Saturday, March 18, 2006

My Brackets Are Already Toast, I'll be getting into this round-by-round competition at CBS Sports Online.

Fortunately, my Buckeyes are still in this thing, a foreshadowing of great things to come, I think.

If We're Hidden, How Can We Be Witnesses for Christ?

In the comments section of 40-Days to Servanthood: Day 14, Exalted Flesh poses an important question:

Will you elaborate on “each day to serve others in Christ’s Name and do so in hidden ways”? This seems like another contradiction. Does this refer to us not being boastful in our deeds? How can we use our servanthood as an example to others of the wonderful things God does and yet not proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ while doing so, giving all credits to God?

I replied [additions here are noted in brackets]:
As I see it, hidden service may mean several things:

(1) Sometimes, it will entail actual anonymous service. For people hardened by life, there are few things more stunning than an act of service in which there is no agenda and, more importantly, no seeming self-aggrandizement. It has the potential of beginning to change their "spiritual temperatures," increasing their receptivity to Christ at an opportune time. [The New Testament refers to such opportune times as kairos moments. The human reckoning of time is chronological, referred to in the Greek in which the New Testament is written as chronos. But, as several passages in the Bible remind us, God's understanding of time is different from our own. Kairos moments are those times of God's selection when His agenda is to be advanced.]

Servanthood entails having the humility to accept that we won't always be the one privileged to tell people the Good News. (We won't always make the Gospel sale, so to speak.) But God can use as the good news in people's lives that opens their hearts and wills to the Good News of Jesus Christ.

(2) Often, it will mean no overt witnessing for Jesus Christ. This doesn't mean that we're ashamed of Christ. It means that we allow a lifestyle of servanthood with no expectation of reward to have its effect on others.

We can expect that often, people will ask us why we serve. This is when I think Peter's advice to "be prepared always to give a defense for the hope that is in you, but do so with gentleness and reverence," comes into play [First Peter 3:15].

(3) Always, hidden service will mean not calling attention to one's self. If our attitude is one of trying to seem great or godly by taking time out of our busy schedules to do this humble thing, our motives are all wrong. We'll be like the Pharisees Jesus excoriated for loving to say long, pious prayers in public.

In fact, motive is central when it comes to this issue of "hiddenness." Jesus' portrayal of the judgment in Matthew 25:31-46 has a sort of hidden parable on hiddenness within it: The story of all these people who were the hidden Christ serving the hidden Christ.

The sheep in Jesus' story serve because the Christ living in their lives recognizes the Christ in the vulnerable and hurting people around them and so, serves them.

Here, we see too, that service is an act of worship, more than anything else. When we worship, we aren't calling attention to ourselves, we're declaring the "worth-ship" of our great and good Savior-God.

Do you remember the place early in Acts when Peter and John were dragged before the religious authorities for healing a man? Peter's defense included him saying, "...if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead." (Acts 4:9-10)

Peter hadn't gone out of his way to call attention to himself when declaring a paralyzed man healed. But when asked why he had done this good deed, he wasn't mush-mouthed about saying Who really had done the good deed. Like all servants of God, Peter acknowledged that without Christ, he could do nothing (John 15:5) and told everybody that was the case.

I believe that such hidden service earns Christians the opportunity to share Christ. Again, as I mentioned earlier, we may not be the servants who do the overt evangelizing, but if we are humble enough to be part of the process [God initiates] and pray that God will use our service in Christ's Name to convey the Good News of nw life in Christ, God will answer that prayer, I'm certain!

I hope that this responds to your very good question!

40-Days to Servanthood: Day 14

You can cultivate servanthood as a way of life.

If you’ve gotten this far in these readings, you’ve become aware of a paradox. A paradox, according to one dictionary, is a “seemingly contradictory statement that may nonetheless be true: [for example:] the paradox that standing is more tiring than walking.”

The servanthood paradox is this: Servanthood is an involuntary response to Jesus Christ. Servanthood is also the chosen lifestyle of those who want to follow Christ.

In spite of the seeming contradiction, most Christians would affirm both of the preceding statements. We take no credit for the good we do; that’s Christ living in us. But without daily decisions to give our lives to Christ--to say, “Yes” to Him, He wouldn’t live in us.

