Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A grateful heart in the midst of ministry

It's too easy for me to lose my gratitude. Yesterday, we visited a church started in 1976 in San Salvador that reaches 10s of 1,000s each week. The church has planted 498 other churches in El Salvador. They have a thriving international missions ministry. They started a school where 1,700 kids (including 11 from the Love and Hope Children's Home) are educated. Book store, library, TV, radio, and seminary ministries all seem to be flourishing. They own a city block. I was amazed. 

Later, I found out that the founding pastor who is still leading the church has been divorced 5 times. 5 times! I am confused. How can a man with a messy life like that seemingly accomplish so much for God? 

I have to admit that sometimes seeing success like that in the midst of sinful messiness takes its toll on my gratitude. 

I have been a believer since I was 6. My dad led me to Christ after a Sunday night church service at Highland Park Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

I am very aware of my own sins, failures, depravity, and shortcomings. I often say that not only do we have more dignity than we can possibly imagine, but we are more depraved than we can possibly imagine. That's certainly true for me.  But, generally speaking, I have been a fairly good boy for the last 53 years. 

I was a pretty straight arrow through high school and college. I had a couple of years in college when I strayed some. Lots of people would say, though, "You call that straying? You story is really tame compared to mine!" 

I am the guy in Jesus' story who was hired early in the day. It's a story, frankly, that I have struggled to embrace. 

Jesus tells us about the boss who hires workers for his vineyard at 6:00 AM. He promises them a day's wage for working from 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM. He hires more help at 9:00 AM. Then, at noon, he hires more. He finds even more workers at 3:00 PM. Finally, at 5:00 PM, he hires the last group. At the end of the work day, the boss gives everyone, even the group that only worked one hour, the whole day's wage. That makes the 6:00 AM workers angry. After all, they worked all day long in the heat of the day. The 6 to 6 workers thought they deserved more. 

I can be like these guys who grumble about the boss, "Look, Lord, at how faithful I have been! I have been more faithful to You over the long haul than him. Yet his church is bigger; his paycheck is fatter; or his influence is wider. It's not fair!"

Jesus concludes His story, "But he [the boss] replied to one of them [a worker], 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity'" (Matthew 20:13-15)?

Honestly? Yes. I guess I do begrudge God's generosity. 

I too easily forget that it's all grace. I did not deserve to be called to Christ at age 6. What I deserve is God's judgement. I forget that no matter what I've done for Jesus for 53 years, I am an unprofitable servant. I have failed to be a faithful, diligent servant in the vineyard. I have taken too many breaks. I have cut too many corners. I have failed to fellowship with and appreciate the gracious master. I don't deserve a place in the vineyard... much less a day's wage. 

This story reminds me that God is good! I have received more than I deserve!

The ESV Study Bible notes are helpful, "The laborer failed to be thankful for his own wage because he was blinded by his self-interested lack of compassion for his fellow worker. A disciple of Jesus should not measure his or her worth by comparing it with the accomplishments and sacrifices of others, but should focus on serving from a heart of gratitude in response to God’s grace. Jesus is not denying degrees of reward in heaven (see... 1 Corinthians 3:14–15) but is affirming that God’s generosity is more abundant than anyone would expect: all the laborers except the very first got more than they deserved."

Matthew Henry notes, "There is a great proneness in us to think that we have too little, and others too much, of the tokens of God’s favour; and that we do too much, and others too little, in the work of God. Very apt we all are to undervalue the deserts of others, and to overvalue our own."

I must let the Lord handle the wages for men like the 5 times divorced pastor here in San Salvador. I want to be like Paul. He felt himself to be an undeserving sinner saved and then called to serve by grace, saying, "I am the least of the apostles, the least of the saints, and the chief of sinners." 

"Lord, forgive me for begrudging Your generosity. Thank You for calling me early in life. Thank You for the privilege of serving You for these 53 years. I have been an unprofitable servant. Yet You have used me anyway. He didn't fire me when You could have. You have forgiven me, fellowshipped with me, and believed in me. Thank You! Now, help me serve in Your vineyard today as You see fit. You are gracious to me. Always have been. Always will be. Today, I am Yours. Use me as You will. In Jesus' name, Amen."

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