Monday, February 24, 2014

Being Mr. Carson

So you too, when you do all the things which were commanded you, say, "We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done." Luke 17:10.

Last night marked the last installment of Downton Abbey's fourth season and the long wait until season five airs in about ten excruciating months. If you are unfamiliar with the show, which I believe few people are, it chronicles the lives of the residents of...Downton Abbey. Set in early 20th century England it gives the viewers a glimpse into what life may have been like for the nobility and the people that served them. There are stark differences between those who live "upstairs" and those who live "downstairs." Among those who are "in service" there is a range of attitudes towards the nobility. Some, like Mr. Carson, see their role as servants to the nobles as a profession to be proud of and they have deep affection for their masters. Others, like Miss Braithwaite, serve out of obligation and lack of better employment.

Jesus had some things to say about service to our Master, God the Father, as He was instructing His disciples in Luke 17. No matter how great the disciples' faith may be, and no matter what great acts are accomplished through that faith we are reminded that we are still servants of the Almighty God and this obedience is not an option, it is our duty.

Now, there are two dangerous attitudes that we must avoid as we serve the Lord. You see, just as God cares how we give of our resources He also cares how we serve and obey Him. There is no room for obeying God out of begrudging obligation. He doesn't want us to be unwilling servants who obey, "just because we have to." We have been bought, like a slave, with a price and that price was the precious blood of Jesus Christ. The Father didn't buy us because He needed servants to do His bidding, He bought us to be in a relationship with Him.

The second wrong attitude that we must steer clear of is the attitude that says, "I'll obey God and do these things so that when I ask Him for something He will be obligated to give it to me." Let me be very clear here, there is no way that we can put God in our debt or make it so that He "owes us one." We will be eternally in His debt for all that He has done for us and no amount of good works can pay that back.

So then, what is the appropriate attitude with which to serve the Lord? Ephesians 6:5-7 gives us a clue.

Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; not by way of eye-service, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. With good will render service, as to the Lord and not to men.

Our service and obedience to Christ is to be with a sincere heart and good will. Jesus told His disciples in John 14 that if we love Him we will obey His commandments. Our service is rendered to Him because we love Him and He loves us!

Our fallen, selfish hearts will not allow this kind of service to the degree that Christ demands it so something else must be understood to get where God wants us. We must realize that when we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior He takes us residence in us and gives us a new identity, His identity. When we are born-again we are no longer sinners who sometimes get it right, we are saints who sometimes stumble and fall!

So what attitude did Christ display that we must now have? John 12:28 tells us. Here Jesus is explaining to His disciples about His upcoming death and He is troubled by the prospect of what is about to happen but He says this;

Father, glorify your name.

That's it! That is the motivation and heart from which our service and obedience to God comes from, that He might be glorified. The Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity, wanted nothing more for His life than for it to bring glory and honor to the Father. Paul says it this way in 1 Corinthians 10:31;

Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all things to the glory of God.

Whether you eat or drink, whether you are at work or at home, whether you are shopping or fishing or whatever, do it to the glory of God! Now, Jesus also tells us what the best way is to glorify God in this life and it is the amazing statement in John 12:32;

And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.

Of course, this is a statement regarding His crucifixion which will allow Him to draw people to Himself without the stain of sin but there is more. The best way that we can glorify God and see people drawn to Him is not through the newest evangelism technique or the latest outreach strategy. Those things are all well and good but if we really want to see people come to Christ the best thing we can to is LIFT HIM UP! Make Him known to the world. Pull back the curtain and let people see God for who He is and allow Him to draw people to Himself! Paul understood this when He wrote to the church in Corinth,

And when I cam to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

Paul says, " I could have used fancy talk and great arguments but then you would be impressed by me. I put all of that aside so you could be impressed by God."

This is the heart of our service to the Lord; that He might be glorified in our lives. Jesus' motivation for all the miracles, acts of mercy and death on the cross was to see God gain the maximum glory. Why? Because Jesus knew something that we need to know, that God is the only One worthy of the glory and our purpose is to give it to Him.

The challenge for us today, tomorrow and on and on is to wake up and ask God, "Lord, how can I glorify you today?" How can you glorify Him and lift Him up with you obedience? How can you lift Him up through your service to Him and His Kingdom? Will you be a Mr. Carson?


Monday, February 10, 2014

A Little Dab'll Do Ya.

