Love Like No One is Watching- Romans 12

happy friends tasting food in cafeteria

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.- Romans 12 (ESV)

What does the apostle Paul mean by being transformed by the renewal of our minds? Human beings are funny creatures who, if left to the designs of the natural man, like to have things just so, who don’t like to share with others, who want control of their environments and the behaviors of others.

The designs of the natural man are not God’s designs.  God has gifted each of His people with different gifts so that we can work together for God’s purposes.  It’s not always readily apparent what God wants to do with us.  Sometimes we think we are made to be one thing or desire to be something that is different from what God has planned for us or has created us to be.  Other times our roles change based on the needs of others, the stage in life where we are, and the circumstances God has put in our lives.

This is why prayer and discussion in a body of believers is so essential- so that together we can discern God’s direction and follow Him individually and collectively.

All of us in spite of our different gifts we are called to love like no one is watching. We are called to faithfulness and prayer, and to serve others because this is how we serve God.

We are called to listen for God’s call: what should we be doing, where, and how?

We are called to trust God, not to repay evil with evil, but to leave judgment to God alone.

We are encouraged to weep with those who mourn and rejoice with those who are rejoicing.

We are called to be flexible enough to put our own desires aside and let God make His desires our own.

We are imperfect. We are sinners even though we are also God’s saints. Yet God’s purpose and plans will prevail- even when we are dragged along kicking and screaming.

We are not made the same, and it is difficult at times to come together, yet God has a place and a plan for each of us.  He calls us to trust Him.

 

 

November 20, 2019- The Conditions in Which We Are Called, Joy in Our Vocations- 1 Corinthians 7:17-27

Jesus on the water

Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches.  Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision.  For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called.  Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men. So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.  1 Corinthians 7:17-24 (ESV)

There is a popular misconception in some Christian traditions that we are only serving God if we have a call to formal ministry or to service in the church.  Yet our vocations (note the plural here) have a far deeper reach than simply dropping a check in the collection plate, serving as an usher, or donating to the food drive.  Our service in and for the local church is important- yes, people and resources are always needed, wanted and appreciated in the life and ministry of the church- but our service to the church is only one of our vocations.

Vocation is not about glorifying ourselves or climbing the corporate ladder. Vocations are ways in which we serve others for the glory of God.   How do we serve others and glorify God in and through our vocations?

Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God.

Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called.

Thankfully it is not a requirement for Christians to inflict outward signs on their person to verify or establish their faith.  The circumcision argument- are Gentile men who become Christian obligated to be circumcised like Jewish men? – is the motivation behind the entire book of Galatians.  The Galatians were engaging in a false teaching that in order to be Christian you need to first become a Jew.  Paul teaches us that Jesus is the New Covenant, the fulfillment of everything that the Mosaic Covenant (the Laws given to Moses) foreshadowed.

Time and time again, Paul instructs the churches that our faith, our hope, our life itself, is found in Christ alone, not in outward signs, not in rituals, not in man-made rules.  Our foundation is Christ. Therefore we aren’t concerned with sacrifices and rituals and what things look like on the outside, but we are concerned with being the people that Jesus made us to be.

Moms serve God by loving their children and doing the mundane and thankless things that are part of being a mother. Even changing dirty diapers, wiping snotty noses, retrieving the cat from the bathtub, and scraping used mac and cheese off the kitchen table (yet again) are acts that Moms do for their children and household, to the glory of God.

Employees who are conscientious, ethical and are good workers for their employers bring glory to God.  Employers who are fair and reward employees for work well done bring glory to God through that vocation.

Husbands and wives bring glory to God in those vocations by loving and serving each other.

So what do we do when our vocations get difficult?  What do we do when we live with a terminally ill spouse, and caring for them and serving them becomes thankless and a burden?  What do we do when our circumstances at work are unfair, or we are compelled to do things in the course of our employment that are unethical or even unsafe?

We trust God.  We acknowledge that He is our strength. Jesus walks with us in every challenge and brings us through our trials. When we fail, when we fall, when we are at the end of ourselves, Jesus is there. He will not forsake us.

