Unworthy To Serve

“He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” – John 1:27

I don’t know about you, but so much of me wants more for myself. More honor, glory, power. I want to imagine that I am serving God the finest feast, or singing Him the loveliest song, or dancing for Him in the most perfectly choreographed dance.

I want to do the best, most beautiful thing for Him—but when I read the above verse, I have to stop myself. Wait. Am I willing to do the most lowly thing for Him, too, like tying the straps of His sandals?

And not only that, but I have to take a thousand more steps back. Wait. Do I realize that I am not even worthy to do the lowliest thing for Him?

John the Baptist’s statement is painfully humbling to me–but the good kind of pain! I need to submit to God everything I am. I do not deserve anything.

I must lose sight of myself and see only Him, for He alone is completely perfect, loving, and good! He alone is worthy of honor, glory, and power. He allows us to tie the straps of His sandals, so we can share in the joy of serving Him.

All around us are people in desperate need of Christ. And the Bible tells us that when we help “the least of these” we are serving Christ Himself. In our service to humanity, we are honoring and loving our Savior on a deep, personal level.

Because of this, we must serve others as if we are unworthy to serve them. Isn’t that radically humbling?

We are unworthy to serve others in beautiful ways. We are unworthy to serve them in lowly ways.

And we are even unworthy to be alive. We don’t deserve anything we have right now; we deserve eternal condemnation. Death.

But Jesus Christ gave us the gift of life when He died for us. He humbled Himself on the cross for us so we could cherish our King for eternity. As Christ mediates for us on our behalf, we experience God’s lavished love for us forever.

God is so good to us!

He allows us to take part in His Kingdom—there is no greater privilege than that! He doesn’t need us, but He wants us. There is no job too lowly for us—we can gladly be slaves of righteousness! And as we serve Him, it’s amazing to see how He works beautiful miracles in people’s lives, in ways we could never imagine.

“Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:26-28 (NIV)

Let this be the song of your heart to God today! He gladly accepts and cherishes our meager offerings!

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Anointed

“Jesus is coming to Bethany tonight,” Lazarus said in the doorway.

My hands stopped at the dishes. After I passed a quick grin to my sister, Martha, I rushed to embrace my tall brother. “Thank God!” I declared.

I was still overcome with joy every time I saw Lazarus, forever awed by Jesus’ authority to bring men back to life, which he had accomplished in my brother a month before.  How could the Pharisees and the teachers of the law not see it? How could they not understand? Jesus came to be a servant to all, just as we should serve Him—not only out of productive housework, but first and foremost out of a love for Him.

Lazarus quietly slipped out of the room to attend to his costumers at the smithy.

Martha lurched into action, dashing about the house, trying to cook dinner, sweep, and wash dishes all at once.

“Martha, Martha!” I cried, “Remember what our Lord said?”

She snatched the broom and tried to put a dish away, but she ended up knocking over a clay jar on the table. “Yes, I know,” she gasped, “But I can’t sit at His feet if He’s not here yet—and He can’t come here till this house is put into proper order.”

“But won’t you calm yourself?” I said, more gently now, trying to reason with her. “Prepare for Him all you like, so you may soon sit at His feet. But don’t fret, Martha. Be at peace, and be joyful in serving Him. I believe that is what He wants from us, sister.”

Martha’s scowl began to fade. Hunkering over with the broom, she swept up the shattered pieces of clay without another word.

 

A few hours later Lazarus informed us that Jesus would be feasting at Simon the Leper’s house, not ours. Martha tried to adjust to this news calmly, and we both rushed over to help tidy up Simon’s house and prepare a meal, with his wife’s help. Our anticipation quickened our work.

Soon, as we swept and cleaned, we sang joyfully to our Father in heaven. I was glad, so glad to see a smile on Martha’s face as she recounted Jesus’ last visit.

“I still can hardly believe he rose our dear brother from the dead,” she told me, sighing at the memory. “But of course, I have to believe whenever Lazarus walks into the room. He’s living proof.” Chuckling, she tilted her head at me. “You’re living proof, too—always so joyful, always kind. Jesus has got to be the Messiah, don’t you think?”

