Service

Tuesday Devotional: 1 Samuel 21

bibleRead 1 Samuel 21:1-9

 4But the priest answered David, “I don’t have any ordinary bread on hand; however, there is some consecrated bread here…”

Religion requires works that overlook a need for the sake of a score.  The Gospel requires personal sacrifice that creates a heart for the stranger for the sake of Jesus Christ.  In many ways, religion is easier.  We can understand scores.  We can understand a checklist.  What’s difficult for us to comprehend is an open-ended demand for love.  We respond with quantifying questions: “Love who?  How much love?  When should I love?”  This is because our sinful natures are not able to love naturally, increasingly, daily.  Trying to love that way is like holding our breath underwater until we can break the surface and breathe the oxygen we were made for.  But the love of God demands the love of God.  Period.  The first victory is the realization that we are totally incapable of that demand and therefore need God every step of the way.  As much as God wants us to turn to Jesus and rely on him for everything, sin also has a passion for redirecting our attention away from Jesus and back onto ourselves, leaving us more likely to seek our own righteousness through a list  we can follow as opposed to a task that we know we would fail at.

The Gospel always sees a specific need over a specific rule.  Is someone naked?  Give them clothes.  Is someone hungry?  Give them food.  Is someone homeless?  Give them a home.  Is someone sad?  Give them a hug.  These are the standards of Jesus and His Gospel and therefore must be the instinct of a person claiming identity in Christ and calling themselves a Christian.  A Christian does not ask for papers first and then serves second.  A Christian professes faith in the Suffering Servant and is remade in His image.  Not as a leader.  Not as a King.  Not as anything but a servant.  When we realize that our sensitivity to the needs of our fellow brothers and sisters is being overshadowed by our status, our system or our score we must pray that the Holy Spirit convict us of our religiosity and reclaim us in the name of Jesus for the sake of Jesus as a disciple of Jesus.  Actions always speak louder than words, and when our actions glorify ourselves we are no longer servants, no longer disciples and no longer Christians.

 

 

Serving the King: Change

Many characteristics may define a Christian life.  Many things may be signs that someone truly lives their faith in correspondence with the Gospel.  In this reflection series, we’ll explore how different Scriptures emphasize service as a defining character trait of the Christian.

Service can be defined as what you do for something or someone.  But in the Gospel context, service is much larger than that.  Service, according to the teaching of Jesus, is a way of life.  More than an aspect Christian character, it IS Christian character.  In these reflections, we’ll discover five elements of service that please God.

Serving with Change (Ephesians 4)

The apostle Paul left behind a lasting legacy in the many letters he wrote to churches and individuals important to the early Church.  While at first glance all of the letters seem to discuss the same topics and ideas, as one devotes more time to them, the diversity within each letter separates them into distinct messages, rather than one massive “Paul Letter” section of the Bible.

The letter to the Ephesian Church expresses sound Christian theology; however, its purpose-driven nature sets the letter apart from the others.  Throughout the letter, Paul not only reminds us of the things that have been and will come as we continue to walk in the light of Jesus Christ, but also devotes significant attention to the idea that falling back into a previous way of life is no acceptable option if the experience of meeting Christ was true and Spirit-led.

The idea of “genuine change” is best expressed in a different letter: Galatians 5.  Paul compares this change in a person’s life and character to a fruit tree. Paul used the idea of “Christian Fruit,” first taught by Jesus throughout his lifetime.  As a person begins to change their life in Christ they witness the emergence and growth of “fruit,” namely love, joy, patience, kindness, faithfulness, self-control, peace, gentleness, and goodness.  It is in the discovery of this fruit that, Paul explains, a follower of Christ will become aware of the change promised by Christ emerging in their character as a Christian.

A theme of Paul’s letters, including the letter to the Ephesian Church, is the notion of a “new life” and an “old life.”  This idea is far from original with Paul as it was first and best explained by Christ himself in the Gospel of John where Jesus talks with the Pharisee, Nicodemus.  According to Jesus there was a clear difference between a person’s old way of living and their new life as his disciple.  Just as a baby, once born, does not return back to the mother’s womb, likewise a new Christian does not return to their “old life.”