So, how do we say, “Yes” to Christ’s call to servanthood? Richard Foster says we do this when, not for the sake of looking good, but for the love of Christ, we choose each day to serve others in Christ’s Name and do so in hidden ways. Foster uses the New Testament word for our sinful human impulses, the flesh, to describe the war that all who surrender to Christ wage in order to crucify the old sinful self and to rise as a true servants of God:
“The flesh whines against service but screams against hidden service. It strains and pulls for honor and recognition. It will devise subtle, religiously acceptable means to call attention to the service rendered. If we stoutly refuse to give in to this lust of the flesh, we crucify it. Every time we crucify the flesh, we crucify our pride and arrogance.”
If you’re intent on taking the hard and God-blessed path of servanthood, you might want to pray this prayer each day, “Jesus, help me serve not for the compliments of others, but to glorify You and to help others.” Then, do more than pray about it; work at it! This is how you can cultivate servanthood as a way of life!

Bible Passage to Ponder: “Practically everything that goes on in the world--wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important--has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out--but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity.” (First John 2:16, The Message)

Friday, March 17, 2006

Female Reveals Why Women Go to Rest Rooms in Teams

Jan has the lowdown.

Bloggers Join Campaign to Free Jill Carroll

The Christian Science Monitor, the publication for which Jill Carroll freelances in Iraq, has begun a campaign designed to help win the kidnapped journalist's freedom from her captors.

A centerpiece of the campaign is a video being shown on Iraqi television. It asks for the Iraqi people's help in locating this courageous and independent-minded journalist.

The Committee to Protect Bloggers has asked all bloggers to post links to the video in the hope that Iraqis, many of whom pay close attention to what's going on in the blogs, to post a link to the video. Here's the link: Jill Caroll Video.

I would be remiss if I didn't indicate the most important thing you can do to secure Jill Carroll's freedom: Pray for her. Pray for her well-being. Pray that those searching for her will be successful. Pray that those holding her captive will have a change of heart and will. Pray for her safety and release.

(Thanks to John Schroeder at Blogotional for linking to the Committee to Protect Bloggers piece.)

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

As I went through a recent day of meetings and work, I walked stiffly, tentatively.

You see, the night before, with my wife working at the part-time job she goes to several days a week (she also has a full time job), I had a free evening. I worked on some things and then, decided to go get a Steak Bowl at Chipotle's. On the way there though, I went to the walking track at a nearby park. I wanted to do one loop around the track before I had my meal. As always when I walk solo, I took a book to read while walking.

I was just finishing my loop and tucking the back flap of the dust cover into the book to mark my place, when I came to a final slight curve in the blacktopped pathway, just before it meets the parking lot. Somehow, the toes of my right foot slipped over the edge of the paving and my legs buckled under me. I couldn't believe how quickly I went down, sprawled on the blacktop like Superman.

I skinned my knee, stoved my left hand and arm (it took awhile for the feeling to come back to my left thumb), skinned the palm of my right hand, and strained my chest, back, and neck.

The fortunate thing is that I somehow had the presence of mind to put the book in front of me so that when my head came crashing toward the pavement, it was cushioned and I had no pain in my chin or head.

Immediately, I was able to pick up the book and walk to my car. I even went to Sam's Club to pick up a few items we needed at home before getting my dinner. Ibuprofen has helped in my recovery, although I'm still sore today.

But, today I keep thinking about how amazing the human body is! I haven't taken a crash like that since I "drove" a go-cart into a mailbox when I was fifteen years old. (The box popped up out of the ground and climbed several feet into the air before crashing, bent and useless, next to its original location. I, meanwhile, skidded across the street, a scar the size and shape of a red pepper on one of my arms my only sovenir. But I just walked away.) Today, after last evening's mishap, with the exception of a few sore muscles and several scrapes, I'm fine.

Joe Frazier once said of fellow heavyweight prizefighter, Oscar Bonavena, that he was "built for punishment." I think that you could say that of most of us. In spite of our mortality and an aging process that eventually robs us of much of our vitality, the body is also an amazing healing machine, demonstrating a remarkable capacity to recover from things that even anchored mailboxes can't endure.

