Saturday, March 14, 2009

40-Days to Servanthood: Day 18

Don’t overlook the service of guarding others’ reputations.

A woman once visited a monk in medieval times. He was admired for giving holy, sensible advice. The woman realized, she said, that she had become a terrible gossip, the purveyor of hurtful words. What should she do? The monk told her to go through the village and bag all the goose feathers she found. Then, she should lay a feather at the doorstep of every person about whom she had gossiped. After that, she should return to the monk.

The woman dutifully did what the monk directed her to do and returned to him. The monk said, "That's wonderful. Now go back to each of those doorsteps and collect the goose feathers you left behind. Then, come back here." When the woman returned for yet another visit to the monk, she reported that all the feathers had been blown away by the wind.

"That’s the point, of course," the monk told her. "We can be forgiven the sin of gossiping about others. If you repent for it, God surely will forgive you. Those you have violated may do the same. But no matter whether you are forgiven or not, the damage will have been done. Gossip spreads as though carried aloft by the wind and you can't bring it back."

The eighth commandment tells us, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” In his explanation of it in The Small Catechism, Martin Luther writes, “We are to fear and love God so that we do not betray, slander, or lie about our neighbor, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain his actions in the kindest way.” Refraining from lying about our neighbor is just the beginning of God’s intentions in this commandment. He intends for us to be guardians of others’ reputations.

Servants of the God we know in Jesus Christ look for ways to build up others’ reputations and to help them be understood and appreciated even when we may disagree with them.

Don’t overlook the service of guarding others’ reputations.

Bible Passage to Ponder: “Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show every courtesy to everyone” (Titus 3:1-2).

Friday, March 13, 2009

40-Days to Servanthood: Day 17

In finding your area of servanthood, don’t overlook the service of small things.

One of my seminary professors used to tell us, “I’m certain that if you were asked to give your life for Christ, you would all do it. But when our next class break happens, I wonder if you’ll just as willingly allow the other person to line up at the drinking fountain ahead of you?”

Happily, most of us will never be martyrs for our faith. But we are called to respond to God’s love in thousands of little moments. Many of those moments will give us opportunities to serve that will seem unimportant and easily ignored.

Richard Foster tells of being in graduate school, desperate to work on his doctoral dissertation written one day, when a friend from church called him. The man had no car that day and needed to do some errands. Could Foster take him where he needed to go? With unspoken resentment, Foster agreed to help the man. Just before climbing into his car, he picked up his copy of Life Together, a book about Christian community written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, just to have something to read. With each succeeding errand he did with his friend, Foster’s resentment at being forced to do these piddling tasks grew. When they came to a grocery store, Foster told the man he’d wait for him in the car. He pulled out Bonhoeffer’s book and read these words: “The second service that one should that of active helpfulness...simple assistance in trifling, external matters...Nobody is too good for the meanest service...”

No service is trifling in the Kingdom of God! Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln were lifelong rivals. They had courted the same woman; Lincoln won. They ran for the same US Senate seat; Douglas won. They both ran for President in 1860; Lincoln won. At Lincoln’s inauguration, there was reportedly an awkward moment when the new president didn’t know where to put his hat. Douglas stepped forward and told Lincoln that if he couldn’t be president, he could at least hold the president’s hat.

Never be afraid to be the person who holds someone’s hat. Don’t overlook the service of small things!

Bible Passage to Ponder: “So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith” (Galatians 6:10).

Thursday, March 12, 2009

40-Days to Servanthood: Day 16

In the process of seeking your area of servanthood, strive to render service in hidden ways.

A number of years ago, I chaired the planning committee for a church convention. It involved 200 churches. It turned out to be an extraordinary event. People left excited. The positive feedback was almost universal as people said, “That’s the best and most useful church convention we’ve ever attended.”

I should have been happy. But I was bummed. The bishop hadn’t taken the time to tell everybody what a wonderful job I had done, or how hard I had worked, or how it had been my vision that had been executed in that convention. (Can you imagine that?)

But one day, as I was sitting in my office, praying, a thought crossed my mind, a thought I’m certain came from God: “Who were you doing all of this for, hotshot, you or Me?”

The world is full of examples of people who live for themselves. It’s the source of all the misery we see in the world and in ourselves. The quicker we learn that life is about the God Who designed us and wants what is best for us, the more quickly we can get down to serving in ways that are useful to God and incidentally, fulfilling to us.