The apostle Paul does not give us easy answers about our vocations, but he does teach us that our focus in our vocations should not be on our own status or benefits, but for the benefit of those we serve through our vocations.  God can and does work in and through every situation.

Looking at who we are and what we do gives us a bit of a renewed perspective as we consider our identity- who we ARE in Christ- and how it corresponds with our vocations.

Jesus has bought us with the price of His precious blood.  Our value is in Him- not because we are such “special snowflakes”- but because He has given us value.  Any time one is tempted to think that what they do lacks value or that his or her life is worthless, one must remember that we have been bought with the blood of Christ and in that we have worth and value. Even the most lowly and mundane and difficult vocation has worth as we live and breathe and have our being rooted in the foundation of Christ.

In light of our value and as a response to the one who has bought us, how can we think about our vocations in a different way?

Lord, be our strength when our vocations become burdens.  Help us remember that you have bought us with the price of your precious blood, and that in you we have our value. Give us what we need not only to lead the life you have assigned us, in the places where you have landed us, but to find peace and strength and joy with you along the way.

 

March 19, 2018- Show Me Jesus- Psalm 4, John 12:20-25

show me Jesus

Answer me when I call to you, my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; have mercy on me and hear my prayer.

How long will you people turn my glory into shame? How long will you love delusions and seek false gods?  Know that the Lord has set apart his faithful servant for himself; the Lord hears when I call to him.

Tremble and do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent. Offer the sacrifices of the righteous and trust in the Lord.

 Many, Lord, are asking, “Who will bring us prosperity?” Let the light of your face shine on us. Fill my heart with joy when their grain and new wine abound.

 In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety. Psalm 4 (NIV)

 

Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival.  They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.”  Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.

Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.  Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. John 12:20-25 (NIV)

The human condition is such that we have all experienced the “dark night of the soul.” People who live with anxiety especially know the fear that seemingly comes from nowhere and grips one in the middle of the night. Panic attacks and night terrors are not logical, nor are they pleasant, but in the midst of them we can cry out to God and cling to Him, knowing that He does hear our prayers and He does have mercy on us. The Good Shepherd we learn of in Psalm 23 truly does walk with us through the valleys, even through the valley of the shadow of death.  Even though we can at times be terrified, (with rational explanation or not) Jesus is with us, in us, and through us, even in our terror.  He has defeated the things that terrify us.  Death no longer has power over us- let alone the lesser things that vex us. See 1 Corinthians 15:54-57.

There is a prayer (St. Patrick’s Breastplate) attributed to St. Patrick in which he affirms:

Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me. Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

The Greeks in the passage from John 12 came to Philip and asked to see Jesus. Jesus may have surprised them in what He told them- that to gain your life you have to be willing to lose it.

Some of the most miserable people on earth are also some of the most materially wealthy. There is a saying that “money buys one the misery one likes the best.” Many of us would like to test that theory!  The reality is that we are made in God’s image- God Who is a gracious and generous God.  When we give of our time, talents and resources from the overflow of a grateful and loving heart, we fulfill the purpose God made us for- to be His hands and feet here on earth.

It’s not always easy to surrender our lives to serving God. It means we have to sacrifice, just as a farmer or gardener has to sacrifice to sow seeds, tend and weed them, and harvest the crops when they mature.  Nothing worthwhile is easy, but we remember that Jesus came and lived on earth, died on the Cross and rose from the grave so that we may have abundant life, (John 10:10) not just in the world to come, but now too.

It may sound simplistic to say that if you want to see Jesus you have to be willing to be Jesus.  For the hedonistic Greeks it meant they had to espouse a lifestyle of sacrifice and sharing instead of one of opulence and being served by others. We are not Jesus of course, but as His people we are called to be His hands and feet here on earth. Martin Luther actually said we are called to be “Little Christs” here on earth.  We know that He is before us, beside us, within us, and that He has already conquered sin, death and anything that can cause us fear.  He is with us to bring us peace, love and joy- to spread around now and in the world to come.