I paused at my broom, my lips curling into a smile. “I never once doubted He was.”

Simon’s wife set a plate firmly down on the table. “You’re fierce supporters of that fellow, aren’t ya? Well, I don’t believe it, though I support my husband’s beliefs and all.” She laughed shakily. “Lazarus could have been fake dying, you know… I-I just don’t believe it.”

Martha and I glanced at each other, not knowing how anyone could doubt in the miracles of the Lord, which so many had witnessed. But the demons had their ways, as they had on me before Jesus transformed me. I prayed that one day this woman would open her heart to the truth.

 

After much work, Simon’s guests entered the house. All the men settled down at the table to chat until the honored guest, Jesus of Nazareth, arrived. Martha and Simon’s wife worked hard in the kitchen.

I stood by the wall, waiting for my Lord to come. He would save His people from their sins. He would be a light shining in the darkness. He would be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. I quivered inside at the thought. I knew that He was the Son of God, and that was enough cause for me to tremble. That He would one day open the floodgates of heaven to my wretched self, who had lived much of my life estranged by seven demons—that was enough.

But He had done more. He had cared unceasingly for my family, even as far as lifting my brother up from the pit of death. I could hardly wait to sit at His feet and listen to His words.

Jesus and His disciples entered the room. The men fell silent. Even Martha let the flat bread alone in the pan, and instead folded her hands quietly in front of her.

Presently, our Lord began to greet each one of us, bringing the house back to a charming lull of talk and laughter. His eyes spoke kindness as He smiled at me.

The Most Holy One was speaking to me. Yet I could not move; I could not bring myself to acknowledge Him or even fall on my knees. The dire thought that He was mighty enough to see my inner secrets, powerful enough to strike me down with a lightning bolt this instance—it overwhelmed me.

“Don’t be afraid, Mary,” he said gently, placing a firm hand on my quaking shoulder. Then He turned away to greet the others, leaving me alone by the wall, ashamed of my fear.

 

I watched Him speak to us in a deep, calming voice filled with both passion and sympathy. He spoke of the good news of the kingdom of God as He had many times before, revealing mystery upon mystery, layer upon layer of truth, yet doing so with a genuine love that I could not fathom.

Martha served the men while Simon’s wife lingered in the kitchen, but I was caught in my Lord’s words, which pierced my heart with truth. I longed to show Him my esteem for Him, my gratefulness for what He had done for Lazarus, my deep love for all that He was.

I knew, somehow, that He’d seen right through me when He’d greeted me, and He’d understood my fear. But as He even told me—He didn’t want me to be afraid. He wanted my love and devotion, the key to my heart, He wished to be the whole Reason of my self.

I drew the alabaster jar of pure nard from my satchel that I’d brought along, because I knew. I knew He would die, yet rise again as Lazarus had, only this time to bring the assurance of everlasting life we all were searching for. The knowledge of it penetrated my soul. He would be led as a lamb to be slaughtered. He’d be the ultimate sacrifice for all who believed in Him, for eternity.

Lazarus eyed me, noticing the jar in my hands, and he offered a smile of encouragement. Though my family had been saving this perfume for Jesus for two years, I knew that the time was now. Martha and Lazarus had given it to me as my responsibility, so I had every right to use it if I believed it was time. The Messiah deserved so much more than mere fragrance for his feet, but it was all I had to offer Him.

Father, I prayed, may Your Son’s name be glorified because of me.

I stepped forward, gripping the jar. My awe of Him, my delight in the Christ’s humility to grace this earth, my thankfulness for the miracle He’d done in Lazarus’ life—it all poured through me at once as I fell on my knees before Him, weeping.

“Lord, Lord,” I whispered, opening the jar and letting the strong perfume flow out over His feet. As I emptied out every drop of the nard, the aroma permeated the whole room. Trembling with emotion, I wiped His dripping feet with my hair.

“Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?” a disciple of Jesus protested, his voice edged with frustration. “It was worth a year’s wages.”

Heat flooded through my cheeks. Would my Lord resent me for what I had done? Did He believe I despised the poor?

