I Am Third

Jesus stepped into our world because he valued us more than his own life. He might have refused to get involved. He could have put his own interests ahead of ours.

But that’s just not Jesus. Jesus is the very embodiment of love. He is the incarnation of humility and service.

He laid out this servant’s mentality himself, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45, NIV).

What a different attitude from that which our culture teaches us. How often haven’t we heard, “If you’re going to do “x”, don’t do it for someone else. And certainly don’t do it for me. No, make sure you’re doing it for yourself.”

Paul gives the opposite advice. He tells us to imitate Jesus’ humility and love. Live your life not to be served, but to serve. Give your life away for others, as Jesus first gave his life away for you. Be ready to say, “God is first. Others are second. I am third.”

Many people live to get honor and respect from others, or to earn perks and privileges for themselves. Christians too — much as we know about Christ’s gracious and generous mindset — can struggle with selfishness, greed and pride. Ambition and conceit are much too frequent guests in our hearts.

But in the Spirit’s power, we have been given the gift of choice again. The apostle Paul points us in the right direction. Now we are ready to adopt the same mindset as Jesus. We begin to value others above ourselves. We choose humility over pride. We select service over selfishness.

And we do it because we remember that Jesus chose us over himself.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:3-8, NIV).

Lord, I am sorry for all the times when I have put myself ahead of others, and even ahead of you. Please forgive me. Grant me your Holy Spirit and the wisdom that comes from above so that I can have the same mindset as you, Jesus. Help me to value and serve others above myself as you first valued and served me above yourself.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, September 30, is Jeremiah 1:1 – 2:30, Philippians 1:27 – 2:11 and Psalm 115:1-11.

Header image based on "Let Jesus Bring You Light" by Vinoth Chandar, CC By 2.0

Servanthood for Dummies

In Washington D.C. there’s a bronze statue by sculptor Jimilu Mason. It’s a modern take on Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. In this portrayal, Jesus wears modern clothing — a sweatshirt and pants — but no shoes. Even more intriguingly, the sculpture is situated directly in front of Christ House, which is a medical facility for homeless men.

It’s an amazing portrayal of servanthood. And could there be a more fitting location for such a statue?

That being said, the statue begs a question. Or maybe a whole set of questions.

What does a servant of God really look like? Is there a clear job description for this position? Is there maybe a book I can read titled “Servanthood for Dummies?”

Paul says, “Yes, there is! I wrote that book. Just take a look at what our life has looked like since we began to follow Jesus. Observe how my missionary team and I served unchurched people and pursued sharing the gospel with them.”

Paul draws a portrait of great endurance, hard work, sacrifice and deprivation. He gives us a portrayal of pursuing a life of great character and sincere love. His description paints a picture of weathering dishonor and disgrace.

Servanthood is a willingness to endure pain and shame, and yet not lose your joy or your energy for sharing Jesus with others. It is simultaneously displaying a willingness to generously give away everything you have for the sake of the gospel, while acknowledging and rejoicing in the immense riches you already possess.

“Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything” (2 Corinthians 6:4-10, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Isaiah 3:1 – 5:7, 2 Corinthians 6:3 – 7:1 and Psalm 105:12-22.

Lord Jesus, thank you for making me immensely and eternally wealthy. I possess everything because of you. Help me to keep your servanthood (and Paul’s) in mind as I aspire to my own servanthood. Make me willing to live a sacrificial life here as my way of thanking you for all you have done for me, and as a way of sharing the gospel with those around me.

Header image based on "04.AdamsMorgan.WDC.17September2014" by Elvert Barnes, CC By-SA 2.0

All In!

Admittedly, when we look at how sinful we are, things don’t look so good for us. “The wages of sin is death,” Paul writes to the Romans (6:23a).

The law of God seems to relentlessly push and press. We can never live up to it. Sin and fallenness is the wall we all face. And with our life spinning relentlessly toward that wall, our inevitable destiny seems to be death.

Until Jesus.

