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Love Defined

In my last post, we saw that ministry without love, no matter how powerful, is not up to God’s standards.  Love must play a major role in all that we do.

But do we really understand what love is?  People have so many ideas.  Let’s see what God has to say.

Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
1 Corinthians 13:4-6

Think about what this verse says – patient, kind, not rude, and not easily angered.  Are there any times during which we have a better chance of doing this – times when it feels more natural?

Of course, it’s when we’re around people that we like; when we’re with our friends.  I was first able to grasp this concept while reading the book “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis.

Remember, this type of love carries with it no emotional attachment.  It’s purely based on decision and will.  True love cannot be based on emotion, it must be my choice.

I find that it’s easiest for me to treat people I like in this way.  Sometimes I choose to treat them correctly even if I don’t feel like it, simply because I like them.  This brings us to the definition of love that I first heard from C.S. Lewis.

The way of love is to treat people as if you like them – whether you do or not.  Also, I would add, whether you know them or not and whether you’re in their presence or not.

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
I Corinthians 13:7

This is the atmosphere that should surround a ministry of excellence.  When you’re ministering to people, all these aspects should be evident in your work.  Too often, we’re guilty of loving our ministry more than the people we’re called to perfect.  This verse tells us that we’re to always protect, trust in, hope for and persevere for THE PEOPLE.

The ministry is a good thing.  But it’s still a thing.  Things can never be more important than people.  Excellence will never develop in an atmosphere where you love what you’re doing to the extent that you don’t care for the people.

You’re not their Lord, Jesus is.  Your ministry is never more important than God’s plan for their individual lives.  If you’re walking in excellence, in the way of love, you’ll be able to balance the two.

Love for people must start with your family.  Too many Christians think that it’s noble to give up their family for “God’s work.”

I even heard a guest minister once prove how devoted he was to the ministry by saying that his children were not walking with the Lord.  It was a sacrifice he had to make for the ministry.  I never let him preach at our church again.  God has never accepted child sacrifice.  The Bible is clear that ministry begins at home.

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
John 15:13

It’s clear from the life of Christ (and we probably don’t want to hear it) that the way of love sees everyone as our friends.  Jesus even laid down His life for those who were His sworn enemies.

If so, then He included the whole race of mankind into His list of “friends.”  We cannot use this verse for an excuse not to love.  Christ’s example stops us from doing this.

He laid down His life for the Pharisee and the Atheist, as well as the disciples.  When you walk in the love of Christ, you exhibit the same evidence of love that He did.

Question: What is the evidence of the love that can be seen in your life and ministry?

© 2019 Nick Zaccardi

<Note – This post was an excerpt from my book, Breaking Free from the Pack – How to Develop a Spirit of Excellence available on Amazon>

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Useless Without Love

How do you rate churches or ministries?  What criteria do you use in determining their impact or effectiveness?  Let’s see what the Scripture uses as a standard.

In my last post, the Apostle Paul introduced what he called a more excellent way of ministry.  That brings us to First Corinthians, chapter 13 – the Love Chapter.

The word used for love, is the Greek word, agape.  This word is very significant.

Agape-love has no emotion attached to its definition.  It’s purely an act of your will.  It’s a choice that you make in how you treat others.

We know that Jesus Christ, Himself, commanded us to love each other.  If it were based upon feelings, then He could never make such a request.

Keep this in mind as we go through this chapter over the next few posts.  It’s up to you how you choose to treat people.  You’ll either walk in love or choose to follow the leading of your flesh.

The first thing we see in this chapter, are three things that human religion would point to as excellence in ministry.  Unfortunately, they’re not what God’s rating system includes.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
1 Corinthians 13:1

The first area is that of your preaching and teaching ministry.  What if I had the command of every language on earth?  I could preach the Gospel anywhere I wanted to.

I could stand before thousands and proclaim Christ.  I could be God’s messenger to the world.  After all, that’s what the word, angel, means (messenger).

According to this verse, without love, I’m not ministering.  I’m simply making a noise that gets people’s attention.

If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:2

What about the flow of supernatural power.  Certainly, that would mean my ministry is on track with God’s plan.  Not necessarily.

Signs, wonders, and miracles are things that we point to as indicators of success.

“Look at my ministry.  The miracles are proof that I’m in the center of God’s will.  Send me your offering.”