No wonder King David wrote in the Old Testament that we are "fearfully and wonderfully made."

God is the greatest design engineer of all. Even an occasionally klutzy person like me proves that!

What Day is It?

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

Here's an account of Patrick's life from Catholic Online.

Patrick is one of my heroes in the faith. For a good understanding as to why, read about him in the fantastic, How the Irish Saved Civilization. I tease my Roman Catholic friends that Patrick was so on-target in his theology that were he alive today, he'd be a Lutheran. (I'm kidding! But within the Church, he can be universally applauded, I believe.)

40-Days to Servanthood: Day 13

Servants serve on purpose.

I recently met some remarkable high school seniors. The local chapter of the university alumni group to which I belong annually gives a scholarship to a freshman from our area who attends our alma mater. The job of a committee on which I served was to interview about twenty young people and recommend one of them for the scholarship.

These young people weren’t just outstanding students, they were also outstanding people, each with notable commitments to service. Whether it was tutoring younger students, teaching ballroom and hip-hop dancing to kids at church in order to enliven them to the physical and mental attributes God had given to them, serving dinners at an outreach in an impoverished area, or counseling children at a camp for diabetics, all were involved with service.

“Why?” we asked them. One young woman’s answer distilled the responses we got from each one: Service was her way of giving back to God for all of His blessings to her. “And,” we asked, “how do you find time for serving?” “My mother taught me,” she told us, “that you can always find time for what’s important.”

Servanthood is, as we’ve said, a byproduct of our life with Jesus Christ. In a way, a lifestyle of servanthood sneaks up on us as we allow Christ to be central in our lives and wills. But it’s also true that only those who purposely open themselves to opportunities for service will enjoy the kinds of lives that God blesses and uses for wonderful purposes. That means penciling times of service onto our calendars.

In the New Testament book of First Timothy, the first-century preacher, Paul, mentions a man named Onesiphorus twice. Why? In spite of having family duties and obligations, Onesiphorus went out of his way to visit and care for Paul during one of his incarcerations. He was an on-purpose servant.

Servants serve on purpose.

Bible Passage to Ponder: “May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chain; when he arrived in Rome, he eagerly searched for me and found me —may the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day! And you know very well how much service he rendered in Ephesus.” (Second Timothy 1:16-18)

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Second Hopeful Sign from Iranian Government

The Iranian government has agreed to talks with the US government regarding American concerns over Iranian involvement in the Iraqi insurgency. When taken together with the Iranian-initiated discussions that have just begun with the Russian government over nuclear non-proliferation issues, it appears that the Tehran government, in spite of the rhetoric of its president, is anxious to avoid a major collision with the US and the world. That's good.

Two Other Takes on Servanthood

In his daily emailed inspirations, OnLine with Faith, Pastor Glen VanderKloot presented this short message today:

A Thought for the Day

In God's family there is to be one great body of people:


In fact, that's the way to the top of his kingdom.

Chuck Swindoll
Matthew 20:27 CEV

And if you want to be first,
you must be the slave of the rest.

Prayer: Lord, help me to be a faithful servant..

Meanwhile, today's devotion from Our Daily Bread, something I read nearly every day, has this on servanthood.

Chuck Swindoll's book on servanthood, Improving Your Serve: The Art of Unselfish Living, is outstanding, by the way.

Should you wish to subscribe to Glen VanderKloot's daily emailed pieces, email him at and put SUBSCRIBE on the subject line.

40-Days to Servanthood: Day 12

Servants are interruptible.

Imagine that just before you leave for a long-planned vacation, the telephone rings. It’s the next-door neighbor. He and his wife need to run to the hospital, where his mother has just been taken unexpectedly. He wonders if you can look after his kids for awhile.

For a moment, you consider listing all the reasons why you can’t do it. But you know that your neighbor needs you. Babysitting wasn’t part of your game plan for the day. But, mindful of Jesus’ call to love and serve as He has loved and served you, you say, “Yes.”

A few hours later, your neighbors’ usual sitter shows up to take over from you. You and your family pile into your vehicle and take off for your vacation. Somehow, the world hasn’t come to an end because you didn’t get started on time. Part of growing in our faith in Jesus Christ is being willing to be sent wherever God may seem to want us to go even when it interrupts our plans.

