Tag Archives: service

A Shortstop’s Kind of Readiness

I’ve just suffered through one of the worst seasons that the Kansas City Royals have ever played. The team that won the World Series in 2015, lost 104 games, topped (bottomed?) only by 106 losses in 2005. As painful as their season proved, they showed signs of hope with some promising young players.

Watch baseball for very long and you’ll see that there are players who are in the lineup mostly for their fielding and some mostly for their bats. When you see a powerful hitter who plays in the field like he’s competing in a sack race, that player will normally be positioned in right field, the spot where he’s least likely to do much damage.

On the other hand, a shortstop who cannot field is a terrific liability. Sure, you’d like him to be able to hit, but he absolutely must be able to range around the left side of the infield, snag balls hit his direction, and make long, accurate throws to first base. Without that talent, the team is sunk.

Any shortstop worthy of playing professional baseball wants the ball to come his way in critical moments. With the game on the line, he should be not just thinking, “What do I do when the ball is hit to me?” but also, “Hit it here. Hit it here. I dare you.”

On the other hand, that right fielder, the one who wouldn’t be on the team if he couldn’t smash the ball with his bat, might be excused for standing out there at the crossroads between victory and defeat, whispering, “Don’t hit here. Please don’t hit it here!”

Which player do you more resemble in the ballgame of Christian service? Are you the shortstop, eagerly wishing for the chance to start a game-winning double play or the right fielder hoping beyond hope that the ball goes somewhere, anywhere else?

Esther initially wanted to hide in the outfield. When encouraged to bring the Jews’ problems to the king, she tried to get off the hook. In Esther 4:14, Mordecai lays it on the line for her. Unlike in baseball, God’s tasks will get done if we don’t do them. But if we fail, if we try to avoid the play, then the glory will go to someone else.

In 1985, when my Royals won their first World Series, the right fielder, Daryl Motley, caught the twenty-seventh out in game seven, clinching the series. I’ve remembered that for thirty-three years. My guess is that I’ll remember it for another several decades.

While we might be frightened to see the ball coming our way, we need to overcome fear and get ourselves into the game. A bad season for a baseball team is no big deal. A bad season for the church is regrettable. And the individual Christian often gets only one significant season to play.

Hi, My Name is Mark and I’m a Blog Abandoner

Thanks be to God, I’m not an alcoholic or any other sort of addict that would lead me to a twelve-step program. I certainly don’t want to mock their patterns of speech or diminish their challenge, but in some ways, my behavior in maintaining this blog is like the addict with good intentions, the person who desires to remain on the path of constancy but all of a sudden looks up to find himself off the wagon and with a week’s worth of unwritten days.

As I consider my on-again-off again blogging fidelity, as I look at all those non-highlighted days on the WordPress calendar, I’m reminded of the letter to the church at Ephesus from Revelation 2.

I know your works, your labor, and your endurance, and that you cannot tolerate evil people. You have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and you have found them to be liars. I know that you have persevered and endured hardships for the sake of my name, and have not grown weary.  But I have this against you: You have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then how far you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.

Jesus knew that this church had done some good things, that they had many positive qualities, but he also knew that the passion had faded away. This group of believers was not in danger of losing their salvation and being cast aside with the goats, but their lampstand was threatened. If they didn’t get back on track, Jesus promised in the next verse (Revelation 2:5), their position in his work would be taken away, perhaps relocated.

The church in which I grew up is defunct. It had been a growing, thriving place over several decades, but a couple of years back, whatever remnant of the congregation that still rattled around in that big building turned over the keys to a body less than ten years old. Their lampstand was removed and given to another.

In my own church, I see people who were, in the past, on fire for Christ. They knew their calling and they pursued it with a passion. Now some of those people limp along, half-heartedly, in Bible studies, in the choir, or among the ranks of the deacons. They’ve lost their first love. Still believers, still basically good people, they’re not achieving the good works they formerly knew. They risk watching their lampstand plucked out and handed to someone else.

God called me to write, among other things. Many of those other things are somewhat in the control of others, but my writing is something that is mostly within my control. I could be writing something, here or elsewhere, every day of the week.

But I don’t. I have abandoned the love I had at first. That Greek verb, aphiemi, is defined and translated various ways, but the preferred meaning, according to most scholars, here is to “give up or keep no longer.” It’s not a conscious sending away. It’s not resolutely quitting,  but more of, like the CSB translation, an abandonment.

I didn’t consciously decide to stop playing the guitar a few years ago, but I let it go and now rarely play. Frankly, I think God is fine with that. But this letting go of my first love for writing is more problematic. God’s not pleased.

What have you abandoned or let go?

What’s Your Song?

This morning, Alexa was kind enough to play some music for me. One of the songs in my get-ready-for-worship playlist is “The Stand” from Joel Houston of Hillsong. You’ll remember it:

I’ll stand with arms high and heart abandoned
In awe of the one who gave it all.
I’ll stand, my soul, Lord, to you surrendered.
All I have is yours.

The recording on my playlist is in a concert/worship setting, and toward the end, the singer/leader dropped out but encouraged the audience/worshippers to sing that chorus one more time. You could hear hundreds–maybe thousands–of voices singing as one, praying as one, worshipping as one. Cool stuff.

It occurred to me that it would be amazing to have a song that you’ve written or popularized that you could begin and then allow those listening to carry it for you. But then I realized that many artists can do that sort of thing. The Rolling Stones could do that with “Wild Horses.” It would be an intoxicating feeling, but perhaps hollow.

