Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Christian Disciplines, Part V: Service

This is Part 5 of a five-part series on the Christian Disciplines. It is a "how-to" manual, or "what mature Christianity looks like." It borrows heavily from Richard Foster's, "Celebration of Discipline" and I highly recommend it. A new post will be made each Wednesday. To view them all together, click on the "Series: Christian Disciplines" link on the right.

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So far this series, we have discussed the brokenness of our world, and the need for us to serve the world and help take part in God’s mission to bring shalom. We have discussed the importance of having the right attitude for service (an attitude of submission to each other). We have discussed the necessity of simplifying our lives so that we can serve.

Well then--let us talk about how to serve.

As with fasting, the Bible is clear that it is the heart which makes the biggest impact in serving: why do you do it? Jesus says that you will be rewarded for serving…but if you are doing it self-righteously, for honor or gains here on Earth, then those will be your only reward: this is not Biblical service. Serving someone Biblically means doing the right thing for them no matter who they are, no matter what they need. True service is indiscriminate—Jesus was the servant of all (Mark 9:35).

This is something Christians often miss: often we are willing to serve but only if someone agrees with us; we are not willing to meet the needs of those who disagree with our faith or our values. We justify it as ‘taking a stand’ for our faith. Yet taking a stand for our faith would be evangelizing the person who is in need—not withholding service from them. The mark of Christians is that we willingly give up our rights and serve everyone, so that we may win as many as possible for Christ (1 Cor 9:19). We must challenge ourselves to serve those who are enemies (politically or otherwise)—but also share with them the Good News that they need not stay that way.

The calling to serve others reminds us that we are here to be God’s hands and feet to those whom He loves—and God loves all. We fail our task if we withhold our services for any reason, just as we fail our task if we serve but desire recognition or prestige or payment for it. No, Christian service is the outpouring of a life of simplicity and submission: we are untied to the things of this world and we do not care what others think of us…therefore can truly and radically aid those in need. 

Also, avoid the error of thinking that it must be “big” things. A church in Ohio made a name for themselves because one small group did random things for the community without cause or cost each Saturday—one week scrubbing all the gas station toilets in their area, one week using umbrellas to walk people through the rain from the local grocery store to their cars, etc. Many were shocked by the discipline of service and felt loved by them.

The world is broken in small ways (like dirty gas station toilets) and big ways (like major orphan problems in Romania and Ethiopia). We, as God’s people, are called to be the ones bringing healing and wholeness…we are called to fix the brokenness. Be active in bringing the much-needed shalom.

There are three primary things that God gives you to serve. If you have been following with us up to this point, then you are in communion with Him through meditation, prayer and fasting; you are aware of your responsibility to help the world through your study; you are not attached to the things of this world or burdened with an overwhelmed schedule due to the practice of simplicity; and you care more about others than yourself due to the art of submission. As a result, you are now ready to serve the world as a disciple of Jesus.

Time:  We all have time that we can give to help others, and there is always a need. The church grounds always need maintenance; children’s ministries and guest service need volunteers; you can go give out donuts or sodas to those stuck in traffic jams; you can help people load their grocery bags into cars; roadways need trash picked up; hand out Gatorade at biking trails; clean up at food courts in the mall. We all have 168 hours of every week. Assuming you are spending 8 hours a day sleeping, 8 hours a day working, and 3 hours a day in commutes and mealtime, that is 35 hours per week of available time. I’m not guilting you to say it should all be service, but it is really hard to look ourselves in the mirrors and honestly say we don’t have time to serve when we manage to have time to binge-watch Netflix or play a new video game or watch three movies. The mature Christian makes giving your time to others a priority.

Talent: The ideas above require no special talent, just a giving of your time. But each of us have special gifts that can help bring shalom into the world—indeed, it is why we were created. We are each instruments of an orchestra with a slightly different sound, and your talent is needed. Whatever your talent, there is a use to it. In the Didache, it seems that many first century Christians actually tithed their talents to the church body—bakers brought a tenth of their bread to feed the congregation on Sunday, tailors made 10% more clothing and gave it to the poor, doctors spent part of each week giving free medical care/advice to sick parishioners, scribes and scholars translated documents, artists painted for the church. Whatever your talent, there is a way to serve your church body and community with it—be creative, it’s why God made you!

Treasure:  We also each have been given finances and we are entrusted as its stewards. Its purpose is to bring others into the faith. As I have taught several times before, I do not hold that tithing a set value (10%) is required; instead, we are each to examine ourselves and give cheerfully and sacrificially. Interestingly, I have found that being freed from the idea of tithing, I actually give more than 10%, not less! Whatever you can give, do so: it is the heart and sacrifice that matter, as Jesus makes clear (Mark 12:42). Jesus fascinatingly says that where we spend our money, we will find our heart caring more about that thing…so where do you spend yours? (Luke 12:34; Matt 6:21)

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