To Serve or to Be Served

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S (Scripture): Luke 22:24 An argument broke out among the disciples over which one of them should be regarded as the greatest.

25 But Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles rule over their subjects, and those in authority over them are called ‘friends of the people.’ 26 But that’s not the way it will be with you. Instead, the greatest among you must become like a person of lower status and the leader like a servant. 27 So which one is greater, the one who is seated at the table or the one who serves at the table? Isn’t it the one who is seated at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.”

O (Observation): What?!?! What about our status? What about our status as leaders? How are we supposed to lead the church if we don’t hold any authority?

Jesus is confusing things once again…leadership in the church has worked, so why change the view?

Well…has it worked?

Perhaps a view of servant-leadership is in order.

A (Application): On a weekday in Spring 2003, I went into what is known as my Entrance Interview to start my process into becoming a pastor in the ELCA. I talked a lot about all of my church experiences and what I’ve done to deserve this opportunity to serve the Church.

A gruff, pipe-wielding man by the name of Rev. Dr. Tom Ridenhour (who would later become my preaching professor at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary) said to me: “I’ve heard a whole lot about ‘me’ and ‘my’ and what ‘I’ve done’ and very little about ‘what God is doing or what God has done.'”

<insert long, awkward, quiet pause…and me starting to sweat…>

Dr. Ridenhour continues after the pause with: “…but I look forward to having you in my classes at seminary…”

(“phew!”)

Well, I learned that day (and I’m still learning) to want to be the one serving, and not the one at the table. How about you?

P (Prayer): Lord, remind me that service to neighbor is as meaningful as being served. Amen.

Do I Belong?

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S (Scripture): Luke 15:1 All the tax collectors and sinners were gathering around Jesus to listen to him. 2 The Pharisees and legal experts were grumbling, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

3 Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose someone among you had one hundred sheep and lost one of them. Wouldn’t he leave the other ninety-nine in the pasture and search for the lost one until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he is thrilled and places it on his shoulders. 6 When he arrives home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Celebrate with me because I’ve found my lost sheep.’ 7 In the same way, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who changes both heart and life than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to change their hearts and lives.”

O (Observation): He welcomes sinners and tax collectors. The lowest of the low…and those are the ones Jesus goes to eat with. Not “low” in actuality…just judged as “low” by the religious elite. Their station in life has become to judge whether or not others were worthy of God or being associated with God’s people. It’s become the whole point of the religious system. Know who’s in and who’s out. For good order.

Well, Jesus kind of messes that up…to remind the elite (and all people) that God doesn’t give up on anyone, nor does God quit on us.

A (Application): How often are we setting up borders and boundaries around the title Christian or disciple? Jesus gives us some direction on the concept of a disciple, but we start getting all judge-y around that language, too, don’t we?

When I get into that mind set, I like to think of Jesus telling this story about God going out of the way to bring back even one of us. Maybe it’s you. Maybe it’s me. None of us has ever “made it,” and to think we have is pure foolishness. We can be found…and that puts us on the right track…but until the day we meet our Creator – face-to-face – humility and awe is the way forward.

P (Prayer): Lord, we are ready for humility and awe. Keep us awake to you grace and glory. Let us not snuff it out with our arrogance. Amen.

Welp…there Goes That Idea!

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S (Scripture): Mark 8:27 Jesus and his disciples went into the villages near Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”

28 They told him, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others one of the prophets.”

29 He asked them, “And what about you? Who do you say that I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Christ.” 30 Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

31 Then Jesus began to teach his disciples: “The Human One must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and the legal experts, and be killed, and then, after three days, rise from the dead.” 32 He said this plainly. But Peter took hold of Jesus and, scolding him, began to correct him. 33 Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, then sternly corrected Peter: “Get behind me, Satan. You are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts.”


O (Observation):

Peter…

Whoa! Hold up! Pump the brakes! What did you say, Jesus?!?!

