Jesus said, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work." (John 4:34)
Our cat made me think of that verse this morning.
Every night when we go to bed, we close the cat out of the bedroom, because if we don't, he spends the night walking back and forth across me, and I don't get a whole lot of sleep.
The consequence is that, by morning, Pumpkin is pretty much starved for human affection and attention. As soon as I get out of bed, he immediately starts pawing at the other side of the bedroom door, as if to say, "Let me in! Let me in!" And then, when I exit the bedroom, he lets out a little yowl of happiness, and follows me everywhere I go.
Now the other part of this story involves the cat's food dish. Pumpkin has figured out that I won't give him more food until he has finished what's in his bowl. But for some reason he's always more eager to have "new" food than to finish what is left in his bowl from the previous night.
So the cat has a terrible dilemma. On the one hand, he wants to be with me wherever I go, but on the other hand, he wants to finish what's left in his food dish so he can have more.
So how do you suppose he resolves this little conflict of interests? Simple! He hangs out with me wherever I go, and then, when I happen to go into the kitchen, he'll go straight to his food dish and wolf down a few more morsels of food, hoping that he can finish his food before I leave the kitchen. Then when I go back to the living room, he follows me, leaving behind his food until the next time I go into the kitchen.
Sometimes it takes him a couple hours to finish that last little bit of food.
But I thought it was interesting that, for the cat, hanging out with me was more important than getting more food.
It made me think of Jesus.
My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.
"I'd rather be doing God's work than eating!"
Lord, may this be true of us, that we'd rather be spending time with you, spending our lives on your work, than on any other endeavor!
I was recently reading John 13, and it occurred to me that maybe I've been taught this passage incorrectly all my life.
It seems as though I grew up with the notion that there was a servant who traditionally came and did the washing of the feet, and that for some reason or another, this servant never showed up.
It seems as though I grew up with the notion that the disciples sat looking at one another with expressions of disdain, wondering which of them would choose to take on the job of that servant, and that Jesus, seeing that none of them was willing, stepped forward and did the job.
Perhaps I was never taught those things; perhaps I just assumed them. Or perhaps they were simply implied in the teaching I received.
Regardless, upon re-reading the text of John 13, I'm not sure those assumptions are reasonable. In fact, there is no mention of a servant who didn't show up, nor is there any mention of any disciples thinking about who was going to wash the feet.
When we imagine the passage that way, I think we do a discredit to the demonstration of servanthood which Christ was giving his followers. I don't think Jesus waited long enough to see if one of the disciples would volunteer. I don't think he even waited long enough to find out if a servant would show up. Maybe a servant did show up, and was horrified to discover that Jesus was already doing his job for him!
Because no good servant waits to see if someone else will do his job for him. The servant dives in without hesitation, because the job needs to be done.
The scripture tells us that he simply got up from the table and did the job. And perhaps, as much as the fact that he was willing to do it, the fact that he did not seem to hesitate ought to be a lesson and an inspiration for me. "You also should do just as I have done to you," he tells us (John 13:15).
Don't wait for someone else to serve. Dive in first, and get your hands dirty before anyone else even has a chance to get started.
Recently I had a chance to visit with Nate, a young man who used to travel with me and run my sound system when I went out to preach, sing, and do ventriloquism. We were reminiscing about some of the things that used to happen when we were "on the road" together, and we recalled that it was not uncommon for people to say to Nate, "We sure do appreciate you and your dad coming today."
To which Nate would reply, "He's not my dad."
Frankly, I never saw much resemblance between us, and since I was only thirteen years older than him, I found it a bit disconcerting that people would think I was old enough to be his dad.
The day after I visited with Nate, day I took my nephew Daniel to a basketball game that our local Christian academy was competing in. During the half-time break, I took Daniel to the concessions stand, so Daniel could buy a cheeseburger. When the lady behind the counter gave us our food, she said, "Here's your cheeseburger, and here's your dad's french fries."
Once again, I don't think there's that much resemblance. But those two back-to-back events started me thinking about family resemblances. Do you look like your father? Your mother? What about your brothers or sisters? Do your children look like you?
Did you know that the Bible has something to say about family resemblance? It's true!
