Monthly Archives: February 2012

Servant of All – Matthew 20:20-28, John 13:1-20; February 22, 2012

Servant of All – Matthew 20:20-28; John 13:1-20

 

One of the most difficult things about the following Christ is the call to be a servant.  I don’t mean that it’s hard to serve, it’s hard to be a servant.  Since I was a boy I’ve served thousands of places.  I’ve played with kids that were less fortunate than me.  I’ve used my own money to buy gifts for kids who wouldn’t get Christmas presents.  I’ve played games and spent time with elderly people who didn’t get many visitors. I’ve even travelled half way around the world to help rebuild places destroyed by natural disasters.  All in the name of serving others.  The more I’ve grown in the Lord the more I see that serving can be very different than being a servant.

In Matthew 20, Jesus tells his disciples that in order to be greatest in His kingdom you must be a servant.  For anyone who’s been in church for any amount of time, you’ve heard this one before.  This is not a revelation to anyone who has been anywhere near a church in their liftetime.  But how many of us have actually taken that to heart?  How many of us have tried to live the life of being a servant to all?

Doubtless many of us who have tried to live a good, “Christian” life have tried to be servants much like I did – we did acts of service.  We checked being a servant off our list and continued to live the life we wanted.  This is not what Christ was talking about.  The religious duty that I’ve just described was actually what He wanted to move us away from – and by that I mean compartmentalizing our lives without there being real heart and life change.

Jesus showed us what it was to be a servant.  John chapter 13 shows Christ washing the feet of His disciples.  One of the lowest jobs a servant could ever do for their master or guests in that culture.  Of course it’s whose feet ended up in that basin that really drives the point home.  It’s not much for us to serve the people who love us and care about us.  It doesn’t take much effort to bend over backwards for our best friends or family members.  Christ bent down and washed the feet of Judas, the one who would betray Him to the cross.  Christ lived the life of a servant.  He didn’t just talk about being a servant.  He didn’t just relegate His service to free time or weekends.  He lived the life of a servant 24/7.  In fact, that’s why He came.  Almighty God, stepping into time to become man was the ultimate act of service.  Then He showed us the depth of His servanthood to the Father by dying a brutal death on the cross.

Christ is calling us to join Him.  Christ is calling us to let go of our own ideas of what being a servant should be.  He’s asking us to trust Him fully.  He asks us to serve even when the ones we serve are the most despicable of beings – even when the ones we serve hurt us.  That’s the life of a servant.  That is the life of Christ.  Lord, teach us to be servants of all.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

 

JOT

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Prayer and Faith – Matthew 21:21-22; Hebrews 11:17-19, 33-38, 12:1-2; February 15, 2012

Prayer and Faith – Matthew 21:21-22; Hebrews 11:17-19, 33-38, 12:1-2

 

There are few verses that cause more confusion in the life of the modern Christian than Matthew 21:22.  “And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”  What an amazing promise.  What a wonderful God who would grant us what we ask as long as our faith is in Him.  What a unique way of stating a deep, often misunderstood truth.  There are several components to this statement.  First we must address what faith is.  The more I study and grow in understanding of who God is and what He desires from us, the more I come to find that faith is our trusting in Him being enough.  Faith is letting go of things seen in hope of the things not yet seen.  Faith is depending on the substance that has been promised by God in His Word, in His Son, and by His Spirit but has not yet come to pass.  Faith is a gift that we receive from being in communion with God through His Word.

To put it simply, faith is Him being ALL that we want, all that we ask for, all that we pursue in this life.  If this is the case, we must refer back to the “asking” aspect of the verse.  Here is where many of us hit a very significant and telling snag.  We like to logically progress through this verse analyzing the “asking” aspect first and letting it define the “faith” aspect.  We want to have a plumb line, a measuring stick for our faith and so we will ask.  We want to use this promise to disqualify ourselves from having to follow God or we want to discredit Him for not doing what He’d promised.  When we play this game with this verse we miss the point entirely.

Praying in faith moves our hands off of the things in this world and places them firmly onto Him.  We no longer want to hold on to things that don’t last.  We want to hold tightly to Him, knowing that He will satisfy for all eternity.  Just like Abraham in Hebrews 11:17-19 who proved his devotion to God by offering up his son.  Abraham’s faith was in God who could give him back his son if He desired, but even if God did not raise Isaac, obedience was better.

There is something that we find very unnerving about Abraham’s faith, especially if we have children.  There’s something terrifying about being asked to kill your only child.  Being a parent teaches you to cling all the more to the things of this world or cling all the more to Him.  Too often parents are confused by the two.  They believe that if they value their child’s safety and comfort above everything else, then they are doing what God has asked them to do.  This is simply not the case.  The parents whose children are the Lord’s and not their own know that there will be risk in this life.  We will be called to live contrary to the world, and that comes with risk.  Whether they are societal pressures, economic pressures, or actual danger of disease, violence, and death – to be a believer is to invite risk.

