Scripture


Recently, at the church I am helping out at as an interim pastor, we had some guests come to our Sunday service.  They were a nice family.  They were actually family members of our choir/music directors.  The father was Hawaiian and the mother was Japanese.  Their three children ranged from age eight to thirteen (two young girls and an older brother).  Like many churches we dismiss for Children’s Church during the Sunday sermon.  So their three children left to join the class.

My wife taught the class with the help of another woman.  After church I asked how it went with the children.  To my wife’s surprise these children knew very little about Jesus, not to mention the Bible and characters like Noah and Moses.  At one point one of the children held up the Bible and said, “What’s this book?  It’s so big and doesn’t have any pictures.  I wouldn’t want to read that book.  It looks boring” (Of course I am paraphrasing and will get yelled at later for not quoting her correctlyJ).  As my wife and the other woman would answer the questions, the children showed continual signs of unfamiliarity with what we as Christians often take for granted.

Needless to say my wife was quite astounded.  Afterwards the choir directors explained to us that the children’s mother was into some Eastern religions and often dismissed Christianity to her children.  Therefore her children had a rather ignorant and stuffy attitude about Christianity.

We learned from that experience that we take far too much for granted as Christians and don’t often appreciate the vast amount of resources and understanding we have in regards to our faith.   Our children are three and four years old and they know who Noah is and the Biblical story encompassing him.  If you ask them if they know who Noah is they would look at you as if you asked them if they ever heard of candy.  They know much about the Faith because we have taught them and they have been surrounded by a faith community that has put forth the time and energy to inform them.

I am very concerned about this issue in our day.  It seems that many Christians are unaware of this problem and think that everyone else has been churched like they have and all went to Sunday school at some point and learned how Jesus fed the thousands with five loaves and two fish.  But the reality is…there is a growing segment of our culture who do not have a clue who Jesus Christ is—I know, I have met a few!

I have a book called The Art of Reading Scripture.  In it, one of the essays addresses pastors and teachers within the Church and how they address their audience.  The author explains that the days of assuming your audience knows what you are talking about are long gone.  NEVER ASSUME YOUR AUDIENCE’S KNOWLEDGE OR GRASP OF THE FAITH.  Assume the opposite…that they haven’t got a clue—because many of them haven’t.

This may be due to the fact that they haven’t had the convenience of being taught much about the Faith.  Or it may be that at the age of eight they learned to check out mentally during our sermons or lessons because we either used large theological words and concepts (that few people grasp) or because we preach/teach almost apologetically—because we are not fully convinced that what we have to say is of any merit or consequence.  Either way, we need to have a fresh approach and invest time and energy in passionately educating our flock in the things of God.

Much of the evangelical church has moved too far away from catechisms (probably because of anti-Catholic sentiments and an over-emphasis on only getting people converted so that they can die and go the sweet by and by) and it has been to our own detriment.  We need Christians who truly understand their faith so that they can effectively flesh it out in day to day life and share the good news with others.

Hosea 4:6 says, “My people perish from lack of knowledge.”  This is a major epidemic in our Church today and if it is not addressed now and continuously we may find that we have bred too many shallow Christians for the world of tomorrow.  Please, let’s get back to catechisms, discipleship classes, mentorships, Bible studies, and solid Christian education.  There are far too many alternative forms of Christianity through Christian-like movements that are confusing our people.  We cannot be mad at them for straying when we have done little as shepherds of God’s fold to attend and keep them.  Having a nice choir with exciting sermons is not enough.  We need to deeply root our family of Christ in what John Wesley called “a right-living faith.”  Bring back the creeds, confessions, memory verses, sword drills, conversations (allowing the tough and uncomfortable questions) and praise/worship songs (with scripture put to music—not just catchy melodies with meaningless words).

Never before has the Bible been so readily available; yet never before have so many people been so Biblically illiterate.  We can change that!

 

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At the beginning of Thomas á Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ he speaks of the most important thing a Christian can do in their life time is to study Christ.  Yet it is not enough to merely study him but to imitate him in our everyday lives.  The very practice of doing or saying what  Jesus said or did is to experience a bit of life through the mind of Jesus Christ.  Think about it, when Jesus didn’t ignore those who were often invisible in his culture (like children) but embraced them.  Such an act changes a person from the inside out.  One learns to see the disenfranchised with compassion and love.  Or when Jesus said to turn the other cheek or walk the extra mile for an enemy.  This sort of sacrificial living teaches that life is not all about us and that even the hearts of our enemies can be softened.

