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Posts Tagged ‘service’

helping-othersTherefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. [Romans 12:1-2, NIV]

Me, my body, my person, a sacrifice, but not unto death, no, that’s a very different thing. In some ways, to sacrifice one’s life and to die for something is amazing and total renunciation, but let’s face it, once and done. Is that crass? I’m not trying to be, honestly, but I keep pondering this living sacrifice concept and I’m seeing a lot of time involved here and commitment and ongoing surrender in the midst of daily life. It’s re-framing everything. It’s a state of mind of “otherness” where God’s way, no matter how we might disagree or misunderstand or hedge, is to be submitted to completely. God is God all the time. And of course, then, it makes sense to call this one direction, worship. It’s total mindfulness, Presence, and prayer.

In our not so distant past, there were “people of the cloth” (clergy, nuns, priests, and so on), who entered their calling with these words emblazoned on their hearts. And although this may still be true, there is a new trend where people of all walks of life are being called into a more consuming surrender.

Am I there yet? Not even close.

I have had a few supernatural immersions into the heart of God. My most memorable was over 20 years ago, and yet it has stayed with me as a very sweet memory and experience. A friend once told me that God often gives us glimpses of the kingdom of God, that we might get a taste of heaven and “see” God. To make a long story much shorter, this was a time of intense study and fasting when I lived alone in a cabin in the woods for a short season. My heart was seeking the “secret place” and I found it. I was mesmerized. I experienced a peace that passes all understanding. I walked in trust. I entered into comprehension and walked in that peace for . . . wait for it . . . a week. Yah. Only a week.

So the question remains: Do I really hold back from God, this living sacrifice? I do. Even after all this time. Not in every area. I’m pretty good in the tithe area, at least for standard income and I do volunteer. But, am I so close to God that I check in before I fill in that calendar square? Not so much. They say one’s calendar reflects one’s sacrifices of time to who or whatever appears the most.

As a somewhat artistic type, there’s always a type of tension when it comes to dedicating one’s time to the traditional things of God. Let’s face it, everything I write isn’t straight-up Godly or spiritual, but the process itself, the flow of words from inspiration to thought to words on screen or paper, that process (especially when it’s flowing) feels Spirit touched. Or taking and processing photographs, or cooking a meal, or making something for someone else, or acting/directing; these all have moments of giving. I can remember back in my early years of faith when I so wanted to be “all in” for Jesus and a popular Christian teacher of the day pronounced my love and work in theater as unacceptable to God, in fact, he believed all performance was out since it was too close to edifying self instead of God. I was crushed. I avoided my love for doing theater for quite a while. But that wasn’t me either.

heart-rock-on-the-beachSo here’s where I have landed on this score. It’s probably not 100% right, if there is such a thing as a right/wrong in this discussion. I am more about my heart being surrendered to God. I am convinced that the more doors (particularly those secret ones) I open to the work of the Holy Spirit, the more my life will reflect Christ in me so that no matter what I do or where I am, I am in a state of service to God. And how do those doors open? Prayer, meditation, self-examination, and selfless serving (giving of time and energy). The church is the easiest place to serve but it’s not the only place (e.g. the mission field, the soup kitchen, hospitals, shelters, emergencies, etc.). Generally, it’s the church that creates opportunities to serve, that’s the point.

And because it’s directed outward, whatever it is, in the name of God, there is an element of worship present. But if our acts of service or whatever, lose the focus, it becomes self-serving.

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Art by He Qi

Art by He Qi

This week in our Lenten journey, we’ll be talking about Service. What I like about Richard Foster’s words in the devotional selection for today, is that service needs to be in a symbiotic relationship with spirituality. There is no doubt that spirituality, represented by one on one time with God, is the “one necessary thing” but the true manifestation of that time is in serving others. The story of Mary and Martha shows us how one cannot be isolated from the other: the women were sisters after all.

By contrast, Martha was preoccupied with getting everything ready for their meal. So Martha came to him and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to prepare the table all by myself? Tell her to help me.”
The Lord answered, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things. One thing is necessary. [Luke 10:40-42a]

first things firstIn another interesting lesson I found online (Lesson 52, Bible.org), the writer builds on two questions from First Things First by Stephen Covey. He asks the questions this way: “What is the one activity that you know if you did superbly well and consistently would have significant positive results in your walk with God?” Then, “If you know this would make such a significant difference, why did you not do it this past week?” I believe the young people would yell “Booyah!” which is a bit of slang for “gotcha!”