We think the supernatural move of God is an indication that we’re someone special.  On the contrary, it only proves that we serve a great God.  Paul makes it clear that no matter how many miracles in my ministry, without love I’m a nobody in God’s kingdom.

If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:3

The third area is one we’d probably never think of.  Self-sacrifice for others.

The word for flames is actually the Greek word, glory.  In other words, I use up every ounce of my physical strength for the benefit of others.

We sometimes think that we’ll give to the poor because God wants us to.  Or maybe because we see it as sowing seeds for God’s blessing.

The problem is that if I don’t give out of love…a desire to see the recipient blessed by my giving, then I’ve gained nothing.  There’s no profit, physically or spiritually.

Love is the determining factor in how God rates a ministry.  Keep that in mind as you work for the Lord.

Question: How can you tell if love plays a role in what you do for Christ?

© 2019 Nick Zaccardi

 
 

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Body Envy

Have you ever looked at what somebody else is doing for God and it made you feel inadequate?  Are you intimidated by those in a leadership position?  That’s not God’s perspective.  Your place in the body of Christ is a unique one.

Now the body is not made up of one part but of many.  If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body.  And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body.
1 Corinthians 12:14-16

Paul uses parts of the body to illustrate this point.  What if the members of your natural body could think for themselves and communicate?  What would they say?

Look at your feet and hands, for instance.  They both have similar bone and muscle structures.  They both are placed at the end of your limbs.

What if your foot felt inferior to your hands?  Your toes are too short compared to your fingers.  After all, they can’t grasp or pick up much of anything.  And they’re too far away from your mouth to be able to feed you.

Does all that mean your foot really doesn’t belong to the body?  Absolutely not!  Your foot wasn’t created to do the things that your hand was.

Your feet were designed to bear the weight of your entire body.  In conjunction with your legs, they can move your body around from place to place.

In the same way, you can’t look at how someone else operates and conclude that you’re of no value.  You were created for your own unique calling.

Paul also talks about the eyes and ears.  They live very close to one another on the head.  They’re both set onto holes mad just for them.

But they do very different things.  Your eyes are in holes that allow light to come in.  Your ears, on the other hand, only receive sound waves.  Your ears were not made to respond to images.  Your eyes were not made to see sounds.

“Brother Jones is so sensitive to the needs of those around him.  He really shows the love of Christ.  I don’t know why I’m so useless in that area.”

That’s foolish thinking.  We all receive from the Lord in different ways.  That’s why Peter could respond to God while he was praying and Paul had to be knocked off his horse to get his attention.  God uses us the way we are without comparing us to other people.

We’re all designed with different purposes in the mind of God.  The church would be a pretty boring place if we were all the same.  Paul put it this way…

If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?  But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.  If they were all one part, where would the body be?  As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
1 Corinthians 12:17-20

You need to rejoice in the unique way that God made you.  Find that place in Him where you belong.  Then fulfill your personal calling without comparing your walk to anyone else but Christ.

Question: Where do you fit into the body of Christ?

© 2019 Nick Zaccardi

 

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Ministry Support

We’re continuing our look at Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church.  We’re at the point where Paul is discussing his role as an apostle of Christ.  This is within the greater context of the principles surrounding the “grey areas” of sin.

This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me.  Don’t we have the right to food and drink?  Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas?  Or is it only I and Barnabas who must work for a living?
1 Corinthians 9:3-6

He makes it clear that because of his ministry to the church, he should expect to be supported by those churches.  He shows this by comparing his ministry to others that they knew of.

This was the practice of the day.  Apostles and ministers were given some sort of income.  It could have been monetary, food, lodging, or other things that they needed.

Paul explains that this is only common sense.  If you work, you should be making your living from that work.

Who serves as a soldier at his own expense?  Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its grapes?  Who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk?
1 Corinthians 9:7

I think that it’s interesting to hear the words that Paul uses.  Nobody serves, plants, or tends without expecting to make a living from it.  These are all a big part of church work.  Why do some people think it’s so wrong for ministers to make a living from their ministry?

Paul shows that the Bible itself proves his point.

Do I say this merely from a human point of view?  Doesn’t the Law say the same thing?  For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.”  Is it about oxen that God is concerned?  Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he?  Yes, this was written for us, because when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they ought to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest.
1 Corinthians 9:8-10

Paul uses this Old Testament law to bring out a New Testament truth.   Ministers are worthy of being supported.  The apostle concludes this by using a very clear statement.