We can also examine the lifestyle of Christ, how he spent significant amount of time away in prayer.  We all need this time of prayer and fellowship with God.  We can often fall into the trap of feeding our rational/intellectual side of being human and neglect the other basic need of being a social being as well.  We need that time to simply have relationship with God.  This is vital for becoming like Christ.  Paul encourages us in Romans to have the mind of Christ, to renew our minds.  A very big element of this is spending time, getting to know Jesus.  What does this do?  It helps us to truly think, act, and speak like Jesus.  I believe that this is the reason for so much nonsense in the world and even among so-called Christians who appeal to a gospel, that Paul says in Galatians 1, REALLY ISN”T A GOSPEL AT ALL.  Why?  Because they have perverted the faith of Christ, the apostles, the early Church fathers and mothers, and great men and women of God down through the ages for a lie.  How?  Because they do not truly know Christ or have not spent significant time in his presence getting to know him.  Instead they follow their passions, imaginations, feelings, emotions, lusts…to create something that though it sounds biblical because they use scripture, it is not biblical at all because they twist scripture.

In Jeremiah God speaks of false prophets crying out, “Peace, Peace” but the message and warning from God was that “there is no peace” but judgment.  Why is this important to recall?  Because we need to be in tune with God the Father and be aware of what is coming down the pike.  We need to be able to heed his warnings.  We need to be able to know the truth when we hear it and know what is false.  There is a lot of false teaching out there as we speak.  We live in a very pluralistic society where people are making up beliefs as they go along.  While studying philosophy in my undergrad, one thing that drove me nuts was that there was a philosopher for every crazy belief you could think of.  One day my professor said, “Philosophy is a dangerous thing, with the right charisma and eloquent rhetoric, a philosopher or orator could prove that a toothpick is God.”  Sounds ridiculous huh?  Well there are people that teach that god is in everything, in all matter and that that matter possesses the essence of God.  Therefore if God is in a tree and that toothpick came from the tree that housed God…the toothpick is God too.

So what is the safeguard to all of this.  Praying, and sticking to the faith you have received.  Pay attention to that check in your spirit that says, “You know…that sounds all nice and stuff but something isn’t right here, something is off.”  St. Irenaeus was a bishop in the ancient Roman province of Gaul in the second century AD.  He was very close to the time of the apostles and had received the faith that had been handed down to him by very trusted and faithful men.  In turn he taught the “barbarians” in Gaul, the simple folks who could not read or write.  Yet he says in Against Heresies if someone came and began to teach them a different Gospel than what the apostles had handed down to them they would recognize it immediately as a lie and would turn and run the other way.  It is a faith that many have suffered for, died for, and guarded, not only with their words but with their hearts, minds and lives.  We need to honor them by taking our faith as seriously as they did.

The moral of that story is that it is better for most Christians to not even listen to deception and to flee from it instead.  Now God has called many throughout the Church ages to practice what is known as “apologetics” or the defense of the faith.  Yet these individuals are usually deeply grounded in the teachings of Christianity and are very familiar with why we believe what we believe and most of the details behind our faith.  But the truth of the matter is that most Christians do not have the time, the resources, the interest or the calling to engage in this.  We are all part of the same body with different gifts, passions, and callings that are equally as vital and useful to our community as the next.  I have no ability in leading worship because I sing like a sick duck.  Yet I am thankful for those who are called into this ministry who can lead us into the presence of God through worship.

I say all this because it is necessary in our day to stay anchored in the faith and know what that faith is.  There are a lot of false gospels as Paul says in Galatians, but they are no gospels at all.  In fact, he says “If anyone teaches you another gospel than the one we have given, even if I or angels come doing so, let him be cursed.”  Pretty strong language that wouldn’t go over big in our day.  But his language emphasizes the urgency of his warning.  This is why Jesus was so sturn with those who departed from the true faith, same as the apostles, same as the early Church fathers and mothers.  Thomas Oden says in his three volume work Systematic Theology that “the vital question for Christians is not rather it is palatable but rather it is true.”  We are not interested in only the things we like about scripture but what is true…what is scripture and the teachings of Jesus and the apostles claiming is true.  That’s what we want to know.  That’s what we need.  That’s what God expects of us.