You aren’t gonna die! Over my dead body…

Satan? You call me Satan? I’m just looking out for you! You are the Anointed One! The Christ! This can’t happen! I won’t let it happen!


Jesus…

This is how it’s gotta be.

Go. Suffer. Be Killed. Be Raised.

This is my Father’s mission for me.

Get on board or get behind me.


A (Application): At the softball field last night I witnessed some angry parents. They get so angry at each other. They almost fought.

Sometimes we make it all about us. My pride. My hope. My vision. My kid. My ego. And we just can’t let it go. We can’t give up. To give up is weakness, no? To stand strong is good, right?

Our world parades with winners and success stories. The humble and those who tend to make a positive impact (teachers, safety workers, church leaders) tend to be overlooked or dismissed. I don’t feel this way, but so often we take for granted the work of those who wish to make a positive difference in the world.

Yet the world is drawn mostly to “winners” and star athletes and pop icons. Is that the goal? Popularity? Success? Is life all about me?

Or is something greater waiting for us when we deny ourselves and follow Jesus?


P (Prayer): Lord, help me be a part of God’s mission in the world. Amen.

The Great Cover-up

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S (Scripture): Matthew 28:After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the tomb. 2 Look, there was a great earthquake, for an angel from the Lord came down from heaven. Coming to the stone, he rolled it away and sat on it. 3 Now his face was like lightning and his clothes as white as snow. 4 The guards were so terrified of him that they shook with fear and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Don’t be afraid. I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He isn’t here, because he’s been raised from the dead, just as he said…”

…11 Now as the women were on their way, some of the guards came into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 They met with the elders and decided to give a large sum of money to the soldiers. 13 They told them, “Say that Jesus’ disciples came at night and stole his body while you were sleeping. 14 And if the governor hears about this, we will take care of it with him so you will have nothing to worry about.” 15 So the soldiers took the money and did as they were told. And this report has spread throughout all Judea to this very day.

O (Observation): Ah, the great cover up. Make Jesus’ disappearance about anything other than a Resurrection.

If Jesus could actually be raised from the dead, what would that say about the power that the church authorities actually have over Jesus? What would the resurrection mean for the church leaders? For their message? For their power over the people? For their relationship with the government, which “allowed their little religion” as long as it didn’t make any waves?

Jesus was so inconsiderate in being raised. He took none of these questions into account.

No. No, He didn’t.

A (Application): What does the resurrection say to the world? What kind of an insurrectionist move is this?

People wear crosses as jewelry. Why? Isn’t it a symbol of death and destruction? Of oppression of the voice and actions of the One who condemned the haughty and raised the lowly?

Yes…it is all of this. And yet, to wear the cross as a piece of jewelry and to hang the cross in our places of worship stands as the ultimate contradiction of what the cross was actually used for: controlling the message of Jesus Christ.

Were we to hide all of the crosses as a way of hiding the shame of Jesus’ suffering and death, it would still hold power over us. But it doesn’t! Displaying the cross, wearing it as jewelry, and putting it on t-shirts and artwork is our way of saying:

“Look! The world / We have tried to control the voice and actions of Jesus! Look at the cross! Our selfish actions led to Jesus being put on the cross, and yet, not even the cross can hold God’s love back. Not even this ridiculous and embarrassing type of death could overcome God’s mercy and grace for humanity! So, yes…look at the cross. Death and shame and humiliation hold no power over us!”

Jesus was resurrected to show that our faults can not restrict God’s love.

Every time I look at the cross – as jewelry or artwork, or sing about it in a song – I think about how I’m responsible for Jesus’ death, and yet, how I’m forgiven.

This, in turn, causes me to look at others the way Jesus looks at me. Jesus has forgiven me. I will forgive others. (I won’t be perfect with that, but I will try.)

P (Prayer): Lord, help us share of how you have overcome shame and despair, through trust in God. Amen.

