Tag  |  christlikeness

Here to Serve

It was time for our church to commission a new group of leaders. To symbolize their roles as servant-leaders, the church elders participated in a memorable foot-washing ceremony. Each of the leaders—including the pastor—washed each other’s feet as the congregation observed them.

What they did that day was modeled for us by Jesus Christ, as recorded in John 13. In that incident, which happened at what is called the Last Supper, Jesus “got up from the meal, . . . poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet” (John 13:4–5). Later, as Jesus was explaining to His disciples why he had done this, He said, “No servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him” (v. 16). He also said, “I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27).

If it is not below Jesus’s dignity to do such a lowly task, it is not below any of us to serve others. What an amazing example He set for all of us. Indeed, He “did not come to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45). He showed us what it means to be a leader and a servant. That’s Jesus, the One who serves.

Reason to Smile

In the workplace, words of encouragement matter. How employees talk to one another has a bearing on customer satisfaction, company profits, and co-worker appreciation. Studies show that members of the most effective work groups give one another six times more affirmation than disapproval, disagreement, or sarcasm. Least productive teams tend to use almost three negative comments for every helpful word.

Paul learned by experience about the value of words in shaping relationships and outcomes. Before meeting Christ on the road to Damascus, his words and actions terrorized followers of Jesus. But by the time he wrote his letter to the Thessalonians, he had become a great encourager because of God’s work in his heart. Now by his own example he urged his readers to cheer one another on. While being careful to avoid flattery, he showed how to affirm others and reflect the Spirit of Christ.

In the process, Paul reminded his readers where encouragement comes from. He saw that entrusting ourselves to God, who loved us enough to die for us, gives us reason to comfort, forgive, inspire, and lovingly challenge one another (1 Thess. 5:10–11). 

Paul shows us that encouraging one another is a way of helping one another get a taste of the patience and goodness of God.

Driven by God

A few months ago I received an email inviting me to join a community of “driven people.’ I decided to look up the word driven, and I learned that a driven person is someone highly motivated to succeed and who will work hard to achieve his goals.

Is it good to be a driven person? There is a test that never fails: “Do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). Many times we do things for self-glory. After the flood in Noah’s day, a group of people decided to build a tower in order to “make a name” for themselves (Gen. 11:4). They wanted to be famous and avoid being scattered all over the world. Because they were not doing it for God's glory, though, they were erroneously driven.

In contrast, when King Solomon dedicated the ark of the covenant and the newly constructed temple, he said, “I have built the temple for the Name of the Lord” (1 Kings 8:20). Then he prayed, “May he turn our hearts to him, to walk in obedience to him and keep the commands” (v. 58).

When our greatest desire is to bring glory to God and walk in obedience, we become driven people who seek to love and serve Jesus in the power of the Spirit. Let our prayer echo Solomon’s. May our “hearts be fully committed to the Lord our God, to live by his decrees and obey his commands” (v. 61).

The Bond of Peace

After I confronted my friend by email over a matter on which we had differed, she didn’t respond. Had I overstepped? I didn’t want to worsen the situation by pestering her, but neither did I want to leave things unresolved before she went on a trip overseas. As she popped into my mind throughout the following days, I prayed for her, unsure of the way forward. Then one morning I went for a walk in our local park and saw her, pain etched on her face as she glimpsed me. “Thank you, Lord, that I can talk to her,” I breathed as I approached her with a welcoming smile. We talked openly and were able to resolve matters.

Sometimes when hurt or silence intrudes on our relationships, mending them seems out of our control. But as the apostle Paul says in his letter to the church at Ephesus, we are called to work for peace and unity through God’s Spirit, donning the garments of gentleness, humility, and patience as we seek God’s healing in our relationships. The Lord yearns for us to be united, and through His Spirit He can bring His people together—even unexpectedly when we go walking in the park.

Have you experienced an unexpected encounter that revealed God working in a situation? How might you work toward peace and unity today?

Image Management

To celebrate Winston Churchill’s eightieth birthday, the British parliament commissioned artist Graham Sutherland to paint a portrait of the celebrated statesman. “How are you going to paint me?” Churchill reportedly asked the artist: “As a cherub, or the Bulldog?” Churchill liked these two popular perceptions of him. Sutherland, however, said he would paint what he saw.

Churchill was not happy with the results. Sutherland’s portrait had Churchill slumped in a chair wearing his trademark scowl—true to reality, but hardly flattering. After its official unveiling, Churchill hid the painting in his cellar. It was later secretly destroyed.

Like Churchill, most of us have an image of ourselves we want others to have of us also—whether of success, godliness, beauty, or strength. We can go to great lengths to conceal our “ugly” sides. Perhaps deep down we fear we won’t be loved if the real us is known.