During His ministry on earth, Jesus had a mission. He came, first of all, to call “the lost sheep of Israel,” His fellow Jews who had wandered from God. After His death and resurrection, His followers in the Church, were to call non-Jews, Gentiles. Occasionally though, Gentiles who believed Jesus was the Savior of everyone, Gentiles as well as Jews, would approach Him with needs.

One day, a Gentile woman, one of the Canaanites, historic enemies of God’s people in Judea, asked Jesus to cast a demon from her daughter. Up to this point in Matthew’s Gospel, where the story is told, no one had expressed such faith in Jesus. Jesus could have ignored the woman. But He could neither ignore her great faith or just as importantly, her great need. Jesus departed from His schedule in order to respond to the woman’s need. (Matthew 15:21-28)

Servants are interruptible.

Bible Passage to Ponder: “...she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’” (Matthew 15:25-27)

UPDATE: John Schroeder at Blogotional has linked to this piece and added some interesting (and honest) thoughts of his own. Thank you, John!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Wallace and 'Retiring'

Mike Wallace has announced that he will retire from 60 Minutes this spring:
"As I approach my 88th birthday, it's become apparent to me that my eyes and ears, among other appurtenances, aren't quite what they used to be," said Mr. Wallace, whose birthday is May 9. "The prospect of long flights to wherever in search of whatever are not quite as appealing."
I'm in my early-50s and within the past year, a number of my friends have retired. Some have taken on other positions; most haven't.

I look at all this midlife retiring with mixed feelings. I feel as though I've not even scratched the surface of what I want to do or would like to do in my work and so, the prospect of retirement isn't attractive at all. I view retirement in much the same way that a team down two points, but making a furious drive to win, must view the blaring of the horn at the end of a game during March Madness.

Let's face it, retirement, while certainly opening up new possibilities in one's life, is also a sort of death. It's the death of a way of life to which one has grown accustomed. (This is why it's so important for retirees to have some plans and goals. Without aims, too many people wither and then die physically, the promise of their post-retirement lives unfulfilled.)

On the other hand, some of my friends and other fifty-something retirees seem to be approaching the closing of this door as an opening to the sorts of work they really want to do. My problem is that I love the work that I do now. (Most days.)

Mike Wallace must love his work too, else he wouldn't have stayed on to age 88. If you saw his February 12 report on how wounded veterans from the War in Iraq are coping with their injuries, you know that he's still doing great work.

40-Days to Servanthood: Day 11

Servanthood is the response of a grateful person.

On entering a village between Samaria and His home country of Judea one day, Jesus was met by ten lepers, all begging for Jesus’ pity. In those days, leprosy was seen as a curse. The leprous person was “unclean.” Because of that, the leper couldn’t participate in religious or community life, couldn’t be with family members, couldn’t be touched by anyone, and couldn’t hold a job.

Jesus had pity on the lepers and instructed them to go to the priests in Jerusalem. Levticus 13 and 14 in the Old Testament said that if a priest certified that someone once afflicted with leprosy was now clean, they could resume their former life. The moment the men set out for Jerusalem, they were cleansed. But only one of the men, a citizen of the hated Samaritan nation, came back to Jesus. “He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him,” the Gospel of Luke says. Next, we’re told, “Jesus asked, ’Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, Rise and go; your faith has made you well’" (Luke 17:11-19).

Notice two things. First, all ten lepers were healed. But Jesus declared that only one of them was made “well”: the person who was thankful. When we gratefully acknowledge what God has done for us through Christ--giving us forgiveness and new life--we are well, no matter what afflicts us. Second, gratitude freed this man from slavery to self. He understood that the world consisted of more than himself; it included the God Who made him and others as much in need of God’s blessings as he was.

The apostle Paul once marveled at how Christians in Macedonia, in spite of being poor and troubled themselves, “begged...and pleaded for the privilege of having a part in helping God’s people in Judea” (2 Corinthians 8:4). Grateful for Jesus’ death and resurrection that gave them life, they gave of themselves to others. Servanthood is the response of a grateful person.

