Monday, March 19, 2012

That I May Serve

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds?
Can such faith save them? 

-- James 2:14
Is Jesus a Hokie?

Although most people--particularly University of Virginia fans--would answer that the Savior doesn't play favorites when it comes to colleges and universities, it's still probably safe to say that He closely identifies with Virginia Tech's motto. Literally carved in stone on the Tech campus are the words Ut Prosim, which is Latin for "That I may serve."

Serving others and giving back go hand-in-hand with being a Christ-follower. And the desire to excel at it develops over time through regular prayer and Bible study, and with ongoing interactions--such as in Gel Groups and Sunday morning worship--with other believers. Also in the equation is discernment--when we live, think and act correctly and constructively from the knowledge God gives us. Add to that our daily circumstances, trials and crises, and the result is a rich life in Christ marked by a willingness to serve.

Indeed, Christ-followers are called to serve as Jesus' hands and feet on earth while we wait for His return--or at least until that day when He calls us back home. Until then, God wants us to help prepare His kingdom by making the most of the gifts and talents He's given us. We're to serve as a beacon amidst the darkness of today's so-called enlightened progressive society.

"Make your light shine, so that others will see the good that you do and will praise your Father in heaven."

That's how Jesus puts it in Matthew's Gospel. But what sort of light is He talking about? It's really that spark or inner Power that God grants each Christ-follower for demonstrating His goodness through their words and deeds. For example, we can shine a light when we help an elderly neighbor by running a much-needed errand. Or we can help clean up a neglected school or a community park...or even work in a food pantry or visit the residents of a local assisted living community. The opportunities are plentiful.

Why is this principle significant for Christ-followers?

"In the same way, the Son of Man did not come to be served," Jesus explains. "He came to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many people."

Our Master--Jesus--embodied a service-focused life during His ministry. So as His modern-day disciples, we should turn our faith into actions of service by accepting His invitation to brighten a dark, dying world that's so much in need of hope, truth--and ultimately--light.

Now back to our original question: Is Jesus a Hokie?

Whether He is or not, we should limit our rivalries to the football field or basketball court and become of one mind when it comes to serving others. It's one time that every Christ-follower (whether they're a Wahoo or Tar Heel or Mountaineer) can agree to live out Virginia Tech's Ut Prosim motto and become just a little bit more like Him.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Salt of the Earth

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female,
for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 

-- Galatians 3:28
The saying goes that you can know a man (or woman) by the company he keeps. So how about for you? Are most of your friends other Christ-followers...and is your day filled with Bible studies, Gel Groups and Christian music? Or maybe you're on the other end of the scale. Most of your friends don't know about Jesus...or even that you're a Christ-follower. Of course, you might be one of those folks who are somewhere in the middle--spending your time with believers and non-believers alike while serving as Christ's hands and feet in the community. Jesus calls His followers in this third group the Salt of the Earth. It's through these special people that God's kingdom grows by influencing those from all walks of life: from the rich and famous to the infamous and obscure.

And that's the way it's been since Jesus invited His first follower over 2,000 years ago in a remote outpost of the Roman Empire. Surprisingly (or maybe not!), it's unlikely that His disciples would have been chosen by any respectable rabbi of the day. After all, some were fishermen, one was a tax collector and another (Simon the Zealot) might be considered a terrorist by today's standards.

Yet Jesus chose them anyway. And they changed the world. One of these "regular Joes" was a fisherman named Peter. A flawed character by his own admission, Peter--like everyone--had his strengths and weaknesses. One of his darkest hours came when after years of following Jesus and even proclaiming Him the Son of God, he three times denied even knowing the Savior! But after visiting Jesus' empty tomb and later actually conversing with Him after the Resurrection, Peter's actions and words revealed an utterly changed life and outlook.

