Service

For Such a Time as This

Esther 4:14 (ESV)

“For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

If you read the last entry on my blog, you will have read my mom’s adoption story, from her perspective and in her words. This week, I’d like to add a bit of my own commentary, having watched her adoption story, even more as an outsider than I realized. I say this because I remember always feeling like it wasn’t fair that my mom was adopted, only to be relegated to housekeeping chores and other responsibilities beyond the purview of a child.

Adoption, in my mind, was supposed to be magical, joyous, and all the rest. But so often, as I looked on, I saw it as a burden for her. Granted, in seeing what was, I was unaware at the time of what might have been—mafia ties and the like, which appears now to have been the alternative.

Over the years, I think my mom found solace in her parents’ need for her, reasoning that their physical and tangible needs were the reason God placed her in their home. But in my view, that’s only part of the story. Ultimately, we all have physical needs, and we find ways of having them met. But I think that watching my mom’s selflessness, day in and day out for 35 years, made a lasting impression. How do I know this?

Just this past summer, I learned of the day when my grandparents were ageing and in failing health, and my mom sent her pastor to visit with them, and to tell them about Jesus. After the visit, the pastor told my mom that both Grandma and Grandpa had accepted God’s forgiveness and were now secure in their eternal salvation. It seems odd that a virtual stranger could walk into their home and find such accepting and receptive hosts.

And yet, in a way, it’s not surprising at all. It’s not surprising because this stranger was sent by someone who had lived out the mission of Christ in their midst for all those years…she had served them sacrificially, loved them unconditionally, forgiven them repeatedly and undeservedly. Just. Like. Jesus. And I believe that with each act of selflessness, each load of laundry, each Sunday visit (and so much more), they were seeing Jesus. And if you ask me, it wasn’t each of those moments that were God’s purpose for placing her there. It was the moment when each of them said yes to God’s offer of salvation. And I believe that God was watching, thinking of my mom, and whispering to her soul, This. I placed you here for such a time as THIS.

And in truth, God continues to use her in times such as these…to serve a neighbor in need, to reach out to a disheartened coworker, to impact a school child in her care, and on and on. I know that the mundane of her day to day isn’t always glamorous, and that she often feels like she’s still waiting for her calling. But I believe she’s living it every day. So many times, God must be whispering to her soul, I placed you here for such a time as this…and this…and this. Oh, that we would all be willing to live our lives as a reflection of Jesus, and to recognize those times when He has divinely placed us here or there, and for such a time as this.

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Feet and Ashes

John 13:5-9
After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

I didn’t grow up observing Lent, or Ash Wednesday, or any of the traditional liturgical calendar really. But our church home of the past six years does observe these “holidays.” And each year, I’ve attended the self-guided contemplative service that is offered on Ash Wednesday. But I have always bypassed the actual ashes. On the surface, that is because it feels to me like one of those rote rituals that loses its meaning in repetition.

But as I’ve reflected on it more this past week or so, I’ve realized there is more to my abstention than that. First, there’s a bit of my own rebellious spirit. I tend to buck the system, oppose authority, and dig my heels in at every chance. I like to think of myself as a rebel for God’s cause, but sometimes it’s just me being contentious. And Proverbs 13:10 warns that contention is born of pride, and as we all know, pride goes before destruction.

Pride also opposes humility, and I’ve come to realize that this too is lacking in me as I decline to receive the ashes. At a safe distance, I can hide my flaws. Someone may not notice if my bangs are full of cowlicks, or if my forehead is greasy, or if my breath smells. But up close, that’s another story. Every part of me that’s out of place or imperfect is magnified and on display. But to hold back and keep my distance on account of these imperfections exposes a pride deep down, doesn’t it?

I can think of someone else who was likewise prideful: Peter. Now, don’t get me wrong—feet are definitely gross. And you wouldn’t catch me giving or receiving a pedicure…yuck. But as Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, He was setting an example of humility and servanthood, and one the disciples needed to see if they were to humbly serve others. But for Peter, it wasn’t enough to learn to serve others. He first needed to humble himself to receive his Lord’s service.

Even after Peter gave in and allowed Jesus to wash his feet, I expect he was uncomfortable. Humility doesn’t come easily. And I can tell you that tonight, as I approach the altar to receive the ashes, I will be uncomfortable. My heart will be pounding, my palms will be sweaty, I may even start hyperventilating. But I will choose to receive, as a discipline of humility.