The apostles said the Lord, "Increase our faith!" Luke 17:5

Faith is a topic that most of us are quite familiar with, especially in Christian circles. We talk about having faith, asking in faith, faith like a mustard seed and so on. This word is firmly planted in our religious language and minds. Like the apostles in Luke 17 we are used to the concept of faith but, also like the apostles, we may need Christ to adjust our understanding.

In Luke 17:1-4 Jesus has just told the disciples that if they are going to be a fully functional "body" of believers they must do three things; encourage one another, hold each other accountable, and forgive one another. Looking at this standard the apostles, wisely, understood that there was no possible way for them to do those things in their own strength. I can almost hear them saying, "But Lord, we're inadequate to do this." This is a point that all of us must come to, a realization of our own inadequacy regarding the commands of God. We can't do what He has asked us to do using our own skills, resources, talents and abilities.

Now comes one of the real highlights of the passage for me. Instead of asking Jesus to increase their power, ability, skills or resources, they ask Him to increase their faith. Often the apostles act as great examples of what not to do but in this case they stand up as shining examples of getting it right. "Increase our faith."

Jesus responds to their request with the famous words, If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, "Be uprooted and be planted in the sea"; and it would obey you.

In so many words Jesus tells His disciples, "It is not the amount of faith you have that matters, it is the quality of your faith that makes the difference." In this simple statement Jesus forces us to consider what the object of our faith is because the object of our faith reveals the quality of our faith. Let me illustrate.

If I were going repelling I would stand on top of a cliff and the person who set it all up would look at me and say, "Christian, this rope is capable of holding a small car. There is no doubt that it will hold you." In my mind I would then understand that the rope was more than able to hold me safely and so I would put my faith in it and step off the cliff. I would have put my faith in something that was worthy of it and that would have been proven as I repelled. Now, let's just say I want to go repelling and I don't have the right rope but, what I do have is some really good fishing line. I know it is good because I've pulled in some large fish on it and I've even had it caught in trees and on rocks and it is very hard to break. Thus, I go to the cliff tie off my fishing line and proceed to step off the cliff. What is probably going to happen? I'm going to go SPLAT when I hit the ground. My faith, as great as it may have been, was in something that was not worthy of it.

What Christ is teaching His disciples/us is that even the smallest amount of faith (the size of a mustard seed) when placed in the right thing can move mountains. The issue with us is that we don't need a greater quantity of faith to see great things happen, we need to put our faith in right person, and what more worthy object of faith can you conceive of than God Himself?

Hebrews 11 goes into great detail about what can be done through a person when their faith is in God. The chapter begins by telling us that it was by faith that "men of old gained approval." Did they gain approval by their attempts to uphold the Law of God? No. Did they gain approval by all the great things they tried to do in the name of YHWH? No. Did they gain approval by trying to be swell people? No. They gained approval by, as verse 6 says, believing "that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him." The beginning of that verse tells us that without faith it is "impossible to please Him." Why? Because God isn't after good people or helpers. He is after children who are in an intimate love relationship with Him and without faith it is impossible to have that.

This entire chapter is nothing more than a discourse on the amazing things God has done through people who lived their lives by faith in Him. Many times God conquered kingdoms and shut the mouths of lions. Many times He didn't save the person's life but offered them a "better resurrection (verse 35)." In the end though, do you know what God's word says about these people of faith? These were "men of whom the world was not worthy." Notice that it does not say that they were not worthy of the world, it says the world was not worthy of them, because of the quality of their faith.

The danger that we run into when we start talking about faith and what it can do is that we start to get the idea that faith is kind of like magic. "If I just have faith then I can do _________." Faith becomes a commodity that we seek after and we start to desire more faith in This is what Jesus pushes us away from. We are not to have faith in our faith but faith in Him, the object of our faith. None of the people in Hebrews 11 did anything other than believe and act on their faith. It was God who shut the mouths of lions. It was God who conquered kingdoms. It was God who quenched the power of fire. Not man and his faith.

The kind of faith, the quality of faith, that God wants to build in us is described by Oswald Chambers as a "tenacious hold upon God in spite of everything that happens." It is the kind of faith that believes that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. The kind of faith that says with Job, "Though He slay me, I will hope in Him." That's the kind of faith that God can use as a conduit to move mountains, transform lives and grow His kingdom.So, next time you think about asking for more faith take a moment to consider what your faith is in. I promise you that if it is in God Almighty, even a little dab'll do ya!