Service or Selfish

Jesus said, “You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around, how quickly a little power goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not be served—and then to give away his life in exchange for the many who are held hostage.”
Matthew 20:25-28 (The Message)

Every day we are bombarded with conflicting messages. Our culture tells us that we are supposed to “look out for number one.” But, God calls us to a life of service and humility. Every day we wake up and we begin making decisions between service and selfishness. Moment by moment, we battle what may very well be the hardest of the four decisions we have to make about our relationships.

Service or Selfishness is so difficult because we can’t always find a good middle ground between the two. Service to the exclusion of self is not healthy, but neither is paying attention to our own needs and neglecting the needs of those around us. This is especially true when those around us are not looking after our needs. It is important to remember that this discussion of selflessness takes place in the context of a covenantal relationship.

Remember, in relationships that are based on covenant, we are not exchanging things, but exchanging persons. Our relationship with God is one of covenant, which God describes to Jeremiah “This is the brand-new covenant that I will make with [them] when the time comes. I will put my law within them—write it on their hearts!—and be their God. And they will be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:33, The Message) Jennie is my wife, and I am her husband – covenant.

In a covenant we are free to exchange our whole selves with the other person without fear. Why? Because as we give all of ourselves to them, they give all of themselves to us. So, if we are selfish, we hold back on our end of the covenant. Essentially we are stealing ourselves from the other person in the covenant. But, if we are selfless, we are looking after the other person in the covenant, and they are looking after us.

The problem comes in when we try to be completely selfless in a contractual relationship. Because a contract is the exchanging of things, not people, selflessness can easily lead to the other party in the contract taking advantage of you. Take, for instance, my recent car-buying experience. If I had been looking out solely for the dealer, they would have gladly taken the full asking price, or more… But, because I knew it was a contractual relationship, that I was exchanging money for a truck, I could come in with a lower, yet fair, offer. Because it was a contract, not a covenant, we could negotiate a deal that was acceptable to both parties.

As I think of selflessness in our covenantal relationships, I am reminded of the famos words of President John F. Kennedy; “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” That is a good sentiment for us to consider in all our covenantal relationships; with God, with the church, with our spouses, etc. We don’t ask what we can get, but rather what we can give. We don’t look to receive, but to do good on behalf of others.

There is something powerful about selflessness, especially in covenant with someone else who is selfless. Because, as we are selfless, as we put the needs of others first, we find that we are living in God’s will for us. “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8, NRSV) Let us live selflessly, doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God. Because in so doing God’s love permeates and transforms our world.

Grace or Grudge

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
Matthew 6:12 (NRSV)

Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”
Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
Matthew 18:21-22 (NRSV)

Grace and forgiveness are hard. I’m sure you’re not surprised by that statement. Actually, I’m pretty sure that at least one instance where it is, or has been, hard to forgive came to mind when you read it. If so, you can take comfort in knowing that you are not alone. Grace and forgiveness are hard for me, too. And, for most people I know.

In our third article about building and maintaining healthy relationships, I want to spend some time unpacking this difficult, but essential, part of being a community of faith. I’ll warn you, though, that this may be a difficult article to read. I may step on your toes a bit. I give you that advanced warning because it has been a difficult article to write, as I’ve been stepping on my own toes repeatedly in the process.

Inevitably something goes wrong in every relationship. One person shows their humanity in any number of ways. It could be something as small as a misspoken word, or moment of inattention when attention was needed. Or it could be something major, a lie or intentionally speaking ill of the other person. Whatever it is, from the smallest of offenses to the largest, I can pretty much assure you that in every relationship there will be at least one offense.

In every relationship something will happen that will jeopardize the relationship. Something will happen that will put the covenant into question. We are human beings, and part of being human is breaking trust. We do it all the time. When someone hurts us, breaks our trust, we have a decision to make, are we going to offer grace, or hold onto a grudge?

