“Resolution One: I will live for God. Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will.” - Jonathan Edwards -

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Suffering Servant

THE SERVANT - Who has believed what they heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. - Isaiah 53:1-7 -

In my last post I addressed some of the self-centeredness that seems to have prevaded the church; in this post I want to examine the life of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

While we are often consumed with the relative importance of our role in the local church, we should look to our Savior, the Lord of all creation, and listen to His words:

Mark 10:45 – “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

Imagine, if you will, the Lord of all, the one described in Colossians 1:15–20 as “… the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross... humbling Himself, bowing to wash the feet of His disciples! The one who created their feet now stooped to wash them! This is the Savior who came to serve and not be served!!! And I, in my arrogance, often think I am deserving of more 'respect', or I am not 'appreciated'!

The Messiah Himself asks if we think we will be greater than the Master (Him)! What arrogance that we could have a Savior who gave up everything to serve, and we be so self-centered that our whole world revolves around us without a thought to our brothers and sisters!

When I reflect on the cross of Christ, and the fact that He came to SERVE by giving His life for me, I am ashamed of my attitude! 2nd Corinthians 8:9 - For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor so that you by his poverty might become rich. This verse says that He became a ptōcheuo; aka a beggar. For us, He emptied Himself and became a beggar.

In John 13, that amazing passage where Jesus Christ washes the disciples feet, we find Him saying this; “You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him…”

The task of washing another’s feet in Messiah’s day was consigned to a servant – it was a lowly task. They did not have paved streets and well-shod shoes; rather they walked about in sandals on unpaved, dirt streets that were frequented by animals as well. The feet of one would be filthy upon entering a home, and it was customary that a servant would ensure that the guest’s feet were attended to. Interestingly, we do not see the disciples jumping up and offering to do this task: we are more like the disciples than we would sometimes like to admit!

How often do we think that many of the more mundane tasks around the church are too low for our station in life? Many of us come to church and never give a second thought to serving others. As a matter of fact, we have been conditioned to expect service, not provide it! Service SHOULD NOT BE consigned to the ‘pros’ in the church, but should be a watchword for every person who attends!

I looked through God’s Word and I cannot find anywhere in the Bible where people are instructed to be pew-warmers, or simply attendees. Everywhere we are instructed to be involved in ministry of some type. Maybe you don’t feel ready to jump into the deep end of ministry, but I will tell you, that, as a child of God, you are called to be in ministry at some level. Just as the Messiah instructed in John 13 – we are called to wash one another’s feet; now that does not necessarily mean literally, but in the many ways in which we can help one another, care for one another, lift one another up. My friends, we are on the mission field, and on the mission field we are to be holding one another up, and being an example to a lost and dying world, just as our Lord and Savior was!

No one pays much attention to the people who haul the garbage from our curbs, but when they go on strike, they suddenly become the most important people in the world! It is the same in our congregation – those who often go unnoticed are some of the ones who are most essential. Look around, begin noticing the workers at your church, and come alongside one of them, lifting them up in prayer and assisting them.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Service -- A Dead Idea?

In the U.S., we live in a society that is completely self-absorbed – everything is built around us, and if it isn’t, we are upset (I suffer from this as much as anyone). We can get on the web and create entire environments that focus on us (witness the success of MySpace, YouTube and FaceBook). We can write anything we want on our Weblog, thinking that it is important, and calling ourselves ‘published’ authors, We can put a camera on our every action and broadcast ourselves on YouTube. Our young folks are feted by marketeers from the time they can walk and talk; telling them that they 'deserve' whatever product is being hawked; that, at the end of the day, its all about them.

All of these things have created an environment where service to others (much less thought about others) has been relegated to nothing more than a quaint old-fashioned concept. If you doubt this, go to a restaurant and see what the service is like – I recently went to a restaurant, and one of my friends had to practically beg to get a cup of water, all the while the wait staff stood behind the counter yakking. When was the last time that you saw someone give up their seat to an older person, or a pregnant woman? When boarding a plane, how many times do you see a so-called professional running over small children, older people, or anyone else foolish enough to get in their way; and all the while they are talking on their cell-phone, checking their PDA, some other self-absorbed activity; completely OBLIVIOUS to everyone else!

