Archive for the ‘Service’ Category

Thinking of Christmas as a Time For Service

December 21, 2017

There are many who are enkindled with dreamy devotion, and when they hear of the poverty of Christ, they are almost angry with the citizens of Bethlehem. They denounce their blindness and ingratitude, and think, if they had been there, they would have shown the Lord and his mother a more kindly service and would not have permitted them to be treated so miserably. But they do not look by their side to see how many of their fellow humans need their help, and which they ignore in their misery. Who is there upon earth that has no poor, miserable, sick, erring ones around him? Why does he not exercise his love to those? Why does he not do to them as Christ has done to him? – Martin Luther

Until I had read this thought from Martin Luther, I’m not so sure I’ve ever thought of Christmas as a time of service. Traditionally it is a time for family.

Increasingly it is a time for non-profit organization fund raising. Our phone seemed to ring constantly all afternoon yesterday (while I was interviewing a senior Vice President of a software company on my business phone). The last call came at 9:21 pm.

There are ways to support others. We support an orphanage and women’s shelter in Tijuana. I’m on the board and we support a local service – Alpha Community Center.

But Luther wasn’t talking about that. He is echoing the words of Jesus who gave us the example of the Good Samaritan.

Should we be thinking bad thoughts about the people who forced Mary to sleep in the “barn” and have her baby alone amongst the animals?

Or, should we be looking in the mirror and saying, “When have I passed by a person, a fellow human being, and done nothing to help her?”

So That You May Lead Lives

September 13, 2017

“For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power,”
Paul writes these thoughts to the Colossians. 

In our rush to parse through the Bible in a rush to pull out rules that make us different (better) than others or in a rush to apply to politics, we miss the “so that.”

Why do we study, pray, meditate, grow in knowledge, spiritual wisdom and understanding?

So that, we may lead lives worthy of the Lord. What kind of life? Pleasing to God, bearing fruit in every good work, strong in character able to withstand those who are against us.

Thinking of descriptions such as compassion, joy, kindness, humility, patience.

What we know is only a foundation or a guide to living a better life. Paul, Jesus, James, Peter, the whole lot of them stretching back to Moses and all the prophets explain what that better way of living is. 

Yet, so many Christians miss that point. It is so sad. They miss the joy in the midst of their anger or pride.

For years I have made it my prayer that from the time I get up in the morning or when I leave the room after a study group that God will guide me to living a life pleasing in his sight.

Be Wise In The Way You Act Toward Outsiders

September 11, 2017

“Well, isn’t it just a matter of law?” he asked. “After all they (immigrants) are here illegally.”

He was a man I respect. He was trying to be respectful while still embodying the typical rural Midwestern values he’d grown up with. It only just made sense to him.

I understand.

But, still, if only life were simple. If only everyone just followed all the laws and rules, life would be great, many think.

Many have always thought. If only everyone were like us and if only they followed our rules and laws, then the world would be perfect.

Except–that didn’t even work in the villages that many of my contemporaries grew up in. Of course, I was an outlier. In a predominantly Lutheran town, I was Methodist. In most of the villages, “everyone” was of the same Christian persuasion. The eastern half of the area where I grew up was Lutheran; the western half Catholic. Much like where all the ancestors came from–Central Europe, principally Germany.

But even the villages in the area are admitting “outsiders” at a growing rate. There are protestants in some formerly 99% Catholic villages. I remember the first time I saw a black person walking unafraid down a street in a local town. I asked, does he live there? Yes, my friends responded, we are changing.

I’m reading about this phenomenon occurring globally. It’s still difficult in a lot of areas where people still sometimes pick up weapons and drive out or kill outsiders.

But Paul, writing in a different time and place, understood this mixing of people. People of different religions, tribes, skin colors, all lived in the same city. Then some became Christ-followers. And Paul advised them, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.”

That’s in his letter to the Colossians. He understood. How do you help people find a new life with Jesus if you talk about them disparagingly? How do you help one person find that eternal life that begins right now if you don’t speak kindly to them? How do you serve other people as James instructs us if you don’t act wisely toward outsiders–that is, those who are different from us?

How many opportunities for help or for our own growth have we missed by disrespecting people who live around us yet are not like us?

I’m guessing, based on my own experiences, way too many.

Who Sinned That This Man Was Born Blind?

August 28, 2017

Jesus and his guys were walking through a probably crowded street just outside the Temple when they pass a man who was sitting begging for money who had been blind from birth.

“Who sinned, him or his parents, that he was born blind?” they asked Jesus.

Jesus proceeds to give the man sight.

This is a great story of spiritual growth and the play on words John loves so well over the double meaning of physical sight and spiritual sight. (Gospel of John, Chapter 9)

As I was preparing to lead a discussion on this story, I thought about how this attitude of sinning can affect out service (or lack of).

Yes, we do live with the consequences of our actions. We make lifestyle decisions that affect our health (smoking, drugs, sedentary life, eating/drinking to excess). But many millions of people are ill, handicapped, or starving through no fault of their own.

Yet I know of Christians who refuse to help others–whether down the street or across the globe–because “they’ve brought it on themselves”.