So, let’s put these two ideas together, if service is best done out of relationship with Christ (more than likely through prayer), and if we prayed consistently and authentically, we would indeed experience significant results in our walk with God and undoubtedly, choose to serve more consistently as well. Why don’t we do it?

I cannot speak for you. I can only confess my own sin, for it is, I suppose, my story to tell.

private prayerI don’t pray privately much because it’s amorphous (another word from the Thesaurus: blobby!). Prayer is just so: private and lonely; there is no one who knows if I pray or not, or if I talk out loud or silently, or if my mind wanders and creates a menu for dinner. Prayer, when it’s truly just me and God, requires concentration, relaxation, and intent, all rolled up into one. There are no benchmarks. There is no one to say I’m doing better or not. There are no fireworks for the well-said prayer or the prayer that struck home, engaging God in a decision to change circumstances. I can’t measure prayer. Oh I suppose, I could monitor my time, but truthfully, I’d have to filter out the wasted minutes, the distracted candle-lighting or wrapping up in an afghan or escorting the persistent, playful dog out of the room.

And maybe, if I was really honest, maybe I’m not even praying. It’s easier to read a prayer or read scripture. It’s easier to write prayer or blog. It’s easier to think about praying or to think about God. It’s easier to do anything but center down.

rosaryI’m sure, in some ways, this is why Eastern religions may have a little edge on us Christian types. There are practices and breathing and instruction that is aimed toward emptying the mind. Sometimes I wonder if I should try some of the Catholic practices, would the rote repetition settle me into an inner place where the Holy Spirit and I could really commune?

I’m a woman of flash prayers and thanksgivings and even, service. I am a woman who can pray in public with intensity and love for my God. I can gather others into prayer. I am a woman of the Word for I find much solace in its depths. But I am not a woman of private prayer.

Going back to Stephen Covey, do I believe it will change my life? I do, or at least, I suspect. But maybe, secretly, the changes are too slow for my 21st century-cultured mind. Perhaps I am still looking for results too soon. I have trouble with the long vision. And yet, here I am, almost forty years a believer, and still I can’t pray with consistency, alone?

St. augustineI know, I know. This post is supposed to be about service, but my spirit is quickened to consider the importance of service growing out of spirituality. I “do” or “serve” because God leads me to do it. I serve because God is present out there as well as in here. And when I pray, I serve. That’s the idea.

Whether it’s learning a sport or a martial art or flying a plane, automatic body/mind memory only comes from repetition, practice, and consistency. If there is any time to practice, it’s during Lent. Now. Now.

Our Father, who is in heaven, hallowed be your name; your kingdom come, your will be done in Earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.

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Print by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld's (1794-1872)

Print by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld’s (1794-1872)

Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. . . . “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”  Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”  [John 13:3-5, 8]

Jesus wanted to make a lasting impression. It’s not like he hadn’t talked about service and humility and lifting up others above oneself. But like so many of the parables and stories, he decided to create a picture, not just with words, but with actions. And yet, only John shares this story. Was it so humiliating? Did they fear the story would belie their claims of Jesus as the Messiah? After all, would the Messiah wash the feet of a mere fisherman? But for John, this was a critical illustration that could not be ignored.

And yet, the symbolic sharing of bread and wine at the meal is excluded by John. Clearly, for him, the foot washing was the most significant. And before that, the anointing of Jesus’s feet by Mary is told in detail. This too is bypassed by the other storytellers, except Luke, who doesn’t even identify the woman.

The significance of leadership and the self-abasement of feet is somehow important.

I never realized how much I under-appreciated my feet until I started having pain in the big toe of my left foot. Sometimes, it was so miserable, I couldn’t walk but a few steps. Every shoe had to pass the pain test before I would leave the bedroom. I tried everything from heat to cold to massage and acupuncture. I started wearing sandals everywhere (and not flipflops because the band would cut directly across the pain spot). Pretty soon, the pain started waking me up at night. Finally, I gave in and went to the doctor. The podiatrist was a little stumped because nothing really showed up in my x-rays or cat scan. In the end, he went ahead and did a bunionectomy even though my baby bunion was not the real problem. I think he just wanted to get in there and look around. It took almost three months to recover full use of my foot again . . . and of course, within a few months, the pain was back, not as acute, but still, there.