Maybe you’ve thought about attending an Ash Wednesday service this year, but have resisted. Maybe you’re hesitating because you feel too unworthy, or too worthy, or too busy, or too hurt. Whatever your reasons for holding back, would you consider letting those go, humbling yourself before the Lord, and joining me in approaching the altar on this Ash Wednesday?

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Star Wars and Heart Wars

1 Chronicles 17:1, 3-4

After David was settled in his palace, he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of the covenant of the Lord is under a tent.”….
But that night the word of God came to Nathan, saying: “Go and tell my servant David,
‘This is what the Lord says: You are not the one to build me a house to dwell in.’”

Last week, in his God in the Movies sermon series, our pastor taught on the faith lessons to be gleaned from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Now, you have to know that I am NOT a Star Wars fan. Every 10 years or so, I try again to watch A New Hope, but I fall asleep before they get out of the desert. I once tried to watch The Empire Strikes Back, but couldn’t manage to stay awake for more than about 20 minutes.

Even so, the spiritual significance of this new installment was not lost on me. Our pastor highlighted the main theme running through the film, namely that there was a generational handoff afoot. The old guard was giving way to the new, and there were tensions and sacrifices associated with this transition. He compared this transition to one depicted in 1 Timothy, wherein the Apostle Paul is handing the ministerial baton to Timothy, his understudy.

This epistle has at least three lessons to offer to both the old guard in the faith and the new. For the older generation, Paul sets the example of being willing to: (1) serve for as long as he lives, even if the capacity of that service may change; (2) serve with humility; and (3) provide wise counsel as a mentor. For the newer and younger members of the Body, Timothy sets the example of: (1) having a teachable spirit; (2) finding confidence in his calling rather than his experience; and (3) being willing to sacrifice his own desires for the sake of the greater good.

This handoff reminds me of another story in Scripture, one that is recounted in both 2 Samuel 7 and 1 Chronicles 17. In this story, David wants to build a temple for God. God has other plans, however. He intends for David’s son Solomon to build the temple. David sacrifices his desire in the interest of God’s. And sometimes we must follow in these same footsteps.

As I have reflected on last week’s sermon, and these passages, I can’t help but relate them to my own desire to adopt a child. I’ve had a heart for adoption for a long time, but have not received clear direction from God to go forward. Sadly, I have no Nathan in my life to speak directly on behalf of God. But something in Brady’s sermon did catch my attention. He said, in relation to Timothy’s calling, that our callings should be “affirmed by Godly leaders.” So I thought back. I’ve been talking about adoption for a long time, to pretty much anyone who would listen. But try as I may, I can’t think of anyone who has actually affirmed that desire as my calling. People listen, they promise to pray, they ask if we’ve come to any decisions, they have even pressured us to come to a decision (one way or the other). But if I’m being honest, that affirmation hasn’t come.

Lesson #3 from Timothy also caught my attention. God’s people must be willing to sacrifice their own desires for the sake of the greater good. It’s one thing to make sacrifices for things we desire—although certainly not easy. But it’s quite another to consider the bigger picture and the greater narrative, and to give up our own desires for the cause. And what if, for me, adoption is just that—a desire? What if it isn’t my calling after all?

What if I’m actually part of the old guard in this narrative? What if I’m meant to pass the baton to the newer and younger followers? What if my role now is to move on to a new stage in life, and to serve in any way that I can from that position? What if my job is to offer wise counsel to those who follow? What if I am called to mentor and disciple future leaders, investing in their spiritual growth? What if I am meant to shine God’s light in a classroom, rather than being confined to the walls of my home?

I have to tell you, I don’t have all the answers. But I’m willing to ask the questions, and I figure that must count for something, right?

Here’s to you, and your own search for meaning, purpose, and calling in this life.

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Draughts

1 Corinthians 10:16 (MSG)

When we drink the cup of blessing, aren’t we taking into ourselves the blood, the very life,
of Christ? And isn’t it the same with the loaf of bread we break and eat?
Don’t we take into ourselves the body, the very life, of Christ?