 

March 6, 2018- Housecleaning- 2 Chronicles 29:1-11, 30-31, 35-36, Matthew 12:43-45

Hezekiah_praying_90-202.jpg

Hezekiah began to reign when he was twenty-five years old; he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Abijah daughter of Zechariah.  He did what was right in the sight of the Lord, just as his ancestor David had done.

In the first year of his reign, in the first month, he opened the doors of the house of the Lord and repaired them.  He brought in the priests and the Levites and assembled them in the square on the east.  He said to them, “Listen to me, Levites! Sanctify yourselves, and sanctify the house of the Lord, the God of your ancestors, and carry out the filth from the holy place. For our ancestors have been unfaithful and have done what was evil in the sight of the Lord our God; they have forsaken him, and have turned away their faces from the dwelling of the Lord, and turned their backs. They also shut the doors of the vestibule and put out the lamps, and have not offered incense or made burnt offerings in the holy place to the God of Israel.  Therefore the wrath of the Lord came upon Judah and Jerusalem, and he has made them an object of horror, of astonishment, and of hissing, as you see with your own eyes. Our fathers have fallen by the sword and our sons and our daughters and our wives are in captivity for this.  Now it is in my heart to make a covenant with the Lord, the God of Israel, so that his fierce anger may turn away from us.  My sons, do not now be negligent, for the Lord has chosen you to stand in his presence to minister to him, and to be his ministers and make offerings to him.”

King Hezekiah and the officials commanded the Levites to sing praises to the Lord with the words of David and of the seer Asaph. They sang praises with gladness, and they bowed down and worshiped.

Then Hezekiah said, “You have now consecrated yourselves to the Lord; come near, bring sacrifices and thank offerings to the house of the Lord.” The assembly brought sacrifices and thank offerings; and all who were of a willing heart brought burnt offerings.

Besides the great number of burnt offerings there was the fat of the offerings of well-being, and there were the drink offerings for the burnt offerings. Thus the service of the house of the Lord was restored. And Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced because of what God had done for the people; for the thing had come about suddenly. 2 Chronicles 29:1-11, 30-31, 35-36 (NIV)

(Jesus said): When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting place, but it finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ When it comes, it finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So will it be also with this evil generation.” Matthew 12:43:45 (NIV)

Housecleaning is a necessary evil for most of us. Most people do not enjoy the process of cleaning, especially when it entails scrubbing grungy, dirty, sticky things that are caked with grease and grime, and throwing away useless clutter and trash.  Cleaning is work. Most people do enjoy being in clean and wholesome surroundings even though we might not like the process of getting to that clean state.

Hezekiah was one of the “good Kings” of Judah. He listened to God’s call to clean up his kingdom- to get rid of the idolatry, to clean up the temple and get rid of all the nasty practices and filth that the kings before him had tolerated and in some cases encouraged.  Hezekiah was also entrusted- and empowered- by God to restore the practice of regular worship to the kingdom of Judah.

There are some important things that we learn about spiritual housecleaning in these passages. The first thing that we learn is that spiritual housecleaning- becoming more like Jesus- or sanctification– is something God wants for us, and He is the one who empowers us and calls us to do it.

The first thing that the priests do in the passage from 2 Chronicles is to carry out the filth. Before we can get our space back to a clean and wholesome environment, we have to take out the trash.  To clean the kitchen one must scrape the dishes, wash the dishes, clean the counters, sweep and mop the floor, and throw away the scraps.  We don’t prepare a fresh meal amidst the trash and leftovers of the last meal. Otherwise fresh food might get contaminated by something that was spoiled.

When we clean up the kitchen, we don’t clean it up to just look at it and enjoy its cleanliness. We clean up the kitchen so that we can prepare healthy and tasty meals, and so that we can serve and nourish our families and friends. We have to clean up often too, because no sooner than we clean things up, they get dirty again.  It’s part of life.  Cleanliness requires maintenance.

God wanted the people of Judah to clean up their act- not just to look pretty- but so that they would be free to serve Him and each other. God gives them- and us- the ability to come close to and serve Him. It is a joy and a privilege to serve God, rather than a duty or a burden.