Life is busy!  Right?  I know I am not the only one experiencing this.  Fall always seems to be a busy time of year and just when I feel like I am starting to get a routine going and settling into the semester a bit…WHAAM!!! The Holidays Hit!  That’s right folks…Thanksgiving in the U.S. of A. is almost a week away.  Insane isn’t it?  Well that has nothing to do with my post but I thought I would just reach out for some support here:) Misery loves company.

Anyhow, what I really want to think about  is how the world sees us Christians.  I feel like I have this issue on my heart a lot.

The other night I was sitting on the couch and my wife had one of those “girly” flicks on.  You know, those movies that are oozing with sappiness.  They have more sap than a Maple tree in February.  But here’s my confession–the other night as I was sitting on the couch reading, my man-eyes found themselves watching the ooey gooeyness.  I found myself being entertained.  I know…AHHHH!

The movie was based on a novel where this young Christian couple move out west in the 1870’s to settle a ranch.  They hire some farm-hands to help them keep up with the work.  This couple is unlike most ranch owners in that they genuinely care about the farm-hands.  They invite them for dinner in their home, give them gifts, and even have them in their home for a Sunday morning gathering in which they read scripture and pray.

What caught my attention most was how one of the farm hands turns to another worker and says, “If what they believe makes them the way that they are, then I want to know what it is that they believe.”  I thought immediately, “Well that’s Jesus’ vision of true evangelism in a nut-shell.”  Jesus said in John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  Sounds pretty close huh?

If the world could see the love of Christ in the Church in how we act towards and treat each other they will know that we are the disciples of Christ.  A few chapters later in John 17:23 Jesus states that if we are one in relationship the world will believe in the reality of Christ and God’s love.  Sounds a lot different than what Ghandi said about Christians, “I would be a Christian if it wasn’t for the Christians.”  You know, I don’t blame him.  I listen and watch what the Church is often up to today and I see so much division and self-righteousness that I know that it is the reason why the spirit of Ghandi lives in many unbelievers.

Want proof?  Turn on Christian radio and listen to the right-wing conservative Christains demonizing and bashing so called “liberal Christians.”  The term that usually get’s thrown around is “Pharisees” and “heretics.”  I hear a lot more “Rushian” (that’s my word for followers of Rush Limbaugh) and “Beckian” then Christian coming out of many of their mouths.  Their rhetoric is twenty-first century, capitalistic, republican jargon that often high-jacks verses of scripture to support their preconceived ideology.  They make Christ look like…well Rush Limbaugh.  If other Christians do not conform to this type of Christianity then they question the “other’s” committment to Christ and wonder if they are really saved.

In addition, I am in seminary and I hear plenty of moderate to liberal voices that dismiss the right.  They call them “fundalmentalist lunatics” who would burn everyone else at the stake if they got the chance.  They often view the right as uneducated and uninformed cavemen.  They feel that the right interprets the Bible way to literally and at times are offended if they actually accept scripture at face value.  Oh my gosh how horrible, wouldn’t want that!  Oh yeah…they call the people on the right “Pharisees” too.

Yet I can hear the voices of those Christians on the fringes of the Church bashing everything that is orthodox, doctrinal, dogma, creedal, patristic, traditional, ritualistic, theological, ecumenical etc. as nothing but traps put in place by mean authoritarian monsters who just want to control the nice and good-intentioned masses.  These people feel that they have been specially ordained by God to set the record straight and teach us all what Jesus REALLY meant that the Church has gotten completely wrong over the last two-thousand years.  Oh and by the way…they call the two groups above “Pharisees.”  Yet the two groups above call these people “heretics” and even “Pharisees” at times.