If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you?  If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more?
1 Corinthians 9:11-12

We want our ministers and pastors to be there for us.  We want them to pray for us when we’re in trouble, visit us when we’re sick, and encourage us when they preach.  Yet in many churches, they want all this and more while the minister has to work extra jobs just to feed his or her family.

There are others we look to in this way.  We want the Fire, Police, and hospitals to be ready to serve us at a moment’s notice.  So we pay their salaries accordingly.  How much more should we support those who keep watch over our souls?

Question: How have you been helped by a minister who was there in your time of need?

© 2019 Nick Zaccardi

 
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Posted by on April 24, 2019 in Encouragement, Ministry, The Gospel

 

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Truth in Titles

We’re continuing to look at Paul’s view of the “grey areas”.  Those activities that the Bible doesn’t talk about, but we debate whether or not they’re sinful.  Specifically, he’s talking about buying and eating meat that has been offered in a pagan sacrifice.

So far, he’s given us two principles.  The pagan temples have no power, so the meat itself is not sinful.  On the other hand, there are those who are weak and may feel guilty about it.  They must be protected.

Now Paul begins talking about a third principle.

Am I not free?  Am I not an apostle?  Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?  Are you not the result of my work in the Lord?  Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you!  For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.
1 Corinthians 9:1-2

To begin this thought, Paul talks about his ministry.  He is free in Christ.  He has had an encounter with the risen Lord.  He works tirelessly for God, and the Corinthian church is a result of that ministry.

It is, however, important that we hear and understand what he says about this ministry.  Paul is very clear that he’s an apostle of Christ.  The important key is that being an apostle is a ministry and not merely a title.

I believe that there are too many people today with the title of “Apostle”.  Paul shows us that it’s the work you’re doing that confirms your apostleship.  If you’re not doing the ministry of an apostle, then you’re not an apostle.

There’s another, deeper issue that we need to see.  Paul didn’t go out and have business cards printed with the title, apostle.  He didn’t introduce himself as “Apostle Paul”.

You have to realize that you’re only an apostle to those who have been affected under your ministry.  Paul understood that he was not an apostle to everyone.  It wasn’t a title of honor, but a description of his ministry to certain churches.

We live in a generation where so many people are title conscious.  If you don’t have a title, then you have no credibility.

“Where did you go to school?  What’s your title?  Who conferred it on you?”

Do you understand that in the body of Christ none of these things make any difference?  Don’t tell me what you want to be called; show me what you’re doing for Christ.  That’s the bottom line.

As a pastor, I’ve submitted to the apostles that the Lord’s brought into my life.  They had an effect on me and my ministry.  I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for their ministry.

The funny thing is that only one of them ever publically referred to himself as an apostle.  The one who did only used it in meetings where those under his ministry were present.

Instead of trying to impress people with our titles, we should be striving to advance the kingdom of God.  It’s the work that distinguishes you as an apostle or any other ministry gift.  It’s by their fruit that you recognize them.

Always keep this in mind as God advances you in your calling.  Let the results of your ministry be the proof of your credentials.  In that way, God receives the glory and not men.

Question: What happens when someone claims a ministry gift that isn’t proved by their walk with God?

© 2019 Nick Zaccardi

 
 

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What’s Your View of Ministry

Sometimes you just need to get real with people.  I’ve found that in the ministry, that’s a hard thing to do.  Many people can’t handle the truth about it.

In his letter to the Corinthian church, Paul bares his soul to them.  He hopes that it will cause them to open their hearts to the Word of God that he’s preaching.

He starts by comparing how they see themselves with their perceptions of him.

We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ!  We are weak, but you are strong!  You are honored, we are dishonored!
1 Corinthians 4:10

Paul is exposing their thoughts.

“Paul only shows up here to tell us what to do.”

“Paul and his team are morons for what they’re doing in Christ’s name.  We are sensitive and thoughtful in Christ.  They’re weak, but we’re powerful.  Our opinion carries a lot of weight, theirs is valueless.”

I wish that this was an isolated case; only the opinions of an ancient church that died out long ago.  However, I’ve found these attitudes in the church of today.  There are Christians who won’t listen to godly counsel.

“Pastor, you don’t understand real life.  I can’t live for Christ on your level.  You don’t understand the pressures I face.”

I have to laugh when I hear arguments like that.  I lived a Christian life as an Electrical Engineer for many years.  Even now in my part-time job and hobbies, I’m constantly interacting with non-Christians.  I’ve experienced the same pressures as everyone else.