Bible Passage to Ponder: “They begged us and pleaded for the privilege of having a part in helping God’s people in Judea” (2 Corinthians 8:4)

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

First Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: Mark 14:3-9

This weekend's Bible lesson at the congregation I serve as pastor, Friendship Lutheran Church, coming during the third weekend in Lent and in our Forty Days to Servanthood emphasis is part of the Gospel of Mark's passion narative.

Passion is the English-ized version of a Greek word that denotes a loving commitment so strong that one is willing to die for the beloved. The passion of Jesus Christ refers to all those events surrounding His crucifixion, from Palm Sunday, the occasion of His tumultuous welcome to Jerusalem through His death on the following Friday.

The New Testament's four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) contain the four major accounts of Jesus' passion. These four books are not biographies, either in the understanding of that term in the ancient world or today. They are, as some scholar has put it, "extended passion narratives."

These notes are designed to help the people of our congregation to prepare for worship. If others find them useful, that's great!

The Bible Lesson:
3 While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. 4But some were there who said to one another in anger, ‘Why was the ointment wasted in this way? 5For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.’ And they scolded her. 6But Jesus said, ‘Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. 7For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. 8She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. 9Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.’

General Comments:
(1) This dinner took place two days before "the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread." (Mark 14:1-2) It was on "the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread" that Jesus had the Passover meal with His disciples, where He instituted the Lord's Supper.

(2) Commentator Hugh Anderson points out that because this account falls within the Gospel's story of Jesus' passion, the woman's action detailed here is deemed important by Mark, but not her name.

(3) Anderson also says that this incident's occurrence between mention of the plot to kill Jesus (Mark 14:1-2) and the arrangements with Judas to betray Jesus (Mark 14:10-11) "effectively shows how despite all hostile powers arrayed against him, the one who goes the way of the cross constrains the love of the faithful."

Verse-by-verse comments:
v. 3: (1) The village of Bethany set on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives. It was about two-miles from Jerusalem. Bethany was a place Jesus visited often apparently, as it was the home of his friends, the siblings Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.

(2) as he sat at the table: The word in the original Greek of the New Testament is katakeimenou, which literally means as he reclined. This was the standard manner for people to dine in the first-century Judean Mediterranean world. It would have been in this same posture that Jesus and the disciples ate at the Last Supper.

(3) We don't really know who Simon the Leper was.

(4) alabaster jar: This was a flask with a long neck, sealed until the neck was broken and the contents poured out. The flask once broken, of course, couldn't be reused.

(5) nard: This was an oil made from the root of an Indian plant. The plant is a perennial herb. The oil was exceedingly expensive.

According to the recently-published Archaeological Study Bible, perfumes and anointing oils played an important role in ancient life:
  • As is true today, perfumes had a cosmetic function. But some were also at times thought to be aphrodisiacs. In addition, "there was also a kind of sacred perfume formula that was to be used only on Israel's priests and sanctuary objects..." (Exodus 30:22-33)
  • Oils were often used as soaps and shampoos are today.
  • Oils were also used for medicinal purposes.
  • Perfumes and spices were used for the embalming of the dead, a function related to what happens in our Bible lesson.
(6) Similar accounts to this one appear in all three of the other Gospels. Matthew 26:6-13 is most like Mark's account. Here, Jesus' head is anointed and not His feet.

Anderson points out that while the woman's action would have been "somewhat suprising," such anointing of guests after a long trip was "customary." Her action then, isn't marked by impropriety, but by extravagance.

v. 4: some were there: In the analogous account in John's Gospel, Judas is earmarked as the indignant one. Here, the term is more general.

v. 5: (1) three hundred denarii: A denarius was the wage paid to a laborer for a day's worth of work. Accounting then for sabbath days and holy days, the value of the ointment was the equivalent of a yearly salary.

(2) It was customary for people to give charitable donations (alms) to the poor just before the Passover began. The indignant observers of this woman's extravagant anointing of Jesus therefore might have been deemed correct from a religious perspective.

vv. 6-8: Jesus' words must have come as a shock. Anderson points out that in verse 8, Jesus connects the woman's action to His own passion. It seems to compensate for Jesus' body later not being anointed for burial, as was the custom. This omission would be made necessary because Jesus' death occurred on the brink of the Passover sabbath day. To have come in contact with Jesus' body before the sabbath began with sunset, before an opportunity for purification could happen, would have rendered those who touched Him ritually impure and therefore unable to participate in the Passover. This is why on the third day following Jesus' death, a group went to the tomb to anoint His body. It was there that they discovered His resurrection.

v. 9: Here, we see the intrinsic connection between Jesus' passion and the Christian good news. Jesus' sacrificial death is good news for a human race whose sin is atoned for in this way. This is the good news (Gospel) that we share with the world!