So will the real Pharisees please stand up???  I’m confused.  Yet I know that all of us usually fit into one of these categories and I probably just upset most everyone who read those descriptions.  I think I offended myself too actually:)

I wonder however, if there is a golden mean…that is, is there something in common we all have?  UHHMMM YEAHHH!  Probably 85 to 90% of what we believe if not more.  Yet we major in the minors and demonize each other.  We allow our differences to become divisive.  WHY ARE WE DOING THIS?  My guess: because we all think Jesus favors our point of view over everyone else’s and would be on our team in the arguments.  But I think we are getting it wrong.  I think scripture teaches that God is aware of the differences and that often times they are gifts and not reasons for division.  Scripture teaches unity and “one-ness” in the midst of differences.  Relationship in the face of disagreements.  Disagreements and differences are good.  The challenge is not letting them become divisive.

Paul in Galatians 5 says that in this new kingdom, there is neither Jew nor Greek, male or female, slave or free.  He is not saying that ethnicity ceases or cultural heritage is obsolete.  He is not saying that women stop being women and men stop being men.  That is mere foolishness.  What he is saying is that those things are no longer reasons for division and that we all look upon each other as equals…”one in Christ.”  The love of Christ is all-embracing and requires us to “love one another.”  NO EXCEPTIONS.

I admit, I am guilty of my own prejudice against a certain group of believers that I find rude and abrasive.  It may be okay for me to address this concern with my brothers and sisters but it is not okay for me to get on the radio and attack them in front of the whole world.  It is not right to name drop and attack like vicious wolves.  Whatever happened to correcting your brother in secret and in love?  I think we think it makes us seem more right  when  we boldly and abrasively demean each other.  If this is how we continue to act I am sure the world is not going to witness the reality of Christ and God’s love among us.  We are being a disobedient Church.  Ghandi said, “You Christians don’t act like your Christ.” (paraphrase).  He is usually right.  Not because we can’t but because we choose to ignore his command.  Yet Christ says in John, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

Loving Relationship in the midst of differences is what I am encouraging here.  As the world becomes more pluralistic and more violent toward Christianity we need to recoginize those precious things we have in common and embrace each other as family.  This is what our Christ commands.  We would do well to heed his words.  Let’s look past the differences and see Christ in us all.

Now don’t run off on me!:) I am aware that terms like “morality”, “virtues” and “ethics” seem quite dry and archaic.  But I think that some of my readers that would initially tune me out here will find this post very encouraging and invigorating.

The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is a classical historical work by Edward Gibbon that was been a foundational authority on the Roman Empire for the past few centuries.  It is certainly not an easy read, but it is full of priceless information about the long period of time that the Empire existed.  This work is important to Christians because it is during the reign of this empire that Christ lived, died and rose again.  It was during this empire that the early church grew rapidly and thrived.  It was eventually this empire that would adopt Christianity as the state religion under Constatine.  And when this empire collapsed in the West, it was Christainity that remained as the leader of the West in its institutionalized form as well as in its pastoral role.

In one part of this great work, Gibbon addresses the phenomenon of how the Church grew so rapidly in the first several centuries.  Gibbon gives five solid reasons.  For the sake of this post we will examine one, and address the others in later posts.  The one I want to focus on in this post is that the Church grew rapidly because of “The pure and austere morals of the Church” or as he puts it later on “The virtues of the first Christians.”

Gibbon points out that the early Christians “demonstrated their faith by his virtues.”  That is to say, someone outside the Church could pick out a Christian based upon their virtues, moral and ethical behavior.  Imagine that.  In a contemporary society when pastors are divorcing their husbands or wives; ministers are having adulterous affairs or skimming off the top of ministries to buy a Rolls Royce or expensive clothing; Christians are suing Christians at the drop of a hat and so on.  Yet, these early Christians put strong emphasis on the transforming power of God to cause a change in their behavior that they committed to maintaining.

When they repented, they expected a “reformation of manners.”  Good ethical and moral behavior was expected of them.  We see this taking place even in Paul’s letters to the church of Corinth.  In the words of one of my professors, Paul was basically saying in those letters, “Stop acting like that…true Christians don’t behave that way!”  A life of vice was not acceptable.  So much so, that when the “most abandoned sinners” observed this lifestyle, many were attracted to the faith and the possibility that they too could be changed into the image of Christ.  They observed that the “driving passion” of these Christians was a “perfect life”, that is a virtuous lifestyle free from malice and vice.  In fact, they were so concerned with living holy lives, that if they were guilty of anything they were “guilty of an excess of virtue.”  Some of those early Christians would read scripture and take things very literally and at times perhaps legalistically.