This is why Jesus tells us that while repenting (turning away from sinful thoughts and actions) and cleaning up our act is good and necessary, once we have repented and gotten ourselves clean, it is also necessary for us to embrace the purpose God intends for us. Otherwise, given human nature, we will fall back into our old bad habits, and worse. Becoming more like Jesus is a journey, and it is a process.  As God’s church, during the season of Lent we engage in repentance- a good spiritual spring cleaning as it were.  We don’t repent and ask Jesus to “clean us up” to look pretty.  We do this intentionally so that we can more fully embrace and engage ourselves in following Jesus and being God’s people.

Many of us probably heard the expression, “Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop,” from our mothers and/or grandmothers. If we don’t occupy ourselves with good and wholesome things, we will find not-so-wholesome things with which to occupy ourselves. Children are great examples of this principle.  When children are not occupied with a purposeful task, the odds are that they will find their ways into mischief.  We are all subject to finding mischief!

Service is the spiritual discipline of doing good things in the world by serving others.  We begin our spiritual housecleaning by asking the Holy Spirit to clear our minds and hearts of the crud- bringing ourselves to Jesus in repentance. We continue our sanctification (letting Jesus conform our hearts and minds to His will) by letting God show us how we can serve Him and others by keeping our minds and bodies occupied with good and wholesome thoughts and deeds.

God gives us His great and free gift of salvation in Jesus. He gives us the gifts of repentance and forgiveness. He also gives us the heart to serve others and to live according to His purpose for us. How can we serve God today?

February 12, 2018-Visit the House of Mourning- Ecclesiastes 7:2-4, Deuteronomy 6:4-9, Matthew 22:36-40

house of mourning

It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart. Frustration is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure. It is better to heed the rebuke of a wise person than to listen to the song of fools. -Ecclesiastes 7:2-4 (NIV)

On Ash Wednesday most of the liturgical Christian traditions begin the season of Lent. Traditionally Ash Wednesday is a day in which we remember that we come from dust and are returned to dust.  This life is a limited time offer.  What are we doing with it?  Are our lives being lived in response to the grace and glory of God?

The only caveat to going to a house of mourning- or being in that place of reflecting on our own mortality- is that while it is good and sometimes needful to visit, don’t stay there. Reflection upon the end of this life is meant to bring us to appreciate and live fully the life that we have. The season of Lent is just that- a season- in which we focus upon what is truly essential. Hopefully along the way we discover what is not essential, and that which would be better for us to give up. More importantly, hopefully, along the way we also discover that part of following Jesus is taking up our own crosses.

In our times of loss and sadness we learn what is really important and what is really lasting. Our social status doesn’t mean anything.  Neither do our possessions or our accomplishments have any lasting value, save the ones we give in the service of God. No one regrets not having spent enough time at the office on his or her death bed.

In our times of loss and sorrow we should cling first of all to Jesus. He is always there for us even in our most profound loss, our deepest sorrow and our most cutting and agonizing pain.

Sorrow and pain do not last forever, but the love and care of God is constant. His understanding transcends the confines of this world as well as our ability to express it.

We learn much about priorities when we go to a funeral or a visitation to honor the dead. We learn about who and what the deceased cared about.  We learn about the family dynamics of the deceased- sometimes for good, and sometimes for ill.  Most of all we learn that life is short and fleeting, and as Solomon, the Teacher of Ecclesiastes points out, “chasing after wind.”

During the season of Lent we will spend much time on the theme of spiritual disciplines. Spiritual disciplines are not punishments, but good exercises to take up. There are many practices that can be considered spiritual disciplines, but in our Lenten studies we will concentrate on seven of them: worship, prayer, fasting, meditation, study, service and surrender.  These disciplines do overlap at times, and that is OK. Some things we do to grow closer to the heart of God may combine worship and service, or prayer and fasting.  That is perfectly fine.  Spiritual disciplines are simply things we do to connect with God, to invite Him to transform our hearts and minds, and to live according to His purpose.