40-Days to Servanthood: Day 10

There’s a difference between servanthood and slavery.

In the Greek of the New Testament, there are two main words for servanthood. Doulos and diakonos can both be translated as slave or minister, as well as servant.

But there’s a marked difference between the service offered by one who feels coerced into service--which is what you and I would label as slavery--and servanthood, which is rendered voluntarily. Slavery is a hateful thing. This is why Christians in England and America were in the forefront of the battle to abolish it in the nineteenth century.

But when one chooses to be a slave or a servant, beautiful things happen. We see this repeatedly in the Bible. In the book of Genesis, a slave of Abraham’s secured a wife for Abraham’s son, Isaac, and thereby insured that God’s promise of a nation and a land from which the Savior would eventually be born many centuries later, would all come true. The slave reveled in his role of being useful to his master, grateful for his role in salvation history and for his master’s care and friendship.

The voluntary servant of God gets to play an important and irreplaceable part in the unfolding of God’s plans.

One of the most interesting people in the Bible is a woman named Dorcas. The book of Acts, which recounts the history of the Church from the day of Jesus’ ascension until about 65 AD, says that Dorcas “spent all her time doing good and helping the poor.” When she died, the whole city of Joppa where she lived mourned. In their grief, many of the town’s widows showed the apostle Peter the shirts and coats that Dorcas had sewn for them. Peter prayed that God would bring Dorcas back to life and when it happened, there was a celebration!

Dorcas spent her life in joyous service, not as a slave, but as a grateful follower of Jesus Christ.

There’s a difference between servanthood and slavery.

Bible Passage to Ponder: “She spent all her time doing good and helping the poor” (Acts 9:36).

Monday, March 13, 2006

40-Days to Servanthood: Day 9

Servanthood moves us beyond ourselves.

The classic line of Bette Midler in the movie, Beaches, probably displays the unspoken attitudes of us all. “Enough about me,” Midler says, “what do you think about me?” Experts on childhood development tell us that we come into this world deeply mired in ourselves.

Servants of Jesus Christ embrace a different way of life. They have moved beyond themselves. As we pointed out yesterday, this begins in Jesus Christ, Who both exemplifies a servant’s lifestyle and will empower those who want to be servants. People who move beyond themselves to be servants display three habits of life that we see in Jesus throughout the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) in the New Testament. One of my favorite places to observe these three habits of Jesus is in Mark 1:29-39:

Mark 1:29-31: Jesus moved beyond what was comfortable to reach out to someone who was shoved into the corner of life. The fever of Simon’s mother-in-law was more than a physical ailment. Her illness denied her the dignity of her place as the eldest woman of the household, a place that included responsibility for overseeing the entertainment of guests.

Mark 1:35: Jesus reached up to God the Father for the power and inspiration to live faithfully.

Mark 1:38-39: Jesus ignored the easy path of popularity in order to do God’s will. Jesus turned His back on the safe and comfortable to face what was difficult and which, He knew, would result in His being rejected and killed (Luke 9:51).

Our call as followers of Jesus is to adopt these three habits of the heart: to encourage those shoved to the side by society; to reach up to God for inspiration, direction, and power; to ignore the safe paths and be willing to go where we might be unpopular in order to follow God faithfully. Servanthood moves us beyond ourselves.

Bible Passage to Ponder: “...whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43-45, The Message).

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Serving God by Serving the World's 'Nobodies'

[This message has been shared with the people of Friendship Church this weekend.]

Acts 9:36-43

This past week, in an email sent by evangelist Wesley Paul, I read the true story of a man named Ponali John, a simple tailor in India. Paul describes him as "a tailor by trade and a disciple of Jesus by profession." One Sunday in worship, Ponali John's pastor challenged the congregation to reach out to others, sharing the Good News that all who turn from sin and believe in Jesus live with God in their lives for all eternity.

