Christianity 201

August 14, 2014

So Let Us Learn How To Serve

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John 13:3Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 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.

So let us learn how to serve,
And in our lives enthrone Him;
Each other’s needs to prefer,
For it is Christ we’re serving.

~Graham Kendrick, The Servant King

I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet. So you also should wash one another’s feet. I have given you an example. You should do as I have done for you. – John 13:14-15

Today’s post is from the blog Uncommon Grace by Sara Payne. The example in the introduction speaks to a type of “service” that doesn’t really cost anything; it’s driven more by a desire to be in control, a qualified type of helping.  Read this at source by clicking the title below, and if you enjoy devotionals that begin with real life examples and then dig deep into teaching, take some time to look around the rest of her blog.

Helping Without Hurting

I went to the grocery store and as I was leaving, there was a bottleneck of people trying to get out the door. As I trooped through trying to avoid nailing some poor soul in the Achilles tendon with my cart, I realized what the problem was: a woman was blocking half the walkway directing shoppers out. The big rug wasn’t lying completely flat and there was a bump since the edge was folded under. The lady had decided that this was a safety hazard and was telling everyone to watch their step while trying to direct traffic around the mat. She was saying she had called one of the employees to rectify the situation.

I looked twice. Yup. She was telling a store clerk he needed to fix the mat while trying to tell everyone how to exit the store… through the exit. Irony.

She could have just fixed the mat herself. She didn’t even have to touch it or bend over. She could have unfurled it with a toe and gone along her way. Instead, she blocked the door, created a traffic jam, and made someone else come do it. Just because it wasn’t her job.

And yet, I couldn’t help get the feeling that she felt like she was doing something good from the way she motioned to everyone and the way she was instructing the bemused clerk.

And I felt convicted. I try to be a servant and make a difference in the lives of people around me, but this incident made me wonder if what I am doing is really helping.

We can hurt when we try to help. Sometimes, we make more work for those we are trying to serve. Sometimes, we actually cause damage. If we do what we think is best without really understanding the situation, what is done might actually be contrary to the needs of those we are serving.

But we think, “I was trying to help! I was serving!” But, why are we serving? Is it to truly make a difference? Or is it to be seen serving?

Pointing out what needs to be done isn’t really serving. It is leadership and this world has far too many leaders and not nearly enough servants. We might think we are doing something good, but really, we are just in the way.

Serving isn’t celebrated in culture is because it isn’t glamorous. Nobody wants to take on jobs with no visibility or recognition. Yes, recognition feels good, but we should be serving for an audience of One and He doesn’t really care what everyone else thinks. He cares about our hearts.

I also thought about how often I only want to serve when it’s easy. I was incredibly scared when we first became foster parents since this kind of service isn’t easy or even controllable. God gently laid it on my heart though that this is we needed to do because…

It isn’t serving if it doesn’t cost us anything.

Gifts always have a cost and serving is a simply a gift we give to God through our actions. It costs us our time, energy, effort, and often our hearts. We think of these things as ours although they are really all God’s in the first place; He has simply entrusted them to us.

It isn’t using them wisely when we are too wrapped up in ourselves to see that we are in the way with our attempts at serving. We become a barrier rather than a doorway to Christ.

When we are too wrapped up in ourselves, we tend to think more highly of ourselves than we ought and think some jobs are beneath us.That is apparently what the lady thought. It was too much fun to be the leader and tell everyone else what to do. She wasn’t even aware in her apparent egoism that she was the main problem in the mess.

But, Jesus never did this. He had more right than anybody to demand others serve Him yet took on the lowly job of washing the disciples’ feet. In the first century, this was a disgusting, dirty job meant for a slave because everyone wore sandals and walked in filthy, refuse laden streets. It wasn’t a job for a king and yet, our King did it.

If my King can do that, I can get out of my own proverbial doorway and do what needs to be done for Him, quietly and humbly. Anything else becomes a stumbling block for everyone else. The only thing that needs to be left at the door is our egos. When we really see God for all that He is worth, we see how small we really are and how much joy there is in serving, truly serving, Him.