However, this desire to stay away from the “old life” does not come through force or insistence by anyone but the person directly involved in the change.  There must be some experience that plants the seed of this desire in the heart of the individual, a seed that continues to grow over time. Awareness of the distinction between the two lives emerges within a person, along with the desire to maintain the newly found direction of this “new life.”

When we are children there are many instances where we are headed straight for a mistake or a bad situation.  Parents may try with all of their might to prevent children from experiencing the predictable outcome that might bring harm.  However, there are also times where the parent knows that to allow the child to experience disaster may be the most effective decision. It may be that allowing the child to fall, so to speak, and allowing the child to experience falling will prompt an experience, not rules, that will encourage a change.

For example, when I was young I loved to play in the sink in our kitchen as my mother cooked or did housework.  My mother would fill up the sink for me and then allow me to play in the water with my favorite toys, clad in a raincoat to protect me from the violent splashing that would ultimately ensue.  However, one day my mother was not around to ask to fill the sink, and I saw an alternative in a large pot of water atop the stove.  Unaware that the pot had been left to boil in preparation for pasta, the only thing I saw was an opportunity for me, along with my toys, to explore new and exciting waters.  Needless to say, what followed was a massive burn that left a sizable scar on my left hand that is still with me.  As a result of this experience, I did not stop my fun water game of splashing, raincoats and toys. What I came away with was a cautious awareness of pots and boiling substances on the stovetop.  That burn gave me enough to know that I never wanted to make the same mistake again.  The scar was a visible reminder of my decision and its consequences.

When Christians, like Paul, discuss the idea of a new life, many people assume that this is just cheap Christian lingo, something we know is in the scripture but don’t know how to experience.  Reading Paul’s desire for the Christians at Ephesus to “put off the old self” makes us aware that there’s something to be done there, but defining the “old self” can seem complicated and discovering the “new self” can be rather ambiguous and hard to comprehend.  What is not difficult to understand is that both Jesus and Paul took this “new life” extremely seriously.

Jesus himself made it perfectly clear that to be a Christian and to represent his name in our new identity means carrying the burden of a cross that accompanies this “new life.”  For some, this cross is heavy, splinter-ridden, and a burden.  This perception of the “new life” can soon make returning to the “old life” without the cross look pretty appealing.  Assuming that the cross means judgment, rules, and impossible expectations makes burning oneself in the boiling water of the “old life” almost desirable.  The difference between the Christian who has not truly encountered the living God and the Christian who has been born of the Spirit, is that the first has not truly understood the dangers of the boiling water, and the second has found that one burn was enough.  The first saw no reason to change; the second saw that change was the only option.

Being changed by God is not something that happens to you but something that happens within you.  The change is supported by the awareness that ahead of you is a well-lit path, and behind you the dark ground already traveled.  Someone who has truly met Christ recognizes that in the darkness exists a world of mistakes already made and desires left unfulfilled.  For this person, walking ahead into the well-lit path of “new life” with Christ is an opportunity to enter into a world of hope and promise.  From this place, the decision to place the hand in the boiling water a second time would seem insane.

At the heart of the Christian’s transformation is an inner acknowledgment that to “go back” is not only counterproductive but counter-intuitive.  Going back is never an option.  Service, bearing the cross in the new life, becomes a part of who you are, and less a list of things you are required to do.  Service becomes more of an instinct and less a choice to be considered.  Serving the king, the suffering servant, the great Teacher, becomes your lifelong desire, the essence of who you are and everything you do.

To know Jesus is to be made like him.  By serving him and serving like him we truly find union with him.  This union establishes us firmly on the rock that is Jesus Christ.  It is then on this rock that we can honestly and confidently refer to ourselves as Christians.