Servant-Minded

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S (Scripture): Matthew 20:25 Jesus called the disciples over and said, “You know that those who rule the Gentiles show off their authority over them and their high-ranking officials order them around. 26 But that’s not the way it will be with you. Whoever wants to be great among you will be your servant. 27 Whoever wants to be first among you will be your slave— 28 just as the Human One didn’t come to be served but rather to serve and to give his life to liberate many people.”

O (Observation): Jesus turns the idea of “status” on its ear. The worldly issues about status don’t work in God’s Kingdom. Instead, to become great, you lay down your own ambitions and seek to serve someone else.

How is that helping your own cause? Jesus seems to be thinking upside-down and backwards. … Well, maybe that’s exactly what the Gospel is about: shifting around our priorities and letting go of status altogether.

A (Application): How many times have you tried to network, only to feel subservient? Like you were there to serve everyone else, and felt like you were just a pawn in someone else’s game? Why is that? Is it about a negative self-image? Is it because you think serving others is your calling? Is it because you see others as better than you?

We play lots of mind games with ourselves. When we are in a room in which someone feels they must have the upper hand, our sense of pride swells up and we don’t want that other person to walk away feeling superior. But something about humility and serving our neighbor kicks in. Do we let them just walk away thinking they have the upper hand? Do we remain poised in a “ready to be your servant” kind of mind frame? Doesn’t that mean the “other person” wins?

How frustrating is this thing called faith? The first will be last / servant of all?

That just doesn’t feel right, does it? And it doesn’t make sense, right? What is the end game? Ah… now that question changes everything.

What do we assume about the goal of the Christian life? What is the assumption about being a servant? Is it bad, by default? Is the Christian life about winning and losing?

(There you go….more questions than answers today…)

P (Prayer): Lord, keep us servant-minded in our approach to life today.

Stumbling Blocks

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S (Scripture): Matthew 19:23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I assure you that it will be very hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 In fact, it’s easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom.”

25 When his disciples heard this, they were stunned. “Then who can be saved?” they asked.

26 Jesus looked at them carefully and said, “It’s impossible for human beings. But all things are possible for God.”

27 Then Peter replied, “Look, we’ve left everything and followed you. What will we have?”

28 Jesus said to them, “I assure you who have followed me that, when everything is made new, when the Human One sits on his magnificent throne, you also will sit on twelve thrones overseeing the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And all who have left houses, brothers, sisters, father, mother, children, or farms because of my name will receive one hundred times more and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last. And many who are last will be first.

O (Observation): Jesus comes off of some talk about being rich and entering the Kingdom of God. How these are somewhat incompatible. The disciples claim they’ve given up everything, and that is good and well. They will receive much for this emptying of themselves.

But Jesus doesn’t leave it there. He says: “Many who are first will be last. And many who are last will be first.”

Kind of throws wrench into the system the disciples has in mind, no? Jesus isn’t looking for a first place finisher, just some who are showing their dedication to the Way. In this is blessing…but maybe not a “first place” finish.

A (Application): I am struck by the stories of King Arthur and the round table. Why a round table? So that there is no “head” of the table. No power position to be had.

A vision of equality at the table.

That sounds close to the truth. No status. No clawing after wealth. No power play. Just being with one another.

Ah…if only…

P (Prayer): Lord, make us loose the grip on earthly status in favor of our heavenly callings to love and grace and mercy. Amen.

The Path to Forgiveness

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S (Scripture): Matthew 18:15 (Jesus said to his disciples) “If your brother or sister sins against you, go and correct them when you are alone together. If they listen to you, then you’ve won over your brother or sister. 16 But if they won’t listen, take with you one or two others so that every word may be established by the mouth of two or three witnesses. 17 But if they still won’t pay attention, report it to the church. If they won’t pay attention even to the church, treat them as you would a Gentile and tax collector. 18 I assure you that whatever you fasten on earth will be fastened in heaven. And whatever you loosen on earth will be loosened in heaven. 19 Again I assure you that if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, then my Father who is in heaven will do it for you. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I’m there with them.”