The risk is not only to those with children.  This is true for all believers.  We are called to live radically different lives than the world around us.  Not that all experience hardship in this life.  Hebrews 11:33-38 makes that clear.  Some were able to live in peace.  Some got sawn in two.  Both had the same faith.  Both took a risk.  Both put their faith on something not of this world.  Both received something far greater than they could have ever imagined, and it wasn’t anything here on earth.  May we all learn to live with hands firmly holding on to Him.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight , and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2

Let us stop holding on so tightly to the things we were never meant to hold.  Let us hold on to Him with all of our might.  That is what faith is all about.  If He is all that we get, we have all that we need.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

 

JOT

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What does Prayer do? (Part 4) – Philippians 4:7; February 8, 2012

What does Prayer do? (Part 4) – Philippians 4:7

 

There is a process to prayer in the heart of every believer.  For the last four weeks we have looked at that process and found that the majority of the work that prayer is within the heart of the person praying.  This should be no surprise to the Abiding Christian who has disciplined their wayward heart into dying to itself daily and remaining securely attached to the Vine.  All actions that we would call Christian “disciplines” ultimately work to change the individual from the inside out so that as these changed individuals gather they might accomplish things of greater consequence than they ever could have imagined.  We have discussed these disciplines in the past as Abiding, reading the Word, Prayer, and being involved in community – community being the meeting with fellow believers but also extends to ministry to unbelievers both here and around the world.  All of these work, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to transform the heart of stone within each person into a heart of flesh.

The last aspect of what prayer does has to do with the logical progression of what we have been discussing already.  If prayer creates humility in us that leads to a shift in focus from the things of this world to the things of His Kingdom bringing about an unexplained contentment and thankfulness we can only assume that we will find a peace “which surpasses all understanding.”  Now this peace is not a blind peace forced upon us by blind faith or imagined comfort.  Rather, it is a peace that is based on the very nature and character of God Himself.  Therefore, it far surpasses any understanding that mortal man could ever grasp.  God has done and continues to do mighty things through prayer.  From relenting from destroying the Israelites in Exodus 32 at Moses intercession to stopping the sun in at Joshua’s request in Joshua 10 to the prayer of healing described in James chapter 5, all these are evidence of the mighty work of our faithful Heavenly Father.  There can be very little peace if we are unwilling to trust Him to be able to do what we have asked of Him.

In this discussion we must also look at the times when we have asked for Him to do something extraordinary and He did not act as we had requested.  Many people look at these times and use them against God believing Him to have failed them or as proof that He is not really there at all.  I want to draw our attention to three figures in the New Testament who asked for something for God but were denied.

Three out of the four Gospels give us account of Jesus agonizing in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.  In all three accounts Christ asks that there might be any other end instead of the cross.  And as we all know, Christ suffered and died on the cross despite His pleading.  This will be unnervingly harsh in the mind of the unbeliever who is resolved that God is not real or is unjust, but it is overwhelmingly encouraging to the one who has agonized in prayer only to be denied but allows their affections to remain intact.

In 2 Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul recounts his interactions with God in prayer in regards to his “thorn.” Paul, the writer of 75% of the New Testament, the greatest missionary our faith has known, a man who walked in supernatural power and anointing asked for his “thorn” to be taken and he was met with a resounding “No.”  His “thorn” remained and was a constant reminder of his humanity and weakness for the glory of God.  Again, the skeptic who searches for evidence to discredit God’s love and faithfulness to His people will use this case against God, but the child of God takes comfort that saints have asked but not always received.

Thirdly, we will hypothetically examine the life of John the Baptist.  I say hypothetically because we don’t have an account of John actually praying as I believe he did, but John is very real just the same.  His life was spent in devotion to God from the womb, and from that I would confidently venture to say that he was a man of prayer.  I do not think it a stretch to think that John prayed in prison that he be released or at least that his life be preserved.  I think this desire in John for life and freedom was at the heart of John’s question to Jesus when he sent word through his disciples asking, “Are you the One or should we look for another?”  I would venture to say that John often spent time in prayer in his time in that dungeon.  It would seem to make him more than human if he did not offer one solitary request for freedom and life.  We all know how his life ended.  I do not think that ending was what he had asked for in his prayers.