Serving the King: Priorities

Many characteristics may define a Christian life.  Many things may be signs that someone truly lives their faith in correspondence with the Gospel.  In this reflection series, we’ll explore how different Scriptures emphasize service as a defining character trait of the Christian.

Service can be defined as what you do for something or someone.  But in the Gospel context, service is much larger than that.  Service, according to the teaching of Jesus, is a way of life.  More than an aspect Christian character, it IS Christian character.  In these reflections, we’ll discover five elements of service that please God.

Serving with Priorities (Matthew 5)

The teachings of Jesus Christ, found throughout the Gospel narratives, are the foundation on which a Christian builds her life. These teachings are most concentrated in the Sermon on the Mount.  This sermon holds such well-known commands as, “Do not judge,” “Love your neighbor,” and “Turn the other cheek.”  The teachings of Jesus come fast in this passage, and are overwhelming in their expectations.  If you don’t read it carefully, the famous sermon may be nothing more than a peaceful evening with the “good shepherd” on a grassy hillside, everyone holding hands while breathing deep sighs of contentment.  But if we really consider the life this sermon called Jesus’ disciples to live, one can imagine that those sighs of contentment as shocked gasps.   How could anyone be expected to live that way?  If we realize this, Jesus might possibly respond, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God,” as he does in Mark 12.  The reason being that to understand these standards are impossible leaves room to believe that the only way to achieve such impossible standards is through power greater than our own.  In fact the only way to meet the standards found in this famous sermon is to be drawn to the power of God, not the power of self-will.

Matthew 5:23-24

23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

In the previous three readings we explored three issues directly pertaining to the idea of serving God.  First, we found that we must serve with obedience.  Second, we must serve recognizing God’s power.  Third, we must always be prepared to suffer in service as our “suffering servant” served and modeled before us.  In all of these scriptures, what we read were descriptions of what God wants from our service.

The fascinating aspect of Matthew 5 is that here we finally hear the voice of God speaking through Jesus Christ about service. God says that when we come to serve him, we must be motivated, inspired and focused on serving God alone, devoted to serving him and nothing else.  Jesus tells the people that if there is anything else that occupies any space in our hearts or minds, we might as well take the offering, set it down, go take care of our “more important business” and then come back and serve.

Today, it is not unusual to find a church on any given Sunday at any given location filled with people who have set aside a one or, for the “high-level Christians,” a two-hour block in their weekly schedule for God.  Our world is fast-paced and full of obligations.  We have many things to do and have little time to get anything done.  In this environment people find it increasingly difficult to “make time” for God.  Unfortunately, this includes our time as we take our seats at church.

While many of us face schedules and commitments that require much of our energy, time and attention, we pride ourselves on our ability to multi-task.  Multi-tasking is a great skill when the objective is to complete several tasks in the least amount of time.

But the danger of becoming a professional multi-tasker is that we become so proficient at occupying our time with multiple tasks at once that we lose our ability to determine when one task deserves our complete and undivided attention.  For example, the idea of ” family time” has suffered increasingly over the past 20 years.  The amount of quality time that families spend with one another with no distractions whatsoever has been on a steady decline, a trend that may be attributed in some ways to “busyness” and “multi-tasking.”

When you don’t give your undivided attention to something or someone you hold to be important to you, the quality of that relationship will suffer and the relationship will ultimately lose that sense of importance.

From this perspective we can better understand the demand of Jesus that we take care of certain issues before approaching the altar with offerings.  When we come to God preoccupied with a thousand different things, we are doing the equivalent of starting an important discussion with a close friend and then immediately answering a seemingly trivial phone call while “sharing” this “quality time.”

Being raised in a Christian household gave me many impressions, assumptions and ideas about how to live a Christian life.  However, what I understood was superficial at best when it came to who God actually claims to be and what he specifically desired from me as a Christian.  I believed God was the egotistical, power-hungry “man upstairs” who, without much proof or explanation of his true existence, wanted me to trust him with everything and believe that the basis of this demand was loving and in my best interest.  I believed what he wanted from me was regular church attendance, prayer and the practice of impossible standards, many which are noted in Matthew 5.

