More Joy in Heaven – 11 September 2022

By Pastor Bryan Niebanck

The LORD looks down from heaven on humankind to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God.

Psalm 14:2

As I hope to get to know someone, I look to spend time with them.  On Labor Day, I elected to go hiking in Hocking Hills State Park with someone I recently met.  We both wanted to get to know each other some more and we knew that spending time with each other would help in that effort.  It is the same way that I get together for lunch with another pastor or friend, except that it was able to be for much longer.  The more moments you spend with one another in person, the more you are able to get to know them.  We explored the Hocking River on a kayak in the pouring rain.  Then we got a little lost in Wayne National Forest until a group from none other than Bellevue, Ohio informed us of a shortcut back to the parking lot.  And we hiked around Old Man’s Cave and Cedar Falls in Hocking Hills State Park.  It was a great first time to the park.  The pouring rain for the half hour that we were on the river made the experience that much more memorable.

Some of you may remember back on New Year’s Day where I mentioned that I wanted to focus on the theme word of “prayer” in 2022.  I challenged you to pick one: Praise, Prayer, Listen, or Share.  This year, all of our book group has been focusing on prayer.  We are working to improve our relationship with God, and I asked a question: What have you done this year to improve your relationship with God?  Have you prayed more?  Have you read scripture more?  Have you listened more?  What have you done this past year, and what goals are you making now to be still better?  This is one thing that all Christians should try to do.  Always seek to have a better relationship with God.  Always seek to get to know God.

In June, we began with an Introduction to Prayer.  I promised that after we talked about the types of prayer, we would answer two more key questions: first, What does prayer do for us?  And second, How do we know that God is the one we hear?  Today, our scriptures address some of what prayer does for us.  Prayer gives us much that we should not live without.  According to Jeremiah 4:22, prayer gives us knowledge of God, understanding, and the knowledge of good and evil.

In Psalm 14, the psalmist paints a longing picture of God: “The Lord looks down from heaven on humankind to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God” (Psalm 14:2).  How do we seek God?  We seek God by praying.  How do we become wise?  By seeking after God.  The Lord grieves the fact that there is no one on earth that truly seeks after God unconditionally.  All the people are distracted by their own path and their own way.  Although the Psalmist writes in a different time, I could picture the Lord grieving the same today.  There are so many other things to seek after.  There are so many other things to distract us.  What do you need to do today to make sure that you are not one of those who does not actively seek after God?  The Lord is actively looking for them.  If the Lord finds you seeking, you will gain the Lord’s favor.  I think that it must be pretty good to gain the Lord’s favor.  Remember that the Lord is looking for people who make an effort to seek God!  BE one of those people.

Prayer is like a mandarin.  If you stop eating the mandarin, you lose the taste.  But if you keep eating it piece by piece, you will still experience its savory juice and taste and you will not lose it.  There is a physical action you have to take in eating it.  If you stop eating, the taste will disappear fairly quickly.  That is why you have to keep feeding your taste buds with prayer.  That is why we have to keep taking bites of prayer, so that we never lose the taste and experience of God.  When we stop tasting God, we taste other things, and we are led astray.

In God’s words, spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, God had three complaints: 1) they do not know me, 2) they have no understanding, and 3) they do not know how to do good.  How do you think we can fix that?  If this is us today, how would you want to go about fixing these things?  How do we come to know God better?  How do we come to have better understanding?  How do we come to knowing how to do good?  Can we fix these things by praying?  By seeking advice from friends?  By reading the Bible?  Ultimately, we come to improve at all of these things simply by seeking God in our various ways.  And though God is disappointed in each of the failures, God does make one promise in the same selection: “Yet, I will not make a full end” (Jeremiah 4:27).  God still gives us an opportunity to change the ending.  There is still opportunity to change our ways.  We can show more devotion.  We can know God more deeply.  We can show more goodness in our lives.  God is still looking for it.  God is still trying to reach us and has not written the end of the story.  God is still in the process of perfecting, and God still believes in us.  Psalm 14 ends with a word of hope as well: “When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people, Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad” (Psalm 14:7).  God is laying the opportunity directly before us; what can we do to know God in a deeper way?  What have we already done, what are we doing, and what can we do better, to know God in a deeper way?  Yes, God is watching and waiting.  God is watching and waiting to embrace us as we come to him.  Relationships are a two-way street; we need to do some of the work.

When we do the work, Heaven rejoices!  When I say that what we gain in prayer leads us to a deeper knowledge of God, an understanding, and the knowledge of good and evil, you may wonder what’s so great about that.  Why do I need all this?  What will that do for me?  I had hoped that prayer would actually give me something better, like what I have been praying for all these years, or maybe that cool material thing I have been wanting for so long.  Prayer is not really about any of that, however.  It is about establishing a relationship and connection with God.  And striking up a friendship with the Creator of the Universe is a pretty special friendship if you ask me.  From these three things that we gain, we gain so much more on top of that.  We gain God on our side to fight our battles.  We gain a sense of peace and security unlike any other.  We gain freedom from what has held us in bondage, which could have been fear, worry, financial stress or any other kind of stress.  We gain hope.  We gain a reason to keep going and to strive for better.

