My wife has now retired from her long-time occupation of operating retail stores in several different states where we have lived, and in every instance, she was very successful at doing that, and there was a very simple reason why her stores prospered. She always operated under a basic truth that is all-too-often ignored today. That simple truth is, people like to be appreciated!

In other words, she knows that the most important part of running a business is CUSTOMER SERVICE! When you walk into a store and feel welcomed and appreciated, when the staff is friendly and helps you find whatever it is you’re looking for, lets you know they are grateful for your business, then the next time you need to buy something, chances are good you will go back to that store.

But too many stores today are staffed by minimum-wage earning ‘young’ people, and they don’t care if you buy anything or not! And if business becomes so bad that the store closes, they’ll simply move on to another minimum-wage job in another store, and complete the same thing.

Let me ask you this. How often have you walked into a store only to find a single clerk on duty, and that clerk involved in a personal phone call or something, and can’t possibly be interrupted just to help YOU?

Now let me ask you THIS. How often have you walked into a CHURCH for the first time, and been treated the same way? I remember specifically a church in Northern Michigan that we attended several times, years ago, and the only person who spoke to us, was a man stationed at the door as the ‘official greeter’. He would shake your hand and say ‘hello’ when you came in, and then say ‘goodbye’ after the service as you were leaving. And he did that because that was his job, and nobody else ever even pretended to notice us.

And by making those two comparisons, I’m NOT saying a CHURCH should be run like a BUSINESS, but they do have a lot in common. Where a STORE offers goods for sale, we in the CHURCH are offering JESUS! And our CUSTOMERS are the VISITORS…the STRANGERS who come to visit us, when you make them feel welcome and wanted, they may then join us, and then those formers visitors become members, and then THEY are offering the same Jesus to OTHER visitors, who may come in.

I know, that’s way OVER-simplified, but it is still the LACK of SERVICE…the lack of PERSONAL-CONTACT, that makes STORES uninviting, and the very same thing is true in CHURCHES! And the PROBLEM is, the people involved have forgotten that they are there to SERVE, and not to BE served.

Listen, I’ll bet many of you can still remember when we had ‘service stations’ in America…where you would pull UP to the pump, and an attendant would pump your gas, while you sat in your car…and he would also check your tires and oil, clean your windshield and probably give YOU some GREEN stamps. Remember that?

But today, YOU pump your own gas, and pay over ten times more FOR it, and get nothing else at all. And the difference is…PERSONAL ATTENTION. So the question I’m asking you is…do WE in the church, have a higher calling than a GAS station? Do we have a higher concern for the needs of people, than a 1960 Citgo gas station?

Do you feel that when YOU have a need, you can go to the pastor, or one of the deacons, or a teacher, and receive the quality of care you deserve? Or do YOU feel BRUSHED OFF? Do you feel the leaders of the church are seeking to SERVE, or to BE served? Because whatever YOU feel in that regard, the VISITORS who come to us, will feel the same thing.

In that passage we just read from the book of Mark, Jesus is about to go into the last week of His earthly life, and He has just told the disciples that He would go to Jerusalem, where He would be rejected, and mocked, and spat on, and killed.

But James and John didn’t seem to have heard any of that. Instead they came to Jesus, and tried to play on His obvious love for them. What they said amounted to “Jesus, we want YOU to give us whatEVER we ask for”. And then they asked for the two highest seats of honor, in the Kingdom they were sure He was about to establish…the place on the RIGHT hand, and the place on the LEFT.

But, they were looking for an EARTHLY Kingdom, and an EARTHLY reward. They didn’t understand, or they didn’t believe, all that talk about the suffering and dying.

So Jesus asked them, “Do YOU think YOU can drink the cup that I must drink…and share the baptism I must go through”? The CUP He was referring to, was the ‘Cup of God’s WRATH’, which would soon be poured out on HIM, ALONE! And the BAPTISM He meant, was His own cruel DEATH and BURIAL!

Jesus knew this, and He had told the 12 ABOUT this, many times, but they simply did not believe Him, or understand Him. So these two dreamers said “Yes, Lord, We are able”! In that old hymn that we should have sung, but I couldn’t find it…but the text goes “Are ye able, says the Master, to be Crucified with me? And yea, the sturdy dreamers answer, to the death we’ll follow Thee”.

But the NEXT verse says…”Are ye able, to relinquish purple dreams of power and fame, and to go down to the garden, and die a death of shame”?

That is not what the two brothers were thinking about, though. They were looking FOR that power and glory…not a horrific and shameful death! Mark, in writing this, is being BRUTALLY honest about the 12 men that Jesus called to follow Him as disciples. And YOU might remember, what Mark was actually writing was the remembrance of PETER…and he tells of the RIVALRY, and JEALOUSY, and ANGER that sometimes clouded their thinking.

And he tells us about this incident with the sons of Zebedee, where IF they had been in a BUSINESS situation, they would have been congratulated for their AMBITION, and their DRIVE to SUCEED. However, in this area of discipleship, those attitudes were SHAMEFUL!