April 18, 2013

Zacchaeus Meets The Christmas Story

Ever wondered what you were thinking when you wrote something years earlier?  This was first published at Thinking Out Loud in November, 2009.  I read this three times before I finally noticed what the reference is to the Christmas story. This has actually appeared here before as well, in 2011; I hope you don’t mind a repeat.

The story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19: 1-9 is the ultimate children’s Bible story. Think about, it’s got:

  • zacchaeusa short key character; kids can identify
  • a parade — or something similar — about to pass by
  • tree climbing; what kid doesn’t like that?
  • unlikely guy gets singled out for special treatment
  • Zacchaeus and Jesus have a tea party, at least according to the children’s song; actual serving of tea may have been unlikely
  • restitution of unfair trade practices; he did something bad and is going to make it right

But the tree climbing is the fun part of the story, so much so that we omit to notice the fact that respectable adults in the culture don’t climb trees. In the book Preaching the Parables to Postmoderns, Brian Stiller reminds of another story where we miss the cultural nuances.

Stiller notes that in the story of the prodigal son, the father sees his returning son in the distance and runs to meet him. To run meant to lift the lower hem of the tunics worn at that time, which would expose the ankles and lower leg. While that may not seem out of line with the bathrobes worn in most church plays you’ve seen, it in fact is out of line with norms in that society. Besides, the patriarchal head of household doesn’t run, period.

Zacchaeus climbs up a tree because he doesn’t want to miss Jesus. The father in the story of the two brothers runs because he doesn’t want to miss a moment with or hide his enthusiasm for the return of his lost son. Both actions involve a considerable loss of dignity on the part of both parties.

David understood this. Consider this account from II Samuel 6:

14 David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the LORD with all his might, 15 while he and the entire house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouts and the sound of trumpets.

16 As the ark of the LORD was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD, she despised him in her heart.

17 They brought the ark of the LORD and set it in its place inside the tent that David had pitched for it, and David sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings before the LORD. 18 After he had finished sacrificing the burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD Almighty. 19 Then he gave a loaf of bread, a cake of dates and a cake of raisins to each person in the whole crowd of Israelites, both men and women. And all the people went to their homes.

20 When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!”

21 David said to Michal, “It was before the LORD, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the LORD’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the LORD. 22 I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.”

The line I like is verse 22: I will become even more undignified than this. Nothing reinforces this like the Matt Redman song,

I will dance I will sing
To be mad for my King
Nothing Lord is hindering
The passion in my soul

And I’ll become even more
Undignified than this
Some would say it’s foolishness but
I’ll become even more
Undignified than this

David’s removal of his outer garment ought to remind you of something else. Think about this moment from John 13:

1It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.

2The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. 3Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

7Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

12When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place.

The outer garment that Jesus removed was the fine piece of clothing that symbolized his authority as a rabbi. Hours later, Roman soldiers would gamble for the chance to walk way with this prime specimen of clothing as a souvenir of their day’s work.

This action symbolized his servant leadership, but as he told Peter, there was a bigger picture yet to be grasped. I believe that the removal of his outer garment symbolizes something else entirely, as shown in Philippians 2:

5 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

6 Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
8 he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

9 Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor…

Jesus gave up the splendor of heaven — took of his outer robe — to enter into our human condition. But then, as John 13:12 shows us, he puts that outer robe back on, i.e. he returns to the glory he had known before at the right hand of the Father.

There are lots of words we could use to describe this, but the key one for today is that he made himself undignified.

Now, he invites you to find a place where you can lose your own dignity in order to accomplish his purposes in your generation.

I Samuel and John passages – NIV; Philippians passage – NLT

A edgier version of Undignified by David Crowder appears here

April 16, 2013

Slave: A Bible Word Study

Lots of text today, but you need to click through to read it. This is from the blog of Clay Gentry where it appeared under the title Slave: The Christian’s Identity in Christ. Note the difference between the way the word was understood then as compared with today.