But I felt His hand on my shoulder. “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to Me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have Me.”

The tension released inside me, as I slowly raised my eyes to His warm brown ones. I was beyond grateful that my offering should please Him. Yet the thought that one day He would have to leave filled me with sorrow.

My Lord turned His focus back towards Judas Iscariot, the disciple who’d objected my actions, and then He continued. “When she poured this perfume on me, she did it to prepare me for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

His words sent a roil of shock through me. That people would long remember me was an honor I knew I didn’t deserve. Yet if it should glorify Jesus’ name, praise God!

“Mary, are you all right?”

Suddenly I was aware of Martha’s arms around me, first embracing me, and then pulling me to my feet. “Will you help me serve them?”

I looked around in a daze. Jesus was now preaching to the men with the same audacity as before. The disciple who had spoken against me, Judas, was sulking in the corner. Noticing his empty goblet, I snatched a pitcher and came to him to refill it. After all, he had just as much as a right in the Kingdom of God as I did, if he only humbled himself. And through my kindness, perhaps he’d understand that I wasn’t a hater of the poor.

As I poured Judas’ wine, I smiled at him. For a moment he studied me carefully, and then his dark eyes narrowed, sending a sinking feeling within me.

Dear Father, I prayed fervently, help Judas and Simon’s wife and the rest of the doubters to all know that Lazarus was truly dead and made alive again. Help them to know that the same can be true for them in their hearts, and that my offering was nothing compared to His overflowing anointment on my soul.

(Historical Fiction based as much as possible on John 12:1-10 and Matthew 26:6-13.)

Doing it Gladly

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“Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” – 2 Cor. 9:7

Last summer I flew on a plane with my choir to Seattle, Washington. One of the most memorable moments was on a farm miles away from the city (on an island, I believe), where our choir director took us to pick fresh strawberries that the farmer had for sale. Normally, the farmer would have required his customers to, of course, pay for the strawberries, and we fully expected to do just that. But when we had finished picking the berries, the farmer and his daughter gladly gave the strawberries to us for free. Not only that, but they allowed us in their house to wash our red-stained fingers, they gave us a tour of the farm, and they let us hand feed their adorable sheep. Of course, after that, we got to sing for all those sheep, but, really, of course, to the farmer and his daughter out of appreciation for their immense generosity.

 

It was a simple thing, but every one of the girls in my choir felt their kindness, and I knew for a fact that this delightful family believed and trusted in Jesus Christ as the Savior of their sins. They gave not reluctantly, but cheerfully, and while they were rewarded with meeting a bunch of human beings—which they seemed to be so far away from—I am thankful that their truest reward awaits for them in heaven.

 

Those strawberries were the sweetest, juiciest, most irresistible berries I’d ever tasted. Because they were real, not some hormone-showered ones at the store, or whatever you call them. They were real—just as the planter is real, just like the God who grew them is real.

 

In fact, the real seeds that the farmer placed into the ground are like the good seeds we place in our hearts when we choose to love Him and those around us. Good seeds sprout and grow into flourishing berries that nourish and delight our senses, just as our choice to simply love God and people matures us into kind, caring people, who draw into a more fulfilling and sweeter relationship with Christ.

 

But what’s the point of loving, even when it’s hard? And how can we do it gladly? How do we do the hard thing of loving and giving all that we are to God without being reluctant about it?

 

I used to have a lot of trouble understanding what it meant to give joyfully, to love relentlessly, and to do the hard yet right things in life without a speck of guilt or reluctance. I still have trouble at times, but I’ve also learned a lot about how to give gladly.

 

“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.  And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” – 1 Cor. 5:14-15

 

Are we really to keep on living for ourselves after believing in the One who died so we could live for Him? Jesus said that those who love Him are the ones who keep his commandments (John 14:21). There are millions of hurting, starving, thirsty, longing people in the world. And there are billions of sinners—yes, all of us. The Israelites waited 400 years for the Messiah to save his people from their sins, to put a new heart and a new spirit in them, so they could have the honor of serving God without shame and with a divine power from the Holy Spirit. We as Christians have that honor. We are the ones the world must see as pure and noble and profoundly generous—not because of any greatness we possess, but because of Christ’s goodness overflowing through us out of the abiding relationship we have with Him. Not only should they see us as this, but God calls us to let our light shine so brightly that the pagans can’t ignore it.