Through Jesus’ perfect obedience of the law, the power of sin to enslave us is taken away. And because the power of sin to oppress us is broken, death’s wages have been replaced by God’s gift — “But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23b).

Paul tells the Corinthians, “So, with victory over sin and death already yours, be strong. Stand your ground. Don’t hold anything in reserve. Leave it all on the field. Because what you do for the Lord, and for the Lord’s kingdom, is never going to be squandered effort or wasted time.”

Now is the time! Here is the place!

We’re “all in” for the work of the kingdom.

“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:56-58, NIV).

Lord Jesus, through your perfect life, sacrificial death and miraculous resurrection, you have given me victory. May that victory over sin, death and Satan take hold of my heart. I want to be all in for you, and for your kingdom.

Our Bible reading for Monday, August 24, is 2 Chronicles 21:4 – 23:21, 1 Corinthians 15:50 – 16:4 and Proverbs 20:25 – 21:4.

Header image based on "Balancing on the Brink" by Paxson Woelber, CC By 2.0

All For The Gospel’s Sake

There are certain things that are worth making adjustments for. Most of us will make adjustments and accommodations for someone we love. Relationships with our boyfriend or girlfriend, our spouse, our children, our parents, even our friends, usually involve constant trade-offs and negotiation.

We do the same when a lucrative job offer comes along. We might even move to a whole different area of the country (or even the world!) for the right work at the right price. And at the very least, most of us regularly adjust our weekly schedule to accommodate the demands of our workweek.

Our health is another of those things we make accommodations for too. If we discover that we have a disease that requires a dietary change, or a schedule change to work with a treatment plan, well, of course we do that! Our health is on the line!

Paul, the apostle, mentions something else — something very important — that he was willing to make accommodations for. And that’s the gospel. Because it was so important to him that as many people as possible hear and know the gospel, Paul was always willing to make adjustments so that he could put himself in a position to teach the gospel and win as many as possible to faith in Jesus Christ.

How about us? Are we willing to make the same adjustments Paul was so that the gospel can be taught? Are we prepared to consider accommodations in our own lives so that more people can be won for Christ and saved for eternity?

Are we willing to adjust our budget so that we can give more to the Lord and his kingdom work?

Are we willing to adjust our schedule to accommodate a growth group or Bible study?

Are we willing to adjust our hearts and make ourselves available to serve in our church so that God’s vision for our church can be fulfilled?

And most of all, as Paul says to the Corinthians, are we willing to adjust our attitudes toward people so that we fit ourselves to them and meet them where they’re at? Are we willing to put ourselves in their shoes, and accommodate to their “style”, so that we can be in a position to share Christ with them?

Why would we want to make all those adjustments and accommodations? The answer, Paul says, is simple.

It’s all for the sake of winning people to faith. It’s all for the sake of the gospel.

“Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23, NIV).

Lord, give me the same willingness Paul had to make adjustments and accommodate people for the sake of the gospel. I want more and more people to know you, Jesus, as their Lord and Savior. Use me, as you used Paul, to be an evangelist to lead people to Jesus.

Our Bible reading for August 15, is 2 Chronicles 2:1 – 5:1, 1 Corinthians 9:19 – 10:13 and Psalm 97:1-12.

Header image based on "Gospel Graffiti II" by Peat Bakke, CC By 2.0

Faithful Servant

Paul writes to the Corinthians describing for them how he hopes they will view him. He doesn’t want to be considered a VIP, a master, a bigwig, a celebrity, or a star.

He wants to be seen as a servant — a servant who nevertheless has been given a very serious responsibility. He is a steward of the mysteries God has revealed.

What are those mysteries? They are questions like these: Does God love me? Will God forgive me for the sins I’ve committed? Is there any hope for me? Can I be saved? How do I find eternal life?

God has cleared up all these mysteries by sending his Son, Jesus, to be our Savior. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection have revealed the answer to every one of the unknowns represented by these questions.