The podiatrist was not happy to see me again and said there was nothing more he could do. He gave me a referral to a physical therapist. I delayed that appointment for weeks out of embarrassment. I mean, really, a physical therapist for my toe??? And yet, I finally had no choice. Almost a year after my surgery, I gave in and went to the therapist. He was a really nice guy and I even told him my tale of embarrassment. The prescription was primarily deep massage.

The healing came through touch.

We don’t touch each other very much in our culture. Oh, we may hug and air kiss and we might shake hands or pat someone’s back. But a genuine touch, a focused touch, a touch with intent; now that makes a difference.

I have had massages off and on throughout the years, but only once did I have a massage by a believer who prayed over me throughout the experience. It was literally, life changing.

When Jesus washed the feet of the disciples, I don’t think he poured water out of a measuring cup or use handy wipes. He prepared them for the journey ahead. He healed them from the bottom up. He made them part of himself through touch: intimate and necessary.

I have written and will perform a monologue tomorrow evening at our Good Friday service and at one point, she says, “And if they [sinners and the the sick] were lucky, he would touch them: just so, just so.”

Touch me Lord. Wash my feet. Heal me. Prepare me for the days to come. The journey I have yet to walk.

 

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Separating myself from “corrupting influences” is not so easy. It’s a matter of degree, that difference between good, better & best. In some areas, I have been successful and on occasion, I have been blessed and used in a powerful way but it’s an erratic arrangement.

II Timothy 2:21
So whoever cleanses himself/herself [from what is ignoble and unclean, who separates himself/herself from contact with contaminating and corrupting influences] will [then himself/herself] be a vessel set apart and useful for honorable and noble purposes, consecrated and profitable to the Master, fit and ready for any good work.
[Amplified]

Some of this “separation” feels too strict and legalistic, like those Pharisaical laws that disallowed touching contaminated things without all kinds of ceremonial washings and waiting times. It smacks of the story that Jesus told about the Good Samaritan [Luke 10:25-37] who broke all kinds of laws to minister to an injured and “unclean” man. There are contemporary versions of this, various religious sects that will not allow people of differing beliefs to sit at table or to share in communion or other sacred acts.

And so I manage to excuse or validate some of my choices in the name of freedom. But it can be a slippery slope, I know.

I think it’s important to recognize the value of single-minded piety, as long as it is also lived with grace and generosity toward others who do not live in the same way. That kind of life does indeed prepare the mind and soul for greater challenges of faith. There are other hints to this concept like Paul’s references to the athletes who prepare hard for the race, who practice their craft diligently, who commit their energies toward attaining a particular goal.

In earlier years of my faith journey, I have somewhat foolishly asked God to drop gifts and signs on me, to use me as that intermediary for healing or miracles. And yes, it’s true that these are gifts; it’s possible that God, for the sake of the moment, might grant such experiences. But for the long haul? I think it’s the warriors of faith, the ones who don’t necessarily shy away from “corruptions” and “contaminations,” they simply don’t have time or interest there. It’s a non-issue.

If I am in a time of prayer and meditation, I am not watching the unenlightening television show or browsing the Internet for inappropriate content. My “self” is elsewhere engaged.

It all boils down to this for me: to be used for “noble purpose” is part and parcel of my daily life, how I manage the little things [Luke 16:10a]. Thanks be to God.

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Here’s what happens when someone doesn’t do his/her part in a volunteer organization: other people have to work harder to pick up the slack. Even if it’s a justified slacking, the work remains. That’s the case with tasks, but what about practicing love?

Ephesians 4:16
From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Paul spends a lot of time in Ephesians talking about love and unity and maturity and operating in the call of grace. And the upshot here is that this work, this practicing of God’s presence (that is what this is all about), is how the Body of Christ is “built up.” Today’s group of people who are believers and participants in the work of Christ have been asked to become a whole by doing their part: live loved and give love; live in grace and give grace.

The message has not changed over the years, only the people who are here on earth practicing, reflecting, and trusting.

