Posts Tagged With: service

John 19: The King Takes His Throne

I like how as we have read through the four accounts of Jesus’ death from the various gospels each of the authors has emphasized something different.  Today I have seen John emphasize kingship.

The word “king” is used eight times in this chapter.  Jesus receives a crown and a thorn.  A crowd shouts for him.  He is even enthroned in a significant way.

But this is a king of a very different sort.  He wears a crown of thorns.  He wears the purple robe only long enough to be mocked.  He is slapped not saluted.  People shout for him, but for his death not his glory.  Let there be no mistake, Jesus is a king.  Pilate says it several times, even when the people object.  As he dies, Jesus hangs beneath a sign declaring it too:

Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews (19:19)

With this in mind, John paints the picture of this chapter as a paradoxical enthronement.  This is Jesus the King, and the King has taken his throne.

Jesus is the king of sacrifice.  His is a kingdom of selfless service where love is the power that changes the world.  In this kingdom, victory comes through death.  His subjects will follow his example.  On this day the King is crowned and seated on his throne.

Do you see this too?

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John 13: Known by Love

I’m giving you a new commandment, and it’s this: love one another!  Just as I have loved you, so you must love one another.  This is how everybody will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for each other. (13:34-35)

Christians are known by their sacrificial, inconvenient love.  Nothing is more of a calling card than love.  Not going to church. Not how one votes.  Not social policy one supports or opposes.  Not one’s moral code.  Not whether one takes or refuses that drink offered at a dinner party.  Not one’s language.  Not bumper stickers or symbols on the back of a car.  Not biblical knowledge.  Not leadership roles in a church.  Not community service.  Not parenting styles or the behavior of one’s children.  Not the percentage of money given away to others.  Christians are known by the degree they allow themselves to serve others at their own expense, their willingness to treat people with kindness and gentleness when they deserve much less, the degree to which we make life not about us but about others.

“They will know we are Christians by our love.”  We have sung this since we were children, but we need these regular reminders, don’t we?

What do you think?  

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John 12: Life through Death

Today, we return to one of the most foundational teachings of Jesus.  As countercultural as this message is, we need a regular booster of this message:

I’m telling you the solemn truth: unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains all by itself.  If it dies, though, it will produce lots of fruit.  If you love your life, you’ll lose it.  It you hate your life in this world, you’ll keep it for the life of the coming age.  If anyone serves me, they must follow me.  Where I am, my servant will be too.  If anyone serves me, the father will honor them. (12:24-26)

Before a fire

Two summers ago, my family took an incredible trip to the western United States.  We hit six national parks, the Rockies, and terrain unlike anything we had ever seen before.  Beautiful!  While in Yellowstone National Park, we learned much about the fires of 1988 that ravaged 36% percentage of that 2-million-plus-acre wilderness park.  I was especially intrigued by the fact that the pine seeds in the cones of the lodgepole pines that are especially numerous in Yellowstone can only be released from the cones when subjected to intense heat, like the kind found in a forest fire.  This is the very warp and woof of nature: as one tree is destroyed it is releasing the seeds of many others in its stead.  Jesus — the creator of those trees — knew, taught and exemplified this truth as well.

After a fire

Far too often we want the honor in verse 26 without the service and loss mentioned in the rest of this verse above.  We want fruit, but don’t want the wheat to die.  We want life in the coming age, but we also want to keep it right here and now too, instead of laying it down.

New life after a fiery death (Yellowstone National Park)

But here is Jesus reminding us that nothing of spiritual worth, nothing that brings life, nothing that lasts in the coming age will come without sacrifice and self-denial.  In our relationships.  In our careers.  In our families and churches.  In our souls.  In our communities.  Everywhere.  This truth is tied into the very flow of nature.

When did you last see “life” come from “death”?    

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Luke 9: Take Up Your Cross Soberly

I was watching again the first of The Lord of the Rings movies recently (notable because I almost never watch the same movie twice), and I was struck by how Gandalf was both drawn to and terrified by the ring.  When Bilbo leaves it behind, does Gandalf want to take it up and wear it and even use it “for good” as he says later to Frodo?  Absolutely!  The ring is such that any being would want it.  Yet, Gandalf will never touch the ring.  He knows, no matter how good his intentions, the ring will corrupt him and, therefore, destroy him.

I see the same thing happening in this passage.  Not in Jesus.  He has it figured out.  But like Gandalf was teaching Frodo to fear the corrupting power of the ring, I see Jesus teaching his disciples that power can easily corrupt.

