Tag Archives: service

Becoming a Yes Man

Recently, I made a decision: I want to be viewed as a yes man. By “yes man,” I don’t mean a person of unquestioning, mindless obedience or a sycophant. Instead, I mean a man who says yes when his neighbors ask for help. Or, when God reveals a need to me, I say yes to Him and offer to help. I want my neighbors—yes, my physical neighbors who live less than 40 yards away from me—to know that I am willing to serve them. I want the 88 year old widow to know that I want to help her rake her leaves. I want the 70 year old, technically-challenged retiree to know that it’s not a problem for me to help her set up her new laptop and printer. I want the older, single man to know that, in a weird way, I enjoy climbing on top of the roofs to blow the leaves off of everyone’s roofs in my little neighborhood. I want the young family, with the dad that works 16 hour shifts, to know that I don’t mind stacking wood with him in the rain. Why? Because if Christ lived as a servant (Mk. 10:45), then I want to live as a servant. Not only that, but it’s an incredibly practical way to obey the second half of the Great Commandment. Consider these two passages:

36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40)

25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put [Jesus] to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:25-29, emphasis mine)

Now, these are different occasions, but they both talk about our top two priorities when it comes to loving: God first, neighbors second. The second account, Luke 10:25-29, introduces the parable of the Good Samaritan. Take a second and re-read the last verse of that Luke passage, noting especially the portion I italicized.

29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29, emphasis mine)

Here’s my question: how did he plan on justifying himself? It says that the lawyer asked “who is my neighbor” because he was desiring to justify himself. What does that mean?

Well, I think the passage gives us 4 clues:

  1. He was a lawyer (i.e. he was highly respected in his community).
  2. He wanted to test Jesus (i.e. make Jesus look bad).
  3. He wanted to justify himself (i.e. make himself look good).
  4. Jesus replied with the story of the Good Samaritan.

Here’s my guess: when it came to loving his neighbors, this lawyer probably thought he was doing a great job. The only way he could justify himself is if he thought Jesus was about to give him kudos for being a shining example of loving his neighbor. After all, would it make sense to ask this question if the neighbor wasn’t loving his physical neighbors? But Jesus shatters his definition of ‘neighbor.’

In the story of the Good Samaritan, the man who falls is passed up by a priest and a Levite but helped by a foreigner. While not certain, it’s possible the priest was the local priest for this man; perhaps the Levite knew the man as well. Jesus finishes the story by forcing the lawyer to admit that the Samaritan proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell (in Luke 10:36-37). Why do you think Jesus did this? Why do you think Jesus forced the lawyer to admit that the foreigner was the neighbor, and not the priest or Levite who were actually his physical neighbors?

I think it’s because the lawyer already loved his physical neighbors and was becoming prideful about it. However, in America, we’ve got it reversed: we might sponsor a child in Africa—and know her name—but not know the names of our own neighbors who live less than 40 yards away. Sponsoring a child is a great thing; not knowing your neighbors’ names is a bad thing.

The lawyer thought he would justify himself because loving your physical neighbors was a no-brainer in Jesus’ culture. Of course you’re supposed to love the people that live right next to you. Jesus expanded his perceptions. Our problem is that we need to start taking the second half of the Great Commandment more literally. We need to love our neighbors.

So here are my two challenges for you:

  1. Be interruptible. If your neighbor asks for help with something that will take 5-15 minutes, say yes on the spot and help them. The odds are good that you have 15 minutes to spare (if you don’t, then don’t beat yourself up). But, in light of the fact that the average American watches more than 4 hours of TV each day, I think we can all make time to help our neighbors for less than 1/8 of our TV time.
  2. Be intentional. If your neighbor asks for help with something that will take a large chunk of time, like an hour or two, challenge yourself to sacrifice that time to serve them. In fact, make it your goal to serve them within a week of them asking. Once again, knowing that the Average American watches 34 hours of television per week, I think we can all find a couple hours of our week to spend helping our neighbors.