The pagan world looked at that early Church and although they might not understand why there was a change in their ethical behavior, they were amazed by it and often drawn to it.  This is recognized by historians like Gibbons, who often states that he as a historian is not interested in establishing theological truths but understanding and stating history.  Yet it is also recognized by external evidence by secular officials of Rome like Pliny the Younger.  While emperor Trajan was in power, Pliny wrote to him asking how he should deal with the people known as Christians in the mid to late second century.  It is a priceless document because in it Pliny states that besides the fact that the Christians refuse to worship Caeser as a god, they are law abiding, loving, and good citizens.  He attests to their moral fortitude.  In fact, the early Christians thought it very important to be blameless citizens, unless the laws interfered with the laws of God.

Further on in the Roman Empire, Justin the Apostate came to power.  Under his reign he attempted to reestablish paganism as the state religion.  However, he admitted that he had an enormous struggle.  The struggle was that even though he had estabished a pretty efficient system of bishops and officials to oversee the practices of this pagan religion, the Christians’ moral and ethical behaviors, as well as their endless acts of charity far outweighed anything the pagans could do.

Gibbon and many other scholars point to this as one of the main reasons why Christianity grew so quickly in the Roman Empire and throughout the world.  There is no doubt in my mind that the Church today needs to return to this.  The Church needs a moral, ethical, love revival.  The Church needs to stop apologizing for its high moral standards found in scripture and tradition and begin to live it out.  Part of why we do and don’t do the things we do is because God expects us to be holy and different than the world.  There should be a contrast that is markedly different about us.  So that when it comes to issues like pre-marital sex, drunkeness, violence, gossiping, bickering, oppressing, ridiculing etc–the Church should be pure and blameless.

Many unbelievers argue that they can be moral and ethical too without Christianity.  I argue that they do not have the longevity, pure motives, and complete ability to do so.  I argue that all you have to do is walk into a mall and see just how well they live out those so called morals by the way they treat each other.  I also argue that the morals and ethics they have are not solely intrinsic but they are running on the fumes of morality taught to our culture by Judeo-Christian inheritance.  Lastly, I argue that any ability they have to give the appearance of morality is based upon what the patristic fathers saw as a mere imprint of the image of God that they were originally created in.  That is to say, that their morality is based upon an inward conviction that God has installed to warn them of what is wrong and right.

The problem today is that the world looks at the Church and doesn’t see much of a difference.  People are not dumb, they know when we talk the talk but don’t walk the walk.  I argue that Christians through the power of the Holy Spirit have the ability to live moral and ethically pleasing lives before the Lord.  However, most Christians don’t even try.  We join churches (which are basically social clubs for many) take on the title of Christians, carry our Bibles, act special on Sundays and then lead worldly lives the rest of the week.  This is not good enough.  Paul would say, “That is not how Christians behave.”

 

Then Jesus* told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.2He said, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people.3In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.”4For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone,5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” ’*6And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says.7And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them?8I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’ (Luke 18:1-8 NRSV).

As I read this passage today for my devotion, I was prompted to reflected upon some of the thoughts my readers and myself shared in the last article.  I was thinking of how we think of God in terms of our humanity.  For instance, when we think of God’s love for his children, we think of it in terms of our love of our children.  In this passage of scripture from Luke, this is what Jesus is doing in his parable.  Jesus calls the judge in this parable an “unrighteous judge.”  It is clear therefore that when Jesus reflects on the actions of this judge that he is not saying, “God is like this judge.”  Instead, what he is doing is giving an example in human terms.  As Leon Morris points out, it is an example of “degrees.”  That is to say, God acts in much MORE just ways and with more ethical and compassionate motives than this “unrighteous judge.”