I see an earthly king, Herod the tetrarch, scared that he might lose his power to this new man everyone is talking about.  I see people who flock to Jesus for whatever his power can give them, whether healing, wholeness or food.  Who could blame them?  I see disciples given power to heal and exorcise, who are excited to tell Jesus what they have done (9:10, 36) but who want to press pause on ministry to tell glory-stories about themselves (9:12).  I see Peter marveling at the power and glory of Jesus on the Transfiguration and glad that he gets to be there to see it (9:33), as if the marvelous sight was the point itself.  And at the lowest point in the whole chapter, I see disciples arguing over which of them is the greatest, as if the point of the power they have been given in this chapter was for their own glory (9:46).  Then they are ready to use that power to call down destruction of people who reject Jesus (9:54).  They have drunk the heady draught of power and have become intoxicated.

In the midst of all of this is a teacher who forbids his followers to tell others what they have seen and learned (9:21), who tells them he is getting ready to die, not revolt against Rome (9:22, 44).  Here we have a Master who practically tries to dissuade people who want to follow him, saying the cost is very high (9:57-62).  And also in this chapter are these famous reminders that the way of Christ is about sacrifice, self-denial, and service not power and glory:

“If any of you want to come after me,” he said, “you must say no to yourselves, and pick up your cross every day, and follow me.  If you want to save your life, you’ll lose it; but if you lose your life because of me, you’ll save it.  What good will it do you if you win the entire world, but lose or forfeit your own self?” (9:23-25)

“Whoever is the least among you — that’s the one who is great.” (9:48b)

Power only ever belongs in the hands of those who can carry it for a while, for the benefit of others not themselves, and who honestly see the “cross” they carry for what it is: an instrument of possible destruction and a vehicle of potential grace.  We dare not take up the cross of ministry, with the power and glory it can bring, lightly.

What stood out to you in this chapter?

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Philippians 4: Pray In All Situations

Contentment does not mean we do not have needs.  Of course, we will still be in need.  Later in chapter 4 Paul talks about being in need and how the Philippians provided for him at that time.  Contentment can remain even when we are not comfortable with what we have and the situation we are in.

Paul gives us one more secret for how that is possible:

Don’t worry about anything.  Rather, in every area of life let God know what you want, as you pray and make requests, and give thanks as well.  And God’s peace, which is greater than we can ever understand, will keep guard over our hearts and minds in King Jesus. (4:6-7)

Secret to Contentment #4:  Pray!  Pray fervently!  Pray all the time, in any situation!  Say what is on your mind.  Ask for what you need.  Thank Him for what He has already done.  Surrender to God’s will.  Express your willingness to trust Him.  As we remember what God has done for us in the past, prayer helps contentment to become real and solidifying our hearts.

What have we learned about contentment from Philippians?

There is a way past anxiety and on to contentment and joy in all situations.  It is not by eliminating need as if that were possible.  It is not by attaining all we want and fulfilling all we desire; when do we ever reach that point?  As we fix our focus past this present world and on to the rewards and reality of the world to come, as we face realistically our needs and give those to God in prayer, as we become oriented more towards serving others than ourselves, we can be rest assured that God is in control of all things and our futures will be okay.  Paul never promises a life without struggle or a life filled only with blessings — remember where he was when he was writing this letter — but Paul is sure of this:

I have strength for everything in the one who gives me power. (4:13)

What have YOU learned?

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Philippians 2: Look Out for Others, Not Yourself

All day long we are feed the message that if we want to be happy and content we will have to have what we want.  In marketing it is called the “you sale.”  Buy this product and you will be happy.  Wear this product and you will be more attractive and self-assured.  Go into debt to get a bigger or better one of these and you will find peace.  You want it.  Or maybe you even deserve it.  You’ll be happy when you get it your way.

Be sure to read the fine print! WOW!

Then Paul comes along, claiming as he has that he had discover how to be content, and he says this:

Bring your thinking into line with one another.  Here’s how to do it.  Hold on to the same love; bring your innermost lives into harmony; fix your minds on the same object.  Never act out of selfish ambition or vanity; instead, regard everybody else as your superior.  Look after each other’s best interests, not your own. (2:2b-4)

Secret to Contentment #2:  Stop trying to find contentment in self-fulfillment.  You will be happiest when you serve others and pursue their best interests.

What did you see in this chapter about contentment?

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Matthew 25: Stay Alert!

This chapter is nothing but three popular parables: the Parable of the Ten Virgins, the Parable of the Talents, and the Parable of the Sheep & Goats.  They are interestingly placed.  You might expect that Jesus would be done telling stories this close to his death.  I think the reason for their placement is that they follow the exhortation to “keep alert” in 24:42 because Jesus’ future return will come unexpectedly.  Today’s parables pick up that point and advance it.

Like the five wise girls in the first parable, we are to be ready and “keep awake” (25:13).  We are to use the resources we have, like the girls’ oil, in a wise manner because the end could be upon us without notice.

