Thursday, June 28, 2012

You’ve Been Served

To certain people, these words might bring back some unpleasant memories and feelings. But I am not referring to being served with a summons. Rather, I am speaking of the fact that we have been served, royally, by God.
To be served fits alongside Jesus’ statement in Mark 10:45: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” If Jesus came to serve, then the people he came to serve have indeed been served. It’s not much about what they did for him; it is what he did for them.
But this doesn’t fit so well when pastor-types (like me) begin to rail against “consumer-Christianity” and to complain about pew-sitters who just want to be entertained. “We need more Christians to serve instead of just sit,” you might hear one of them (like me) say. I am afraid that this (convicting) emphasis dulls the sharp edge of the gospel.
We don’t join the family and fellowship of God by our service. We join the community of believers by grasping and accepting God’s service to us in Christ. we begin to understand how deeply we stand in need of this service, and that we are helpless to achieve its ends on our own. This is humbling, even crushing to realize, especially for the do-gooders of the world, and the self-sufficient.
So we have to be very careful about urging people to serve (even though they may). We must be very sure that those who are eager and willing to serve are not doing so with a dulled sense of the gospel, from which they might think they will find greater acceptance with God by virtue of their service. We do not earn points by our serving. All the points a Christian scores were scored by Christ alone, from whom alone we receive a perfect righteousness and clean record.
This potential for confusion is why service in the church should be done by believers. Unbelievers are already confused about the value of their works, often thinking that they can self-atone by doing good things or by cleaning up or by improving. I am not saying that all service should be done by members. That’s another issue. But the church is made up of believers, and its service is carried out by believers whose service is not a work deserving a wage, but a gift of gratitude in response to God’s grace. We seriously degrade our building materials (1 Corinthians 3) when the unredeemed use service in attempts to aid their own redemption.
You’ve been served, by God, who loves to serve. Yes, He is the great and awesome God who is worthy of the deepest respect and highest honor. It seems that He is the One who should be served. But He is also the King who loves to serve, even if it means washing the disciples’ feet (yes, I know that was Jesus, but the Father and Son share the same value system). Peter said, “You will never wash my feet!” (John 13:8). Jesus said, “If I don’t wash your feet, then you have no part with me.” Our fellowship with God and His Son requires that we be served; that we submit to His service.
We are honored to be served. We don’t deserve it, but we enjoy it and grown in our desire for it. We desperately need to be served by God, and it humbles us. But it also provides the believer with a warmth and intimacy that replaces short-lived and diminishing-returns comforts that the world offers. Child of God, you have been served, praise God, yesterday, today, and forever.

Monday, June 11, 2012

New Definitions

Already in James 1 we have studied how sin is generated. It all starts with temptation that lingers long enough to mix with evil desire. All of a sudden, the sin you were entertaining in your mind now masters you. You have been carried away and enticed, and sin is born. It results, in the end, in death. It is the sin-cursed life cycle, or, this fallen world’s sin-cycle.
But, thankfully, that is not the end of the story. Because God is able to produce another kind of generation; a life-cycle that ends in life, not death. In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.(James 1:18 NAS95) We are not now as we were when we were first-birth born. This second birth produces something quite different. And we need to learn to live according to the new definitions.
On the other side of this envelope, we find that God makes use of the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.(James 1:21 NAS95) God has placed and is placing in us his dynamic, powerful word that continues to re-fashion us into what we are to be and become. We desperately need this word, and we receive it humbly. This is where we will learn the new way of living; the new definitions.
Inside this envelope we find the famous admonition: be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger;(James 1:19 NAS95). We are toput() aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness(James 1:21 NAS95). We need to live by new definitions. We must not do what comes naturally. We must not follow our instincts. We must not imitate the crowd. We must listen up and slow down so that we can prayerfully evaluate how we act and respond in every situation. This is the Christian life, the life of discipleship. And there is precious little of it in our fast-paced, worldly world.
Ask yourself these questions. Maybe your answers will be better and more perceptive than mine. Maybe we could learn from each other.
Why don’t I listen? Because I think I already have all the answers, and because I think I’m mostly right most of the time. But, I don’t, and, I’m not. And there is so much I could learn if I would listen. Listen to other perspectives. They may be wrong, or right. Learn to listen to the Spirit. Learn the art of active listening, asking questions in prayer, that God would graciously guide.
Why do I talk so much? Because I’m proud. My talking needs heavy editing. There must be a difference between Spirit-prompted speech and self-prompted, self-promoting speech. Learn the difference. Take a (selective) vow of silence.
Why do I become angry? Because people don’t rightly regard my quick wit and lofty perspectives; because I’m not loyally listened to and heeded; because people don’t treat me with the kind of dignity that only God deserves. 
As children of God, you and I are not nothing. God has done something special, that he might create something in us and do something with us. But it is not us, apart from God, that is of any value. And so we must learn the new definitions of what it means to be a child of God, and we must learn to choose this new kind of life where it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.(Galatians 2:20 NAS95)

Monday, June 04, 2012

Stop Trying So Hard to Pretend

For the LORD GOD is my strength and song,(Isaiah 12:2 NAS95)
This song of praise in Isaiah 12 follows God’s earth-defying promises of Isaiah 11. We sense that Isaiah has re-discovered the wonder of God anew. One of the phrases he sings is, “For the Lord God is my strength and song.” I wonder if it had always been that way for this prophet. It hasn’t for me.
Sadly, much of Christian life in conservative evangelicalism is shaped by “try harder” and “pretend.” Failures are met by renewed efforts, often accompanied by human strategies of mental determination and behavior modification. The key word in such action is not so much “grace” as “sweat equity.” Preachers urge their people to Just Try Harder. And that is right after the song leader urges the people to Just Sing Louder, and, by the way, Sing Like You Mean It. Understand, it doesn’t really matter if the song is a good song or a bad song, so long as the person singing is just going through the motions and playing the part and putting on an act. And so, I am afraid that this is what we get when the Lord God is not our strength and our song. 
Now what happens when a person actually and practically finds God to be his/her strength? No doubt, this discovery comes about due to the strange mercy of God - strange, because is sets itself upon strange people; and strange also because this mercy is often discovered in painful circumstances. So we can safely assume the person has been humbled and very well may have turned to God in desperation or as a last resort. Nonetheless, he/she is now convinced of one’s own weakness, and is living in regular and consistent dependence upon God. Prayers are not far spaced. Pausing for spiritual direction is the order of the day. Asking for the right thing to say, or, not to say, guides conversation. There is a sense that one is not alone in any situation, but that God’s Spirit is in the wings or on the shoulder. Waiting to see what develops is not unusual or maddening. Can you see that this is not a “try harder” religion? “The Lord God is my strength.”
Similarly, we can understand that “God is my song” in much the same way that “God is my strength.” If I am more aware of my sin than that of others, then I am also more aware of God’s perfections than I am impressed with my abilities. The pattern of God coming through characterizes life as an adventure, as an exercise of discovery, and each new experience is God-soaked, and it makes you want to - sing. “The Lord God is my song.”
We can know our theologies and study our Bibles and preach and teach, etc., but if the Lord God is not our strength and our song, then we really need to Stop Trying So Hard to Pretend.