Does God love me? Yes! Will God forgive me for the sins I’ve committed? Yes, he already has forgiven you, in fact. Is there any hope for me? Have no doubt, you have a certain hope, because you have a faithful God. Can I be saved? Yes, anyone can be saved through faith in Jesus. How do I find eternal life? Jesus answered this question by saying, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved!”

Whoever knows the answers to these “mysteries”, whoever has been given the correct responses to these questions, has been given a trust. We must treat this knowledge as a precious asset and preserve it in our hearts.

And somewhat ironically, we must also share this knowledge with as many people as we can, so that they too have the solution to the mysteries. We want others to have the same forgiveness, hope and life that we do. To keep it, we must give it away.

That, Paul says, is simply being a faithful servant.

“This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:1-2, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Saturday, August 8, is 1 Chronicles 26:20 – 27:34, 1 Corinthians 4:1-21 and Proverbs 19:13-22.

Lord, I repent of all the times when I have not had a servant-mentality, when I have tried to lord it over others. I am sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you that you sent your Son Jesus to love and serve me, and grant me forgiveness. Now may I be a faithful servant to others, sharing the mysteries of the gospel with them.

Header image based on "Question Box" by Raymond Bryson, CC By 2.0

A Blessed Person!

Are you a learner? A curious person?

That’s what Solomon was. He loved getting new information. When God offered to bless him in any way he wanted, Solomon asked for greater wisdom.

The Bible tells us that instruction is good, and it is especially good when it is filtered through trust in the Lord. Trust in God, with a steady flow of instruction, will lead to a healthier faith in God. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,” Solomon stated as he began to write the book of Proverbs (1:7).

That’s why we constantly encourage people to keep reading their Bibles and be instructed in the truths of the Scriptures. Solomon also wrote, “Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers, and blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord” (Proverbs 16:20, NIV).

Intriguingly, many years later, the apostle Paul finds this Proverbs passage confirmed by his own experience. He too was a curious man — loving to learn.

As a Pharisee who did not believe in Jesus, he put his knowledge to work persecuting Christ-followers. But once Paul had been confronted by Jesus, and became a Christ-follower himself, he put his knowledge to work for a new purpose: sharing Christ with his fellow Jews, and especially with Gentiles.

As a result of this, persecution began to come his way.

But through it all, Paul feels blessed. He has had God’s help all along. And despite what might befall him, he is absolutely confident that he has devoted his life to the right purpose.

I hope for you that your life is filled with the same sense of purpose as Paul’s. Through faith in Jesus Christ, you are a blessed person. Because to be a person who blesses others is to be a blessed person yourself!

“First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds. That is why some Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me. But God has helped me to this very day; so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen—that the Messiah would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would bring the message of light to his own people and to the Gentiles” (Acts 26:20-23, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, July 7, is 2 Kings 14:23 – 15:38, Acts 25:23 – 26:23 and Proverbs 16:18-27.

Father, thank you for rescuing me from the dominion of darkness, and bringing me into the kingdom of the Son you love. Help me to devote my life to bringing others into that same kingdom, and to be blessed by blessing others.

Header image based on "Colossians 1:13" by Tito and Eva Marie Balangue, CC By 2.0

To Serve or Be Served, That Is the Question!

We spend a lot of time asking ourselves how we can best serve God. But Jesus suggests that it might be wise to ask another question.

And that question is, how can Jesus best serve us?

Peter was struggling with the very idea of having Jesus serve him. Allow Jesus to wash his feet?! No way!!

Peter wanted so badly to serve! And the most likely rationale is not difficult to understand: Jesus is God. Why should he serve me? He is the one who ought to be served!

Many times we operate on this same rationale. And it’s not as if it’s a poor rationale. But it does leave out something critically important.

Jesus himself came to serve. And he came to serve us. But that does no good if we are constantly trying so hard to serve Jesus that we forget how to be served by him.

The grave danger here lies in a misplaced emphasis. And the danger is that we turn our faith, which is all about receiving grace, into a religion that is all about doing works.

