“Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus”

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God—

Romans 1:1

The Greek word δοῦλος, translated “servant” in some English translations, might be better translated “slave,” though slavery in modern times is not exactly equivalent to slavery in biblical times, at least there’s a general difference. Bill Mounce has a helpful definition:

In the NT a person owned as a possession for various lengths of times (Hebrew slaves no more than seven years, Gentile slaves without time limit), of lower social status than free persons or masters; slaves could earn or purchase their freedom

A male slave, or servant, of various degrees, Mt. 8:9, et al. freq.; a servitor, person of mean condition, Phil. 2:7; fem. δούλη, a female slave; a handmaiden, Lk. 1:38, 48; Acts 2:18; δοῦλος, used figuratively, in a bad sense, one involved in moral or spiritual thraldom, Jn. 8:34; Rom. 6:17, 20; 1 Cor. 7:23; 2 Pet. 2:19; in a good sense, a devoted servant or minister, Acts 16:17; Rom. 1:1; one pledged or bound to serve, 1 Cor. 7:22; 2 Cor. 4:5

We of course were bought by Christ’s blood on the cross, redeemed from slavery to sin and unrighteousness to be slaves to God and to righteousness. We find freedom in this slavery from what once bound us so that we can live according to God’s will, and not our own. But this is never coercive, which might explain in part why it is often translated “servant.” There is a perfect freedom in this. Either way actually, we’re doing what we want to do. As slaves to sin (Romans 6), we want to sin, but find that it is enslaving and debilitating, indeed self-destructive. But as servants/slaves of Christ, we’re finding our way into what God intended for us in the first place. And in that we find rest, peace and contentment. But on this side, and especially given our tendency to drift back, it often feels difficult and confining. To be a slave of Christ ends up meaning that we do what Christ did, take the way of the cross and follow. In so doing we end up denying ourselves and doing what left to ourselves we would never do, at least not with the same motive and heart attitude. In and through Jesus.

 

listen up

The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”

Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

And the LORD said to Samuel: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle.

1 Samuel 3:10-11

One of the essentials if we’re to truly be followers of the Lord is to develop a keen awareness of his voice. We need to listen and we need the discernment that comes from the Spirit of God to understand. In fact of course we need God to open our ears in the first place.

The boy Samuel needed the priest Eli’s help to set himself to listen for God’s voice, or in this case discern since Samuel had earlier heard the voice calling him. I think we best hear God’s voice in the midst of life as we remain in God’s word, Scripture. God speaks to us through the Book and directly.

Our regular hearing should improve dramatically when we take the attitude of a servant. We aspire as those who would be the Lord’s servant. Our goal is obedience to God. But even more basic is our desire to commune and thus to know and walk faithfully with God.

God’s grace is key in all of this. We may think God will no longer speak to us when we either mess up or have attitudes that are wrong or at least questionable. In reality I think it’s accurate to say the Lord is always speaking. But whether we’re keen to listen is the question. In and through Jesus.

a proper obsession

Because the Sovereign Lord helps me,
I will not be disgraced.
Therefore have I set my face like flint,
and I know I will not be put to shame.

Isaiah 50:7

Last evening in our church small group, my wife leading our book study from Francis Chan’s book, Crazy Love, the chapter on being obsessed, I was reminded of my current reading through the gospels. If you don’t call that an obsession, what Jesus was doing, and his disciples following him, learning to do the same, I don’t know what an obsession is. To be obsessed is to be intensely occupied with something. Jesus’s life was wrapped up in his Father, obedience to him, and in doing so, being a servant to all, even unto the death of the cross.

The quote from Isaiah above is from what is called the servant songs, fulfilled by Jesus. And the idea of setting his face like a flint is echoed in the gospels when Jesus set out to Jerusalem for the last time, knowing this visit would end in his crucifixion.

As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.

Luke 9:51

That was the culmination of Jesus’s obsession. Just begin to read through the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and you’ll see that they’re marked by a singleness of vision and devotion to that. And in and through Jesus, we carry on that same life. We either follow Jesus in that way, or according to Jesus, we’re not following him at all. That’s the life to which we’re called by God in Jesus. The life we’re redeemed to in turn for the redemptive good of others. In and through Jesus.

 

the push and pull to the illusion and emptiness of fame

…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

A recent post on wanting to be well known even as a Christian leader is well worth the read: Pride and Humility at War. The professor who has taught many years in a well known evangelical seminary (and extensions of it) has picked up that many of the students have it as part of their drive in what their doing, that they should somehow become well known. And how this self-ambition is dangerous and at odds with their actual calling.

Greatness according to Jesus is to serve, become servant of all. And in that way to be like Jesus. Ironically, it is those who exalt themselves who will end up being downgraded by God. Whereas those who humble themselves before God, God somehow exalts. Of course the epitome of humility that God honored is Christ himself (Philippians 2:5-11).

Whenever I hear someone talk about themselves or what they’re doing, as if somehow that stands out, I wonder. Yet I’ve done the same thing myself. I always wanted to find where I fit and it seems like to a large extent, it alluded me. Though if I step back and see what I have been given to do, I can find plenty of places along the way, as well as regular, that the Lord has given me. And it’s not just what we do. Relationships end up being a big part of this, and actually more than that: they’re central.

We humble ourselves before God, and we desire that others see Christ, not us. I know for sure that for people to know me will be no help to them at all, except insofar as they find Christ in me, not seeing me, but him. There is an aspect of us through Jesus, our unique true selves which ends up being a gift to others, while we receive the same gift from God in them.

We must beware of wanting anything more than our Lord’s approval and fellowship. Among the lowly, those like ourselves. And desiring nothing more than that Christ would be made known. Something we all need more of, and want to share with all others, in and through him.

grieving the loss of one of Jesus’s loved servants

Precious in the sight of the Lord
    is the death of his faithful servants.