Over the next week, we’ll be looking at types of Christian service compiled by Richard Foster. The first is one we’ve mentioned before: hiddenness. Says Foster: “If all our serving is before others, we will be shallow people...Hiddenness is a rebuke to [our sinful natures]...and can deal a fatal blow to pride [by which, I’m sure, he means arrogance]...”

He goes on: “At first thought it would seem that hidden service is only for the sake of the person served. Such is not the case. Hidden, anonymous ministries affect even people who know nothing of them...It sends ripples of joy and celebration through any community” as people savor the realization that people serve simply because it’s the right response to a giving God’s love.

Try to do good things and not get caught. Strive to render service in hidden ways.

Bible Passage to Ponder: "Servants, do what you're told by your earthly masters. And don't just do the minimum that will get you by. Do your best. Work from the heart for your real Master, for God, confident that you'll get paid in full when you come into your inheritance. Keep in mind always that the ultimate Master you're serving is Christ. The sullen servant who does shoddy work will be held responsible. Being a follower of Jesus doesn't cover up bad work." (Colossians 3:22-25, The Message)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

What Christ Freed Us For

[This was shared during Midweek Lenten Worship in the sanctuary of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, this evening. It was presented as part of the congregation's '40-Days to Servanthood' emphasis.]

Acts 9:36-43
Occasionally, I receive emails from Wesley Paul, an evangelist who lives in Lexington, Kentucky but does most of his ministry in India. Several years ago, he shared the true story of a man named Ponali John, an impoverished man who lived in India. Wesley Paul described Ponali John as "a tailor by trade and a disciple of Jesus by profession." One Sunday, Ponali John's pastor challenged the congregation to share the Good News of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection with others.

This simple tailor took the challenge seriously, but wondered, after he’d gone home, how he could do anything about it. Then, a thought crossed his mind: "Use what you have in your hands." The only thing that Ponali John could call his own was a portable sewing machine, the use of which allowed him to eke out a small income. So, one day, he grabbed his machine and walked to a neighboring village. He took a spot in the marketplace and, as Wesley Paul put 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?" "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 shirt, 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 charge. Ponali John continued to do this whenever his own work allowed him to get away, focusing on one village at a time. Once twenty or thirty people confessed faith in Christ in a village, he left those folks to the care of the pastor of a local church. Then, he moved on to the next village to start the whole process all over again.

God employed the simple service of this one man, using the only asset God placed in his hands, to bring Jesus Christ to people.

Ponali John reminds me of one of my favorite people in the New Testament, a woman named Dorcas or Tabitha. She was a Christian and a seamstress. In the eyes of the world, she wasn’t important. But Dorcas was a woman grateful for the grace of God, given through the resurrected Jesus Christ and because of that, she used what she had in hand to share Christ with others. Her way of thanking God was to sew inner tunics and outer garments for others in her community, especially the widows. The clothing she made and the love that went with them, were all appreciated. When she died, the people of her congregation and community in Joppa wept openly.

But they didn’t stop at weeping. The folks in that church sent an urgent message to the apostle Peter: “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 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! Often, the people who the world deems nobodies are the servants, people who take the gifts God has given to them and use them to share Christ with others.

We tried to enact this in my former parish through our weekly Kindness Outreaches. As some of you have heard me say, we woild go out on Saturday mornings and, depending on the season, give away cold water or cans of Coke, cans of soup or coupons giving discounts for purchases at a filling station. One woman, you may remember, had gone to the grocery store where she’d promised to pick up chicken noodle soup for her truck driving husband after time on the road. But after leaving the store, she discovered that she’d forgotten her husband’s soup. Just as she’d decided he would have to find something else to eat, she pulled up to an intersection where I handed her a can of chicken noodle soup. She later wrote to me and said, “God must be looking out for you, ‘cause here’s your chicken noodle soup.”

One of the funniest outreaches we did involved giving away free baked goods from one of the Cincinnati-area’s premier local bakery chains, Busken. I arranged to get day-old, but still wonderful doughnuts, breads, and cookies from a local Busken Bakery. Then, I set up on major thoroughfare where lots of commuters passed by in the morning with a big screaming yellow sign with bold, black letters, “Free Busken.” I’d forgotten that the corner I’d chosen was also the site of various political protests. One of Ann’s co-workers drove by me and some other folks from our congregation, saw the “Free Busken” sign and wondered who Busken was and how he got into trouble with the law.

One of the most interesting outreaches we did—actually, it was done by our youth group, who really loved the funky weirdness of it—was to go to local filling stations, fast food restaurants, and medical offices and ask, “May we wash your rest rooms?” When they saw that we had the kits to do the job and simply wanted to share God’s love in a practical way, no strings attached, they let us clean away.