21 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, how many times should I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Should I forgive as many as seven times?”

22 Jesus said, “Not just seven times, but rather as many as seventy-seven times (or seventy times seven).”

O (Observation): Jesus is talking to his disciples about sin. He shows that the humility of little children is what is expected of those entering the kingdom. Then Jesus warns against causing these little ones to sin – cut off your hand, pluck out your eye, should you find these to lead you into sin. He says not to look down on these little ones (that is, those who have humbled themselves as little children), but indeed risk leaving the righteous to pursue the one who wanders astray.

So Jesus is setting up this conversation about forgiveness with a call to humility and mercy. That someone who sins against you should be treated fairly and with respect. That this one who sins against you should be treated with grace and mercy.

Often, we see the line “treat them as you would a Gentile and a tax collector” and you would think that means to treat them with disrespect or as lesser than you…but how did Jesus treat sinners and tax collectors? With grace and mercy! (In fact, he called a tax collector to be one of his disciples!)

The beauty of this arrangement of approaching one who sins against you is that if an agreement is made between the two parties, God promises to be in their midst and bless them.

Then Peter does an interesting thing: he opens his mouth : ) (Haven’t you learned yet, Peter? : )

Forgiveness is not capped off at a certain quota. There is no quota when it comes to forgiveness.

A (Application): Much harm has been done by those who take these Matthew 18 verses out of its context. They take the part about approaching those who have sinned…and they use it as a justification for going after those “sinners.” Sometimes that means individuals…sometimes that means whole groups of people.

What these folks are missing is the context. Treating those who sin against you is the key here, and to treat them with respect. Don’t look down on these folks. With a broken and contrite heart…approach those who have hurt you. As if you’re talking to a little child. (Not in a condescending way…but a gentle way.)

I’m not saying avoid the conversation…just take care in the tone used and the attitude of your heart as you approach the person.

And remember that forgiveness was given to you by our God in Heaven. So, too, do we give forgiveness to those who sin against us.

P (Prayer): Lord, we are broken people and harm one another. Remind us that you pave the way for forgiveness between us. Amen.

To Be on Top (or Not)

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S (Scripture): Genesis 11:1 All people on the earth had one language and the same words. 2 When they traveled east, they found a valley in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them hard.” They used bricks for stones and asphalt for mortar. 4 They said, “Come, let’s build for ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky, and let’s make a name for ourselves so that we won’t be dispersed over all the earth.”

5 Then the Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the humans built. 6 And the Lord said, “There is now one people and they all have one language. This is what they have begun to do, and now all that they plan to do will be possible for them. 7 Come, let’s go down and mix up their language there so they won’t understand each other’s language.” 8 Then the Lord dispersed them from there over all of the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 Therefore, it is named Babel, because there the Lord mixed up the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord dispersed them over all the earth.

O (Observation): Not a punishment, but a correction. What was the motive of the people building the tower? Was it a selfish move? Was it a move to say that they no longer needed God? We’re not quite sure.

I seem to think that the motive of the people must be that they desired to be free of any god…that would not be accountable to anyone but themselves.

God reminds the people that God is God and they are not.

A (Application): What is it like to be on top? (I don’t know, UGA lost the college football playoff last night.)

The lust for power…to be on top…it’s insatiable sometimes. You would do anything – almost anything- to be there. Kind of like building a tower to know God (or to strive to be like God – answering to no one but yourself).

This is not God’s plan for us. We have a God who’s wisdom is beyond our knowing, who desires peace above all, and seeks humility in us.

I’m not saying a losing team is arrogant and needs to be knocked down…I’m just connecting to the drive and desire to be # 1.

Jesus…he always deferred to God’s wisdom; he always deferred to God’s power; he was humble, even amongst his followers.