James and John, based on NOTHING more than their own desires to BE given special honor, approached Jesus and basically asked for the ‘best seats in the house’. They wanted to be able to SHARE, to the UTMOST degree, the POWER and GLORY they were sure would soon come, in this KINGDOM Jesus kept talking about. And they were placing themselves on a higher plane than men like NOAH, or ABRAHAM, or MOSES, or DAVID. They thought THAT highly of themselves!

In verse 40, in answering their request, Jesus does not REBUKE the two brothers for their misguided ambition. Instead, He makes a STRANGE statement. He says of those two most honored positions, the one on His right hand, and the one on His left…He says “Those are not MINE to give”.

And that is strange, because we see, in our current study of the Book of Revelation, Jesus seated at the right hand of God the Father, and FROM there, He IS dispensing rewards, as well as punishments. Actually, the REAL reason for His denial, is in the LAST half of that verse, where it says “It shall be given to them for whom it is prepared”.

What He meant was…the assigning of highest honors, and the places of LEAST honor…have already been decided, and they will be assigned, not by ASKING for them, but by EARNING them.

Now, you CANNOT earn your SALVATION! That is a GIFT…a FREE gift, to you from God. BUT having OBTAINED that Salvation, you are now supposed to SHARE that gift, with OTHERS! You are NOT Saved by the good works YOU do, but you ARE Saved to DO good works. And BY the good works you do AFTER being saved, will help you to EARN your degree of Heavenly rewards.

But still the REASON for DOING the good works should NEVER be with the THOUGHT of earning rewards. You DO them, because that is what you are SUPPOSED to do!

Now, James and John will go on from here, to do some amazing things for the Kingdom of God, and for the cause of Christ. But when you think back over the great heroes of the Bible…like ISAIAH, or DANIEL, or PAUL, you gotta understand that they were putting themselves UP against some pretty stiff competition in vying for those places of honor.

And I want to direct your attention to verse 41. It says that when the other 10 heard what the brothers had asked of Jesus, “they were greatly displeased”. That’s just a polite way of saying they were real ticked off. And do you know WHAT the 10 were mad ABOUT? It wasn’t because James and John had ASKED for this honor, but because THEY hadn’t thought to ask for them FIRST!

That’s why, in verses 42 through 44, Jesus called the 12 together, and had this impromptu teaching session, which holds such great truth! He reminded the 12 how it was with the WORLD…where those who were acknowledged as ‘rulers’, exercised AUTHORITY over those who were under them…the authority of an acknowledged SUPERIOR, over his INFERIOR subjects. THAT’S the way the WORLD works.

And then He says “Little children, YOU are not OF the world”! He said “With YOU, the one who will be the GREATEST, is the one who will make himself the SERVANT of ALL”! While Jesus was WITH this small group, HE would be the UNDISPUTED leader of ALL of them. And HE was the One who ministered TO all of them, and He WAS the GREATEST of them.

But one day, just about a week from now, He would be taken away from them. And then the 12 would be called on to do the ministering. And Jesus would SHOW them, by His own example, just how FAR they should go, in their ministering to the needs of others.

And He would show them, by wrapping a TOWEL around His waist, and getting down on His Hands and Knees, and washing the feet of His disciples, including the feet of the man who He KNEW would soon BETRAY Him.

The very One who had CREATED the entire Universe in the first place, would take on the role of the LOWEST slave, by washing the dusty feet of the men He had called to follow Him.

I have people ask me all the time, “does that mean WE are supposed to wash each other’s feet”? And I’ll say “Sure! If you can do it RIGHTLY! And that means doing it NOT to show OTHER PEOPLE how SPIRTUAL YOU are! And THAT right THERE will stop just about EVERYBODY who has ever engaged in a “foot washing ceremony”.

Because THAT is ALWAYS a way of saying “Hey, look at ME! Aren’t I something SPECIAL?” If you really want to show how spiritual YOU are, go find some drunken BUM, lying in the gutter, wash HIS feet, and clean the VOMIT off his chest…and do it when there is NO ONE ELSE around, to SEE you doing that. THEN I’ll be impressed with your spirituality. But just washing each OTHERS feet, sorry, that just doesn’t do it.

While James and John has selfishly asked for high honors, and the others had gotten mad because THEY hadn’t thought to ask for that FIRST, Jesus quietly tried to point them in the other direction, by telling them, in verse 45…”The Son of Man didn’t come to BE served, but to SERVE, and to GIVE his LIFE, as a RANSOM for many”.

And IF they understood what He was saying, then THEY should do the SAME thing, and give THEIR lives, in service to others.

In a BUSINESS situation, the first thing you have to do is identify who your customers are. So the only REAL problem James and John had, was they completely MISunderstood the MISSION of this Kingdom of Heaven Jesus was about to bring.

They were thinking that THEY were the customers, and expected to BE served…and now Jesus is telling them “No, you’re wrong. You are not the CUSTOMERS, you are the SERVANTS of the REAL customers”.