So how do these examples work themselves out at peace in the hearts of believers?  How do we trust that our best interests will be looked out for by the God who is supposed to protect, bless, and save?  I cringe to write the question.  God is not concerned with what we consider “our best interests” will be considered by God.  God always has our best in mind.  Sometimes that best is suffering.  Sometimes that best is loss.  Sometimes that best is death.  The child of God lives knowing that comfort and peace in this life are not the ultimate end of our efforts or God’s.  We were made to pursue things that last eternally.  This life is not to last, and the things in this life were not meant to be preserved.  Our treasure should never be here.  When it is we become idolaters.  When we trade what is eternally significant for what is temporarily pleasing we are no longer worshippers of God.  We are no longer humble, our focus is not longer on Him and His Kingdom, we are no longer content or thankful, and we can never know peace – the peace that surpasses understanding.

Prayer leads us to peace because we know that God is able to do whatever we ask of Him, but we also understand that even if He does not do what we ask His love, mercy, and sovereignty are still in place.  Prayer changes us.  Prayer draws us in and joins our hearts with His.  It’s when we start believing that our prayers control God that things start to go wrong.  Prayer is not about control for the believer.  Quite the opposite.  Prayer is about surrender.  Prayer is about humility, connecting, contentment, thankfulness, and peace.  Prayer is about us putting down our control and leaving it in the hands of the only one worthy of it.  May we be people of Prayer.  May we be people of Peace.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

 

JOT

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What does Prayer do? (Part 3) – Philippians 4:4-7, 11-13; February 1, 2012

What does Prayer do? (Part 3) – Philippians 4:4-7, 11-13

I don’t complain much.  Never been a big fan of it.  Don’t feel it’s beneficial.  But I am a critic.  Not a vocal one, mind you, but unashamed to say the least.  This characteristic has been a sharp point of emphasis for the Potter as He observes and molds this lump of clay.  In looking back on my lengthy track record of criticizing God for the way He decided to direct my life, I can’t help but laugh.  How foolish I really am.  I’ll never forget looking back on my first semester at Dallas Baptist University and criticizing God for dragging me to that hill instead of letting me play football.  I remember my first talk with my now father-in-law where he asked me to stop contacting his daughter.  I couldn’t let God forget how sloppy it was to draw Amy and I together but allow her parents to be totally and abrasively opposed to the concept.  I could go on for days…

In allowing the Lord to sanctify what is broken within me I’ve had to look back and analyze why my feelings were so strong that I felt justified in looking into the face of God and wag my finger.  Discontentment and ungratefulness are near the top of the list.  Philippians 4 and last week’s 1 Thessalonians 5 echo each other as Paul tries to get our hearts to connect with God’s.  “Rejoice always,” he says.  Never stop.  “Give thanks in all circumstances,” he commands, “in everything… with thanksgiving.”  Thankfulness birthed out of contentment.  We can rejoice because what we have received is enough.  We can give thanks because what we have been given is exactly what we needed.  It took me too long to get this.

Joy, for the Christian, is not about how we feel.  It is not connected to external stimuli – it is rooted in something stronger, something deeper.  Joy is constant.  It finds its source in Christ and does not look outside of Him for sustenance.  This is why it is so hard for us to hold on to it.  So few of us have learned to abide in Him.  We’ve neglected the Vine, believing that as long as we stand close enough His power will rub off on us.  This is why we are not grateful.  This is why we grow to be discontent.  In our minds and hearts, He is not enough for us.  We need more money, we need more stuff, we need more attention, we need more respect.  He hasn’t provided like we wanted, He hasn’t followed through with His promise, He hasn’t kept His end of the bargain.  All excuses we pile up as justification for being ungrateful and discontent.  How childish we are.

The worst part about being ungrateful is that we so often cannot see ourselves accurately in the moment.  We have so many logical and reasonable justifications for demanding God do things our way.  When we are being completely, albeit humanly, rational is when we are the most at risk of being ungrateful or discontent.  There is nothing rational about rejoicing always.  There is nothing intellectually justifiable in giving thanks in all circumstances.  Who says “Thank you” when they are punched in the gut and really means it?  Who has a loved one die and their heart breaks into joyful song?  Who sees the pain, hardships, and famine of war ravished nations violently opposed to the Gospel and says, “Let’s move our family there”?

Prayer humbles us before a Mighty God.  Prayer shifts our focus from this world to God’s Kingdom.  Prayer allows our hearts to be thankful in all things and be content whether we plenty or nothing.  This is what prayer does in the heart of the believer.  This is what abiding produces in the child of God.  This is why we hunger for Him, are desperate for Him, would sell or give all we have for Him.  He is what we want, and when we are abiding in Him and praying to Him, He is the only thing that will satisfy.  Therefore, the abiding, praying believer can rejoice in all things and be content in all things because no matter the external circumstances, they have Christ.  May it be so in us.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

JOT

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