"Ponali John wondered how he could take on such a great challenge," Wesley Paul wrote. It was then that he sensed God telling him: "Use what you have in your hands." The only thing that Ponali John had was a portable sewing machine, the use of which allowed him to scrape by in life. So, one day, he grabbed his machine and walked to a neighboring village. He took a spot in the marketplace and, as Wesley Paul puts it, "waited to see what God would do."

Soon, a man whose shirt was torn happened by. Ponali John called out to him. "Would you like for me to mend that tear?" he asked the man. "How much will it cost?" the man asked. "The service is free," the tailor replied. Then, as he fixed the tear in the man's shit, Ponali John explained why this service was free, that he was responding to the free gift of God's love in Christ by serving others without charging. Ponali John continued to do this day after day, whenever he had the chance. Once twenty or thirty people had come to faith in Christ in this way, he left those folks to the care of the pastor of a local church. Then, he moved onto the next village to start the whole process all over again.

Now, when I first came to our area and went door-to-door to introduce people to our congregation, I carried brochures to leave with folks. I thought it would be good to have a memorable motto on them. So, I stole one from Willow Creek Community Church, a church in the Chicago suburbs. It’s a simple one: You matter to God.

When you think about it, those four words sum up the message that we in the Church carry into the Monday through Saturday world we inhabit. They also well summarize the message that Ponali John takes to villages in India, with his sewing machine and his words about Jesus Christ.

People ask me how do we go about sharing Christ with others? Very simply, we, the Church, what the Bible calls “the Body of Christ” are the ones called to let others know that they matter to God.

And we authenticate the good news that all who turn from sin and believe in Jesus will live with God forever by our dedication to a life of service in Jesus’ Name.

We do this most of all by showing life’s often-forgotten people that they too, matter to God.

In Biblical times, widows were forgotten people, nobodies. They had no rights, except to whatever provision their fathers or eldest sons might make for them. They almost never inherited anything from their deceased husbands. Many were so impoverished that they became prostitutes or beggars. Yet, within the life of the first-century Church, provision was made for widows. All participants in the Church pooled their money, using only what they needed, and then allowed widows and others in need to live off of the collected resources.

Our Bible lesson for today revolves around a woman, a believer in Jesus, who died. Her name in one language was Dorcas, in another Tabitha, and her death might have been ignored, in just the way we ignore most deaths today. We take note when celebrities like Kirby Puckett or Dana Reeve die early, tragic deaths. But we rarely know the names of the hundreds whose lives are ended by car bombs in Baghdad or Kabul; or of the thousands of African children whose lives have been snuffed out by the AIDS epidemic they inherited in their mother’s wombs; or of the more than 200,000 people who have been massacred by the marauding Janjaweed terrorists in the Darfur region of Sudan. Nor do we often taken even enough note of the hundreds of children right here in our own communities whose lives are wracked by poverty or parental indifference or both to even utter an occasional prayer on their behalf. I know this is true because I’m as guilty of ignoring the many deaths--physical, emotional, spiritual--that are happening around me every day as any other person.

Dorcas was a woman grateful for the grace of God, given through the resurrected Jesus Christ. A man I once knew, a widower, told me that every night he fell on his knees to thank God for His goodness. I also knew that every day, he looked for ways to express that thankfulness practically through acts of love and service to others. He did it through everyday kindness and cheerfulness and courtesy. He also did it by volunteering at a local nursing home.

Dorcas was like that man. Her way of thanking God was to sew inner tunics and outer garments for others in her community, especially the widows. Her designer clothes would never be seen on red carpets outside the Oscars or Grammys. But every garment she made and the love that went with them, was appreciated. When this woman died, the people of her congregation and community in Joppa wept openly.

But they didn’t stop at weeping. The folks in that church had heard reports that the apostle Peter was in the nearby town of Lydda. They’d also heard that while there, Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, had told a paralyzed man, “Jesus Christ heals you” and the man was healed. The church in Joppa decided to send two men to Peter with an urgent message: “Please come to us without delay.”

When Peter arrived at the bedside of Dorcas’ body, he shooed all the mourners away and prayed that God would make a miracle. It happened, we’re told, when Dorcas came back to life.