So, why this push to love our physical neighbors? Because I think American Christians are completely ignoring the second half of the Great Commandment (which makes me wonder if we are also ignoring the first half of the Great Commandment). Can you honestly tell God that you followed the Command to love your neighbors if you don’t even know your neighbors’ names? Do we think God is pleased if we listen to dozens of sermons and can discuss in depth all our favorite Christian preachers and authors, yet don’t know the names or needs of the people God has placed in our immediate physical vicinity? I think it’s time to turn off the TV, spend less time reading about Christian living, and start spending some time living like Christians. Let’s start taking intentional steps to know, serve, and love our neighbors.

“…let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

Me. Me. Me!

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. (Philippians 2:3 NIV84)

For the modern American, there are few words that are more impossible to understand in their full depth and more unlikely to be applied in their full scope than the words “put others first.” (Although, “slower traffic keep right” is a close second; but doesn’t that require thinking of others?) From a young age, we are taught that we have to look out for number one in this dog-eat-dog world. Our entire culture encourages a mentality of self-centeredness and selfishness. These ideas are foreign to us: loving our neighbors; doing unto others as we would have them do unto us; thinking of others as more important than us. But they are the core of who God is slowly turning us into.

I pray that, by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, I may grow in this area every day.

A Simple Idea for Christian Decision Making: Up or Down?

“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2).

At one time or another we all face major life decisions. If you’re like me, it often feels like God directs you to a point, but then He leaves you to take that final leap of faith. I often feel like I’m brought to a ledge and told to leap. Don’t worry, just jump and trust that God will catch me. Or perhaps it feels like He leads you to an intersection, where you have two or more possible choices and it’s up to you to make the right decision.

I’m not one of those people who receives a sense of deep, unshakable peace about a decision. Instead, I often feel the opposite: nervous, excited, and perhaps more than a little curious; almost like I’ve just been strapped into a roller coaster. And so, at life’s precipices, I prayerfully leap regardless of whether or not it makes sense. I do so because I know that God has called me to be faithful to Him, not successful in this life. The last thing I want is to finish this life and show up at the next one as someone who was very successful in the eyes of the world but completely unfaithful in the eyes of my Heavenly Father; a temporary success but an eternal failure.

Recently, I’ve been studying Colossians 3:1-4 and run across a new way to make decisions. As I’ve discussed before, in this passage we’re told to set our minds on the things above and not on the things that are on the earth. While it would be easy to just casually pass over that verse without much contemplation, I have slowly realized that this is one of the most practical Bible verses I’ve ever encountered. This verse separates all things into two essential categories: things above and things upon the earth.

How easy would it be for us to make decisions if we asked this simple question: “Am I seeking the things above or am I seeking the things upon the earth?” I’m quickly realizing that this framework can apply to virtually anything from dating, to marrying, to raising children, to buying a home, to choosing a college, to determining a career path, you name it. Sure, not everything fits into a simple up or down division; sometimes both decisions are ‘upward’ options, such as buying a home. Then you can simply determine which decision takes you higher. For example, which home would put you in a better position to reach out to neighbors and share Christ? Which home would give you an extra room to allow others to stay with you if they needed? Which home would be better for practicing hospitality? Or perhaps you feel God leading you to choose a house that would be smaller, but would allow you to be more generous with your money. Perhaps, by choosing a house that has one less room, you’re able to fully fund a well to be dug in Africa every other year. When there’s not a black & white, right or wrong answer, perhaps there’s a good and a better option. Perhaps there isn’t a clear-cut right answer, but perhaps there is an option that gives you more ability to seek the things above.

From now on, I think Colossians 3:2 is going to be one of the first Bible verses I share with people who are faced with big decisions and want to know God’s will. What does God want you to do with your life? Set your minds on the things that are above, not on things that are on earth. While this may not tell us what to decide, it certainly tells us how to decide. Our decisions should be made in light of eternity, not in light of the next 5, 10, or 50 years. We need to see this life as a short opportunity to make an eternal difference. I challenge you need to seek counsel from fellow believers and from the Holy Spirit to ensure that you are making decisions that seek the things above and not the things upon the earth.

What is the purpose of Spiritual Gifts?