Colossians 1:15 says that Jesus is "the image of the invisible God," and "the firstborn of all creation." Think about that for a moment. God is Spirit, and as such, we cannot see him. But when Jesus Christ came to earth, he came as a man with a physical body. So what does it mean that Jesus is the "image of the invisible God"? That he physically looks like God the Father? Of course not! There is a "family resemblance" between God the Father and God the Son, but it is not a physical resemblance.
When Jesus came to earth, it was so we could see and understand the character of God. When we look at Jesus, when we read of His life, His deeds, and His sacrifice, we are seeing the character of God being lived out perfectly.
But that's not the only thing that the Bible says about family relationships. In 2 Corinthians we are told:
Nice little progression, isn't it? Jesus is the likeness of the invisible God, and we are to be transformed into the likeness of His Son, Jesus Christ. In other words, when people look at us, they ought to be able to see our family resemblance to God Himself!
What do you think? Is your character like the character of God? Or does it leave a lot to be desired? How does your character change to be more like His? Well, the answer is right in the verse: we behold the glory of the Lord. How much time do you spend looking on Jesus Christ, through reading of Him in God's Word? Take time each day to read of Him, and allow yourself to be transformed more and more into His image.
Last week in my message I spoke on the Gospel. I began with who God is, and moved on to talking about who we are, our sin, and the judgment it requires. Then I began to speak of Jesus. I told of who He is, of His divine nature, of His life, of His crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. And then I spoke of our response to this: faith.
After the service, one man spoke to me and said: "You know, a lot of times when people are teaching the Gospel, they speak about faith, but it's hard for people to understand what that means exactly. But you told us all the story of Jesus, and asked us to believe that story. It was so clear what you meant by 'faith.'"
That comment confirmed to me something I had been thinking about, and that I had recently been discussing with a friend. In many cases, the church has lost its understanding of what the Gospel is. We have stopped having faith in Jesus, and instead have "faith in faith." Our faith is not placed in Jesus, but in the fact that we have faith. Does that sound confusing?
Think of it this way: when people teach the Gospel, what do they focus on? Often they focus on faith. Only believe. You must believe. If you have faith you will be saved. But the Gospel message is not simply "you must believe."
The Gospel is that Jesus Christ died for our sins according to scripture, that he was buried, and that he rose again on the third day (see 1 Corinthians 15:1-5). Faith is our response to this Good News.
A few months ago my pastor did an experiment in which he "preached the Gospel" without ever even talking about Jesus. He was curious to see how many people would recognize what had been left out. In our church, he was pleased to see that many people recognized what had been left out. But he said he had seen churches where no one realized what was missing.
This is a tragic state of affairs.
If your message is not about Jesus, it is not about the Gospel, because the Gospel message is a message about Jesus.
Did you know that Amazon.com occasionally sells products at a loss? It's true. They occasionally have items that they sell at a slight loss. If it costs them $10.00, they sell it for $9.50, losing $0.50 on each sale.
Why do they do this? Because they hope that customers who are attracted by that inexpensive price will be lured into putting something else into their shopping cart before they check out. And even if they don't buy something else, they've made one purchase, and a customer who has made one purchase is more likely to come back and make another later on.
It's an ulterior motive.
I do the same thing. One of my game websites has some free games. Why? It is my hope that people who come back day after day to play the free games will sooner or later say, "I wish I could play those other games," and then pay the subscription fee for the site.
It's an ulterior motive.
Ulterior motives are okay in the business world; it's part of what makes our system of business work. But ulterior motives have no place in the world of the church and the followers of Christ.
When Jesus's disciples were arguing about who was greatest (pick a passage, any passage -- this appears to have been a common argument!) Jesus said to them:
It would be easy for us to think "Oh! I'll be a servant, so I can be great!" But servanthood is not something we take on for the sake of gain; servanthood is, in itself, true greatness. Because servanthood is part of the character and nature of Christ (see Philippians 2:1-8)
Why did Jesus leave the glory of heaven for this miserable, broken world? It was not because he would one day be exalted for his service (see Philippians 2:9) but because of His great love for us.
So it must be with us; I shouldn't serve with an ulterior motive, seeking greatness in this life (if I do, I might be disappointed!). I should serve because of my love for Christ, because of my love for my fellow man, and because I desire to have the mind and attitude of Christ.