As God’s people are commanded in the Shema from the Old Testament:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.  Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.   Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (NIV)

Jesus expanded on this theme:

 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:36-40 (NIV)

Spiritual disciplines- worship, prayer, fasting, meditation, study, service and surrender– are all ways to love God and our neighbor with our minds, hearts, souls and strength.   Some of the disciplines are easier to practice than others depending on our strengths and weaknesses, but all of them serve to bring us closer to the heart of God.  As we journey through the season of Lent, and from time to time visit the house of mourning, we can also explore the spiritual disciplines and discover what they reveal to us about loving God- and the love that God has first and always had for us.

 

 

 

 

August 7, 2017- The Truth Doesn’t Make Us Popular- Acts 17:10-15

truth

That very night the believers sent Paul and Silas off to Berea; and when they arrived, they went to the Jewish synagogue.  These Jews were more receptive than those in Thessalonica, for they welcomed the message very eagerly and examined the scriptures every day to see whether these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, including not a few Greek women and men of high standing.  But when the Jews of Thessalonica learned that the word of God had been proclaimed by Paul in Berea as well, they came there too, to stir up and incite the crowds. Then the believers immediately sent Paul away to the coast, but Silas and Timothy remained behind. Those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens; and after receiving instructions to have Silas and Timothy join him as soon as possible, they left him. – Acts 17:10-15 (NRSV)

The apostle Paul commended the Bereans for examining the Scriptures and not just blindly believing the message he brought to them. The Russian people have a proverb: “Trust, but verify.” People of faith should ask questions. An informed faith is a strong faith and a valid faith.  Jesus taught that we should build our house on a solid foundation and not on sand. Our faith has a solid foundation- Jesus Himself. We learn of Him all throughout the Bible, and we encounter Him in the world and through other people as we go out and do what He taught. This is the reason why worship and prayer and study and service all go together- our faith is not intended to be a blind faith, but a practical, dynamic and growing faith.

The difficult thing about telling the truth is that telling the truth doesn’t always make one popular. Usually truth telling has quite the opposite effect.  Throughout Scripture God’s prophets were treated rather nastily for telling the truth.  Jeremiah was consigned to a dirty cistern (Jeremiah 37:11-16) as a prison.  Daniel was thrown in the lion’s den to be eaten by lions (Daniel 6:10-20) for refusing to pray to an earthly king.  John the Baptist ended up with his head on a platter as a gift for Herod.  Going against the current ruler or saying bad things about the king wasn’t an activity to engage in, if you valued your hide.  Telling the truth and speaking out for what is right is not always a safe thing to do, even today.  Anyone who doubts that can test the theory. Agree with a woman when she comments that she has put on a few pounds, and watch the sparks fly.

Paul was no less popular to the old school Jews and Pharisees, who did not understand and did not want to believe Who Jesus was. They didn’t want to be told He is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophets and of the Law.  The Pharisees and other old school Jews were looking for a grand military style king like David who would defeat the Romans and restore the Jewish state as their Messiah, not the Suffering Servant that Isaiah had foretold.

Paul himself had once been the Pharisee Saul, who was behind the persecution and killing of Christians until Jesus paid him a visit on the Damascus road. So it was likely that the Pharisees were even more incensed with Paul because they saw him not just as a heretic, but also as a traitor.

The truth is a threat to those in power, especially if their power is built on sustaining a lie. To admit that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah meant that there was no longer any reason to submit to the religious authorities.  To admit that Jesus was God Himself and that God had revealed Himself to the whole of humanity and not just the Jewish people, was more than the Jewish leaders of the day could stand.

The Jewish leaders of Paul’s time couldn’t stand the thought of the truth that God is God of all- and that because of Jesus they could no longer assert an exclusive claim on God. God’s people were not just the direct descendants of Abraham, but all people are God’s people- the door had been opened.

Perhaps we have to face some unpopular truths today. Sometimes the truth revealed in Scripture can be hard to take, such as when we are called to forgive, or we are called to take a path we know is difficult and that we would rather not be on.

What parts of God’s truth are hard for us to accept? That He loves the unlovable?  That He calls us to sacrifice?  That sometimes the answer to our prayers is no?

God is Lord of all. No matter how we may be challenged, or how we might suffer, Jesus is walking with us.  He knows our disappointment, our pain, and our sorrows as well as our love and our joy.  In Him we can be confident when we tell the truth, even when it doesn’t contribute to our popularity.