I think there are two purposes that Scripture reveals for Spiritual Gifts. In fact, these two reasons complement one another because it’s unlikely you’ll be able to have one without the other for very long. They are:

  1. Building
  2. Uniting

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, (Ephesians 4:11, 12)

Building up the Body is listed as the reason that Christ has empowered some people to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers. Another way you could translate this verse would be to say that he equipped them “for the purpose of building up the Body of Christ.” In other words, we weren’t given spiritual gifts to use them on ourselves. In fact, that idea is completely out of the question. For example, imagine a soldier whose been trained, conditioned, equipped with all his gear. The times comes for him to deploy, but instead of going to war he takes all his training and equipment and goes on a hunting trip. It’s the same way for anyone who has been granted a spiritual gift and merely uses it for their own benefit. Not only are they being selfish, they are squandering their gift on themselves when it should be used for building up the entire Church. Instead of benefitting ourselves, our spiritual gifts should be benefitting dozens–if not hundreds–of people. I should add here that when I say “building up the body” I mean both outward and upward. We should be building out–which is why there are apostles, prophets, and evangelists–and we should be building up–which is why there are shepherds and teachers. But, beware of creating an atmosphere of competition to see who has the superior spiritual gifts. This leads to division, which is antithetical to the second purpose of spiritual gifts.

…until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ… (Ephesians 4:13)

When each part is working properly, per Ephesians 4:16, the body will “build itself up in love.” The spiritual gifts are meant to build the body up, and part of being built up is being unified. Jesus said that no group which is divided against itself can stand (Mark 3:24, Matthew 12:25). This applies to the Church. If spiritual gifts are not being used properly–for example, if they are being used out of pride, selfishness, etc.–then they will inevitably be used by the Destroyer to slowly and subtly dissolve unity. Think about it, when Paul wrote that “when each part is working properly [it] makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love (Ephesians 4:16)” he must have surely known the opposite was true. When each part is not working properly it prevents the body from growing, which means that it will destroy itself in hatred.

So what does this mean? First, it means we are called to use our spiritual gifts. Part of “working properly” is working; in other words, if you’re not serving you are not properly using your spiritual gifts, period. Second, everyone has spiritual gifts. Not all spiritual gifts are equally flashy, but all people are given spiritual gifts which means that all people are necessary if we are to reach full maturity. Finally, as we use our spiritual gifts, we must constantly check our hearts and our motives. If we are using our spiritual gifts for anything beyond building and uniting the body, we must do the hard work of checking our hearts and repenting where necessary. So I encourage you to examine where God has given you both gifts and passion. Be open to serving in several different capacities before you decide you’ve found out exactly where you fit in the Body. And remember to do all things in a manner that builds and unites the Church.

Lesson One: Spiritual Gifts

Once upon a time and for only about 8 long weeks, I was training to be a combat controller (I was medically disqualified because of my eyesight, but now I see God’s hand in that). Becoming a combat controller demands that all candidates be in world-class physical condition and one of the big philosophies ingrained in me early on is that you must focus on your weaknesses. If you’re a really great runner but you’re horrible at push-ups, then you need to double your training-efforts to get better at push-ups. If you can knock out pull-ups with no problem but you sink like a rock in the pool, then you need to spend extra time developing your form. It made a lot of sense, because all combat controllers need to be pretty evenly rounded when they’re out on missions.

Somehow, this mentality stuck with me for the rest of my military career and, even worse, as a Christian. While there is some merit to this approach, I think it’s significantly short-sighted when it comes to our spiritual gifts. This is the first lesson God has taught me in seminary. According to 1 Cor 12:7, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (Another translation I just learned about, the J.B. Phillips New Testament, puts it like this: “Each man is given his gift by the Spirit that he may make the most of it.”) Later on, Paul develops this thought a little more specifically by saying that we’ve each been given very specific gifts for very specific reasons and that no one is a miniature body with all the gifts (1 Cor 12:18-20). This diversity is meant to cause unity and interdependence in the Church.