A couple weeks ago one of the teens jokingly told me (at least, I hope she was joking!) that I was an evil dictator. As it turned out, her comment fit right into the lesson, because I was talking about how we deal with authority.
Last night I built on that lesson some more. After welcoming the sixth graders (last night was the first youth group Bible study they were invited to attend), I started picking on one of them.
"Suppose I walked out behind the church, and I discovered that Marissa was out back there smoking a cigarette. Of course, I wouldn't be too impressed with that, since smoking is not just unhealthy, it's also against the rules. So I would probably scold her pretty good." (By the way, Marissa has assured me that she does not smoke, which I'm very glad of!)
"Now suppose instead that I didn't find Marissa smoking -- in fact, suppose that Marissa wasn't smoking at all, but Rachel came up to me and said, 'Doug, Marissa is out back smoking!' So I go out back and, without giving her an opportunity to speak or defend herself, start scolding and yelling at her. After all, I am an evil dictator, right?
"In one of those situations, I'm being completely fair and reasonable, in the other I am not. But how should Marissa respond in these two situations?"
This question is exactly what Peter talks about in 1 Peter:
It's not enough to respond graciously and with submission when treated fairly -- Peter says that the true test of your character comes out in the way you respond when treated unfairly.
And it gets worse...in the next verse (1 Peter 2:21), Peter tells us that we have been called for this purpose -- to bear up patiently under unjust suffering. The question is not: Will I be treated unfairly? -- that's just a fact of life. The real question is: How will I respond when I am treated unfairly?
Peter tells us that in bearing up patiently under unfair and unreasonable treatment, what we are really doing is following in the footsteps of Jesus, who willingly submitted to the most unfair and unreasonable of all punishments -- the cross of Calvary.
How often we say, "I want to be like Jesus," but we certainly don't want to be like Jesus in this regard! Instead, we are likely to respond to unfair treatment with anger and bitterness, instead of with love and forgiveness.
One of the hymns I enjoy singing in church is "Heaven Came Down and Glory Filled My Soul." It's a hymn that has a nice little echo part on the chorus ("filled my soul/made me whole/filled my soul"). The echo part is sung by the tenors and the altos.
Unfortunately, in our church, not many people are confident enough singers to do those echo parts, so you usually can't hear it very well. But last night was kind of interesting...
From where I was sitting, I couldn't hear any women singing the echo part, except on the "s" of "soul." "S" sounds tend to cut through a mix of sound (which is why recording studios have "de-essers").
But here's what was interesting about hearing this "s" sound: I was sitting on one side of the church, and my parents were sitting a couple pews away on the other side of the church, but even as far away as I was from them, the moment I heard that "s" sound, I thought "Oh, my mother is singing the echo part."
Now, I never would have thought that my mother's voice is that distinctive, and I certainly wouldn't have guessed that I could recognize her voice just from an "s" sound!
And then I got to wondering...would anyone else there at church have recognized her voice just from that one sound? Probably my dad, and my brother, but I doubt any other people would have picked her voice out of the crowd. Why? Because they don't know her voice as well as we do. For the first eighteen years of my life, I grew up hearing her voice every day, and I know her voice. Not many people know her voice that well.
Then, this morning, I bumped into Jerry, and we got talking about his grandchildren. He has two granddaughters who are identical twins -- Erica and Lindsay. Jerry said, "My wife can tell them apart, just from hearing their voices on the telephone." Amazing...it's enough of a challenge for me to tell them apart when I can see them!
This all made me think of something Jesus said in John 10:
Interesting, isn't it? Jesus says that his sheep will recognize his voice, but they won't recognize the voice of strangers. The implication is that Jesus is not a stranger to us. How many people expect to hear the voice of God in their lives, but are not willing to get to know the shepherd?
To know Jesus, to understand who He is, and to immerse yourself in the stories of His life, His death, and His resurrection, as found in the gospels and epistles, this should be one of our deepest desires and goals in life.
It doesn't come naturally -- a year ago I wouldn't have had a hope of telling Erica and Lindsay apart, but as I get to know them better, I recognize the differences between them more and more. So it is with Jesus -- the better I know Him, the more easily I will recognize His leading in my life.
It is one of my habits and practices in Bible reading that, no matter what else I might be reading in scripture, I plan to read through each of the gospels at least once during the year, so I never forget the voice of our Savior and our Shepherd.