Watch a professional football player – when he scores a touchdown, he goes into some elaborate dance as if he had done something really special, but in reality, these people are paid quite well to score touchdowns, in other words, he celebrates when he does his job! Could you imagine a bagger at Wal*Mart going into a touchdown dance once they had successfully bagged your purchases; we would consider them a little touched, but yet we cheer these overpaid, self-absorbed men playing a child's game!

The football analogy is a good one for us to look at. When a ‘superstar’ scores a touchdown, it is the result of many men doing their job – no one, not even T.O., (I live in the Dallas area), can walk onto a football field and take on the entire opposing team by himself. Without the unsung service of the offensive line, he, or the QB gets squashed every time! It is the same in a church – yes, the pastor may deliver a powerful message but first and foremost; the message is God’s Word, not the pastor’s! Secondly, in our case, there are people who pray for me before every service, and there are people who ensure that I am able to come up here and do what the Lord has called me to do. There is no Lone Ranger in ministry – we need each and every person to do what the Lord has called them to do.

Sadly, the pervasive and insidious narcissism of the world has snuck into the church. Instead of God’s people gathering to worship and serve a Sovereign King, we have become a people who gather together to get be entertained, coddled and amused.

We, in the modern church, have created an entire generation of people who think that church is all about them and their needs, rather than about God and His Glory. And it shows: church-hopping is very common in today’s world; people will attend a church as long as it fills their needs, but the minute another church offers something more ‘interesting', or caters more to their needs, they will bail on their church where they may be needed, in order 'be served' as opposed to 'serve'.

Membership is something that people do not understand very well, even those who may belong to a church. Some may even belong to a different church every year or multiple churches at the same time, all the while chasing a feeling.

Tithing has always been a struggle, but even more so nowadays when we have far more things to spend our money on. Some even withhold it as a sort of ransom to get the pastor to preach on their favorite subjects. Lest you think I am immune to any of this, I just want to ensure that I am not. I struggle with self-centeredness as much as anyone else.

What I found as I studied the Word is that Christian service is not a nice idea, or a suggestion, rather it is something that the Lord Himself commands those called by His name. Those called by His Name are to be a peculiar, caring, service-oriented people. Sadly, we are not very peculiar – we are as self-absorbed, as worrisome, as caught up in consumerism as the next person.

As I work through this series of posts I am going to examine whether or not we are servants in our hearts, or if the church is simply consumed with itself. Are we peculiar, or do we look just like the world around us? How do we get back to the ideals of Christian Service? I am under no allusion that this series of posts in a far corner of the blogosphere will change anyone, except, hopefully me. As a pastor, I am ashamed of my own self-centered attitude, so maybe this series of posts is a catharsis for me, who knows?

Hello

No, I have not fallen off the face of the Earth -- just extremely busy: in addition to Sunday services, I am also teaching a Matthew study at work, going through a study on the Trinity with a small group on Wednesday, preparing a study on Deacons for Sunday morning and wrapping up a 1 year study of Church History with the Youth at church.

The next series I plan on doing here is a series of posts on servanthood. And maybe I will even update blog site!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Post-Election Blues

Well, it is the morning-after blues for the Republicans. I am not really a politico, or a political commentator, simply a layman observer, but I do have a few observations, and then I will not mention politics again (until next time).

While the GOP licks its wounds, and the blame begins to seep out, the truth of the matter is that they made a real dog’s breakfast of their time in leadership. Now, lest you believe I am a died-in-the-wool Dem, I assure you, I am not. However, given the current state of the Union, I certainly am not a died-in-the-wool Republican either.

The truth of the matter is that this country is in desperate need of a leader – someone with a vision and the courage to carry it out. Now, some may say that George W. Bush is/has been that person, however, many feel that he has been less than honest in his leadership and the goals of his administration, others simply feel that he has been stumbling along trying to determine direction depending on the way the reports from Iraq come in.