Likewise, we must use the “talents” or resources (as talents were an increment of money not an ability, though the principle would be the same) wisely and responsibly.  The Master is looking for and even expecting fruitfulness, and those who “have been trustworthy with small things” will be put in charge of “bigger ones” (25:21).

How we use our resources is important.  Like the “sheep” who are congratulated by the king for serving him by serving the poor, our resources are given to us in order that we might help others in need, not simply for our own enjoyment.

Time is short.  No one is guaranteed tomorrow.  Be responsible.  Be active.  Help others.

(The following artwork comes from Cerezo Barredo, an Hispanic artist.  I like the way he recontextualizes these parables in a modern way.)

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Matthew 23: Are We The Pharisees?

For those who only imagine Jesus as meek and mild and accepting of all, hold on because this chapter blows that stereotype to pieces.

Matthew has brought us to the last week of Jesus’ life.  The tension between the Jewish religious leaders and Jesus is escalating, and this chapter does nothing to help that.

As I have said before, I am thoroughly and unapologetically religious.  Institutional and traditional Christianity is in my DNA.  I don’t think religion is God’s Kingdom; it is not where one finds the life and divinity we are all after.  Yet, I still value religion as a vehicle that often times transfers me into the Kingdom of life and divinity.  I like the way Eugene Peterson balanced religion (or “church”) and Kingdom in this quote from Christianity Today a few years back:

What other church is there besides institutional?  There’s nobody who doesn’t have problems with the church because there is sin the church.  But there is no other place to be a Christian except the church. . . . I really don’t understand this naive criticism of the institution.  I really don’t get it.  Frederick Von Hugel said the institution of the church is like the bark on the tree.  There’s no life in the bark.  It’s dead wood.  But it protects the life of the tree within.  And the tree grows and grows and grows.  If you take the bark off, it’s prone to disease, dehydration, death.  So, yes, the church is dead but it protects something alive.  And when you try to have a church without bark, it doesn’t last long.  It disappears, gets sick, and it’s prone to all kinds of disease, heresy and narcissism. 

“The Pharisees” by Karl Schmidt Rottluff

When I read a chapter like Matthew 23 I use it to inspect my own religious heart and determine whether Jesus could say some of the same things about me that he once said to the Pharisees.  The following are the phrases in today’s reading that I think all of us who are religious need to dwell on today to assess how true they could be in our lives as well:

You must do whatever they tell you, and keep it. (23:3a)

They talk but they don’t do. (23:3b)

They tie up heavy bundles which are difficult to carry, and they dump them on people’s shoulders. (23:4)

Everything they do is for show, to be seen by people. (23:5)

You tithe . . . and you omit the serious matters . . . like justice, mercy, and loyalty. (23:23)

You scrub the outside of the cup and the dish, but the inside is full of extortion and moral flabbiness. (23:25)

On the inside you appear to be virtuous and law-abiding, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. (23:28)

Inserted into his invectives, Jesus offers two recalibrations for those of us who may feel like we are more aligned with the Pharisees than with Jesus:

The greatest among you should be your servant.  People who make themselves great will be humbled; and people who humble themselves will become great. (23:11)

First make the inside of the cup clean, and then the outside will be clean as well. (23:26)

The hypocrisy, legalism, and self-important arrogance of religiosity can be kept in check by a well-maintained interior life that  values humility not pride, service not power.

Lord, protect us from the “leaven of the Pharisees!”

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Matthew 14: The Love Revolution

His disciples came and took away the body [of John the Baptist] and buried it.  Then they went and told Jesus.

When Jesus heard it, he went away from there in a boat to a deserted spot by himself.  The crowds heard it, and followed him on foot from the towns.  When he came out and saw the large crowd, he was sorry for them.  He healed their sick. (14:12-14)

I have always been amazed by these few verses.  How did Jesus do it?

His cousin has just been murdered.  Were Jesus and John close?  Let’s imagine they were.  A murderous tyrant has just rounded up his beloved cousin simply because John was the fly in Herod’s ointment of immorality.  Surely Jesus was sad; his next action was to go off on his own to a deserted spot.  Was Jesus also wondering if he would be next?  If Herod can round up one revolutionary, couldn’t he round up another?

What is clear is that the last thing Jesus wants to do right now is minister to the masses.  He just wants to be on his own in prayer and mourning.

But the crowds won’t allow it.  They follow after him regardless, and bring their sick in need of healing.  Jesus just can’t get a break.

It is what Jesus did next that rocks my own selfish world: “He was sorry for them.  He healed their sick.”  Jesus responded with love.  Then his compassion even drove him to do one of his most famous miracles: the feeding of the 5000.  Five thousand men and their women and children too — likely a number well over 10,000 or 15,000 — went away that day filled, healthy, and amazed.