Recently a young man in our community was killed. It was a sad and tragic time for those who knew him. What made it even more tragic was the fact that there was a group of protesters who made plans to picket his funeral. If I told you the bizarre sequence of illogic that made these people think it made sense to protest a funeral, you would hang your head in shame at the idea that there are people in this world so completely incapable of logical thought.
What makes it far worse, however, is that these protesters were representatives of a church. So you would not just hang your head in shame at their illogic, you would hang your head in shame at the thought that there might be Christians so utterly incapable of compassion and decency.
Over the last week, I've had several people comment to me that they are concerned that these protesters will "bring harm to the name of Christ" I understand their concern, but I think there is far less to worry about than they realize. The people I've talked to -- both Christian and non-Christian -- realize and understand that these people have absolutely nothing to do with Christ, even though they might claim His name. They have as much to do with Christianity as my left big toenail has to do with the current government in Bangladesh.
And everyone understands that...
In fact, I visited that church's website and went to their "about" page (which should tell us all about who they are, right?). I found that their "about" page talks in three places about the causes that they protest against, and only once mentions the name of Jesus. That in itself isn't a big deal, except that, the one time they mention the name of Jesus, it is to make a point about what the Gospel isn't.
This reminded me of two verses. One is:
The church is to be built on the foundation of Jesus Christ, and He must be the center and foundation of everything we are, and everything we do. I think it is possible that at one time this church had Jesus Christ as their foundation, but certainly that is no longer the case; now their foundation is the cause and the protest which they have embraced. One has to only visit their website or listen to their interviews to realize, this is a people which has lost its foundation.
How does something like this happen? That's the other verse I was thinking of:
If Jesus is our foundation, He is also our focus. We must never take our eyes off Him, off His life, His character, His acts, His teachings, and His death and resurrection. When we take our eyes off Him, we run the risk of having our attention fixed instead on other things.
And the other things might not even be bad things. Sometimes in the church we even get caught up in good causes. But the moment a cause, a program, or an activity causes us to lose our focus on Jesus Christ, then it becomes a danger to us all.
Last summer we scheduled youth group events for the teenagers at our church. We had, in addition to having the teens organize and lead a Vacation Bible School, some fun events -- trips to the beach, hiking, camping, and other things. Two events stand out in my mind.
First, was our trip to see the SeaDogs -- our baseball team in Portland -- play a Friday night game. Unfortunately, we had picked a week that didn't work well for most of our teens, and the few teens who could have gone, forgot all about it. The result? Three leaders showed up, and no teens at all!
I was disappointed. I was really looking forward to going to the game with the teens (I'm really not a big baseball fan, but it still is a fun time, when you go with people you know and care about.)
The other event was our hiking trip. We were planning to take our teens on a hike up Cranberry Peak, in the Bigelow Mountain Range. Because this was a long trip, and about two hours from home, we decided we would go the day before, spend the night at my brother's home, and his family could feed us breakfast, and provide food/supplies for our backpacks. Naturally, this would cost money, and we were going to have to charge each teen a few dollars to cover everything. And we were also going to have to get an advance count, so my brother would know how much food to buy. So I passed around a clipboard, and teens signed up if they were planning to come. We had fifteen people sign up. My brother purchased accordingly.
And the day of our departure...we had a grand total of four teenagers who showed up. Which meant much more money had been spent than should have been spent!
Now, I must say, we had a really fun time. But...I was very disappointed. And this was a very different kind of disappointment. When we didn't get to go to the SeaDogs game, I was disappointed, but it wasn't a disappointment directed at any one particular person or people. This time, I found that I was disappointed in people who said "Yes, I'm going to do this," and then backed out. I had been let down.
The book of I Peter says (1 Peter 2:6) that whoever believes in Jesus, the foundation stone of the church, will not be disappointed (in some translations). And this is not talking about the first kind of disappointment. Obviously; we all face disappointments on a regular basis. Anyone who thinks that Christians go through life without disappointments...they need to rethink that!
However, what we can say is this: we will never have the second kind of disappointment in Christ; He will never never let us down. He will always follow through.
The translation I use says that we will not be put to shame. We will never be embarrassed or ashamed that we put our faith in Christ. He will never let us down, because He is the solid rock, the sure foundation.