We have the one who saves us and gives us the example by which to live. Thank God for calling us to follow Jesus, our hope and our peace, our # 1.

P (Prayer): Lord, even as we struggle in our desire to be above the law or All-knowing, keep us humble and honoring you. Amen.

Can We (Christians) All Get Along?

S (Scripture): Philippians 1:27 Most important, live together in a manner worthy of Christ’s gospel…29 God has generously granted you the privilege, not only of believing in Christ but also of suffering for Christ’s sake. 30 You are having the same struggle that you saw me face and now hear that I’m still facing.

2:1 Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort in love, any sharing in the Spirit, any sympathy, 2 complete my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, being united, and agreeing with each other. 3 Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. 4 Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others.

O (Observation):  Paul knows what it means to be persecuted because of following Jesus.  He has served Jesus ever since his Damascus Road experience.  And now, Paul is teaching his followers what it means to follow Jesus…that following Jesus brings joy, but also persecution.   The persecutions will not be experienced alone.  Jesus shares those persecutions with his followers.  

Getting along with other followers of Jesus will also be a challenge and will be a persecution in its own way, too.  Each will have to suffer his or her own ego to take a back seat to the needs of the other.    That means not only will they be called upon to experience joy with the world around them…they would have to figure out how to get along with other Christ followers!

A (Application): Following Jesus means suffering your wants and desires to have a lower priority than Jesus’ call to discipleship. This means thinking of yourself less (like CS Lewis’ famous quote), without thinking less of yourself.  

In our world, we have quite the scarcity mindset.  We think: “If someone else wins, I must be losing.”    If someone else’s needs are met before mine, then I am weak and the other is strong.    

This scarcity spills over into our spiritual beliefs.   Can someone else who follows Christ believe something different than me about, say…the end times…or what it means to be “saved”…or how to baptize (sprinkle or immersion)…or whether I can hang out and support those of other faiths…or the LGBTQ community?   To many, we cannot have different sets of standards and follow the same Christ.   This is why we have over 30,000 denominations.  We can’t get along!

I wonder what Paul would think?

I know what I think:  we let the good and bad mingle together, doing the best we can to listen to God and respond.  I hope this includes a wide variety of opinions about what it means to follow Christ, without making anyone feel like they can’t be in fellowship together.   Let us bring joy to the world, because Jesus brought us joy in the first place.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, help us to see that winning and losing are not the goal…but instead, following you wherever you may lead us…and to do so with great joy.  Amen. 

Shout it?  Live it? Both?


S (Scripture): 1 Corinthians 15:8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.

O (Observation): Paul reminds the church in Corinth that Jesus Christ died for our sins, was resurrected, and appeared to the disciples and to Paul himself.  He wants to pass on what was handed over to him: the knowledge of the death and resurrection of Christ for our benefit.   

And while he strives for excellence and compliance with Jesus, Paul recognizes his own faults and isn’t afraid to own his goofs. 

And in the end, regardless of whether or not it is Paul who helped them to know Christ, or fellow disciples, he makes clear that “we proclaim.”   For when we do, someone may come to believe.  

A (Application):  We so want our side to win.  When we engage in conversations online, we start with our position.    Jesus Christ is Lord!  Ok.  That might work.   However, another approach might be just as effective, if not more effective.  

What if you started with a question?   Not a loaded one, like “Is Jesus Your Lord and Savior?” Instead, how about: What did you think of the service project? What did you think about the President’s  speech?   How do you feel about the school shooting?

We can try to be sly and clever in our arguments, but that only tends to aggravate and push people away.   Being mature in Christ is great.  Lording that over someone else is not so helpful.   Let us give grace when we want to condemn.  Let us be loving examples (notice I didn’t say perfect examples), so that others may come to believe.   

Don’t just proclaim the love of the Lord.  Live love.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, help me to live out the love you’ve shown me. Amen.