When the Israelites were taken captive by Babylon, they were seen at their worst. Because of their sins, God allowed their enemies to conquer them. But He told them not to fear. He knew them by name, and He was with them in every humiliating trial (Isa. 43:1–2). They were secure in His hands (v. 13) and “precious” to Him (v. 4). Despite their ugliness, God loved them.

We will find ourselves less motivated to seek the approval of others when such a truth truly sinks in. God knows the real us and still loves us immeasurably (Eph. 3:18).

Not In Vain

A financial advisor I know describes the reality of investing money by saying, “Hope for the best and be prepared for the worst.” With almost every decision we make in life there is uncertainty about the outcome. Yet there is one course we can follow where no matter what happens, we know that in the end it will not be a wasted effort.

The apostle Paul spent a year with the followers of Jesus in Corinth, a city known for its moral corruption. After he left, he urged them in a follow-up letter not to be discouraged or feel that their witness for Christ was of no value. He assured them that a day is coming when the Lord will return and even death will be swallowed up in victory (1 Cor. 15:52–55).

Remaining true to Jesus may be difficult, discouraging, and even dangerous, but it is never pointless or wasted. As we walk with the Lord and witness to His presence and power, our lives are not in vain! We can be sure of that.

Long Shadows

Several years ago, my wife and I stayed in a rustic bed-and-breakfast in the remote Yorkshire Dales of England. We were there with four other couples, all British, whom we had never met before. Sitting in the living room with our after-dinner coffees, the conversation turned to occupations with the question “What do you do?” At the time I was serving as the president of Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, I assumed that no one there knew of MBI or its founder, D. L. Moody. When I mentioned the name of the school, their response was immediate and surprising. “Of Moody and Sankey . . . that Moody?” Another guest added, “We have a Sankey hymnal and our family often gathers around the piano to sing from it.” I was amazed! The evangelist Dwight Moody and his musician Ira Sankey had held meetings in the British Isles more than 120 years ago, and their influence was still being felt.

I left the room that night thinking of the ways our lives can cast long shadows of influence for God—a praying mother’s influence on her children, an encouraging coworker’s words, the support and challenge of a teacher or a mentor, the loving but corrective words of a friend. It’s a high privilege to play a role in the wonderful promise that “His love continues through all generations” (Ps. 100:5).

Work Together

My wife makes an amazing pot roast dinner. She takes raw meat, along with raw sliced white and sweet potatoes, celery, mushrooms, carrots, and onions and throws them into the slow cooker. Six or seven hours later the aroma fills the house, and the first taste is a delight. It is always to my advantage to wait until the ingredients in the slow cooker work together to achieve something they could not achieve individually.

When Paul used the phrase work together in the context of suffering, he used the word from which we get our word synergy. He wrote, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). He wanted the Romans to know that God, who didn’t cause their suffering, would cause all their circumstances to cooperate with His divine plan—for their ultimate good. The good to which Paul referred was not the temporal blessings of health, wealth, admiration, or success, but being “conformed to the image of [God’s] Son” (v. 29).

May we wait patiently and confidently because our heavenly Father is taking all the suffering, all the distress, all the evil, and causing them to work together for His glory and our spiritual good. He wants to make us like Jesus. 

Random Acts of Kindness

Some say that the American writer Anne Herbert scribbled the phrase "Practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty" on a placemat at a restaurant in 1982. The sentiment has since been popularized through film and literature and has become a part of our vocabulary.

The missing note is “Why?” Why should we show kindness to others? For those who follow Jesus, the answer is clear: To show the tender mercy and kindness of God.

There’s an Old Testament example of that principle in the story of Ruth, the emigrant from Moab. She was a foreigner, living in a strange land whose language and culture she did not understand. Furthermore, she was desperately poor, utterly dependent on the charity of a people who took little notice of her.

There was one Israelite, however, who showed Ruth grace and spoke to her heart (Ruth 2:13). He allowed her to glean in his fields, but more than that simple charity, he showed her by his compassion the tender mercy and loving kindness of God, the One under whose wings she could take refuge. She became Boaz’s bride, part of the family of God, and one in a line of ancestors that led to Jesus, who brought salvation to the world (see Matt. 1:1-16).

We never know what one act of kindness, done in Jesus’ name, will do.

Put Down Your Burdens

A man driving his pickup truck on a country track saw a woman carrying a heavy load, so he stopped and offered her a lift. The woman expressed her gratitude and climbed into the back of the truck.

A moment later, the man noticed a strange thing: the woman was still holding onto her heavy load despite sitting in the vehicle! Astonished, he pleaded, "Please, Madam, put down your load and take your rest. My truck can carry you and your stuff. Just relax."