We did all these projects not to call attention to ourselves or necessarily to get the beneficiaries of our service to come to our Cincinnati congregation, but to help them experience God and God’s grace.

Whether we do it through kindness outreaches are by other means—like helping out at CHAP and Smith Chapel, providing assistance to our local juvenile drug court or getting a new Hocking County Boys and Girls Club, my prayer is that Saint Matthew will become more than the church Noah’s Ark in the yard.

I don’t know about you, folks, but in my heart of hearts, beneath my sinful thoughts, habits, and ways, down in my soul, I want more than anything to be a servant of Christ.

I want to be used by God to mend the tears, the hurts, the injustices, and the ignorance of the world.

I want to give a cool cup of water to the thirsty, bread to the hungry, comfort to the afflicted, and the hope of Jesus’ resurrection to the dying. (The latter category including every single one of us, by the way.)

My guess is that everyone of you shares those same aspirations. But like me, you may be intimidated by the challenge of it all. But I beg you to heed the experiences of Dorcas and Ponali John: Don’t wait for the perfect alignment of resources and vision. Ask God to show you what it is you already have—in skills, gifts, opportunities—and then, to paraphrase John Wesley, the founder of World Methodist, share Christ’s love wherever you can, whenever you can, however you can. (We can swipe that wonderful motto from Wesley because his own conversion to a close and personal kind of relationship began for him as Lutheran Moravian service where, he said, his heart was “strangely warmed.”)

We often speak of how Christ has set believers in Him free from sin and death. It’s wonderful to be free from those things.

But Christ has also set us free to live differently. Freed from sin and freed from performance based religion, Jesus sets us free to live lives of purpose unencumbered by concerns over our status or perks, our incomes or our place in society. We’re set free from the stranglehold of things this world worships so that in our acts of daily service and devotion, we render pure, loving worship of God!

Ask God to help you live in that freedom, filled with purpose, empowered to be servants of Christ who use what God has given to them to make a difference in the world. And if you have the time before next Wednesday’s potluck, plan on attending the first Servanthood Team meeting here in the fellowship hall.

God has given us everything we need to fulfill the purposes he has in mind for us. Dorcas learned that. So did Ponali John. So can we. Amen

40-Days to Servanthood: Day 15

Trial, error, and success are the steps to finding your unique brand of servanthood.

While following Jesus Christ always means becoming more Christ-like, as well as being part of Christ’s community of faith, the Church, God never intended for any two Christians to be exactly alike. Paul writes, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God Who activates all of them in everyone” (First Corinthians 12:4-6).

Christ has given the Church of which believers in Jesus are a part a big mission (Matthew 28:16-20). For it to happen requires the meshing of the many varied talents, passions, and spiritual gifts that exist within us as a community of faith (First Corinthians 12:12-26).

Discerning our spiritual gifts requires willingness to fail and to learn at least as much from our failures as our successes. That’s where the process of trial, error, and success comes in.

I admire the ministry of Habitat for Humanity. Over a decade ago, I thought it would be a good idea for the congregation I was then serving as pastor to become involved in its work of building homes for those who can’t afford getting housing by conventional means. I talked it up and one Saturday, a group of us met at a building site in a nearby community. For about a month, I accompanied some of the folks from our church as we joined others in constructing a house. My participation ended one Saturday though, when a considerate church member pulled me aside and said, “Mark, we all have our gifts. This doesn’t involve any of yours. I’m afraid that if you keep coming back here, you’re going to get yourself killed.” I had tried and it would have been an error for me to keep attempting to be a Habitat contractor. God had gifted me in other ways.

Trial, error, and success are necessary steps to finding your unique brand of servanthood.

Bible Passage to Ponder: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (First Corinthians 12:7)

History Day

History is one of the most important subjects with which a functioning human being can be conversant. "A knowledge of the past prepares us for the crisis of the present and the challenge of the future," President Kennedy once observed.

That's true not because history repeats itself in some cyclical game of futility, but because there are certain constants and frequently recurring themes that run through history. Being aware of history can help--but only help--us avoid making the same mistakes repeatedly.

We can also draw inspiration, wisdom, and insight from history.

History also explains how we got to where we are, an essential element in discerning where we think we should go.

And, in the case of the United States, a nation that decided itself into being around some basic premises and principles--as opposed to evolving organically around ethnicity or language, a knowledge of national history is essential to citizenship. It scares me to think of how people who know more about the personal lives of Brad and Angelina than they do about Abraham Lincoln or the Great Depression are casting votes in elections.