Coming into seminary, I thought “I feel like God has given me a gift and a calling to teach, so I need to supplement that with classes about pastoring and shepherding.” I had imported the combat control mentality that I needed to be “balanced” or “well-rounded” into my calling. This really doesn’t make sense when you think about it. Paul agreed in 1 Cor 12:17 when he points out how ridiculous it would be for every member of the church to try to have the same spiritual gifts.

I’ve realized that, instead of trying to compensate for areas where God has not gifted me, I should be focusing on the areas where God has gifted me. Instead of trying to be a flashlight and shine over a wide area, I should be like a laser and focus on the central area where God has gifted me. In Maximizing Your Effectiveness: How to Discover and Develop Your Divine Design, Aubrey Malphurs says about spiritual gifts:

“God has sovereignly made us just the way we are–God is the Architect, the Master Designer, the Potter. Whether you are an ear or an eye, 1 Corinthians 12:18 teaches, “God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.” Therefore, there is no need to be upset with our place or function in the body of Christ. Instead, there is much satisfaction in knowing we are ministering in accordance with God’s design and purpose for our lives. The key is discovering which body part you are, then functioning according to that design.”

So, the first big lesson that God has taught me is that it’s time to embrace the gifts He’s given me and realize that others in the Body will be able to minister in areas where I’m not gifted. This season of my life is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to harness my spiritual gifts in preparation for full-time ministry. It would be foolish and wasteful of me to try to become the spiritual equivalent of a Swiss-army Knife when God has gifted me to be something far more specific and useful. I encourage you to pray for wisdom and discernment and ask God to reveal the gifts He’s given you; then serve in those areas mightily for God’s glory and your joy.

“Lord, give me the heart of a Servant…”

This is part one of a multi-entry blog series titled, “Lessons I Learned in the Desert.”

In Mark 10:45 Jesus tells His followers that He did not come to be served. Instead, the King of kings and Lord of lords, Jesus came to serve others. In fact, His service would go so far as to include dying for us. In Philippians 2:7 Paul tells the reader that Jesus’ very nature while on Earth was that of a servant. Can we agree that serving others was important to Jesus? If that’s the case, shouldn’t it be important to Christians?

During my deployment, one of my goals was to read the Bible from cover to cover. By the grace of God, I managed to finish this task in 87 days. It was an amazing experience and I learned more than I’ll ever be able to put into words. One of the things the Holy Spirit repeatedly brought to my attention was how frequently the great heroes of the Bible are referred to as servants of the Lord, the Lord’s servant, or some variation thereof. I wish I’d written down all the times I noticed this, but just looking briefly I found where the following people are mentioned as servants of God: Abraham (Gen 18:3), Isaac (Ex 32:13), Jacob (Gen 32:10), Hannah (1 Samuel 1:11), Samuel (1 Sam 3:10), David (2 Sam 7:19), Elijah (1 Kings 18:36), Elisha (2 Kings 3:14), Job (Job 1:8), Mary (Luke 1:48), Simeon (Luke 2:29), Jesus (Mark 10:45 and Acts 3:13), Paul (Col 1:23-25), Timothy (Phil 1:1), Jude (Jude 1:1), John (Rev 1:1) and I’m sure there are dozens of other references.

My point is simple: all the heroes of the Bible (including Jesus, THE hero of the Bible) are referred to as the Lord’s servants. The Church is supposed to be the Body of Christ; shouldn’t we adopt His attitude? The answer is yes! In Philippians 2:5 we’re told that we should have the same attitude as Christ-the attitude of a servant. The greatest thing anyone can ever do is serve others. Has anyone ever used the term “servant” as a derogatory term?

“He’s just such a SERVANT!! I hate it!”

Doubtful. I think that, when done out of love, humility, and a desire to please God, serving has the greatest power to open hearts to the Gospel. No one can say something negative about putting the needs of others before your own. How could they?

Imagine how different our society would be if the American Church truly tried to follow Jesus’ example. We would reach out to the communities around us. We would feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned. I doubt the modern Church would have the negative image that it does today.

Serving reorients our perspective. It reminds us that God is in charge. We are simply His instruments to be used in the world around us for His glory. He should be the focus of our lives. Love God and others, right?