When I at last read through the entire Bible, I did not find the God I expected to find.  This God was not obsessed about the things I thought he would be.  In regards to service and worship, like the verses in Matthew 5, God clearly states that he would rather have no offering, no church attendance and no money from a so-called “Christian” if those things came with a divided focus and a divided heart.  I discovered that God’s desire was to have all of my heart, but not if I was unprepared and unwilling to give it all away.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus demands many things from those who choose to follow him.  He desires service, a level of commitment to his promise of transformation that seems impossible.  However, without a fully prepared heart and mind to pursue this new life, Jesus would rather we not accompany the offering into his presence.

 

Serving the King: Strength

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Many characteristics may define a Christian life.  Many things may be signs that someone truly lives their faith in correspondence with the Gospel.  In this reflection series, we’ll explore how different Scriptures emphasize service as a defining character trait of the Christian.

Service can be defined as what you do for something or someone.  But in the Gospel context, service is much larger than that.  Service, according to the teaching of Jesus, is a way of life.  More than an aspect Christian character, it IS Christian character.  In these reflections, we’ll discover five elements of service that please God.

  • Serving with Obedience
  • Serving with Strength
  • Serving with Suffering
  • Serving with Priorities
  • Serving with Change

 

Serving with Strength (Psalm 62)

When it comes to serving people or doing good deeds, the old debate springs up if any truly selfless act exists.  Most people acknowledge that behind every act of goodwill is always some self-serving motivation.  As we do good things or serve others, motivation is always in question.  If our motivation is for ourselves, we negate self-less service for others.

But God in Scripture demands selfless service from his followers. This makes us wonder: does God not understand to whom he is talking?  Does he not understand our limited ability to do such things?  The answer to this comes through the word of God, where we can see that God does know exactly to whom he is talking, and he fully understands our limited potential without him.

Service can usually be divided into two categories.  On one side, you serve to gain something for yourself.  On the other, you serve to pay what you owe.

Serving with the hopes of gaining something in return for the service is, at its core, selfish.  The true motivation behind this has everything to do with you, rather than those you serve, making this so-called “charity” sinful at its core. Unfortunately, this is the outlook of many churchgoing Christians.  Behind the façade of their busy “service” schedule is the desire to ultimately cash in on all of the good deeds for future rewards.  Going to church is a way to gain points.  Sharing the Gospel with people on the street gains points.  Opening the door for a co-worker gains points.  Regardless of the method, selfishness and self-centeredness lurk behind each righteous deed.  Serving God in this way has nothing to do with God at all.  In all honesty, God is simply the man at the carnival stand who cashes in your tickets for stuffed animals and goofy pens.

Serving to pay a debt comes with entirely different motivation.  Serving because we expect something in return allows us to occupy the center of all of our deeds for others.  However, serving because you are in debt puts the focus on the one you are serving, rather than on you.  Awareness that you are heavily indebted to someone adjusts the heart and soul into “payback” mode.  For example, if someone went two hours out of their way to help you on the side of the road because your car broke down, you would naturally have a desire to do something, big or small, to thank them for their assistance and effort.  The most effective way to feel love is to give it. The most powerful motivation to serve is to receive outrageous mercy and love.

In Psalm 62, repeatedly the psalmist refers to God as a “rock” and a “fortress.”  The psalmist repeats that in God alone are safety, strength and hope.  The psalmist has clearly experienced the personal, tangible power and mercy of God, and stands boldly upon this foundation.  It is clear to the writer that it was not in his own strength that he was serving God, and it was not as a result of his strength that he was so cared for and protected.  This individual understood that the true strength came from one place alone.

Each Sunday Christians pour into churches around the world under the banner of Christ.  The question that lies at the foundation of this fact is, “Why?”