Before you ask, this is something that happens over time. In the moments right after I find out I’ve been wronged, in the midst of my pain and hurt, I’m not going to make healthy long-term decisions. That’s why most of us heard something to the effect of, “Take a deep breath, and count to 10 before you say anything.” Maybe in a small offense grace can be given almost immediately. But larger offenses take longer. Still, over time, we are faced with a choice; grace or grudge?

In Matthew 18, Jesus tells the story of a slave who, though forgiven, does not offer forgiveness to another. In the story that slave’s status as forgiven is revoked. Jesus links our forgiveness to our ability (and willingness) to forgive others. Jesus calls us, as believers, to be both forgiven and forgiving children of God. That story immediately follows Peter’s question about forgiveness in the church. I believe there is a reason.

You see, the church is made up of forgiven people who are learning to forgive. It’s important to note that we are still people, and still make mistakes. If it hasn’t happened yet, I can promise you that there will come a day when “the church” will let you down. It’s inevitable, we are still broken and hurting people. We still sin. We still fall short of God’s ideals for us. We still need forgiveness.

But how much forgiveness? Peter asks if forgiving seven times is enough. Jesus says, “Not quite, try seventy times seven.” We know that this is an example, that Jesus doesn’t mean that we are to forgive 490 times, but not 491. We know that Jesus means that we are to forgive, and forgive, and forgive … infinitely. Because we have been forgiven, we forgive others. We extend grace because we have received grace.

Holding a grudge, or extending grace, is a choice we all make in all of our relationships. May we strive to become more and more like Jesus who, even while dying on the cross, called out to God “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34, NRSV)

Christian Education

I want to take a moment and let you know about some needs we have within the Christian Education program here at Marshfield Christian Church. But, before I do that, I want to thank our faithful volunteers who have helped with this important part of our community’s life in the past few years.

Jacque and Greg Cook, Jennie Ruth, Tammy Winters, and (until recently) Kathy Ruth have diligently led our Sunday School classes for the past couple of years. Jacque and Greg have given leadership to the Young Adult class, Jennie and Tammy to the Preschool/Elementary class, and Kathy Ruth to the Adult Sunday school class. Since mom (Kathy) moved to Springfield, I (Alex) have taken over the responsibility for the Adult Sunday school class.

While each class is going fairly well, there are some deep needs for leadership in the near future. While Tammy and Jennie are trying to involve school-age students in their classroom, there are widely different needs between 3-year olds and 5th graders. We simply need to have two classes, no later than this fall. That means more teachers. Additionally, the youth have been invited to attend the Young Adult class, but high school students have widely different needs than young married couples, and young parents. We need a youth Sunday School offering, no later than this fall. And, it wouldn’t hurt us to add a third adult class that met the needs of adults in their upper 40’s through their 60’s. They have different concerns than their younger and older counterparts.

Also, now is the time for us to be planning our Vacation Bible School this summer. This year we will be offering a weekend VBS called “Outback Rock; Where kids venture into solid faith.” We need a group of leaders to come together to make this a reality. In the immediate future we will be picking a date and begin publicizing this important Christian education opportunity.

I can try to twist arms and get people to help, but I much prefer informing you all of the need and asking you to honestly and prayerfully consider if God is calling you to serve in one of these capacities. Educating our children, and ourselves, in the faith is important. It is one way we are FED THROUGH GOD’s WORD!!!

I understand you may question your ability to teach, or even your knowledge of the Bible. I understand that most of us don’t want to commit to an assignment that may be never-ending. So, let me assure you, these are time-limited commitments. They will begin in August and run for one year. At that time you can commit to another year, or choose to step back. And, we will be providing curriculum and resources to make your teaching experience a success. You will be equipped and empowered to serve God in this vital ministry.

If you are willing to respond to God’s tug on your heart, please call, or email, or stop by the office, or catch me after church. We simply cannot let our Christian Education programs languish without leaders, and I haven’t been able to clone myself (yet.) May God guide and sustain us as we journey together in faith.