July 25, 2017- “You’re Not the Boss of Me!,” Mark 10:42-45

not boss

So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant,  and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.  For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Mark 10:42-45 (NRSV)

As someone who has a grandchild who is soon to be a kindergartner, it is fun to observe how black and white her sense of justice and fairness can be. It’s either all or nothing to a five year old, and it can be a challenge to show her how to negotiate solutions with others and to learn to meet in the middle.

She does understand the chain of command very well though. She knows that only certain adults have the authority to set her boundaries and to set standards for her behavior. One of her favorite expressions when another child tries to tell her what to do is, “You’re not the boss of me!”  She knows that other children don’t have authority over her, and she doesn’t abide bullies for long.  Good for her.  Being a bully toward others only garners very short term, if any, results.

Jesus was trying to explain true leadership to His disciples. Being a good leader has nothing to do with wielding power over others.  It has everything to do with serving others, encouraging others, and being the good example for others.

Good leadership involves sacrifice. How can a leader expect others to meet their potentials if he or she is not willing to live out the example?  Who really wants to work longer hours, or go above and beyond the minimum requirements for a boss who cuts out early to play golf, who is rude and condescending, or who simply dictates from afar?

Good leadership involves empathy. If we know what is involved in sacrifice and serving, then we should have compassion and empathy for those around us as they strive to live out their vocations.  Jesus was as human as we are.  When his friends were hurting, He grieved.  When His friend Lazarus died, He wept.

Good leadership involves working together with others. We should be willing to help and to model best practices. Sometimes the best solutions for everyone require us to brainstorm and find the best compromise.

Good leadership calls for mutual respect, and to regard the needs of others before our own needs.

How are we being good leaders- by being good servants- today?

February 20, 2017 Spiritual Disciplines- When We Fast…Matthew 6:16-18

dana-carvey-church-lady

When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly, I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, Who is unseen; and your Father, Who sees what is done in secret will reward you.  Matthew 6:16-18 (NRSV)

Spiritual disciplines are worthwhile pursuits- things such as prayer, worship, study, fasting, meditation and service.   Why are we praying, worshiping, studying, fasting, meditating, or serving?  If we are just putting on a show to impress people or to be “holier than thou,” we are wasting our time and effort, but if we are doing these things as part of the natural rhythm of our lives, because we long to live as God created us to live, and to get closer to the heart of God, then we are acting with the proper motive.  We don’t need to toot our own horns.  Our lives and actions should speak for themselves without us feeling the need to draw attention to them.

In the Lutheran understanding of theology, God comes to us.  He comes to us in life and love and creation, in His inspired word (the Bible) and most fully and human in the Person of Jesus.  The Holy Spirit works in and through us, empowering us to do what God created us to do.

The opening phrase of Genesis: “In the beginning, God” means everything.  We can only do those things that bring us closer to God in response to the gifts He has first given us.  This is a Big Deal.  We can’t earn, deserve or buy our way into God’s favor.  He has already given us His favor, His love, and His grace.  We are called to respond to God’s calling for our lives and service and growth because that is His will and purpose for us.

Our culture glorifies posers.  It’s trendy to put on a good show.  It’s fun to be entertained. It’s human nature to show the world just how great we think we are. But is there substance behind the show?  Are we making genuine sacrifices to the glory of God, in response to His love and grace, or is our pious or charitable behavior just a front to make others think we are some kind of great people?  Are we doing the right things for the right reasons, or do we just want to look extra holy or extra good when other people are looking?

Jesus calls us to the counter culture.  Jesus calls us to be the one who slips an anonymous donation in the food bank box, or to help the person stranded along the road to change a tire.  He calls us to be the encourager who tells a frazzled cashier that it will be OK and that her day is going to get better.  He wants us to seek Him in the silence of our hearts when no one else is around to see or hear and He has our undivided attention.

Jesus calls us to those small, anonymous acts of kindness that may or may not be remembered, but may be life changing for someone.