For some, perhaps, this devotion is motivated by hope of future reward or praise.  Going to church is simply a requirement by which to garner favor with God and admittance into heaven. But the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, indeed the whole body of the Scriptures, shows that no one person can ever do enough to justify admittance into heaven. Nor can we receive any righteous reward out of human effort.  The truth is that we are ultimately and completely justified only by the perfect sacrifice.  Only by his wounds, his selfless service, are we completely healed.  Serving God can never stem from a desire to earn our reward or our glory.  Serving God the way that Jesus preached is by God alone and for God alone.  It is in Jesus we find a reason to serve. It is in his life that we find the strength to serve.

Tuesday Devotional: Philippians 2

bibleRead Philippians 2:1-11

The nature of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is displacement.  It is shifts and redirection.  There is nothing stationary or static about the Gospel, nor the life of one overcome by it.  The gospel moves and initiates movement.  This motion begins with the radical dislocation and displacement displayed by Jesus Christ.  The Gospel is anchored in the fact that God himself was dislocated from his rightful place of dominion to a place of disgrace, humiliation and suffering.  Jesus Christ came into this world as a servant. It is then impossible and contradictory for any who profess faith in him to model a character different from his.  As Christians, our lives are anchored by the fact that God humbled himself to be what others needed him to be, and rather than what he knew he deserved. It runs in the face of the Gospel to expect anything different in our own lives.  As Christians, the source of our faith begins with Christ’s service.  It is then reproduced in our lives in service to others.  This service then unites us with Christ and his character, fueling us with daily perseverance to overcome the suffering in this world by knowing that we are of one mind with him.  If division or disunity exists in a fellowship of believers as a result of selfish ambition or vain conceit, Christ no longer has a place in that fellowship and it can no longer rightfully claim to bear his name with any integrity to the Gospel.  The church cannot disconnect itself from the life of Christ nor can it survive without him.  The church ceases to exist if the spirit and character of Christ ceases to exist within it.  One cannot enter into fellowship with Christ or other believers and remain unchanged or unmoved.  At the heart of Christianity is the shift from what we feel we deserve, to what we know he deserves.  It is complete submission to his character and the power of the Holy Spirit to recreate that character within us.  This submission requires the willingness to be dislocated from places to which we have so firmly planted ourselves in the past.  Service to others essentially has nothing to do with whom you are serving and everything to do with why you are serving.  You are serving each day because the God of Heaven and Earth came into this world and served in a way we could never serve.  Therefore, service is not humility to what is being served.  Service is humble acceptance of the truth of Christ’s service and the need for service to be present in our lives if we expect God to be present in our lives.

Serving the King: Obedience

Many characteristics may define a Christian life.  Many things may be signs that someone truly lives their faith in correspondence with the Gospel.  In this reflection series, we’ll explore how different Scriptures emphasize service as a defining character trait of the Christian.

Service can be defined as what you do for something or someone.  But in the Gospel context, service is much larger than that.  Service, according to the teaching of Jesus, is a way of life.  More than an aspect Christian character, it IS Christian character.  For the next five weeks we’ll discover five elements of service that please God.

  • Serving with Obedience
  • Serving with Strength
  • Serving with Suffering
  • Serving with Priorities
  • Serving with Change

 

Serving with Obedience (1 Samuel 15)

In 1 Samuel 15, we are plunged into the moment of no return for Saul, the newly anointed first King of Israel, and his relationship with God.  After Israel demanded a King of their own in place of God, God granted their request and gave them Saul.  Although he began his reign over Israel as a humble-hearted servant, Saul’s character began to change with success and popularity.  As is the case with many of us, Christian or not, the moment we see more of ourselves we see less of everything else.  This is where we find Saul as we enter into Chapter 15.

However, at this point we can’t be too critical of Saul.  Saul still believed that he was doing God’s work and acting in a way pleasing to God.  In the passage, God had given Saul direct orders to deal with the Amalekites completely and conclusively.  With zeal and strength in the Lord, Saul overpowered them with ease and was left with the choice: to see his orders out to the end or to compromise God’s will to pursue his own.  Unfortunately Saul made the same mistake that we often do. He compromised God’s true will in order to follow his own interests and desires.