Now, far more interesting to me than the question of how Peter performed this miracle through Jesus, is the level of faith and the quality of Christian servanthood this entire incident displays:

Grateful to Christ, Dorcas was a servant of God.

Touched by Dorcas’ practical expression of the love of Christ, a church community mourned and sent two representatives to Peter to see what could be done.

And Peter, who could have ignored the death of just another person who, after all, hadn’t been a contestant on Project Runway, went to Joppa when Dorcas died.

In the topsy turvy Kingdom of God, even people who the world sees as nobodies are given royal treatment!

In the weeks that the Forty Days to Servanthood team has been praying and preparing for this Lenten Season, one of our members has considered all the painful and poverty-stricken lives that go on right at our doorsteps each day and said: “I live in a bubble.”

I do too, much of the time. I insulate myself from the rest of the world, spending my days in a self-contained cocoon, treating the people in the hurting world around me like nobodies whose lives or deaths are inconsequential to me.

But as followers of Jesus Christ, you and I are called to live differently! We’re to be servants like Dorcas who used needle and thread to show others that Christ died and rose for them, or like the Church in Joppa that decided to try for a miracle, or like Peter who walked seven miles to a town where a bunch of people he didn’t know wanted his help for a dead woman he’d never met.

Christian servanthood, as I mentioned in one of the readings this past week, is God’s love with its work clothes on!

And, like all the people in our lesson today, Christian servants are prepared to go to work sharing Christ’s love even when it’s inconvenient.

True story: A man’s wife had just left him. It had been years since he’d darkened the door of a church. But as he considered who of his friends and acquaintances to call for advice, the answers became obvious. He would call his Christian friends, who had always shown him such compassion and had always demonstrated good-natured patience when he’d made fun of their churchgoing. It was one-o’clock in the morning when he got in touch with his friend, Bob. “Come on over,” Bob told him, “I’ll fix a pot of coffee.”

We can sing our hymns, make our offerings, and recite our creeds. But if we don’t take the time to serve the nobodies and the hurting people of the world, the people everybody else ignores or overlooks, how real is our faith in Jesus Christ?

And before you deal with that question, answer this one: If we’re really grateful for the new life that Jesus has given to us as a free gift, won’t we be willing to go to any lengths to express our gratitude to Him by loving all the nobodies He loves? Some day, I hope that I will have matured enough in my faith to be able to give an unequivocal answer of “Yes!” to that question.

In the kingdom of God, nobody is a nobody!

In Christ, you and I know how much we matter to the God Who died and rose for us. When we serve, we let others know that they matter to God, too.

40-Days to Servanthood: Day 8

Servanthood begins with Jesus Christ!

In light of that, I have a question for you: Do you have a relationship with Jesus Christ? Please don’t misunderstand. If you're involved with a church, that's wonderful. It’s good if you’ve been baptized, maybe confirmed. But significant though the Sacraments and the rites of the Church are, it’s possible for people to treat them like religious hoops. Faith in Christ isn’t about hoops, though.

Jesus once told His disciples: “Whoever believes and is baptized is saved; whoever refuses to believe is damned” (Mark 16:16). Here, Jesus acknowledges the importance of Holy Baptism. It’s the entry way to life with Christ and with Christ’s holy community, the Church.

But this doesn’t alter our need for faith in Jesus Christ. It’s faith, or trust, in Christ that saves us. Jesus told a teacher named Nicodemus: "This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn't go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person's failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.” (John 3:16-18, The Message)

If you have any doubt about your relationship with Jesus Christ, stop right now and tell Him, “Lord: I surrender my life to You. Send Your Holy Spirit to help me believe as well as I can. I want to be Yours. I want to repudiate my sin. I want to live with You forever. Thank You, Lord, in Jesus’ Name. AMEN.” If you meant that prayer, now you’re ready to walk the road of servanthood. Servanthood begins with Jesus Christ!

Bible Passage to Ponder: “...anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins” (Second Corinthians 5:17-19, The Message)

UPDATE: Bruce Armstrong of Ordinary Everyday Christian has linked to this and all previous seven readings in this 40-Days to Servanthood series. Thank you very much, Bruce.