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Unworthy Servants

October 17th, 2018

So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’ (Luke 17:10)

The human heart is incredibly fickle and selfish. To maintain commitment to Christ in the face of rejection and frustration is what we are called to do – and we know this – yet we are weak and find it so difficult to do. Like Peter on the night of the Lord’s arrest, the mighty in the Lord often fall due to a simple aloneness, or a criticism by a simple person, and a lack of encouragement.

We are often like people scaling mighty mountains who find that the greatest test of endurance is from the sand that has accumulated in our shoes and rubbed blisters.

We are willing to serve unselfishly so long as we can be guaranteed some personal feeling of emotional thrill. We are willing to labor unknown and unsung so long as we can see some progress in the work. We are willing to go the extra mile, take up our cross and follow Christ, and deny ourselves so long as we can be promised some “down time” to do what we want to do.

The giving of demands to God on any level, whatever it is, is precisely contrary to the spirit of servanthood. Servitude to Christ is not a negotiable matter. We are prone to say, but surely the Lord knows our hearts, he knows that we need encouragement. We can quote the scripture, “For he knows how we are framed, he remembers that we are only dust” (Psalm 103:14). And this is true, of course, but the servant must leave the timing and nature of these encouragements into the hands of God.

It is entirely reasonable that we who serve the Lord, who bring life, grace, hope, and joy to the lives of others, should expect to receive it ourselves: “He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed” (Prov. 11:25). In fact, we can take each of these rewards that we hope to experience here – the awareness of fruit-bearing, the personal sense of joy and the favor of the Lord, even the rewards in terms of financial and material matters – and find scriptures that promise these things (John 15:16; 2 Peter 1:8; Luke 10:5-11; Matt. 19:29). Yet these are also grace gifts received through faith.

The servant has no position of negotiation with the Master. He must take the promise of the Lord and hold on to it, trusting that in the right time and in the right way the servant receives His reward. Perhaps it will be here on earth from time to time, and certainly much reward will wait until heaven, but all of these earthly rewards pale in comparison to the greatest of all rewards – the reward to simply hear the Lord say, “Well done!”

Remember others have endured much worse and still found the means to rejoice. Remember the encouragement of Paul:

At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (2 Tim. 4:16-18)

Burnout, Spiritual Maturity

What Does It Mean to Grow Up?

June 21st, 2018

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. (1 Corinthians 13:11)

When I turned sixteen, fifty-one years ago, that meant we could go down and take our drivers test and get a license, which also meant more freedom, less parental controls, and we could stay out later with friends on weekends. We felt all grown up, or at least significantly close to it. Lots of these thoughts were just about more personal freedom, but there were other more mature thoughts.

Turning sixteen also meant several other things – things that pertain to true adulthood and maturity. For example, it meant we could hold real jobs without our parents’ permission, and that meant that we could be expected to do a man’s work for an entire day and receive a man’s pay. My best friend and I drove down that summer and applied for jobs with highway construction, and if you ever drive around the great City of Dallas on LBJ freeway (I-635 officially), you are enjoying some of the results of our hard labor.

But being a man is not only about jobs, driving, and more freedom, or even about more human responsibility. It should also be about more responsibility in our faith. The scripture quoted above, 1 Corinthians 13:11, is from Paul’s classic chapter on the subject of love. What does it mean to grow up, to become mature, to be an adult? Clearly the idea of love has to be associated with the idea of being mature.  An immature person loves himself; a mature person has the capacity to love others. Let me break some key ideas down in this verse.

First, it means responsible independence. The word translated “child” here is nepios in the Greek which is really “infant” or “baby.” A baby is dependent on everyone, and everyone, of course, knows or should know that. The family doesn’t expect their one-year-old child to get up and wash the dishes or clean the house or mow the lawn. It is simply impossible. Babies are dependent on people entirely. But to be an adult means that you begin to take responsibility for things around you, and even for your own attitude and life. A baby might need to be entertained and helped to be happy. But adults take responsibility for their moods, for their attitudes, and for their lives.

Something huge in my life happened at sixteen years of age. I made my first mature commitment to Christ. It was youth camp at my church and along with all the fun and flirting and other stuff that goes on, I was confronted with the double life I was living. I rededicated my life to Christ and though I haven’t been entirely sinless ever since, what happened that summer stuck with me. I realized that I could not depend on the faith of others, but rather I needed to be responsible and committed myself. That is what mature people do.

Second, there is a change in how we speak and interact with others. Paul said, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child.” A child lives in his own work – often in a make-believe world. Adults live in the real world. A child can say all kinds of nonsense and no one thinks less of him. But we expect more from adults. We expect them to speak not only to express their feelings, but also to benefit others. We expect them to listen as well as speak. James 1:19 says,“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” Mature people take responsibility for what they say and how they say it to others. They are more understanding and less demanding, more gracious and less judgmental, and they are honest. Which leads to the next point.

Third, there is a change in the way we understand. Here it is helpful to understand something about the Greek words that Paul originally used. This word is phroneo and means to understand and to act on that understanding – both together. Children are not able to understand circumstances or people, and their solutions to problems are not adequate. Sometimes they are even fanciful. Riddles appeal to children because they are based on funny combinations of words, but not on real situations.

Adults, however, seek to see things as they are, to understand circumstances and people and outcomes. However, there must be a centered position of faith that accepts truth and sees everything else through this lens. Mature people regulate their realities based on truths that they hold closely and dearly. This idea of understanding is seen in an iceberg that is 7/8’s underwater. No matter how the wind blows on the surface, the iceberg flows in the direction of the deep water currents.

Fourth, there is a change in the way we reach conclusions in life. Again, the Greek word helps us here. Paul used the word logizomai which is where we get our word “logic” from. It means to reckon, reason, decide, and conclude. One of the hallmarks of a mature person is that they have sorted through the things that they have been taught and have learned what is worth accepting and what should be rejected, and what is still of value, only, perhaps, not as we originally thought.

Adulthood begins the process of taking apart basic beliefs and reassembling them back together and reaching final conclusion about how important they are. This takes years and more than once in the years ahead you will feel confused about things. In those moments do not panic. Trust the Lord to reveal to you His truth and to lead and guide you in the process of learning and growing.

Fifth and finally, there is a change in our expectations. Mature people, especially those who trust in the Lord, are hopeful about the future. David’s words, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever” (Psalm 23:6), are claimed. Solomon wrote, “The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day” (Prov. 4:18). We all experience setbacks in life. If we are normal someone will break our heart, our dream job will be given to someone else, and we will experience disappointment more than once. But if we are mature, we will learn the art of getting back up and in faith and trust moving forward.

So these are just a few ideas derived from the verse above on what it means to be an adult, and especially what it means to be a mature Christian.

Spiritual Maturity