 Ephesians 5:19-20 (MSG)

Drink the Spirit of God, huge draughts of him. Sing hymns instead of drinking songs! Sing songs from your heart to Christ. Sing praises over everything, any excuse for a song to
God the Father in the name of our Master, Jesus Christ.

This past Sunday, as I approached the communion table, I did what I always do. I pulled a piece of bread from the loaf and moved to dip it in the bowl of grape juice. But like always, I hesitated momentarily. Was it to reflect on the gravity of the moment? Or to thank God for his gift of salvation? No. Instead, I was calculating my ‘dipping depth’ in such a way that I would avoid a soggy, dripping piece of bread. Pure sacrilege, I know.

And in that moment, with songs of praise and worship playing around me, it hit me. This was a metaphor for the Christian life—at least the way many of us are prone to live it. Think about it. We want a taste of what God has to offer us, but we always seem to want just enough.

  • We sing along with the songs during worship, but we don’t let the lyrics really permeate our hearts.
  • We talk about God at church and at home—but not at work, not at the gym, not out with friends.
  • We wave to our neighbors in passing, but we don’t truly get to know them or let them get to know us (or our God).
  • We serve dinner at a homeless shelter once a year (or once EVER), but we don’t reach out to build relationships with the people there.
  • We pray for healing, but don’t accept the form of healing that God sometimes gives.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture. And I think you could probably add a few more examples to this list yourself. We want to dip our toes into the waters of salvation, but we don’t want to dive in. But God doesn’t want us to dabble in our faith. He wants us to live it fully, proclaim it, and let it change us. Ephesians 5:19 instructs us to “drink the Spirit of God, huge draughts of him.” Do you know what that means? It means to drink of the Spirit in huge doses, gulps, or swallows.

How appropriate that this observation occurred to me on Baptism Sunday, when Christians of all ages and walks of life were making this declaration: “I’m all in for Jesus!” And I thought, What about me? Am I really living all in for Him?

Are you?

Test Me in This

Malachi 3:10

“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,”
says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven
and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.”

Isn’t it intriguing how God can speak to different people in so many different ways through a single message? Our pastor, Brady, just finished a sermon series on stewardship, entitled, “For the Love of Money.” Malachi 3:10 states that there is exactly one realm of our lives wherein we are invited, and even encouraged, to TEST the Lord our God. That one realm is stewardship. And throughout my life, I’ve taken God at His word, and have given Him the first fruits of my efforts. And no matter what I’ve faced, God has delivered. I have never had an expense, expected or otherwise, that I haven’t been able to pay. I can’t say that there has always been anything leftover afterward, but there has always been enough.

So needless to say, I didn’t expect this series to speak very loudly to me. But, on the last Sunday of the series, God spoke to me. And actually, it was the benediction that first caught my attention. Our missions pastor mentioned how help was still needed in setting up for and tearing down after the Compassion Mobile Experience over the weekend (http://www.compassion.com/change/default.htm?referer=134089). “Maybe you have some extra time that you could give,” is what he said. But in my mind I thought, Well, I don’t have extra time. I don’t have enough time to do all of the things that are on my plate as it is. But that thought triggered another. During the sermon, Bracdy had challenged college students to give to the church, addressing the common ‘moral’ objection that many of them have to giving their parents’ money—money that isn’t technically theirs. But Brady suggested that the same moral conviction doesn’t come into play when it’s a matter of buying a case of Red Bull, or a coffee, or a sorority t-shirt (#Lawyered). So I reflected for a moment on all of the things that I would make time for: exercise, coffee with a friend, Dancing with the Stars, and on and on.

And I heard a still small voice saying, “Test me in this.” And I did. I signed up to help with both the setup and tear down. And God rewarded me. I got to meet a great group of people on the Compassion event staff, and I got to serve in a way that was uniquely suited to my gifts and passions (and those opportunities are hard to come by). For me, that would have been enough. But now I can also say that I am almost caught up with my other obligations. In fact, I’m probably closer to caught up than I’ve been in months. Granted, I had to skip my workout for a couple of days, and I had to work all weekend (I caught most of the highlights of the Baylor game on instant replay while multitasking). But, as is always the case, God was faithful. He passed the test with flying colors—and was there really any doubt that He would?

So, how about you? When you hear that still small voice, will you listen?