Ever wonder about meeting an “angel unaware,“ that anonymous encourager, or the one who pays it forward without leaving a name?  Perhaps as Jesus people, we are called to be the “angels unaware?”

angels-unawares

 

  

December 20, 2016- Consecrated to God- Exodus 13:1-2, Luke 2:22-24

presentation-in-the-temple

The Lord said to Moses:  Consecrate to me all the firstborn; whatever is the first to open the womb among the Israelites, of human beings and animals, is mine.  Exodus 13:1-2 (NRSV)

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him  (Jesus) up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord  (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”),  and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” Luke 2:22-24 (NRSV)

The theme of giving one’s first fruits to God is not a new one.  Today at times we find it difficult to give back to God what He has first given us, but imagine dedicating your first born to God.  1 Samuel 1 tells the story of Hannah, a woman who prayed for a son , who she named Samuel, and she dedicated him to God.  As soon as he was weaned (at that time Samuel was probably a three or four year old) Hannah left her son at the temple to become a priest of God.

Jesus is God’s Only Child, yet God surrendered Him to a life of service and ultimately sacrifice for the salvation of humanity.

It would be hard to imagine as a parent – and I am the mother of an only son- to simply leave a small child at a tender age to a life of service. What about the child’s choice of vocation?  What about a mother’s longing for her child, who arguably still needs a mother at such a young age?  My son is an adult, and at times I find it hard as a mother to let go and surrender him to the grace and mercy of God just in him living his daily life.  A mother’s instinct is to hang on, to protect, to shield her offspring from pain or hurt.

I can’t imagine the emotions that Hannah and later, Mary, must have felt knowing that their sons were going to be forever dedicated to God’s service, and that they could not keep them from the hardships and sacrifice that a life in service ultimately bring.

Did Mary know the way Jesus’ earthly life would end?

Would that knowledge have changed her mind?

 

December 12, 2016- Not Enough Room for the Lord of Life? Luke 2:7, Isaiah 45:18

crowds

“And she (Mary) gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” Luke 2:7

One of the hallmarks of modern life is what we see as the lack of time or space or resources.  How often do we say, “if only I had…more room, more time…more money…more energy,” and so on?

It’s telling that at Jesus’ birth there was “no room” for the arrival of the Lord of Life. The birth of the King of Kings was relegated to a corner of an animal barn.

It’s sad but we miss little advents of Jesus coming into our lives when we find ourselves too busy, too distracted, and too caught up in all the urgency of the moment to see Him shining through.  We think there is no room for Jesus in all of our busyness – but the reality is that we don’t always want to see Him in the room.

For thus says the Lord, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it a chaos, he formed it to be inhabited!): I am the Lord, and there is no other. Isaiah 45:18 (NRSV)

Whether we recognize God’s presence or not, He is constantly in and with and through everything.  Even so, He invites us to engage Him, to seek Him, to see Him in His handiwork.

It’s easy to miss those moments where Jesus wants to come more fully into our lives.   Sometimes we are so busy looking after others or doing the things we need to do for physical survival, such as working and chores, that we need to take a moment to ourselves to just invite the Holy Spirit to wash over us and bring us the rest and refreshing that we need to keep on going.

One of the safety instructions that flight attendants give before a plane takes off is that should the plane cabin depressurize and the oxygen masks drop, adults should put on their masks before seeing that children have theirs on.  The logic behind this is that we cannot care for others if we neglect to care for ourselves.  This is true in the practice of our faith as well.  We need to make room for Jesus and invite Him to refresh and renew us in prayer, study and service before we can be of much use in the community and live purposeful, effective lives.

A very wise Pastor once taught that God is not interested in some abstraction called a “spiritual life,” but that He cares about your life.  All of it.  The “sacred,” the “secular,” the holy and the mundane.  Life is a gift of God.   He was willing to make His first fleshly appearance in a dirty animal barn, and die an ignominious and horrific death on a cross to prove His infinite love for us.  He became God with us so we could see that He is the Life.

It’s not so much a question of making room for Jesus, but making the effort to see and recognize Him in the room.

Mary prayed in the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) : My soul magnifies the Lord. She made room for Him, figuratively and literally.  We can share her prayer again today- so others may see that Jesus is already in the room.