Here are some questions for you:

  1. Have you been taking time to pray daily, and ask God to help you, to shield you, to meet your needs?
  2. Have you been consistent in attending church so that you can hear of Jesus’ love for you, Jesus’ forgiveness, Jesus grace and mercy?
  3. Have you attended the Lord’s Supper recently, so that you could be served with Jesus’ true body and true blood, and be reconnected and reconsecrated to your Savior and to your fellow believers?

Yes, it’s important to serve and honor God. But it’s of first importance to be served by him! Rest assured, your Savior Jesus loves nothing more than to serve you and share his blessings with you.

After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” (John 13:5-9, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Friday, May 22, is 1 Samuel 10:9 – 12:25, John 12:37 – 13:17, and Psalm 66:1-12.

Lord Jesus, I need you. I need you every day. I need you every hour of every day. Please watch over me, defend me, protect me, forgive me, and show me your grace and mercy. Wash my feet, and my hands and my head as well. Wash my very soul! Cleanse me from every sin and every shameful act. Serve me, Lord Jesus!

Header image based on "dirty feet" by James Theophane, CC By 2.0

Echoes of Grace

I love to hike. And here in Arizona we have a lot of canyons where a person can travel up a stream. There’s just something about water and trees in a desert.

But the other thing I love about canyons is the way the sound moves through them — the sound of birds singing, the rush of the wind, the bubbling of the creek.

And the echo of my voice. I almost always give a couple shouts in the canyon, just to hear what it sounds like for the sound of my own voice to bounce back at me from the canyon walls.

(I know. One of you is surely going to say, “I always knew Jeff loved the sound of his own voice!”)

What got me to thinking about echoes today was this verse: Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:26-28, NIV).

As Christians, our call to greatness is a call to serve and sacrifice self, Jesus tells us. And then he goes on to tell us something critically important. Our service is really nothing more than an echo of Jesus’ service toward us.

Jesus gave his life for me, so I will — as I’m energized by his grace and self-sacrifice — become the servant he calls me to be. It’s as if the voice of Jesus bounces of the walls of our hearts to resound into the hearts of others.

Love begets love. Service inspires service. Self-sacrifice arouses self-sacrifice.

Jesus first. Us second, as echoes of his grace.

Lord, may I always echo your gracious “first-love” for me. I desire to serve you and my neighbor. I cannot do this on my own. So, may your heart of love, service and sacrifice simply echo through me to others, and bring all the glory to you!

Our Bible reading for Friday, January 30, is Job 15:1 – 18:21, Matthew 20:20-34 and Psalm 17:13-15.

Header image based on "Verde Canyon Railroad" by sfbaywalk, CC by 2.0

The One to Focus On

Have you ever suddenly gotten a compulsion to worship someone or something? Maybe you didn’t think of it as worship. But you knew you were drawn to them and admired them–whatever (or whoever) it might be.

Whenever this occurs, we tend to sink ourselves into seeking. Or we invest major time and energy into pursuing. In John’s vision in Revelation, John himself gets a sudden compulsion to fall down at the feet of an angel. Maybe you’ve at some point, literally or figuratively, fallen down at the feet of someone or something.

The angel’s response is instructive. “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you.” To paraphrase, “As amazing as I may seem to you,” the angel tells John, “Jesus is the one to focus on. I’m nothing more than his servant.”

That’s why Jesus is the one we talk about. He is the one we glorify. He is the one we praise and worship. He is the one we testify about and he is the one for whom we bear witness. Everyone and everything else is designed to serve him: “Then I (John) fell down at his feet to worship him (the angel), but he said to me, ‘You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.’ For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Revelation 19:10, ESV).

Lord, as the angel reminded John of who is at the center of our worship and our proclamation, please send your Spirit through your word to remind me of the same!

Our reading for Monday, December 29, is Zechariah 10:1 – 12:9, Psalm 149:1-5, Proverbs 30:32-33 and Revelation 19:1-21.