That's why I think National History Day (March 14) and Ohio History Day (April 25) are so important. Something like 8000 young people in the sixth through twelfth grades here in Ohio will, on those days, compete for scholarships and the chance to represent the state in a national competition, based on their historical research. This year's topic: The Individual in History: Actions and Legacies.

I'm excited to be a judge for the April 25 competition.

Here's the Ohio Historical Society blog on History Day. It coaches participants.

You might want to look into how you can support similar efforts to encourage a knowledge of history in your area.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

'Restoring Hope in a Crashing Economy'

That's the title of the first installment of Ben Witherington's new blogging series. Good stuff, as usual.

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? Christian thinker 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 term 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" (1 John 2:15-17, The Message).

Monday, March 09, 2009

3 questions to ask, 5 ways to respond...

when you're depressed.

My experience and observation is that if you do the first three responses regularly, the latter two may not be necessary.

A great passage from the linked article:
Here's a bit of good news: People recover from depression. Treatments are effective and widely available. A Christian colleague of mine—a dear soul who struggled with depression—used to say, "As Christians, we have no right to give up hope." There may be a time to take Prozac, and a time to give it up, but there is never a time to give up hope.

Identity Crisis

Columbus Dispatch sports columnist Rob Oller has it right, I think. Whatever their identity, I hope that the OSU men's basketball team has a good run in the Big Ten tournament.

The first papal blessing caught on film...

can be seen here. The linked footage goes back to the 1890s.

40-Days to Servanthood: Day 13

Servants serve on purpose.

I once met some remarkable high school seniors. The local chapter of The Ohio State University alumni group to which I belonged in my former community annually gives a scholarship to an area freshman heading to OSU. 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 area kids, 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.” (2 Timothy 1:16-18)


David Wayne, the Jollyblogger, cracked me up with this.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Finishing the Race

[This was shared during worship with the people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, earlier today.]

Mark 8:31-38
At the Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City in 1968, a runner named John Stephen Aquara ran in the marathon, representing Tanzania. Shortly after the race began, Aquara fell, causing serious injuries to both a knee and an ankle. He received some medical attention and then, bandaged and still bleeding, got back on the trail and resumed the race. He limped, hobbled, and skipped. Two hours after the other competitors had finished, John Stephen Aquara crossed the finish line. He even took a victory lap around the stadium. When a reporter later asked him why he had continued in the race when it was clear he could win no medal, Aquara replied, "My country didn’t send me seven thousand miles to enter the race. They sent me here to finish the race." [1]

When we turn from sin as a way of life and trust Jesus as our God and our only hope, our eternal destinies are assured. The believer in Jesus lives in the certainty that the Savior Who died and rose for sinners like us gives eternity with God to all who surrender to Him.

But our lives from that point aren’t meant to be spent just waiting for eternity. The Bible says that followers of Jesus are to live as aliens in a foreign country and that each of us, in our own ways, are to be "ambassadors for Christ." The Bible also says that life is a race and that each of us are to run it like competitors going for the gold. We’re to live each day we have on this earth with purpose and meaning and faithfulness to Christ even if everyone around us thinks we’re crazy. As followers of Jesus living in this world, we’re to be like John Stephen Aquara. We’re runners God has sent into the world not just to enter the race, but to finish the race!

Our Gospel lesson for this morning gives us a good indication of what’s involved in the race that you and I are to run. Just before the beginning of the incident that our lesson recounts, Jesus’ key disciple, Peter, made a stunning confession. He said that Jesus is the very reflection of God in a human being. Jesus, Peter says, is the Messiah and the blessed Son of God the Father. Jesus tells Peter that he’s absolutely right. What a feeling that must have given to Peter and the other disciples! Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, about to begin His rule, and they were in on the ground floor.

But Jesus didn’t leave them with that heady feeling for long. Jesus chose that very moment to tell the disciples that He would go to Jerusalem, undergo all sorts of suffering, be rejected by the religious leaders, be condemned by the government, be killed, and three days later, rise again.

Mark, the writer of our lesson says that Jesus "said this quite openly.” So openly, in fact, that he riled Peter up! Peter pulled Jesus aside, grabbed Jesus by the shoulders as though trying to talk sense into a man who had stepped out onto a fiftieth-story building ledge, and shaking Jesus, began yelling at Him. One of the other Gospel writers says that Peter said, "God forbid! This will never happen to You, Lord!"

