolling clouds, holding with pride my trophy fish, it was a grand day. As time stood still, I felt like a million dollars. It wasn't just the thrill of the catch, but a time when a young boy and his father share life. It was the togetherness of a father and son. It was the pride of the old fisherman who taught the young buck how to fish. It was a situation with memories and meaning that one can not adequately describe by words- you had to be there. 

The words "being there" mean a variety of things, but usually they bring out warm smiles, happy memories, and sometimes gentle tears. They are memories that make us pause for just a moment and relive a certain event in our life. These recollections are shared events where we learned the meaning of love, kindness, compassion, togetherness, and humor. They are memories that our mind never forgets, because they are near and dear to us. Over the past 30 years at the Congregational Bible Church I have numerous “being there” moments.
- You had to “Be There” to truly experience the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service.
   What a special time of year when our red brick church is decorated with lights,
   greenery, and beautiful poinsettias. Now sprinkle darkness and candlelight, and
   then add readings, singing, special music, and the Christmas story from Luke 2.
   There is no better way to usher in the celebration of the birth of our Savior than
   our Christmas Eve Service.
-  You had to “Be There” to experience the Ham Dinner week. The smell of sweet
   potatoes, the busy bees rolling silverware and wrapping rolls, the laughter over
   stories, the tears over needs, and the joy of working together as a church body
   to accomplish a task. So many people enjoy the aroma of Thursday evening and
   then delight themselves in the wonderful taste of ham, green beans, potatoes,
   coleslaw, and countless desserts. This is truly a week of fellowship and work, but
   the end result is a tradition that has continued for over 50 years for the purpose
   of investing back into the lives and ministries of the church.
-  You had to “Be There” to experience the “Steps of Paul Cruise.” This was an
   amazing adventure that visited a variety of locations where Paul established
   Christian churches. The memories come from watching Calvin Goehring sitting
   with his new friend (a dog) in Pergamum, looking down at Paul’s jail cell in
   Philippi, baptizing Loree Trout where Lydia (Acts 16:14-15) was baptized, and
   walking down the majestic walkway to the  magnificent outdoor theater in
   Ephesus.
-  You had to “Be There” to experience our church picnics at the Thompson ranch.
   The beauty of the rolling green pastures, the ovations from the softball game,
   the restfulness of sitting and visiting with friends, the laughter of watching
   children play, and of course the food. Later the tradition moved to Fred and
   Nancy Starrh’s home where we added a baptismal service (I was blessed to
   baptize many in this church body and my own family), and finally the tradition
   has settled at the Goehring’s home.
-  You had to “Be There” to experience the joy and excitement of the different
   church family’s weddings. What an honor it is to stand in front of an audience of
   friends and family and watch the beautiful bride walk down the aisle to be joined
   for life with her handsome groom. Truly, it is a special privilege to pronounce,
   under the authority of God, that a man and a woman are now husband and wife. 

-  You had to “Be There” to experience the honor of preaching God’s Word each
   Sunday. It is a privilege and blessing to share God’s Word with a body of
   believers and watch God work in their lives. Truly, you see the power of God and
   His Word. And, you would be surprised what the pastor observes from the
   pulpit- the nodding of sleepy heads, elbows to your partners ribcage, checking
   your watch, and expressions of delight when truth is understood. 
-  You had to “Be There” to experience the rewarding feeling of serving on a
   mission trip to various places (Canada, Kentucky, Arizona, California, and Mexico)
   with groups from this church for over 25 years  to go out in the name of Christ to
   serve. Although much of the work is long and hard, the attitude of service, love
   and compassion for people around the world is prevalent. Each group seems to
   come back more blessed than those they served. The smiles on the faces, the
   expression of appreciation, and the gesture of love, because we served, will
   always be etched in my mind.

You had to “Be There” to truly experience what took place on a cool spring morning in Jerusalem some 2000 years ago. The hopes of a nation were crushed when Jesus, the Son of God, died on a Roman cross. But think what it would have been like to have "Been There" when the earth shook and an angel rolled away the stone from Christ's tomb; when Mary saw that the tomb was empty; when Jesus' mother found out that her son was alive; when Jesus appeared to the two men on the road to Emmaus; when doubting Thomas touched Jesus' hand or when the disciples ate breakfast with Jesus on the seashore. These memories are sketched in the pages of history so that we too can experience the security and hope of a living, loving, and gracious God. This Easter, take a few minutes to reflect on those intimate scenes in your life, where you experienced the tremendous love and grace of God. Recall the sensation of "Being There" with a personal, powerful God, and then praise Him for who He is and what He has done in your life.

- Pastor Mike Kotrla
 

What I've Learned

Over the past 29 years at the Congregational Church, I have learned a lot about people, but more importantly about myself. Though I wish that I had mastered what I learned, nevertheless here are a few important nuggets. 

 

 

I've learned that:
- You should write “thank you” notes.
- You should acknowledge that you need others.
- You should show love, not merely say it.
- You should accept the responsibilities for your failures.
- You should be quick to hear and slow to speak.
- You should not get defensive when others criticize you.
- You should be good to people, and generally they will be good to you.
- You must care enough to confront.
- You should be a servant, and always notice those who serve.
- You should never be first in line (in case they run out of food).
- You should kneel down when you are speaking with children.
- You should respect your elders.
- You should not conform to this world, but be transformed by God’s Word.
- You should understand that your words will either heal or hurt.
- You can be a well educated person and still be a fool.
- You should not turn your spiritual freedom into an opportunity for the flesh. 
- You must earn the respect and trust of others.
- You should guard the time you have with others.
- You should not merely look out for your own personal interests, but for the interests of others. 
- You should pray for someone when you don’t have the strength to help them. 
- You should realize that sometimes a person needs a shoulder to lean on or a hug. 
- You should be glad that God doesn’t give you everything you ask for. 
- You don’t have to explain something that you didn’t say. 
- Having a child fall asleep in your arms is one of the most wonderful and peaceful feelings in the world.
- The small daily happenings make life so spectacular.
- Under everyone’s hard shell is a person who wants to be loved.
- When you plan to get even with someone, you are only letting that person continue to hurt you.
- The best way to grow is to surround yourself with people wiser than you.
- He who angers you controls you.
- You should tell those special people in your life that you love them before it is too late. 
- Happiness is a choice.
- Kindness is the best medicine for treating your enemies.
- The golden rule is really golden.
- Morality, like art, consists in drawing a line somewhere. 
- Character is not given to us, but must be built each day.
- God did not give the scriptures to increase your knowledge, but to change your life.
- Spiritual privileges do not guarantee spiritual success.
- Just because you tie two tom-cats together doesn’t mean you have unity.
- Bad company corrupts good morals.
- If you don’t have something good to say, then don’t speak.
- Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.
- Wisdom is not a matter of acquiring truth, but applying truth.
- Your life may be the only Bible someone might ever read. 
- Part-time faith, like a part-time job, cannot fully support you. 
- Small deeds done are better than great deeds planned.
- Actions speak louder than words. 
- Following the path of least resistance makes rivers and people crooked. 
- God is more interested in our availability than our ability. 
- Faith is a journey, not a destination. 
- The crucifixion of Jesus Christ is either the most foolish or most significant event of history…it is the most significant event in history!

The list is not complete, because my journey is not complete, and I hope, by the grace of God, that I never stop learning, growing, and changing. By the way, what’s on your list that you would add? I would love to hear yours, so send them to me at mkotrla@bak.rr.com.                  

-Pastor Mike Kotrla