I am not a Bush-basher by trade; I think it is far easier to sit in a chair and judge the leadership of these people than to actually do it, but I must admit that I have been disillusioned by Bush’s apparent lack of direction – all rhetoric aside; there has been little of substance to hang my hopes on.

What I would love to see is some real leadership by the elected officials; however I fear that Pelosi and others are simply going to continue status-quo; oh, there may be a hot button issue or two that they will change direction on, but the overall drift of our country will be relatively unchanged. This is due to the fact that these are professional Washington types – people who want power, and their goal once in D.C. is to retain that power. Regardless of their political stripe, there is a true bi-partisan attitude – maintain power at the expense of the people.

The Christian’s are simply another constituency that the politicians woo, and many are naïve enough to be used as a voting block. The farce that somehow the Christians have made SIGNIFICANT changes in this country through their political power is easy to refute. Ask yourself a couple of questions: is this country morally more on track now than two years ago, four years ago, twelve years ago? Is it more ‘Christian’ in its approach to the world than it was six years ago? Maybe you can justify that it is, but I certainly cannot; as I said, I am not a political expert, but as a citizen, I can honestly say that I have noticed no difference.

Truth be told, if you are a Christian and you feel that political power is the way to change this country, then you are be sadly mistaken. I think it is imperative to vote, and yes, I want to see Christians elected, but to believe that a PARTY is the Christian answer to the problems is wrong-headed. Psalm 33:13-17 -- The LORD looks down from heaven; he sees all the children of man; from where he sits enthroned he looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, he who fashions the hearts of them all and observes all their deeds. The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue.

And even though I provided links to John Piper’s thoughts about elections, and I know that he is much more intelligent than I am in so many areas, I disagree on one thing. It is no longer simply whether or not one is Pro-Life or not that is a decision-maker. I will provide an example: Let’s say someone was Pro-Life, but also a member of NAMBLA, and they were running against someone who was Pro-Choice, but a solid family person – which way do I vote on this?

The recent events within the Republican ranks highlight that it is not a simple Pro-Life vs. Pro-Choice situation – I believe that many people may have run on Republican tickets because that was the party in power – sort of like flies being attracted to a dung heap – but did not share the supposed values of the party (except externally).

At the end of it all – we, the American people again are searching for leadership; let us pray that the Lord brings us that!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Election Time

UPDATE -- Found these links over at Justin Taylor's blog. Some good thoughts from Piper regarding elections.

For those of us in the USA, it is election time. I cringe a lot during these times as I hear pastors preaching sermons about the elections. For example -- today I was listening to someone who said -- "Jesus died so we could live free lives in pursuit of happiness".

Well, ummmm no; the Declaration of Independence says that, but in reality, Jesus Christ died so that we would not have to spend eternity in Hell, separated from God. To frame the Gospel in a nationalistic mindset is wrong; what is the message to the persecuted Church? "well, Jesus died so WE could live free lives in pursuit of happiness, but y'all, well, good luck!"

These same pastors will speak on IDOP (International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church) about their hearts for the ones in others countries and then make these nationalistic statements regarding the Gospel the next week, or a few weeks prior , in this case.

I am not saying that these are bad people, but I believe that they have a serious misunderstanding of the Gospel if they believe that Christ was crucified so that we could live in the land of fast-food and malls, whereas the rest of the world struggles along...

I am also discouraged when these pastors select a party and deem it "God's Party", i.e. GOP "God's Ordained Party". Neither party (we actually do have more than two, but they are rarely given the time of day) is GOD'S party -- look at their actions, they are simply men, and we know what the Bible says about that.

So, for those inside the USA, I have a voting idea for you. Get familiar with the real issues that are facing our elected officials, you will probably be ahead of them at that point, and then vote for the person that you believe can best fulfill the role required for those issues. Do not be lemmings, voting the way your pastor directs you to vote, nor should you NOT vote, that is equally wrong; you have a responsibility. Get educated, use your noggin, and PRAY for wisdom!