In this little performance, Peter manages to make Jesus fiercely angry! Jesus condemns Peter passionately. He tells Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things!" The word Satan basically means one who obstructs or opponent. Peter thinks that he’s being a nice guy. He thinks that he’s encouraging Jesus to banish any negative thoughts about suffering or crosses. But Jesus tells Peter, "Get out of My way! The Father didn’t send me just to enter the race. He sent me to finish the race!"

For Jesus, that means suffering physically. It means suffering rejection and death on a cross. It also means something that Peter doesn’t seem to have heard: rising from the dead.

After lowering the boom on Peter, Jesus calls together His disciples and the crowd of people who watch His every move and He tells them: "If any want to become My followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me."

Followers of Jesus are called to finish the race just like Jesus did. Our race as followers of Christ is like a journey. In this journey, three major things need to happen. First: We're to say goodbye to our selfishness. (I must confess that I find this extremely difficult to do! More often than I care to think, my attitude is like that of George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life: "I want to do what I want to do.")

But jettisoning our selfishness is precisely what Jesus means when He says that we’re to deny ourselves. Jesus calls us to quit worrying so much about ourselves and think about others.

Six years ago, I read about a woman who managed a North Carolina nursing center. She made a point of cultivating personal relationships with all the residents and had a genuine love for helping meet their physical and emotional needs. An avid gardener, she grew roses behind the nursing center and saw to it that each resident received a fresh-cut rose on their breakfast tray each morning. She gave of herself, treating others as she wanted to be treated because some day, she knew that she could be a resident of that nursing center. But she wasn’t ready for that yet when I read her story in 2003. You see, she was only ninety!

When you know that God will preserve you here and in eternity, you can abandon self-absorption in order to care about others, no matter your age or condition.

In our journey, Jesus says, also we need to carry our baggage. That’s what Jesus means when He tells us to take up our crosses. A lot of people have the wrong idea about what Jesus means when He tells us this. They think that “carrying our cross” means enduring the everyday challenges, frustrations, or tragedies of life. But our experience tells us and the Bible affirms, that everybody faces these things in life. They happen whether we want them to happen or not. They happen whether we’re Christians or not.

Jesus though, is talking about something we voluntarily take, something we choose to endure, like He voluntarily took up a cross to save us from sin and death. Taking up our cross then, means embracing experiences we’d rather not go through, knowing that when we do, others may see Jesus in us and want the hope and life Jesus offers.

An acquaintance of mine, a pastor of the Evangelical Covenant Church, named Tom, his wife Barb, and their neighbors in north Cincinnati suburb once found out that their brand new homes were built on a toxic waste dump. The situation made it onto the TV news and into the newspapers. Many of Tom’s and Barb’s neighbors reacted with fierce hatred toward the builder, public officials, and others.

But Tom and Barb made a decision, as Tom told me at the time, to be positive witnesses for Christ in the midst of this situation. Even as they sought to get their neighborhood cleaned up, Tom and Barb resolved to demonstrate and live the love of Jesus Christ. They made that resolution in spite of seeing the value of their home plummet and being concerned about the possible effects of their home’s location on their health.

As Tom put it: "This presents us with an opportunity to show Jesus to people. And Barb and I are on our knees a lot, asking God to help us be faithful." Tom and Barb volunteered to go through a situation they could have simply moved away from by, instead, looking for ways to help others experience the saving love of Jesus. They suffered for the sake of others. That’s what people do when they take up their crosses. I pray to God that one day I will be that faithful!

Finally: We’re to actually take the journey Jesus gives us. That’s what Jesus means when He says "Follow Me." Lots of people go to worship on Sunday mornings. But they don’t journey through their weeks with Christ! Day in and day out, we’re to put Jesus first and make following Him our highest priority.

That isn’t always easy! Loving God and loving neighbor in a dog-eat-dog world can be hard. It may mean rejection and suffering of one kind or another, just as it did for the Savior we follow. But remember—always remember—that Jesus, as He says, in our lesson today, will never be ashamed of those who dare to follow Him. Followers of Jesus are life’s ultimate winners. We belong to God forever. And we want to take as many people with us to heaven as possible! Those who humble themselves by denying themselves, taking up their crosses, and following wherever Jesus leads may look like Clark Kent to the world. But in the eyes of the only One Whose opinion really matters, they look like Superman and Superwoman.

God calls us not just to enter the race. But to finish the race. Let’s be true to that call!

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 your neighbor. He and his wife need to run to the hospital, where his mother has just been taken unexpectedly. They wonder if you can look after the 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 and you and your family pile into your vehicle. 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, 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)