 

“Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” – 1 Peter 2:12

 

Sure, we fail. But God’s love overcomes that. Our acknowledgement that Jesus’ sacrifice has the power to cover our sins set us free from every polluted thing we used to hold onto so dearly. Simply put: Our sin, replaced with God’s love. And, with that love abiding in us, we can do hard things with such fervor and excitement that it won’t matter how many strawberries we have, for in Christ we have everything we need.

 

“Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.” – 2 Cor. 9:10-11

 

The King’s Armor

The chains clamped around my wrists as cold and hard as stones. I stared ahead into the darkness, waiting for the young guard, who was not much more than a year older than I, to open the door to the arena. I had come here not because I had stolen treasure, attacked a servant, or murdered an innocent peasant. I had come for the same reason as the ones before me: because I existed.

I had dreaded this day since I was a young child who finally understood the laws of the land—since that day my mother and father had gone before me. But there was no reason for fear. My parents had taken places of honor at the king’s table, and I visited them on every full moon. Soon I would see them and the king every day.

The metal door creaked open. The guard gestured for me to hurry up and get out the door. As I passed him, he whispered, “Friend, the beast won’t hurt ya if you be quick about it.”

I nodded my thanks and strode forward into the empty arena. My sweaty tuffs of copper hair clung to the nape of my neck as I gazed around. Not only was there no lion, but there was not a human being in sight besides the king in his royal box. The only other beings interested in my Transition seemed the mobs of hornets buzzing about and pecking at me arms every now and then.

I had heard audiences had been small lately, but I hadn’t expected to meet such a crude pair of eyes blinking lazily in my direction and not much else. King Maximus sipped his wine from the glamorous throne decked with gold and sapphire. Good for him, to be in that box with a canopy and attentive servants waving long, feathery fans to keep out the heat and the insects. Would I only end up fanning him as well?

But now the emptiness of the arena glared into my face. Where was Pa? Mum? My brother, Marcus? I had witnessed many Transitions, but most had mobs of blood-thirsty citizens, yearning for a fight. I supposed people had tired of telling their neighbors that all that had happened was the same old surrendering to the king’s will instead of slaying the lion. Not that it was an unpleasant decision to take a seat at the king’s table—by all means, it was the best choice my parents ever made. They didn’t have a clue about killing wild creatures, anyhow. Neither did I, so they didn’t bother coming, I guess, since they knew they would surely be feasting with me tonight.

King Maximus, from high up in the royal box, ushered me forward. “Just say the word, lad, and I won’t even bother bringing the lion out.”

I bowed before the lofty ruler. “Thank you, sir, but I haven’t made the decision yet.”

He narrowed his eyes down upon me. “So… you want to end up with the first of the rebels? Those fools that died—let’s see—about eight years ago?” He scoffed. “I thought my dear citizens had learned their lesson by now.”

I kept my head down in practiced humility. “No, sir, and I truly would be honored to sit at your table and eat with you.”

“Then that settles it.” King Maximus commanded his servants with a wave of his hand.

I glanced at the armor laid out on the dirt that awaited anyone fool enough to try. Dust had gathered on it during those long eight years. I didn’t know why I considered it—maybe for my dignity or my pride—or perhaps because the lion, if killed, would set us free from the “honor” of feasting with the king for the rest of our days. I didn’t want that honor. That was meaningless. Maybe those rash young men all those years ago had died, but they had died knowing that when all were free to live ordinary lives outside the palace, they could use their freedom to care for the poor or the sick or the imprisoned, to pursue righteousness without the king suppressing them with gold and jewels.

The servants unchained me with smiles on their faces and urged me toward a door on the other side of the arena, opposite of the door I had come from. One strolled on ahead and the other followed suit behind me. Their confidence swept me away along with them, until I couldn’t go any further. How could I miss this chance? How could I stand the eternal burden of regret? Continue reading