What do we do with the load of fear, worry, and anxiety we often carry as we go through life's many challenges? Instead of relaxing in the Lord, I sometimes behave like that woman. Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" (Matt. 11:28), yet I've caught myself carrying burdens I should offload onto Jesus.

We put down our burdens when we bring them to the Lord in prayer. The apostle Peter says, "Cast all your anxiety on [Jesus] because he cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7). Because He cares for us, we can rest and relax as we learn to trust Him. Instead of carrying the burdens that weigh us down and weary us, we can give them to the Lord and let Him carry them.

Living in the Light

It was a dark morning. Low, steel-colored clouds filled the sky, and the atmosphere was so dim that I needed to turn on the lights in order to read a book. I had just settled in when the room suddenly filled with light. I looked up and saw that the wind was pushing the clouds to the east, clearing the sky and revealing the sun.

As I went to the window to get a better look at the drama, a thought came to mind: “The darkness is passing and the true light is already shining” (1 John 2:8). The apostle John wrote these words to believers as a message of encouragement. He went on to say, “Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing to make them stumble” (v. 10). By contrast, he equated hating people with roaming around in darkness. Hatred is disorienting; it takes away our sense of moral direction.

Loving people is not always easy. Yet as I was reminded at the window, frustration, forgiveness, and faithfulness are all part of maintaining a deep connection with the love and light of God. When we choose love instead of hate, we are showing our relationship with Him and reflecting His radiance to the world around us. “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).

 

Constant Kindness

When I was a child I was an ardent reader of L. Frank Baum's Land of Oz books. I recently came across Rinkitink in Oz with all the original artwork. I laughed again at the antics of Baum's portly, irrepressible, good-hearted King Rinkitink with his down-to-earth goodness. Young Prince Inga described him best: “His heart is kind and gentle and that is far better than being wise."

How simple and how sensible! Yet who has not jarred the heart of someone dear to us by a harsh word? In so doing we disturb the peace and quiet of the hour and we undo much of the good we have done that day. "A small unkindness is a great offense,” said Hannah More, an 18th-century English writer.

And here’s the good news: Anyone can become kind. We may be incapable of preaching an inspiring sermon, fielding hard questions, or evangelizing vast numbers, but we can, in time, become kind.

How? Through prayer. It is the only way to soften our hearts. “Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips. Do not let my heart be drawn to what is evil [or harsh]” (Ps. 141:3-4).

In a world in which love has grown cold, a kindness that comes from the heart of God is one of the most helpful and healing things we can offer to others.

Unsend

Have you ever sent an email and suddenly realized it went to the wrong person or it contained harmful, harsh words? If only you could press a key and stop it. Well, now you can. Several companies offer a feature that gives you a brief time after sending an email to stop it from leaving your computer. After that, the email is like a spoken word that cannot be unsaid. Rather than being seen as a cure-all, an “unsend” feature should remind us that it’s extremely important to guard what we say.

            In the apostle Peter’s first letter, he told the followers of Jesus, “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing. For, ‘whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it’ ” (1 Peter 3:9-11).

            The psalmist David wrote, “Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips” (Ps. 141:3). That’s a great prayer for the beginning of each day and in every situation when we want to strike back with words.

Lord, guard our words today so we may not harm others by what we say.

Mending Hearts

Not long ago I went to a seamstress to have some clothing altered. As I entered her shop I was encouraged by what I saw on the walls. One sign read, “We can mend your clothes but only God can mend your heart.” Near it was a painting of Mary Magdalene weeping in anguish as the risen Christ was about to reveal Himself to her. Another sign asked, “Need prayer? Let us pray with you.”

The owner told me that she had run this small business for 15 years. “We’ve been surprised how the Lord has worked here through the statements of faith we have posted in different places. A while back someone trusted Christ as their Savior right here. It is amazing to watch God work.” I told her I too was a Christian and commended her for telling others about Christ in her workplace.

Not all of us are able to be so bold in our workplace, but we can find many creative and practical ways of showing others unexpected love, patience, and kindness wherever we are. Since leaving that shop, I’ve been thinking about how many ways there are to live out our Lord’s statement: “You are the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14).

Keep Up the Good Work

My son loves to read. If he reads more books than what is required at school, he receives an award certificate. That bit of encouragement motivates him to keep up the good work.

When Paul wrote to the Thessalonians he motivated them not with an award but with words of encouragement. He said, "Brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more" (1 Thess. 4:1). These Christians were pleasing God through their lives, and Paul encouraged them to continue to live more and more for Him.

Maybe today you and I are giving our best to know and love and please our Father. Let's take Paul's words as an incentive to continue on in our faith.

But let's go one step further. Who might we encourage today with Paul’s words? Does someone come to mind who is diligent in following the Lord and seeking to please Him? Write a note or make a phone call and urge this person to keep on in their faith journey with Him. What you say may be just what they need to continue following and serving Jesus. 