You see, this earthly judge responds to this helpless widow because  he finds her quite annoying with her persistence in seeking his help against her enemies.  This judge just wants to get rid of her.  He doesn’t feel compassion for her, benevolence, or mercy.  He doesn’t think it is the ethical thing to do.  He isn’t even concerned what God or men may think if he helps or doesn’t help at all.  His motives are completely selfish.  He helps this widow to help himself.  It is as though she is an annoying fly that he just can’t swat away so he appeases her merely to do away with her.  One gets the sense that if he could  have pushed her off of a cliff, it would have sufficed, just as long as she was removed.  However, the law did not allow him to do so so he takes the only avenue he has…using justice to silence her annoyance.

Jesus is not saying that God gets annoyed with our persistence, on the contrary.  What Jesus is saying is that God is NOTHING like this judge.  He is saying that if an earthly judge like this piece of work would defend a helpless widow merely out of a necessity to relieve himself of her harassment, then how much more would our God who is nothing like this judge come to our aid?  The answer is: MUCH MORE!

This parable offers hope for those in need of justice, defense, provision, and companionship (to name but a few).  No matter what we are experiencing, God is near to vindicate us and do it “speedily.”  God is the good judge.

Now some commentators point to this passage to say that we need to be persistent in seeking God for help.  I on the other hand do not believe that is what this passage is getting at.  I do however believe that there are other parables that teach us to be persistent, but not this one.  I think the main focus is on God as the true and good judge.  If this passage is saying anything, it is saying that we don’t need to be as persistent as this widow was because we are not dealing with an earthly and unrighteous judge like she was.  Our judge is quick to her us and quick to come to our aid without our nagging.

Think on that today, that our God is the good judge who is quick to aid us.  Praise be to God!

 

I work for a company that seems to specialize in manager/team leader meetings.  All of us department heads gather together in a conference  room, eat lunch, and then try to fight the afternoon urge to dose off in the middle of the store manager’s long winded speech about bottom-lines, whirlwinds, and company goals.  We all arrive at the meetings looking like King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table going to a Bingo night.  We leave like Grumpy, Dopey and Let’s Get the Heck Out of Here dwarves. 

But I recall at one meeting in particular, we were introduced to our new assistant store manager.  That’s right, second in command.  Like Robin, Darth Vader, Joe Biden, Dick Cheney, Dan Quale (oh man remember that guy?) or Scottie Pippen.  In the past our assistants have been nice but not really nice.  

Anyhow, we were all introduced and the meeting continued as we ate our lunch.  Suddenly, as we all took turns taking our last bite and wiping those stranded crumbs from our mouths, this new assistant get’s up and begins clearing our plates.  Wha-wha, what? Some began to scratch their heads, others shook theirs in amazement, and those who had not yet finished eating stopped chewing as their jaws dropped and food and drool escaped ever so slightly from their mouths. 

Now I know what you’re thinking.  “Well he’s just the new guy trying to score some points.”  This, I have to admit, was many of our original thoughts too.  However, he would prove these premature thoughts wrong.  He became known as the manager who serves and is not afraid to chip in and get his hands dirty.  He rolls up his sleeves and instead of working against us, works for us and with us.  If you want to be a successful leader…follow this man’s example and I promise you success. 

I say all of that to highlight a detail I came across in my devotional reading today.  In Luke 12:35-40 we find it said:

35 ‘Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.

39 ‘But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he* would not have let his house be broken into. 40You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.’

This passage of scripture is about being ready when the Son of Man (who is Christ) returns.  Now there are varying thoughts on what being ready means, but I do not want to get caught up in those details.  What I want to briefly highlight is verse 37.  What is revealed here is that when Jesus returns, he is going to SERVE and wait on those who were ready at his coming.  Wha-wha, what?  Let me get this straight.  According to Philippians 2, Jesus sets aside his glory in heaven to become a nobody.  He willingly takes on humble circumstances and is a servant to all.  He even said, “I came not to be served but to serve.”  But because of his willingness to be lowered, he is exalted to the right hand of the Father.  But then he returns only to serve again???  WOW!!!

Even though Jesus was exalted as King of kings, given a name above all names, and is the second person of the trinity; he will still serve those who are faithful and ready at his coming.  Absolutely amazing!  I am so humbled by that truth.  No one, in the kingdom of God is above the role of a servant to all, not even our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  If Christ can wait tables at the great feast, even after his death, resurrection, ascension, and exaltation then…I think you can fill in the blanks.  We serve a mysterious and awesome God!!!

