Friday, October 17, 2008


I went shopping Wendesday night for the church hayrack ride and bonfire. As I tootled through various stores collecting supplies, I took joy in purchasing items and in the thought of others enjoying the hot dogs and s’mores, an open fire and a wagon ride through the fields. There was a sense of satisfaction in providing for the pleasure of others. In some respects it was a secret mission as I was alone, with my own thoughts. There was no conflict. The attitude of my heart was open, free, unhindered. Content with the booty that filled the trunk of our car, I returned to pick up our children from their evening activity at church.
Then, as the sanctuary was nearly empty, an unfamiliar young lady began playing the piano. Large, loud chords filled the room followed by flowing arpeggios that rang from one end of the piano to the other. The contrasts of dynamics, melody, and harmony were no less than heaven sent. On and on she played. Close on the heels of amazement, however, was jealousy; that which listened for a mistake, for a slip, for some kind of error; the ooze of green steam which escapes the human heart and rises upward to cloud our thinking. As her playing came to a close, I found myself drawn to the piano and others who were with the young player.
Struggling to put self aside and find air through the green haze, I asked her name, her plans, sought to extend grace and appreciation. It was a gift, her playing, and it brought great blessing to the spirit even while the heart waged war.
Then—betrayal—I began to delve into my self. Not God’s name, not God’s ministry, not God’s provision, but my own. Oh, the shame. The loss of reward. The vanity which strips away joy, generosity, and peace. The shackles that come with attaching my efforts to a work of God, when I could choose the freedom of honoring and glorifying Him with my words rather than directing others’ thoughts toward myself.
This morning I am reminded that in "exercising godliness," failure is inherent. To exercise it to exert effort. To fail. To try again. And, little by little, to move closer to the goal. In service to our God and King, the goal is to honor and glorify Him. When my heart and words are self-focused, I have betrayed the One I serve. A heart of service is a humble heart. And humility is a part of being, not doing. It is a decision of the will forcing the heart to submission despite its ungainly emotions. It is a response of gratitude and service, not self-accolade. It is quiet and accepting. Humility is service that glorifies our God the King.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Not Nice!

It took me a long time to learn that being nice is not synonymous with being Christlike. I grew up thinking it was important to be nice.

And then, one day as I read the gospels I realized: Jesus was not nice. It isn't that, as the exact representation of God, He is not loving, compassionate, and kind. He is sacrificial to the point of death. But love, true love, is not about being nice. And Christlikeness is centered in God, not in others.

Being nice is about pleasing others: saying what they want to hear, dressing in a pleasing way, doing what they want you to do. That is when people will say you're "nice." When we serve others, we are putting the other person ahead of ourselves and this is a nice thing to do.

In Daniel chapter 5, however, Daniel is called to serve the king and the message he brings is not nice. It is asked for, it is necessary, and he is the only one able to translate God's message, but it is a message of death. It is not what the king, or the people, want to hear. It is not about "fixing" other people's problems or giving false reassurance. It's about allegiance to God in the face of difficulty.

I need to be a person of integrity despite the circumstances. This does not mean that I stand in self-righteous judgement or condemnation--and I have at times--for this is sin. This does not mean that I bow to the desires of others, but that I realize there will be times when serving others requires a boldness and steadfastness that is "not nice."

Friday, October 3, 2008

Serving the Enemy

My morning reading today was in Daniel. We have a discipleship class at our church called "Growing Deeper Roots" which is a three-year curriculum focused on intentional disciple-making. Our women's group is completing its third year of study (we were short-changed last March and will draw to a close soon). For the period of time we meet, we synchronize our daily Bible readings.

I came to the end of Daniel chapter one with a new realization: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah gave up the king's food and applied themselves to a grueling three years training, only to be the most suited young men to serve their enemy: "The king talked with them, and out of them all not one was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah; so they entered the king's personal service" (Daniel 1:19).

They would not overthrow this government that had laid siege to their homeland and families, that had taken them captive and physically mutilated them. They would not work covertly to undermine the integrity of this new world leader. They would not corroborate to free prisoners or support efforts at home. They gave themselves fully to the service of the king. An ungodly king, an ungodly king of a wicked nation, an ungodly king of a wicked nation that practiced evil and sought to take over the world.

Their calling was to love the Lord, their God, with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. God's purpose included rescue and release, but not for seventy years. Within that time, God had plans and purposes that He would make known through His word and these servants. But until then, these young men were to serve their enemy to the best of their God-given abilities with the strength that God provided.

When I believe that God controls circumstances (Lamentations 2:17) and that He directs the heart of the king (Proverbs 21:1), then I can apply myself to fully living out my devotion to Him despite my circumstances. My concern does not rest on changing what is happening around me, but in serving God wholly, trusting that He will use my service (regardless of its object) to glorify Himself and accomplish His will.

Am I mindful of world events? Certainly. Am I fearful of future calamity? At times. Should this affect my service? Not if my trust is in the Lord God, maker of heaven and earth. My submission to those in authority is not based on their merit, but on God's mandate and my devotion to Him.