This causes a new side to this juxtaposition of stories to jump out at me.  A sad and possibly apprehensive Jesus has just found an immediate following of 5000 men.  That could make quite a riot.  Jesus could work this crowd against Herod.  If nothing else, Jesus could find protection in the midst of such a following, but maybe he could storm a palace too.  Did vengeance for John’s death ever enter Jesus’ mind?

Instead, Jesus “dismissed the crowd” (14:22) and left the area.  There will be no armed revolt today.

Let there be no mistake: Jesus was a revolutionary, but of a different kind entirely.  Jesus brought the original Love Revolution.  The way of power and blood would be overcome by the way of love.  The hunger that exists in any kingdom run by opportunistic leaders like Herod would be overcome for a day in a most abundant way.  The self-focus of the crowds would be met with love and compassion.  Love would lead to a revolution of hearts.

My wife has a mantra that I believe she learned from her mother.  When you are sad and down, get busy helping others and you will see your own sorrows lessen.

Jesus had every reason to be alone and mourn.  Still, he was willing to be inconvenienced for love.

What did you notice in this chapter?

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Mark 10: The Upside Down Kingdom

How difficult it is for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God! . . . It’s very hard to enter the kingdom of God!  It would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter God’s kingdom. (10:23-25)

Read on.  This is no diatribe against money.

What if we have turned the phrase “enter the kingdom of God” into something other than what Jesus meant?

What if it doesn’t mean “go to heaven” like some people make it seem?  What if this idea that there is some entrance test to heaven and people who love money can’t pass the test isn’t really what this means?  What if the kingdom that one would want to enter isn’t “out there” or “up there?”  What if it isn’t a “when you die” thing?

What if this kingdom is a “right here, right now” thing, as we saw in Mark 1 and a few other places so far?  What if the kingdom is a new “age” (10:17) or era or system or way of seeing reality that can come on a Tuesday afternoon in the line at the grocery store when we really begin to see, accept and act on things like Jesus wanted us to?  What if God is wanting to create that new kingdom with and through us, right here and now, as we start living the way of Jesus in the everyday of life?

  • What if we enter the kingdom when we stop acting like adults and start acting more like children (10:14-15)?
  • What if we enter the kingdom when we think heavenly treasure is more valuable than earthly wealth (10:21)?
  • What if we enter the kingdom when we think the impossible is possible (10:27)?
  • What if we enter the kingdom when we leave behind what we have held dear before, only to receive the same back again and with greater abundance (10:29-30)?
  • What if we enter the kingdom from the back of the line, not the front (10:31)?
  • What if we enter the kingdom when we think the greatest among us are the servants, slaves, and saviors (10:43-45)?

Or at least, what if we begin to enter the kingdom when all of this becomes true in us?

That’s what I am thinking about today as I read this chapter.

How about you?

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Mark 6: A “Deeply Sorry” Giver

“All right,” Jesus said, “it’s time for a break.  Come away, just you, and we’ll go somewhere lonely and private.” . . . When Jesus got out of the boat he saw the high crowd, and was deeply sorry for them, because they were like a flock without a shepherd.” (6:31, 34)

Well, I am afraid I wouldn’t have been feeling “deeply sorry” for those crowds if it had been me.  Maybe, resentful.  Fed up.  Used.  I think I could have mustered up one good martyr syndrome at that point.  I think I would have gotten back in the boat and rowed faster, somewhere else.

I don’t like this sort of all-consuming busyness Jesus seemed to be in the middle of.  (Okay, maybe my ego does a bit, but that is a different post).  Crowds pressing in.  More and more demands on my time.  Everybody wanting something more from me.  I plain hate it.  It turns me into a grump.  It makes me less human and humane.

And I guess the more I think about it, it makes other people less human to me too.  They become a deadline or a need to fulfill or a to-do list item.  They become work.  I don’t like to admit that, but I don’t think I am alone in this pathology.

Jesus just wants a little recuperative time with friends.  This is absolutely essential for a healthy spiritual life.  And Jesus regularly took such time.  Maybe the constant crowds are what drove Jesus to seek solitude early in the morning and late at night.

Still, he saw their needs and was filled with compassion.

In one way, Jesus’ death didn’t first happen on a cross.  It happened as he stood at the edge of Heaven just before his birth when he “emptied himself” of his glory and took “the very nature of a servant” (Phil. 2:6-7).  Death occurred in the desert with Satan as he took the hard, sacrificial, life-giving way to recognition, power, and popularity.  Death happened once more this day on the seat of a small fishing boat as they pulled into a small port hoping to find solitude only to be greeted by the hungry masses looking for a meal.  Maybe compassion will not come until we begin to die to our own wills.

Easier said than done, I know.

What situation in your life today needs a “deeply sorry” response, not exasperation?  

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