 

So I have this tree.  This tree is a black walnut tree.  It doesn’t bloom and get leaves until June and begins losing it’s leaves in August.  At some point in July it grows black walnuts.  Sounds cool huh?  Walnuts in your own backyard.  Well it’s not so cool.  Because as soon as these walnuts come on the tree they begin falling off the tree all over the yard.  Needless to say, this tree makes a mess of my yard and the leaves and walnuts begin killing the grass.  Last year I got so frustrated with the mess I told my wife I wanted to cut it down this year.  So at one of our picnics I told my father-in-law that I wanted to end this tree’s life. 

My father-in-law knows a guy who would do it for us and would take the wood too.  It would be a quick easy clean up.  I had my mind made up…this tree was going to get whacked!  But then my father-in-law said, “Yeah  we can cut it down, no problem.  You’re gonna lose some shade though.  It’s a really good shade tree for your backyard.”  Why did he have to say that?  I had my mind made up and everything.  I looked around the yard to see how much shade it really offered throughout the day and sure enough it covers almost half the yard.  But it makes such a mess.  “Nope we’re cutting it down.” I thought. 

Then my niece overheard that I wanted to take this tree out.  “Oh my gosh, you can’t do that!” she said.  “I love that tree!”  And in fact I did recall that every time she comes over my house one of the first things she does is run to that tree with a book, climbs it, sits on one of its branches (it looks like it was made for sitting) and reads.  Her younger brother went into the same type of panic mode as well.  He’s a young boy and loves to climb it too.  But dog-gone-it I hate the mess it makes.  But it does provide some nice privacy as well from neighbors. 

Then I realized, I was so obsessed and focused on the negative characteristics of this tree that I failed to see and appreciate  gifts.  In fact, I underestimated this tree and took it for granted.  Maybe this tree isn’t so bad.  So what if I have to clean up a mess now and then.  I think I want that shade and I really do enjoy seeing the kids run to that tree as soon as they get to the house. 

But isn’t this how we are with people?  At times we get so caught up in what we don’t like about them that we fail to see and appreciate the gifts God has given them.  Instead of encouraging them in their gifts we often become jealous, envious, and at times even covet their gifts.  One of my gifts is a gift of learning and teaching scripture.  I can’t count how many times a week I am told by some Christian that “you can have all the knowledge in the world but it doesn’t really matter to God.”  I am constantly reminded that one doesn’t need to go to seminary to be used of God, as though I was not aware of that.  I have even mentioned to my wife countless times that being a seminary student is one of the most thankless things I have ever done because of the passive aggressive attitudes I get about it, FROM CHRISTIANS.  Yet I believe it has mainly been my wife and father and a few other family members and friends who have strongly encouraged me in this calling.  Usually from others though it is a smug dismissal.

But it has caused me to reflect on 1 Corinthians 12-14 where Paul addresses the fact that we have all been given various gifts from the Holy Spirit.  Those gifts come to us only by the grace of God.  Paul often uses anatomy metaphor to illustrate this sundry gifting.  The hand for instance has its own gifts which are far different from the eyes’ or ears’ giftings.  But do we ever get mad or jealous of the eyes because they have the gift of vision or the feet for walking.  No way!  Why?  Because we clearly understand that we NEED them and if they all work together the harmony creates a glorious and productive outcome. 

Am I ever jealous of another’s gifts?  I would be a liar if I said, “No.”  But I have tried to transform that reaction from jealousy to genuine excitement for that individual.  How can I be mad at or jealous of them because of what God has chosen to give them by his grace?  I can’t.   I think the remedy therefore is to be thankful to God and appreciate the fact that he has given the body of Christ an individual with such wonderful blessings as to edify the Church and its mission to the world.

Just like that tree, I have had to change what it is I am focusing on.  Am I distracted by the seeming weaknesses and being blinded to the precious gifts?  I think so.  But now I can’t imagine a backyard without that shade, privacy and special children playing on it.  So I will keep the tree and my cherished brothers and sisters I have in the body of Christ.  “Thank you Lord for the gifts you have given to us all in your wisdom and grace.”

Amen.

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