I recently presented a lesson to a small group on the slave metaphor used in the New Testament that describes Christians as Slaves of Christ. Below is my PowerPoint outline from that presentation. I did not intend for this to be an exhaustive study. Rather I hope that it will wet ones apatite to study this rich metaphor even further.

Several Metaphors Used to Describe Christians:

  • Sheep,
  • Soldiers,
  • Athletes,
  • Brothers, and
  • Workers.
  • However, Slaves is the most common…

Two Primary Greek Words Establish Christians as Slaves:

(1) kyrios: “master and Lord.” To confess Jesus as your “Lord” is to say He is your “master” and “owner” and you are His slave.

(2) doulos: “slave.” The Primary word used in the NT to describe Christians as slaves of Christ (124x). For the most part it is missing from the pages KJV and to a certain extent the NKJV, ESV, NASB and HCSB. Often times doulos, or its congugents is simply translated servant, or serve. In this lesson well jump around between various translations to show slave language.

American Verses Roman Slavery:

(1) Roman Slavery:

  • Non Racially Based,
  • Encompassed All Professions,
  • Everywhere in the Empire,
  • Hope of Freedom

 (2) American Slavery:

  • Race Based,
  • Primarily Agrarian in Nature,
  • Geographically Limited to the South,
  • Little/No Hope of Freedom

(3) Similarities Between the Two

  • Exclusive Ownership by the Master,
  • Complete Submission to the Master,
  • Total Dependence on the Master.
  • These are true of physical and/or spiritual slaves

Slaves of God in the Old Testament

Slaves in Jesus’ Teaching:

(1) An Element in 13 Parables (Here’s a sampling):

 (2) An Aspect of His Commands:

Slaves of Christ in the Epistles:

(1) Self Descriptions:

(2) Teachings Concerning Slavery:

(3) Various Verses:

Slaves of Christ in Revelation:

Suggested Reading:

March 26, 2013

Serving in the Face of Death

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I find nothing out of character or particularly arresting about Jesus’ decision to wash his disciples feet. That’s totally consistent.

I find the timing absolutely amazing.

John 13 New International Version (NIV)

It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 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.

Verse 3 is awesome in every sense of the word.  The IVP New Testament Commentary states:

Jesus’ own awareness is also an important part of the context of the footwashing. He knew that the Father had put all things under his power (literally, “into his hands”) and that he had come from God and was returning to God (v. 3). Here in Johannine language is the description of Jesus’ identity in his relation to the Father. This knowledge does not simply give Jesus the security to wash the disciples feet — his sharing in the divine essence is what leads him to wash their feet. Jesus said that he only does what he sees the Father doing (5:19), and this footwashing is not said to be an exception to that rule. John’s introduction to the event ensures that we understand God’s glory is revealed in Jesus in this sign. This is what God himself is like—he washes feet, even the feet of the one who will betray him! Thus, the footwashing is a true sign in the Johannine sense, for it is a revelation of God.

This is a defining moment. This is an image that will burned into the memory of the twelve.

I was reminded of this again this week in a song from Michael Card from his companion CD to his book about Luke. The song is: How Much More a Servant Could He Be? (You can learn more about the project at this blog review, where I discovered the video.)

May 11, 2011

Read the Fine Print

For many Christians the concept of denying themselves was not part of the deal.  They grew up with the message that such a radical decision really isn’t necessary.  So they signed up to follow Jesus, but if denying themselves was part of the explanation, it was definitely the fine print.  That’s especially true of Ameican Christians.  In part, this due to the collision of Christianity with American capitalism.  It has created a culture of consumers in our churches.  Instead of approaching their faith with a spirit of denial that says, “What can do for Jesus?” they have a consumer mentality that says, “What can Jesus do for me?”