 

It is Finished.

Betrayed.

Subjected to a mockery of a trial.

Beaten.

Ridiculed and jeered.

From waving palm branches and shouts of “Hosanna!” to a whipping cat-of-nine-tails and shouts of “Crucify Him!”

As the nails are pounded into Jesus’ hands and feet. As he struggles for each breath on the cross. As he cries out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

It seems the world has won. Jesus has failed. Night has fallen and the light of hope has been extinguished. It is finished.

—-

From the darkness of Good Friday we enter the quiet shock of Saturday, unsure of what the future may hold, waiting and wondering how it could all end so suddenly. Wondering, “Where did it all go so wrong?”

But the story doesn’t end there. I hope you will join us on Easter Sunday morning to hear what happens next. Sunrise service is at 7:00 am, around the fire pit (weather permitting). Easter breakfast (benefiting the youth) is from 8:00 to 9:30 am. Sunday school begins at 9:30 am. And our worship service begins at 10:30 am. Come and experience the joy of the resurrection with us!

The Beginning of The End

After a day of rest on Wednesday, Jesus and his disciples begin their celebration of Passover. It will be Jesus’ final night before his crucifixion. It will be the meal from which we draw our celebration of communion, or the Eucharist. However, the day starts out with a familiar story. Jesus sends his disciples ahead to prepare for the events of the day in a strange way.

Just a few days ago, as Jesus was getting ready to enter Jerusalem, he sent his disciples ahead for a foal of a donkey. They found it exactly as they were told, and the people where it was tied accepted their reasoning, “The master needs it.”

So, today, Jesus again sends the disciples ahead to find “a man carrying a jar of water.” And they do. And they prepare for the Passover. Mark doesn’t say any more. Had Jesus arranged something earlier in the week while teaching at the temple? We don’t know. All we know is that there was a place for Jesus and his disciples to celebrate the Passover.

It’s interesting that at his birth there was no room at the inn. But, as Jesus approaches the end of his life, a room is available. And, both times, Jesus arrives in town on the back of a donkey, the first time in his mother’s womb. How things have changed, and yet, how much they remain the same.

As Mark tells the story all twelve of the disciples are gathered at the table. Jesus proclaims that one of them will betray him, though all of them deny it. So, as Jesus breaks the bread and shares the wine, he does so with those who will flee from him in the hour of his deepest need. He does so with those who will betray him. He does so with those who will deny him, repeatedly. He does so with people from all walks of life.

No matter who you are. No matter what you have done. Jesus invites you to join in the meal, to be a part of the new covenant. Like the disciples you may yet desert or deny Jesus, but you are still invited to the table. Won’t you come?

Quiet Wednesday

The Bible is silent on Jesus’ actions on Wednesday of Holy Week. That probably makes sense, right? After all Sunday’s triumphal entry, the cleansing of the temple on Monday, and a full day of teaching on Tuesday, a break on Wednesday makes sense. But, there was so much teaching on Tuesday, that we were only able to scratch the surface in yesterday’s reflections.

Tuesday ended with what is known as the Olivet Discourse. After returning from the temple to the Mount of Olives, Jesus engages in an extended time of teaching his disciples. Toward the end of this teaching Jesus refers again to the fig tree to describe the need to be watchful and ready.

Jesus is speaking about the coming of the Son of Man when he says: “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.” (Mark 13:28, NRSV) There will be signs, Jesus says, but even those signs are not certain indicators. Jesus continues, “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.” (Mark 13:32-33, NRSV)

There is certainly ever-growing unrest in the world. And then end of time may truly be drawing near. However, if we follow the example of Jesus in the final days before the cross, working for peace and justice, and teaching about God, should not stop. Yes, there is a need for rest, for Sabbath, but working for justice should continue right until that unknown time when the Son of Man returns.