We know that for that experience to be more than just a good feeling, the song needs to be worthwhile. It needs to take people into the presence of God. That’s what I think I heard on that recording. And it’s something that I’m pretty sure I’ll never experience as the songwriters/singer/worship leader. (Sigh.)

In mulling over that bittersweet thought, I realized that every one of us is gifted by God to write such a song. More precisely, we’re called to do something that will powerfully bless others and help them draw closer to Jesus and to God the Father. My song isn’t a literal song with lyrics and melody. Yours probably isn’t either.

I’ve written some songs, and I’d love to be able to stand on a stage and lead people in singing them. That sounds great, but that’s not my calling, not my song. I could preach a good sermon, but that doesn’t seem to be my song either–at least not as a vocation.

What if I–or what if you–sat around lamenting that my songs don’t resonate with people in the way that, say, Michael W. Smith’s songs do? What if I couldn’t listen to sermons without wondering why I don’t get the chance to preach? If I allowed myself to get stuck in that way, I’d never create whatever alternate form of song that God has gifted me to fashion.

Paul addresses this thinking in 1 Corinthians 12:12-16

For just as the body is one and has many parts, and all the parts of that body, though many, are one body—so also is Christ…Indeed, the body is not one part but many.  If the foot should say, “Because I’m not a hand, I don’t belong to the body,” it is not for that reason any less a part of the body. 

What is your “song”? There’s something that you were created to do for the people (or the future people) of God that will be every bit as life-changing and amazing as having thousands of people singing your song by memory. It probably won’t be as dramatic, and it probably won’t engage thousands of people at the same moment, but it can be just as powerful.

But if I sit around listening to “The Stand” and pitying myself that my songwriting won’t rise to that level, then I’ll never write the “song” that only I can write.

The Executioners Are Coming–John 21:18

“Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.–John 21:18

John gospel iconDo you want to get older? Do you want your body to decline in all its powers? Nobody does. Getting older is something that, especially in our society, we fight against. Older people don’t have the cachet of wisdom that they do in some more traditional cultures, and if you don’t gain respect for wisdom (or don’t gain wisdom itself) as you age, then I’m not sure what you have to look forward to.

All you have to do is watch sports to realize that physical activity is a young person’s game. Baseball players tend to living on borrowed time at 40. Most football players do well to make it into the mid-30s. Gymnasts, especially female gymnasts, are pretty well washed up by 20.

Of course we will see people with good genes and good habits who can achieve great things as they age. I went to Israel with a man who, at over 70, grew impatient when our tour guide would not allow him to walk up the trail to Masada. Gene bolted from the group at the top of the hill and walked down. At the bottom, he had plenty of energy to do a human flag on post at the bottom. A few years after that trip, Gene was diagnosed with cancer. He declined very quickly and died having accomplished a great deal and living a rich life.

The lesson is that we all will wind up like Peter in the verse above. Jesus explained to Peter that he would decline in both his physical powers and his independence. In that particular case, Peter would be led away by executioners. But then we’re all being slowly led away by executioners, whether they be Roman guards, cancer cells, atrophying heart muscle, or general wear and tear. Our executioners might be internal or external, near or far, but they are coming.

But look at what Jesus had to say about those executioners. He didn’t say “panic” or “run.” He had just finished telling Peter to “feed my sheep.” I don’t know when or how I will die, but I will, unless Christ returns, surely die. The executioners are already on their way. The only question for me to answer is how I live between now and then.Will I do my best to keep the executioners at bay or will I hurry them along? Will I feed the sheep or will I feed myself?

Get the Word Around–Mark 1:32-33

That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed.The whole town gathered at the door.

Last Sundayevening, my church performed a Christmas musical, directed by your humble correspondent. We had offered this work twice on the previous Sunday morning in lieu of our normal preaching services. Both of those morning services had been well attended. Had we been depending on our normal Sunday-morning attendees–just the ones who hadn’t made it the previous week–to fill the pews for the evening, we might have had a hundred or so people present. Instead, we saw a nearly full auditorium with many faces that I’d never seen before.

The idea, apparently, had worked. After those morning performances, we told the congregation to invite their friends and family to pack the place next week. Sure we could have squeezed a few more people into the seats, but we sang and played to a nice crowd Sunday evening.

Let’s consider the goings-on in Capernaum on that Saturday early in Jesus’ ministry. In the morning, Jesus went and taught in the synagogue. After that, perhaps at noon, he walked over to Peter’s house and healed the mother-in-law. After that, after sunset had come and the Sabbath had ended, the word got around town. Before long, everybody with a stomach ache showed up at the door ready to be healed.

Today, I’m not as interested in what Jesus did as in what these people did. They responded to the blessing that Jesus brought onto Peter’s house by coming and seeking a blessing of their own. They didn’t wait for Jesus to come to their house. Instead, they sought him out and brought their petitions with boldness.

How often do Christians see the blessings that come into other lives and sit back wishing those blessings would visit them? Perhaps we see a life enriched through service or prayer and wish that somebody would ask us to do some neat job or that we could be prayer warriors.

God’s blessings, for whatever reason, do not fall on all believers equally. Perhaps after this life, we’ll understand why that is. But I am convinced that many blessings that you and I should enjoy go unclaimed because we don’t go to the door where Jesus is staying and ask for them.