…One of the reasons it’s so hard for us to deny ourselves is because the whole idea seems to go against our greatest desire in life. Most everyone would say that what they want more than anything else is to be happy.  We’re convinced that the path to happiness means saying yes to ourselves. Indulgence is the path to happiness, so to deny ourselves seems to go in the opposite direction of what will make us happy. The right to pursue happiness seems to be in direct conflict with the call to deny.

…That’s what the story of the Rich Young Ruler is really all about.  It’s not just about giving up money and the things that money can buy; it’s about giving up, period.  That’s what it means to deny yourself and follow Christ.

~Kyle Idleman, Not a Fan, pp 148, 150, 155

(publishing May 31st)

April 5, 2011

When You Have a Conversation With Jesus

Indiana’s Jon Swanson at 300 Words a Day, ran this on his blog over two days on March 26th and March 28th.  I’ve mashed them together here to form a single post…

I was talking with a friend about following Jesus. My friend, like many of us, like me, would find a formula helpful. It would be great to have 3 steps or 5 levels or 12 magic words.

But recipes don’t seem to work with Jesus. My friend reminded me of the opening chapter of Searching for God Knows What, where Donald Miller says,

“To be honest … I don’t know how much I like the idea of my spirituality being relational … the formulas seem much better than God because the formulas offer control; and God, well, he is like a person and people, as we all know, are complicated. The trouble with people is that they do not always do what you tell them to do.”

I thought about this idea of no formulas, and of God as a person. I realized that though I can’t offer formulas, I can offer something else. I can suggest what to expect in conversation with God.

This is what you would do, right, if a friend of yours was wanting to meet another friend of yours who is a person of some authority? You’d offer some character insights?

So, here are Eight Things to Expect in Conversations with Jesus:

1. Jesus often helps you with the conversation. “What do you want?” is what he asked a couple disciples who came to him in a referral from John. Not meanly, but invitingly.

2. Jesus loves you more than you hate yourself. Our self-loathing gets in the way of conversations at times. We assume that people won’t want to talk to us. But Jesus seems pretty willing to talk with people who didn’t have things together.

3. Jesus challenges just about every attempt to routinize religion. Or, better, to routinize a relationship with him into religion.

4. Jesus does make demands. But not the ones that we impose on ourselves. Happens all the time. People say, “I shouldn’t say that in church.” “I couldn’t say that to God.” And I say, “Why not?” We filter ourselves by demanding that we talk the way we think God would want us to talk. But let him decide what he wants us to do.

5. Jesus is more like mystery than a puzzle. (This image is from Gregory Treverton who is an intelligence analyst, not a theologian.) A puzzle just needs the right number of pieces to make sense. The focus is on finding pieces. A mystery can’t be solved, can’t be all put together. People are mysteries. Relationship is a mystery. Not a puzzle.

6. Jesus will take the washcloth out of your hand. I want to clean up my own messes. Every time, I make it worse. Rather than a washcloth, I sometimes need a powerwasher. Or a toothbrush. Or spit. When healing, Jesus once used spit. When serving, he used a towel. Once, he even used blood. So don’t be surprised when he doesn’t take your cleaning recommendation.

7. Jesus keeps promises, but only the ones he makes. Not the ones I make for him. You know how when you are with someone and the two of you decide something and you start doing it and the other person isn’t? And you realized that the two didn’t decide. You did? Like that.

8. Jesus…

Wait. You write this one. What have you learned about talking with Jesus?

~Jon Swanson

December 31, 2010

We Don’t Need Another Hero

When Pete Wilson mentioned this piece, which he originally titled Plodding Visionaries, as one of his top posts of 2010, I decided to give it another read.    It’s true.   We don’t need another Christian superstar.

So this is me, re-blogging Pete re-blogging Keven…

So, I read a blog post last week that has challenged me all weekend as I’ve reflected back on it. I rarely quote this much of someone’s blog post but I couldn’t do it justice any other way. The following post was written by Keven DeYoung on the Ligonier Ministries blog. Do yourself a favor and read the post in its entirety.