Psalm 116:15; NIV

The church we’ve been attending, and are in the process of joining lost a faithful servant who I never had the pleasure of meeting myself. But a young woman, married with a daughter, who was in love with her family, in love with life, and most of all in love with the Lord. In a tragic car accident. She was a faithful servant with a heart for children’s ministry. I want to say that this church, mega though it is, with a number of campuses, does everything so thoughtfully and well. Most of all bathed in love and prayers, prayers and love. The church has a big place and heart for children, and for children’s ministry, as it should be. And this young (to me) lady had what she considered her dream job in being in children’s ministry, coordinating that ministry on the main campus.

We are deeply grieving, but how much more those who knew her, especially her loved ones? And those who were her friends, and served with her in the work of the Lord? So our prayers along with our hearts go out to her loved ones, and to the church at this time.

I couldn’t understand how this could be. I have been so grateful for the ministry of this church in so many ways, for so many reasons. We can never be the same after this, I’m sure. We need God’s grace to carry on. How much more those who knew and loved her, and served with her. You get so close to the Lord and then to others through the Lord through a ministry like this. Little does one realize what they have sometimes, until it’s taken away. Or sometimes, sadly, we may not appreciate someone enough until they’re gone.

In the context of Psalm 116, God had rescued the psalmist from death in answer to prayer, and the psalmist was praising God for that. I’m sure that psalm alone can be one for meditation and prayer in the coming days, although there are so many passages in scripture in which we can find some help, comfort and solace.

Note the differences in how Psalm 116:15 is translated:

The Lord cares deeply
    when his loved ones die.

NLT

The death of the Lord’s faithful
    is a costly loss in his eyes.

CEB

The Lord values
the lives of his faithful followers.

NET Bible

I think the footnote of the NET Bible is helpful:

Heb “precious in the eyes of the Lord [is] the death of his godly ones.” The point is not that God delights in or finds satisfaction in the death of his followers! The psalmist, who has been delivered from death, affirms that the life-threatening experiences of God’s followers get God’s attention, just as a precious or rare object would attract someone’s eye. See Ps 72:14 for a similar expression of this belief.

We have to let this sit, while we sit before the Lord in silence. And while we reach out in love to those whose lives intersected closely with hers.

She is with the Lord she loved now, and I’m sure is full of complete joy and peace. I am not sure about whether or just how she might be interceding for those left behind, if departed ones do that. That could well be; it’s a tradition of the church, though I don’t think there’s any proof for it from scripture. But I’m sure she would want those left behind to continue on in the work of the Lord. And do well in it. In God’s love.

But some things can leave the heart numb for a time, especially in this case for those left behind. We want to ask the question, “Why Lord?” And we can. But we have to trust, as well. Even when it makes no sense at all. And when we say, we don’t care what good might come out of it. We don’t care at all. We don’t understand. But in the end, we have to entrust and leave it in God’s hands. And let it go at that. In silence. And in faith.

At the very end, when it’s all said and done, our lives are only a blink of time here. These awful happenings will be remembered no more. And we’ll all be together again. Let’s continue on with the same love, passion and ardent devotion this young lady showed to all by her life and service to Jesus. In and through him.

the Lord’s faithfulness to his servants

At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

2 Timothy 4:16-18

To be a servant of Christ truly, is such a high and holy calling. Nothing should get in the way of that call, although a servant will want to do well by their family, if they’re wise. We have at least one biblical examples of a good servant who evidently may not have been as good when it came to his family. I’m thinking of Samuel in the Old Testament. Not that the children of all such servants might not lose their way for a time. But too often such servants can be neglectful of their families in their busy schedule of serving others. We need to try to be really present, both in terms of quality and quantity time with our children, and spouses. Yet there is little doubt that there will be some price they have to pay, as well as ourselves, to fulfill what God has called us to do.

Paul had the advantage of having no such ties, evidently having no immediate family of his own. Perhaps as a Pharisee he had a wife, but she evidently had died, because it is clear from the New Testament that he was not married when he wrote his letters (see 1 Corinthians 7). But Paul still had friends who served with him, and he needed companionship. And this was probably especially the case during trying and difficult times.

Paul was on trial because of his proclamation of the gospel, and had been abandoned by everyone, evidently because of their fear of being identified with him with their lives possibly at stake. Most of us today can’t really identify with that. But what we can understand is the sense of being alone, of others not in the work with us, maybe having a hard time finding anyone to serve where needed at all. And yet we can press on time and time again, often not really feeling like it, but still wanting to do it. And we find over and over again, that the Lord is faithful and stands with us. That somehow he is present, and through us he blesses others. That is what Paul experienced, and it is for all of us who endeavor to faithfully serve Christ, even when oftentimes, it’s not convenient. The Lord is faithful. And he will be with us to the very end, as in our weakness, we endeavor to be a faithful servant of his to others, come what may. All in and through him.

 

 

Billy Graham’s funeral

I watched/listened to Billy Graham’s funeral yesterday. Like with countless others, God had a profound impact on my life through the ministry of Billy Graham. And his life, though peculiarly gifted, is an example for us all.

I thought the funeral was fitting, but also squirmed some when I kept hearing accolades and praise heaped on Billy himself. I was thinking that to simply hear him preach a message as in one of his mission (previously called crusade) programs would have been better. His life was all about pointing people to Jesus and the gospel/good news of God in Jesus through his death on the cross. And yet he was a man deserving of special honor, to be sure.

Songs/hymns which Billy chose, and well done. Good words from his children, and a good closing word from Franklin Graham, echoing his father, and what his father would have wanted and appreciated.

I will forever appreciate and be thankful to God for the life and ministry of Billy Graham along with myriads of others. To God be the glory. In and through Jesus.