Jesus said that this man, in this place, at this time, was there so that the power of God could be revealed.

Whom have we met who could have been there at that time and at that place for us to reveal the presence and power of God? And we whiffed. Missed the pitch.

Some of us (me) are quieter by nature, not given to public displays of much of any kind. But it’s important to know when to speak, when to act.

If I’m a follower (disciple) of Jesus, then I need to recognize that situation at that time at that place where I need to heal someone.

Service isn’t getting 100,000 people together into some parody of a football game. It’s one person at a time, at the right place, at the right time.

You Never Know What You’ll Find When You Serve

July 24, 2017

Service is one of the spiritual disciplines.

Maybe it’s one that you struggle with. It seems to be in my nature to help. But sometimes it’s more formal–like agreeing to do something or be somewhere.

I live in a small county in the middle of western Ohio. While there is a lot of manufacturing (which is my expertise), agriculture dominates the local landscape. Since the middle of the 19th century, the county fair is the time when all the farmers and other agricultural-oriented people come together to have fun and show off some of the fruits of their labor. Cattle judging, hog judging, rabbit judging. 

Our church has been the “face” of the fair for thousands of people every year as the gatekeepers/ticket sellers/greeters for as many years as I can remember. I think that I’ve been doing that for maybe 30 years.

You never know what you’ll see when you work the gate. Kids coming in with anticipation of the judging of their projects. Older kids trying to sneak in without paying. Watching tired children crying out of exhaustion at the end of a long day.

A storm blew through about an hour before my wife and I worked last night–the first night of the fair and we drew the 7-11 pm shift.

The storm lifted the canopy erected to protect the gate workers from sun and rain at this drive-in gate where mainly exhibitor come in with their large pickups and trailers filled with animals. When we arrived, the canopy was laying in a crumpled mass against the nearest building. We had nothing over us. Just standing in the middle of the drive with a table and two chairs.

No fewer than four people stopped and asked about the canopy offering to go back and bring us theirs. That Midwestern spirit of generosity and helpfulness was alive and well. As my wife said, “There are nice people in the world.”

On the other hand, there is sorrow at times. (And I’m confessing to a sin. If someone from the Fair Board is reading this, I’ll stop in and pay the $9 tomorrow morning when I work again.) I let a man in without paying.

It seems his 16-year-old daughter had run away from home, and he heard that she was at the fair with someone. He said he had alerted the police. He was obviously a distraught parent. I told him go ahead and good luck.

But, alas, later a deputy sheriff gave him a ride back to the gate. He told us that he didn’t find the child. The worst fear of a father. The next call might be from the sheriff’s office that they found a body in a rural ditch. Or the fear of her getting caught in the web of human trafficking. 

So, we serve. We see kindness, generosity, anticipation, pride (when the judging goes well), some of the great work of our young people, and then stories of young people who have dropped off the track.
You never know what you’ll find. But you are there.

Thoughts Are Nice, Actions Speak Louder

July 7, 2017

Be doers of the Word, not hearers only.

I like the little book of James. It is ancient Wisdom literature revisited in light of Jesus.

He talks about how we act and then again about how we should act.

We should accept people of different social classes and backgrounds and skin colors.

We should speak encouraging words being careful of how hurtful words can be.

We can be contemplative, but how we act with others reveals our heart.

I wrote recently about Christian business people. The problem is that they spent so much time outwardly “professing” their own faith that they forgot to care about others.

It’s sort of a Christian Narcissism.

It is not always the “big” acts that count.

Surely we need leaders. But I know a woman whose ministry is writing encouraging notes to people. She has more influence than the preacher. Or the guy whose ministry was hospitality and prepared coffee and cookies for people before and after worship for many years. There is the person who will drive people to doctor’s appointments. The person who will comfort those who are grieving. The person who slips some extra money to someone in need or gifts and orphanage with needed equipment.

We remember these people. The guy who talks a big self story–not so much.

Helping The Poor As A Mission Discipline

June 26, 2017

My grandfather used to tell me about an incident during the Depression when a train derailed in town. His step-father, along with half of the town, ran down to the train that night and helped themselves to loads of “free” coal. It was the depression. Many people. Were out of work. It gets very cold in Ohio. It was like a gift from God.

News from Pakistan at the end of last week. A gasoline tanker truck wrecked and fuel was spilling out. Hundreds of poor people ran to save some of that fuel. Gasoline is a flammable. Catches fire easily. Yes, this spill ignited. A hundred people died.

A gospel that preaches “We’ll save your soul if you wish, but you are on your own for food, clothing, and shelter” isn’t the gospel of Jesus.

Jesus talked often about the responsible use of money. Paul collected money from his churches to return to Jerusalem to feed and clothe women and children left in poverty by their joining the community following Jesus.

It baffles me that we (the collective rich country “we”) cannot devise an economic system that shares something of the wealth of the economy with such poor people. There are so many people who are so focused on “I want my share…and more; and I want to keep it for me”. That emotion is driving an awful lot of worldwide politics these days.

I’m not talking politics, though. Politics won’t solve any problems.

I’m talking mission and service as a discipline. And how if every Christ-follower who has any financial means contributed, so much good could happen. 