And in the very SAME way, WE who have accepted the Salvation that God offers us through His Grace, WE are to be the SERVANTS of EVERY seeker, or POTENTIAL seeker, we come in CONTACT with.

God’s Grace is ABSOLUTELY FREE. It’s not a COMPETITION with other Christians…it’s not a RACE to see who can gain the most points. We just RECIEVE what was given freely to us, and then we are to see that what WE have, the WORLD NEEDS. And if you are TRULY redeemed, you will WANT to give OTHERS that same Grace. And the only way YOU can DO that, is as a SERVANT! You cannot FORCE anyone into the Kingdom! You can only SHOW them, and URGE them, and ENCOURAGE them.

It wouldn’t hurt a whole lot of today’s churches to go back and examine their ROOTS…to see WHERE they have come from, and where they are now GOING. Because there is entirely TOO MUCH competition among churches, just like the competition we are reading about here among the 12 disciples, in vying for the places of HONOR in God’s Kingdom.

Today, in America, the churches that are the BIGGEST, have the most MEMBERS, the most PROGRAMS…are AUTOMATICALLY seen as the BEST. When we first came to Tucson, we were constantly told about this church UP North of here, that had THIS program, and THAT program, and how GREAT it was.

But we were NEVER told how SPIRITUAL this church was, just about all the PROGRAMS it had. And the vast MAJORITY of the people IN this particular church, weren’t there because they had been SAVED there, instead they had been LURED away…STOLEN away, from OTHER, SMALLER churches, that couldn’t afford to offer all those PROGRAMS!

Jesus said the GREATEST among us would be the SERVANT of all. And it is really HARD to be a SERVANT, when what you’re really doing is striving to be the BEST!

Most churches, the ones that don’t have PAID staff, PAID musicians, PAID counselors…in other words, the vast MAJORITY of churches, must rely on VOLUNTEERS to get things done. And any organization that attempts to go forward on the basis of volunteer labor, need to remind themselves frequently that people WORK for PAY! And if you can’t afford to pay them with MONEY, then you BETTER pay them with SOMETHING, even if it’s only a PAT on the BACK!

EVERYbody WANTS to BE recognized for what they do…and there is absolutely nothing wrong with being APPRECIATED! I believe when someone does a good job, or the BEST job they CAN do, then they ought to be TOLD that their efforts are appreciated…because NOBODY works for nothing. They may TELL YOU they’re working for the LORD, you will hear THAT a LOT, and it’s usually TRUE, but still, it’s nice to know that what they do for the Lord, is noticed and appreciated by others.

James and John were no different than US. They weren’t being BAD people when they made their request. They simply expected something of VALUE, for having left their father’s business to follow Jesus.

True they could be called selfish or inconsiderate of the other disciples by asking for those places of honor…but really what they were doing was just ‘looking out for their own interests’.

You know, those PSYCOLOGISTS aren’t always RIGHT, but then again, sometimes they ARE…and it can be TRUE that, sometimes, when a kid asks their Mom for a COOKIE, what they REALLY want is a HUG!…a chance to be assured that they are loved.

And sometimes the only PAY we receive for the good works we do, is knowing we are LOVED and APPRECIATED, and sometimes, that’s ENOUGH! And it’s because when people work ONLY for MONEY, they will usually be very BAD workers!

There has to be something to MOTIVATE us, to COMMAND our INTEREST, Jesus called us, those of us who are Saved, to be SERVANTS, and WHEN we serve, in Jesus’ Name…even if it’s only giving a cup of cool water, THAT is when you find TRUE reward…it’s when you understand that your labors, whether large or small, ARE appreciated, by the One who took SERVICE to its ULTIMATE, and GAVE His very LIFE, for US

So let’s go into a time of invitation…and the FIRST thing I’m going to ask you to do, INVITE you to do, is to PLEDGE your LIFE, to a life of SERVICE to our Lord and Savior.

He DIED, to SAVE us! And He SAVED us, to SERVE! Have you been doing that? Or is it possible that there is someone here this morning who has never made the FIRST step, and made that decision to TRUST Jesus WITH your SOUL…to ACCEPT Him and HIS GIFT, as your OWN personal Savior?

That isn’t something that ANYone else can do FOR YOU! YOU have to make that decision…YOU have to look at the CROSS where Jesus Died, for YOU, and look at the LOVE that TOOK Him there, and decide if His love is enough for YOU to accept His offer of eternal security?

If that’s YOU this morning, then I am praying, and all these OTHER Christians are praying, that YOU will come TO the Lord Who loves YOU, and let Him SAVE YOU, and clean UP the MESS that YOU have made of your life…and promise YOU eternity in Glory.

OR if you’re here and you ARE Saved, and YOU KNOW that, and maybe YOU also now recognize that YOU have NOT BEEN the SERVANT you are SUPPOSED to be…will you make that pledge NOW, to BECOME that servant, and follow Jesus in serving those who are suffering, and hurting, and lost, and lonely?

Will YOU do your part, in advancing that Kingdom of God, here on this earth, while we still have time to do that? It’s all up to you…so come if you will.