I’m quite confident many of you won’t agree with the entire thing but man did he challenge me. There are times I get so frustrated with the church that I just want to scream and walk away. Generally it’s because I see something in her that reminds me of something glaringly obvious in my own life.  Trying to consistently lead a church to be everything God has called her to be is the biggest challenge of my life. So thankful for all the “plodders” God has put around me. Don’t know where I would be without you!!

It’s sexy among young people — my generation — to talk about ditching institutional religion and starting a revolution of real Christ-followers living in real community without the confines of church. Besides being un-Biblical, such notions of churchless Christianity are unrealistic. It’s immaturity actually, like the newly engaged couple who think romance preserves the marriage, when the couple celebrating their golden anniversary know it’s the institution of marriage that preserves the romance. Without the God-given habit of corporate worship and the God-given mandate of corporate accountability, we will not prove faithful over the long haul.

What we need are fewer revolutionaries and a few more plodding visionaries. That’s my dream for the church — a multitude of faithful, risk-taking plodders. The best churches are full of gospel-saturated people holding tenaciously to a vision of godly obedience and God’s glory, and pursuing that godliness and glory with relentless, often unnoticed, plodding consistency.

My generation in particular is prone to radicalism without follow-through. We have dreams of changing the world, and the world should take notice accordingly. But we’ve not proved faithful in much of anything yet. We haven’t held a steady job or raised godly kids or done our time in VBS or, in some cases, even moved off the parental dole. We want global change and expect a few more dollars to the ONE campaign or Habitat for Humanity chapter to just about wrap things up. What the church and the world needs, we imagine, is for us to be another Bono — Christian, but more spiritual than religious and more into social justice than the church.

As great as it is that Bono is using his fame for some noble purpose, I just don’t believe that the happy future of the church, or the world for that matter, rests on our ability to raise up a million more Bonos (as at least one author suggests). With all due respect, what’s harder: to be an idolized rock star who travels around the world touting good causes and chiding governments for their lack of foreign aid, or to be a line worker at GM with four kids and a mortgage, who tithes to his church, sings in the choir every week, serves on the school board, and supports a Christian relief agency and a few missionaries from his disposable income?

Until we are content with being one of the million nameless, faceless church members and not the next globe-trotting rock star, we aren’t ready to be a part of the church. In the grand scheme of things, most of us are going to be more of an Ampliatus (Rom. 16:8) or Phlegon (v. 14) than an apostle Paul. And maybe that’s why so many Christians are getting tired of the church. We haven’t learned how to be part of the crowd. We haven’t learned to be ordinary. Our jobs are often mundane. Our devotional times often seem like a waste. Church services are often forgettable. That’s life. We drive to the same places, go through the same routines with the kids, buy the same groceries at the store, and share a bed with the same person every night. Church is often the same too — same doctrines, same basic order of worship, same preacher, same people.

But in all the smallness and sameness, God works — like the smallest seed in the garden growing to unbelievable heights, like beloved Tychicus, that faithful minister, delivering the mail and apostolic greetings (Eph. 6:21). Life is usually pretty ordinary, just like following Jesus most days.

Daily discipleship is not a new revolution each morning or an agent of global transformation every evening; it’s a long obedience in the same direction.

December 19, 2010

The Servant King by Graham Kendrick

This morning while we were singing “Joy to the World,” I was reminded again that only the first verse is, strictly speaking, Christmas-oriented.  The other three commonly sung verses would fit better at Easter.

Which brings us to a similar situation with “The Servant King.”   Although I just posted another Graham Kendrick song a few weeks ago,  I always associate this associate this song with Christmas, even though it speaks more of Christ’s death and resurrection.     (Another song, which also begins incarnationally is “Here I Am To Worship,” which works well at this time of year.)

This song originates in the UK, and is well-known to Canadians, but probably many of my American readers are not familiar with it.     The lyrics appear onscreen.

Phil 2:5 (NIV)In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

(Some similar writing to “The Servant King”  can be found in Kendrick’s Meekness and Majesty, another song known well in England and Canada, but not so much in the U.S.  We’ll post that one here in a few days.)