  • Fresh drinking water to help eradicate diseases
  • Investment in businesses large enough to hire people providing jobs and dignity
  • Medicine and access to health professionals
  • Investment in agriculture, aquaponics, and other technologies where people could feed themselves
  • Investment in communication and transportation infrastructure 


I’m still amazed that at least in the US we can’t treat women better. But some little progress and awareness seems to be hitting the “bro-land” of Silicon Valley. After denying and obfuscating for a long enough period to complete a funding round, the VC leader finally stepped down and apologized for his treatment of women and said he’d seek counseling. Hope that works out better than the “counseling” that NFL players get.

How much counseling do you need to stop reaching under the conference room table and feeling up a woman’s leg during a meeting? Maybe we need to bring back the slap in the face or something?

And Uber now is looking for a CEO, COO, CFO, VP of Engineering, and other top staff after cleaning house due to the frat house culture they enabled.

Remember when boys grew up and became men?

You Get It, You Give It Away

April 11, 2017

In the world of Website design and business, the best model is the Google model. You go to Google, and it sends you away. Yet, you return. Only to be sent away again. And they make a profit. A large profit.

Have you heard of the two “seas” in Israel? There is the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. Guess which one gets water in and then sends it on its way.

Right. The Sea of Galilee is fed by mountain streams. Then it send water southward via the Jordan River to the Dead Sea. Where it stops. The Dead Sea is in one of the lowest places on Earth. Everything goes in. Nothing goes out.

The Sea of Galilee is a vibrant place for water sports and fishing. I’ve eaten fish along the shore. Great place.

The Dead Sea  supports no life. It is so mineral dense that you cannot sink if you go in. You float.

The Dead Sea is shrinking. All the water from the Jordan flows in, and nothing goes out, yet it is shrinking.

These stories are just like us. If everything is about me, if everything comes in to me, and nothing goes out, well I shrink. Emotionally, spiritually.

Thinking first of others before ourselves actually increases our own happiness. Teenagers who serve, whether they want to or not, live better lives, suffer less depression, and are more prone to be servers throughout their lives.

You’ll never deplete your supply of love by giving it away. Hoard it to yourself, and it will shrivel and die.

Offering Ourselves As a Living Sacrifice

March 29, 2017

“I appeal to you therefore to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.”

This was a summation statement by Paul in his discussion to the Christ-followers in Rome.

We are all sinners–that is, we all fall short of doing what we should at all times and can commit any number of acts that separate us from God and people.

We acknowledge our belief that God brought Jesus back to life after he was killed.

We are brought to understanding that there are no divisions within the community of Christ-followers (the church). We are all the same.

Then Paul says, “therefore.”

That means given all these facts, we must do this next.

But what does this mean?

We do not come from a culture of killing live animals on the alter at the Temple.

First Jesus, then Paul, revolutionized the way we think of temples by referring to our bodies as the Temple of the Holy Spirit (that is, God).

Then not only did Jesus revolutionize relationships–basing them on love instead of power, Jesus also revolutionized what we think about God. God does not live in some stone building where we bring animals for a ritual slaughter.

Instead, we see it that our bodies are a temple in which the Spirit dwells. And we offer it to God as a sacrifice–not as one who is killed, but as one who lives.

I’m not sure what all Paul had in mind when he wrote that. But I’m guessing it has to do with things such as

  • Doing things that are pleasing to God
  • Putting into practice the teachings of Jesus about love
  • Putting others ahead of me
  • Giving not only our tithe, but also offerings, generously

As we try to focus during Lent on a Jesus sacrificed and resurrected, maybe we move beyond (at least in America, if not western culture) the Easter bunny, new clothes, candy, and other trivialization of the holiday.

Maybe an act of service. At least once a day. Or, maybe, just as a natural part of living every day.

Living With God Every Day

March 28, 2017

Do not be transformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern the will of God. Paul, the apostle, writing to the church in Rome

Paul has dropped that ancient wisdom on us before–you become what you think about. He knew that centering our minds on the right thing leads to life. On the other hand, focusing on the wrong things leads to alienation, strife, destruction.

Yesterday, I was pondering the passage from Steindl-Rast’s book about spirituality infusing us as an everyday thing. Perhaps this is a part of that living spirituality.

We transform our minds. That means a choice. And will. We intentionally choose things, reading, activities, and the like, that will renew us in our knowledge and relationship with God.

With our minds renewed daily by focus on God, we can move beyond the vicissitudes of political winds–beyond “political stupidity”, which by the way is different for you and for me. Or theology which is often different for you and for me. But God is still God. The creator. The essential life-force.

Just before Paul told us this, he told us to offer our lives as a living sacrifice to God.

I’m not entirely sure about all the implications of what he meant. But I’m sure that he means for us to wake up daily, pray / meditate asking God what we are supposed to do for him today. The day is his, not ours.

And if we are clueless, then Paul drops some hints. Read Romans 12:9-21. Paul Simon once sang about 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover. Paul the Apostle gives us 29 ways to show love and be that living sacrifice–he could have written a song “29 Ways To Be a Lover”.