Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Servants' Quarters

For those who've read and been intrigued by the insights of our dear friend Julie S., I have great news: You can get to know about her, Brian (her witty and Mac-addicted husband), their family, and their creative vision at their new Olivia Rose blog. I encourage you to visit the blog, e-mail the link to everyone on your contacts list, and just generally make some noise about them. Brian and Julie Swegle are truly two of the most gifted, loving and downright original people you'll ever get the chance to meet. Check out the photos they took from their extended China visit a couple years ago. The pictures will whet your appetite for their promised book. And note the "made on a Mac" logo at the bottom of the page.

And back in February I mentioned the theologian Simon Chan, author of Liturgical Theology (one of my Valentine's presents, and an intriguing and challenging read). ChristianityToday Online posted an interview here, and I thought others might find it worth reading. Chan is Ernest Lau Professor of Systematic Theology at Trinity Theological Seminary in Singapore, and CT says he "may be the world's most liturgically minded Pentecostal." Now there is an interesting combination.

This is a busy week in my family, and a challenging one as well. Along with all the normal business of life--work, family, home fellowship--we are volunteering time to care for a widow whose son is out of town. To be honest, I have learned a few important things about myself through this. I was more or less put in charge of this project against my will, and I thought that our small church wouldn't be able to pull it off. I worried, plain and simple. I nursed a bad attitude. You know how it goes; you're the one in charge, reluctantly, and you know that if someone doesn't show up you are going to have to pull the load longer and farther than you had counted on. So you grumble.

Along the way, I cracked open my second Valentine's present, Side by Side, A Handbook: Disciple-making for a New Century. In the book was an extended quote by Roy Hession from his classic, The Calvary Road. I've only read excerpts from Hession's book. Here's one I'm sharing with you:

In Luke 17, Jesus compares the person who would be his disciple to a bond-servant. The five marks of a bond-servant are as follows.
First of all, he must be willing to have one thing on top of another put upon him, without any consideration being given him. On top of a hard day in the field, the servant in the parable had immediately to prepare his master's meal, and on top of that he had to wait on him at table--and that before he had any food himself. . . .
Secondly, in doing this he must be willing not to be thanked for it. How often we serve others, but what self-pity we have in our hearts and how bitterly we complain that they take it as a matter of course and do not thank us for it. . . .
Thirdly, having done all this, he must not charge the other with selfishness. . . . He exists to serve his master, and the selfishness or otherwise of his master does not enter into it with him. . . .
Fourth, having done all that, there is no ground for pride or self-congratulation, but we must confess that we are unworthy servants--we are of no real use to God or man in ourselves. . . . [I]f we have acted as willing servants, it is no thanks to us, whose hearts are naturally proud and stubborn, but only to the Lord Jesus, who dwells in us and who has made us willing.
The fifth and last step is the admission that doing and bearing what we have in the way of meekness and humility, we have not done one stitch more than it was our duty to do. God made man in the first place simply that he might be God's bond-servant. Man's sin has simply consisted in his refusal to be God's bond-servant. His restoration can only be, then, a restoration to the position of a bond-servant. A man has not done anything specially meritorious when he has consented to take that position, for he was created and redeemed for that very thing" (quoted from Side by Side: A Handbook, copyright 2000, Cook Communications and NavPress Publishing Group; Steve and Lois Rabey, General Editors).

The truth of this hit me hard, so that I felt like crying. I had made a big issue of what was really a very simple job: comforting a widow in her affliction. I had made the issue about me. First, I had judged the ones who (to my way of thinking) had ducked the task and lengthened my time pulling the load. Then I had made it an issue of proving myself: "All right, then; I'll show them who really cares about Mrs. M! No, sir, I won't let God down!" In all of this, serving God was not the crux of the issue, nor was serving Mrs. M. She had become a proving-grounds of, firstly, my authority and, secondly, my righteousness.

There is a difference between proving yourself faithful and serving. I see this as I hadn't before. If the goal of a servant is to prove how well he can serve, he is turning the focus from his master to himself. He isn't a true bond-servant if he has something to prove. To others it isn't obvious; but in the servant's heart it is, though he hides it well. I know it was to me.

I could try to relate this to major evangelical scandals, of course; but then that would be too easy. I think God would rather have me stand in the harsh burning light myself than have me push someone else into its glare while I hunker down in the shadows. How many sermons, then, have really been not about God but about me? How much of what I did as if for God was really done in the hope of His rewarding glance of recognition?

In the Old Testament, there were sacrifices known simply as "burnt offerings--an aroma pleasing to the Lord." The sacrifice was wholly burnt, the giver (and the priest) eating none of it. It was burnt only to honor God, not to gain His favor, not to win something from Him or to pay Him something. Its message was simply: "You are God. You deserve this. Others might think it a waste, but You are worthy of this." It was the same sort of giving done by the woman who poured out spikenard on Jesus' feet. It was pure, unmixed devotion and service. It was the devotion of the bond-servant.

It's a lesson I hope to learn yet.