I used to think that doing my part was all the “doings” of a life in Christ like evangelizing or feeding the poor or visiting the sick and imprisoned or reading the bible or praying or going to church. And certainly, these manifestations do happen. The difference is that these “doings” are better as an outgrowth of the core “being” in love and grace.

There are no tick marks for service. There is never a point at which we have “done enough” because the needs will always be greater than the workers to meet them. Even in Jesus’s time, this was true. [John 12:8] We do not get points with God by being inexhaustible Energizer bunnies.

O God, help me do my part today. And out of this part – love and grace – may a soul be touched, a heart opened, a wound healed.

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Sometimes I sound like a broken record as I write these meditations. The same words keep rising to the top of my reading and writing: love, grace, others, and then more love, more grace, and so on. There is no good work, no anointed task, no Christ service, that is not first touched by grace.

Ephesians 4:7, 11-12a
But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. . . . It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, . . .

Anything else I do is still, all about me. I tell my teens and now twenty-year-old that the universe does not revolve around their “sun.” But, am I any different really?

Are any of us?

There is a song from the musical, “Dreamgirls,” in which the character, Effie, is dropped from the group and she sings, in between promises from her boyfriend/promoter, “What about me?” “What about what I need?” “What about how I feel?” This song resonated with me during the performance and I know it resonated with anyone who has felt that sense of being cast aside. Where did we miss it? How did we get sucked into this path?

This is still our fear in the face of stepping out on any new trail. Will God really be there? How will I be perceived? What if I fail? What if I am wrong and cast aside again? What if I am missing God?

During today’s sermon, we were asked if we would be willing to “step into the water” while it’s still rushing (based on Joshua 3). Would we step out in faith and trust in the grace?

I have had my share of disappointments in service to God. I’m pretty sure that most of these disappointments came about because I was walking forward with one part of my body while another part was looking back (just to be sure I could get back if I needed to). I always have a fail safe. If this doesn’t work out, I can always . . . [fill in the blank].

On my recent retreat weekend, a woman shared her desire to go into ministry by attending seminary. At first, she tried to do it part-time with the security of her full-time job. But then, she needed to jump in, head to toe. She needed to abandon the way back in order to fully trust the way forward. That is a form of grace.

That is the kind of grace I want to embrace. I think.

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There is a bottom line truth here: if a person sacrifices his/her time, dedication, and/or expertise for the sake of others, he/she deserves to be compensated or, at the very least, receive some benefit for that service. They shouldn’t have to ask.

I Corinthians 9:10b
. . . the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher ought to thresh in expectation of partaking of the harvest.
[Amplified]

In the 9th chapter of Corinthians, Paul is really letting them have it for not supporting materially, the very people who brought light into their dark place. I’m not even sure he’s talking just about himself, although he does sound pretty feisty in these passages. I think he’s addressing a situation that, quite honestly, hasn’t changed much over the centuries. He’s writing about all of those who are sacrificing for the sake of others.

The modern trap is to assume every compensation is financial. I’m not saying that isn’t important. Obviously, in our society, money is essential to accomplishing almost anything. Money pays the bills. Money opens doors. But there are other compensations that have to do with sharing the harvest, the fruit of the venture. Poor people and third world cultures seem to get this while westerners are blinded.

Whatever the task at hand, those who serve and participate in the process should receive a portion of the fruit. It helps connect people, to create unity, and buy-in.

As Jesus and his disciples walked their world, healing and teaching, people opened their homes and shared what they had. It was enough.

If someone works at your restaurant, let them eat. If someone works at your bookstore, let them read or get books cheap. If someone works in your office, let them make copies. If someone takes care of your yard, let them have flowers, seed, or seedlings. If someone cares for your children, let them participate in celebrations. As soon as we work in community, we become part of that community. Each person deserves full respect for the part he/she plays or contributes to the greater effort.

Freely give it so it’s not taken on the sly.

Usually, most people use these passages to rally the believers into sending more and more funds to support missionaries. And I understand that is important. But I tell you, I believe the full participation in that ministry is even more important. The fruit of participation is greater with the gift of time and energy, prayer and communication, advocacy and visits.

It’s a different kind of bartering that we need to re-energize.

God is giving to me all the time. And what do I have that God might want in return? Access to my heart. Participation in my life.

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