Doing the Opposite

A wilderness excursion can seem daunting, but for outdoor enthusiasts this only adds to the appeal. Because hikers need more water than they can carry, they purchase bottles with built-in filters so they can use water sources along the way. But the process of drinking from such a container is counterintuitive. Tipping the bottle does nothing. A thirsty hiker has to blow into it to force the water through the filter. Reality is contrary to what seems natural.

As we follow Jesus, we find much that is counterintuitive. Paul pointed out one example: Keeping rules won’t draw us closer to God. He asked, “Why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: ‘Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!’? These rules . . . are based on merely human commands and teachings” (Col. 2:20-22). 

So what are we to do? Paul gave the answer. “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above” (3:1). “You died,” he told people who were still very much alive, “and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (v. 3).

We are to consider ourselves “dead” to the values of this world and alive to Christ. We now aspire to a way of life demonstrated by the One who said, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant” (Matt. 20:26). 

No Outsiders

In the remote region of Ghana where I lived as a boy, “Chop time, no friend” was a common proverb. Locals considered it impolite to visit at “chop time” (mealtime) because food was often scarce. The maxim applied to neighbors and outsiders alike.

            But in the Philippines, where I also lived for a time, even if you visit unannounced at mealtime, your hosts will insist on sharing with you regardless of whether they have enough for themselves. Cultures differ for their own good reasons.

            As the Israelites left Egypt, God provided specific instructions to govern their culture. But rules—even God’s rules—can never change hearts. So Moses said, “Change your hearts and stop being stubborn” (Deut. 10:16 nlt). Interestingly, right after issuing that challenge Moses took up the topic of Israel’s treatment of outsiders. God “loves the foreigner residing among you,” he said, “giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt” (vv. 18–19).

Israel served the “God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome” (v. 17). One powerful way they were to show their identification with God was by loving foreigners—those from outside their culture.

What might this small picture of God’s character mean for us today? How can we show His love to the marginalized and the needy in our world?

Hold On

Tianmen Mountain in Zhangjiajie, China, is considered one of the most beautiful mountains in the world. To view its towering cliffs in all their glorious splendor, you must take the Tianmen Shan cable car, which covers a distance of 7,455 meters (4.5 miles). It’s amazing how this cable car can travel such long distances and scale such steep mountains without any motor on the car itself. Yet it moves safely up these spectacular heights by keeping a strong grip on a cable that is moved by a powerful motor.

         In our journey of faith, how can we finish the race well and “press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called [us] heavenward in Christ Jesus”? (Phil. 3:14). Like the cable car, we keep a strong grip on Christ, which is what Paul meant when he said “stand firm in the Lord” (4:1). We have no resources of our own. We depend fully on Christ to keep us moving forward. He will take us through the greatest challenges and lead us safely home.

         Toward the end of his earthly life, the apostle Paul declared, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7). You can too. Simply keep a strong grip on Christ.

True Riches

At the memorial service for my friend’s dad, someone said to her, “Until I met your father, I didn’t know a person could have fun while helping others.” Her dad contributed his part in helping to build the kingdom of God through serving people, laughing and loving, and meeting strangers who became friends. When he died, he left a legacy of love. In contrast, my friend’s aunt—her father’s older sister—viewed her possessions as her legacy, spending her latter years fretting about who would protect her heirlooms and rare books.

In His teaching and by His example, Jesus warned His followers to avoid hoarding possessions, to give to the poor, and to value what will not rust or decay. “For where your treasure is,” Jesus said, “there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:34).

We might think our things give meaning to our life. But when the latest gadget breaks or we misplace or lose something valuable, we begin to realize that it is our relationship with the Lord that satisfies and endures. It is our love and care for others that does not wither and fade away.

Let’s ask the Lord to help us see clearly what we value, to show us where our heart is, and to help us seek His kingdom above all (12:31).

Fiery Trials

Fire can be one of the worst enemies of trees. But it can also be helpful. Experts say that small, frequent fires called “cool” fires clean the forest floor of dead leaves and branches but don’t destroy the trees. They leave behind ashes, which are perfect for seeds to grow in. Surprisingly, low-intensity fires are necessary for healthy growth of trees.

Similarly, trials—pictured as fire in the Bible—are necessary for our spiritual health and growth (1 Peter 1:7; 4:12). James wrote, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).

It is in the season of trial that God’s purposes are often realized, for there the conditions are right for us to grow into spiritual maturity. This growth not only equips us for living, but it also enables us to more accurately reflect Jesus to a world that desperately needs Him.

In the hands of our Father, our trials can achieve His purposes for our good and for His honor. They can shape us into the likeness of His Son.