Then, to top it off, the ministry itself has pressures that are not apparent to most believers.  Paul tries to get this across to the church.

To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless.  We work hard with our own hands.  When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly.  Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world.
1 Corinthians 4:11-13

Based on his other writings and the book of Acts, I don’t believe that Paul was talking about physical, material things here.  He was talking about the weight of the ministry.  The fact is, the more of God you encounter, the hungrier and thirstier for His Spirit you become.

The phrase in rags actually means naked.  That’s one of the worse pressures for a minister.  No one else feels more naked than a pastor.

Every aspect of his or her life is scrutinized under a magnifying glass.  Everything is inspected – their spouse, children, free-time activities, and how they dress.  Doctors, lawyers, teachers and other professions not treated like that.

On top of that, no matter how badly we’re treated, we’re expected to portray the love of Christ to all people.  If we make one miss-step, we’re labeled as mean spirited.

No, I’m not griping about the ministry.  I wouldn’t choose any other calling.  The rewards far outweigh the challenges.  I’m simply pointing out the truth that Paul’s trying to get across to the church.

As believers, we need to understand the price that’s being paid for the Word that’s being preached to us.  Then we can receive that Word, knowing that it comes from a heart that seeks God’s best in those who are listening.

Question: What price has your pastor paid to bring God’s Word to you?

© 2019 Nick Zaccardi

 
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Posted by on February 15, 2019 in Leadership, Ministry, The Church

 

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The Point of No Return

When it comes to Christian leadership, have you gone past the point of no return?  Have you gotten to the point where the call of God on your life is all that matters?  Paul talks about this in regards to himself.

I believe that the key point in our ministries should be faithfulness to God.  We must be faith-ful.  That means that someone can put his or her faith in us.

We always talk about having faith in the Lord.  Rightly so – there’s no other person in the universe more worthy than He is to receive our faith.  The problem is that we’re called to be just like Him.  We’re to be people who are faithful in the same way that He’s faithful.

I’ve found that faithfulness in the ministry is a rare commodity these days.  Please realize I’m not talking about faithful works, but faithfulness to the call that’s been placed before us.

It seems that many Christian leaders have bought into the myth that’s being fostered in corporate America.  They’re constantly updating their resume.  That way they’re able to jump ship at the first sign of trouble or whenever a “better opportunity” arises.

We, as leaders, have to come back to the realization that success in ministry is not climbing a ladder; it’s following the clear call and leading of Christ.

For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena.  We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men.
I Corinthians 4:9

More and more, I’m beginning to understand what Paul was writing about here.  He’s not griping about the problems he’s facing in the ministry.  On the contrary, he’s becoming aware of a fact that every minister must face.  He says that he feels like a man doomed to die in the arena.

He’s just like a professional fighter who knows that he’ll always fight until the day his life will end.  If you’re going to be an effective leader, you’ll have to come to grips with the fact that you’ve made it past the point of no return.  You need to know within yourself that there’s no going back.  This calling is for good – there’s no safety net – you’re going to “die in the arena” of ministry.

There are so many leaders today who have no concept of this.  I’ve heard statements like, “Well, if this falls through I can always sell life insurance.”  This kind of thinking has no place in the heart of a true minister.

At one point, I was going through a particularly stressful time in my ministry.  I was also teaching an hour a week in a school of ministry at a nearby church.  This church, which was much larger than the one I was pastoring, made me an offer to come on staff with them.  The pay and benefits would have been a lot better than where I was.

I related this to a young pastor friend of mine.  He assumed that surely I would send them my resume just to test the waters.  My reply to him was that since God hadn’t changed my calling to my present church, there was no water to test.

He then looked at me with an expression that I will never forget as he asked, “What do you mean by calling?”

This is just the surface symptom of a deep problem facing churches in America today – leaders who have absolutely no concept of calling.  Unless you have a clear understanding of the call of God upon your life, you’ll fall victim to the greatest cause of defeat in ministry today.

I firmly believe that you’re not only called to a position, but also to a location in the body of Christ.  Unless and until God changes your assignment, you would be a fool to move somewhere else.

Question: What’s the calling of God upon your life right now?

© 2019 Nick Zaccardi

 
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Posted by on February 13, 2019 in Leadership, Ministry, Spiritual Walk

 

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