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter would soon preach to crowds of thousands, who we read were torn to the heart when he proclaimed Jesus--the one who they had crucified--was actually their long-awaited Messiah. The Book of Acts reports that Peter's words so disturbed the High Priest and the religious leaders that they demanded to know by what power the apostles dared to proclaim Jesus and the Resurrection.
"But when they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men," we read, "they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus."
Centuries later, Jesus continues to change the lives of those who seek and trust Him. And His followers still come from all over. They work for insurance companies, supermarkets, fast food restaurants and banks. Others are homemakers, sales representatives, police officers and marketing executives. And still more are between jobs, retired or work part-time. But for all their differences, there's a basic commonality: their fervent belief in Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Families are fed, clothed and housed through their contributions and work in local food pantries, the Salvation Army and similar organizations. The sick are cured through the healing touch of healthcare professionals who also happen to trust Jesus. Meanwhile, other Christ-followers teach the illiterate to read and the undereducated to gain critical life and job skills.

What's obvious is that Jesus likes to mix it up! His Church--meaning all the Christ-followers on Earth--is a living, breathing entity of immense diversity. And it's also a place where all races are present; a mingling of the rich, the poor and the middle class. But above all, it's where everyone who seeks Christ and a changed life through Him are welcome. The ground where every Christ-follower stands--that salty earth beneath the cross--is level indeed. 

Saturday, March 3, 2012

All In

Love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul
and with all your strength. 

-- Deuteronomy 6:5
Click through the cable TV channels on just about any given evening and you're likely to come across one or two Texas Hold 'em poker tournaments. If you're unfamiliar with these mainstays of popular culture, they're events that attract some of the world's top gamblers, who compete head-to-head for huge cash prizes. Televised tournaments are much like a sporting event, with veteran commentators delivering the play-by-play while their sidekicks discuss the players' backgrounds, strategies and mindsets.

It doesn't take long to learn that holding the best cards is no guarantee of winning in Texas Hold 'em. That's because savvy players can fool their opponents about the real strength of their hand. For instance, one player may hold a pair of twos while another may have three queens. But if the first player can convince the other that he really has a much better hand, his opponents will often concede ("fold"). One well-known strategy--used either to hide a hand's weakness or emphasize its strength--is to go "all-in"--or bet all your chips for an all-or-nothing outcome. Whether the poker player does so with a "junk" hand or even four aces, it takes supreme confidence and commitment. And it's often the difference between leaving the tournament as a millionaire or with nothing.

Gambling is hardly a biblically-prescribed activity for Christ-followers. But even a Texas Hold 'em tournament can be a venue for learning about faith-based commitment. For instance, Joshua--one of the great servant leaders of the Old Testament--demonstrated plenty of it when he challenged the tribes of Israel to choose their master: either the false gods of their ancestors or the only one True God. "But as for me and my household," Joshua declared, "we will serve the Lord."

Jesus also seeks this same level and attitude of all-in commitment from His modern-day followers. Rather than would-be believers who might help build His kingdom if it's not too inconvenient for them, Christ demands an all-or-nothing relationship from those willing to give the little they have to eventually gain everything.

Does this sound unrealistic? Jesus' closest friends once thought so. One day, a rich young man asked Christ what he had to do to gain eternal life. Knowing what was in the man's heart, Jesus reminded him about God's commandments covering theft, adultery, murder, lying, and honoring one's parents. When the man replied that he had kept them all since childhood, the Savior told him that he lacked just one thing: the need to sell all his possessions.

Jesus knew that rather than loving God with all his heart, soul and mind (the first of the 10 Commandments), the rich man was actually devoted to money. And crushed by Christ's harsh call for total commitment, the would-be follower turned away. The spectacle also amazed Jesus' apostles. "If this is the way it is," they asked, "who can ever be saved?"

Jesus' response was both simple and reassuring.

What is impossible for man," He explained, "is possible for God."

The takeaway here is that Jesus seeks undivided loyalty from His followers--those special people who are willing to give and serve using the gifts, talents and resources entrusted from God. But to make this vital commitment, we must go all-in with our lives and put it all on the table. 

The stakes are huge. And He can tell when we're bluffing.