God ordered Saul to eliminate the Amalekites completely. Although Saul defeated them on the battlefield, his priorities after the fight changed once he let his heart and the people around him influence his decision-making.  As the battle came to a close, Saul had the king of the Amalekites, King Agag, alive and potentially useful for a ransom reward.  Saul also found himself with an impressive financial and material bounty taken from the Amalekites.  As Saul began to listen more to the desires in his own heart, the voice of God faded ever further into the background.  Saul concluded that God would not think critically of his decision to do what he truly desired as long as God’s command was at least partially obeyed.  To Saul, there was large-scale sin and small-scale sin and God would naturally view his as that of the smallest order.  After all, he did defeat the people God ordered him to.  Would God be so displeased if he took a little reward for himself on a part of his dutiful “service” and “obedience?”

Samuel, the prophet who was God’s messenger during Saul’s ruling years, entered the scene as Saul was carrying out these sacrifices.  Noticing Saul’s blatant disobedience, Samuel began to rebuke Saul for his actions.   At this point it is far too easy for us to judge Saul’s actions, shocked that someone could disregard the commands of God in such a manner.  However, as we read this passage in front of the mirror, Saul’s actions following Samuel’s initial rebuke has a lot in common with us.  Saul begins to make excuses as to why he did not do everything God had demanded.  To this Samuel has a powerful, one-word response.  STOP.

As Christians who actively work in the church, or even as Christians who are living our days under the banner of Christ, there are often times when we clearly are aware of what we are supposed to do, yet we hesitate.  For whatever reason, we doubt either our initial calling or the necessity to follow that calling to the exact specifications.  In other words, we all face moments when we want to do one thing and God wants us to do another.

It is never easy to follow a path that seems lead nowhere, or lack a purpose and direction.  However, as Christians, there must be a deeper motivation to our service.  Our service can never be about knowing the destination ahead of time, or the easiest way to get there.  As Christians and God’s children, we must follow and obey because we are aware that the One handing out the orders has our best interests in mind and deserves our service.  The moment we begin to stray from our orders is the moment that we have either lost trust in God’s ability to know how to do something, or lack the faith that he knows how to get us somewhere.  Either way, straying from the will or plans of God shows complete lack of respect.  We are prideful beings who like control and only God can heal this sickness in us.

It’s important to remember that all along Saul thought God would understand and be pleased with his actions.  Saul is not sinning in the pursuit of unrighteousness.  He is under the impression that God’s righteousness can find harmony or balance with our own personal desires.  What we learn from Saul is that, as much as we have been programmed to repent of our sins and all of our unrighteousness, we as Christians need to be ever aware of sins done out of righteousness and “good deeds.”  The one thing that Saul never says is, “I’m sorry,” or “I was wrong.”  He could not believe that God disregarded his efforts and achievements.  How could an obedient servant be criticized for such a trivial deviation from the original objective?

As we carry out duties within the church and society we must always be aware of why we are doing the things we do for God, and if we are serving to be obedient to God or to our own hearts.  In other words, do we obey out of a love for God?  Or do we obey out of a love for ourselves?  As Christians, although our dependence on sin will fade over time, as we are reborn in spirit we must be aware of the never-ending presence of sin in our lives.  Sinful desires can be overcome, but sin will never disappear as long as we are alive.  In Jesus Christ, God is with us, but because of the fall, so is sin.  Even as we go to church on Sunday and serve, even as we share the word of God, we must never forget that none is good but God.  The only “good” person has ransomed us out of our imperfection.  It takes the realization of God’s saving grace through the work of Jesus Christ to find true motivation to serve with natural, genuine obedience to God alone.  We ultimately find the motivation to “be good” only because he is perfect.  Jesus calls us to be servants, not out of the promise of riches or rewards, but out of a desire to be one with him through our sacrifice in the name of obedience.