And if that is still not enough, perhaps it will be enough to know that Heaven is rejoicing when you seek God.  Imagine more joy added to the infinite joy that is already there.  Somehow, it gets greater with every soul that seeks the Lord.  As Jesus tells us through the words of Luke 15:7, “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”  There is something that each of us could do a little better in seeking the Lord.  May you be blessed in finding that and in acting upon it.  May you know the Lord deeper.  May you be the cause for greater joy and celebration in the heavenly realm.  May you do the work to know God, and then, when you know God deeply enough, you can sense a call and a purpose for what God wills you to do in each moment.  If you crave this interaction and this relationship with God, you have to put in the work.  It does not just happen overnight.  It does not come from status or who your family is.  It comes from your own, individual, intensive seeking of God.  Always seek to have a better relationship with God.  Each day that you live is an extra opportunity to gain more traction in working towards that goal.  Each day, we should be trying to get a little closer than we were the day before.

I close with a quote by the late Queen Elizabeth II: “When life seems hard, the courageous do not lie down and accept defeat; instead, they are all the more determined to struggle for a better future.”  Life is often hard.  But do not lie down and accept defeat.  Work harder for a better future.  Work harder, striving to know God’s glory and presence, as God is our hope, our rock, and our salvation.  Always call on the Lord whenever and wherever you can.  And may all glory and honor be to God.  Thanks be to God!  Amen.

Scripture Readings:

Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28
4:11 At that time it will be said to this people and to Jerusalem: A hot wind comes from me out of the bare heights in the desert toward my poor people, not to winnow or cleanse–
4:12 a wind too strong for that. Now it is I who speak in judgment against them.
4:22 “For my people are foolish, they do not know me; they are stupid children, they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil, but do not know how to do good.”
4:23 I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light.
4:24 I looked on the mountains, and lo, they were quaking, and all the hills moved to and fro.
4:25 I looked, and lo, there was no one at all, and all the birds of the air had fled.
4:26 I looked, and lo, the fruitful land was a desert, and all its cities were laid in ruins before the LORD, before his fierce anger.
4:27 For thus says the LORD: The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end.
4:28 Because of this the earth shall mourn, and the heavens above grow black; for I have spoken, I have purposed; I have not relented nor will I turn back.

Psalm 14
14:1 Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is no one who does good.
14:2 The LORD looks down from heaven on humankind to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God.
14:3 They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse; there is no one who does good, no, not one.
14:4 Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon the LORD?
14:5 There they shall be in great terror, for God is with the company of the righteous.
14:6 You would confound the plans of the poor, but the LORD is their refuge.
14:7 O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion! When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people, Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad.

Luke 15:1-10
15:1 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.
15:2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
15:3 So he told them this parable:
15:4 “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?
15:5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices.
15:6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’
15:7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
15:8 “Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?
15:9 When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’
15:10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Praise You in This Storm – 22 May 2022

By Pastor Bryan Niebanck

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us,

Psalm 67:1

“Praise You in This Storm” is a song by Casting Crowns released in 2005. 

“I was sure by now
God, You would have reached down
And wiped our tears away
Stepped in and saved the day
And once again
I say, “A-men” and it’s still rainin’

But as the thunder rolls
I barely hear Your whisper through the rain
“I’m with you”
And as Your mercy falls
I’ll raise my hands and praise the God who gives
And takes away

And I’ll praise You in this storm
And I will lift my hands
For You are who You are
No matter where I am
And every tear I’ve cried
You hold in Your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise You in this storm.”

Deuteronomy 31:6 tells us, “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”  In Psalm 18:3, we read this prayer: “I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.”

God is worthy to be praised even when there are enemies around us.  Even when life is not perfect, God is still worthy to be praised.  God never left us.  God still protects us.  We can tell God, “You are who You are.”

During some of the most difficult trials of human history, many were given cause to doubt the goodness of God.  During the Holocaust, for example, so many people wondered why God did not act.  One survivor of Auschwitz shared his reason for praising God even through the calamity: “It never occurred to be to question God’s doings or lack of doings while I was an inmate of Auschwitz, although of course I understood others did.  … I was no more or less religious because of what the Nazi’s did to us; and I believe my faith in God was not undermined in the least.  It never occurred to me to associate the calamity we were experiencing with God, to blame Him, or to believe in Him less or cease believing in Him at all because He didn’t come to our aid.  God doesn’t owe us that, or anything.  We owe our lives to Him.  If someone believes God is responsible for the death or six million because He didn’t somehow do something to save them, he’s got his thinking reversed.  We owe God our lives for the few or many years we live, and we have the duty to worship Him and do as He commands us.  That’s what we’re here on earth for, to be in God’s service, to do God’s bidding.” (When Bad Things Happen to Good People, 95-6).

We can argue that praising God is even more important in the storm, so that we are reminded that the storm will not be the cause of defeat for us.  In fact, as we read Psalm 67, we notice three potential purposes for praise that should draw our attention.  First, the Psalmist notes that praise is extremely important, as he quotes the same phrase twice in a seven-verse song: “Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you” (Psalm 67:3, 5).  Then, he tells us that praise does three things: it helps us remember what God has done, it helps us be thankful and live a life of gratitude, and it helps us evangelize.  In verse 4, the psalmist tells us to pay attention to what God is doing: “Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon the earth.”  In the song that we opened with, the artist remembers, “No matter where I am, and every tear I’ve cried, you hold in your hand.  You never left my side.”  When we praise God for what God has done, we remember that the Lord is great for His past deeds.  In verse 6, the psalmist notes that it is important to practice gratitude, for God has blessed us.  And finally, praising can be an act of evangelism for all who witness our acts of praise, telling the story of God’s presence and inviting others into God’s plan of redemption and hope.  The song that the psalmist wrote gives praise and thanksgiving, and by its very existence as a song, it evangelizes.  But it also goes one step further than that.

First, we know that we should praise God even in the storm.  It helps us remember why we worship God in the first place, it helps us practice a life of gratitude which changes our attitude and puts us in a better mindset, and it could potentially open the door for someone else to be changed as well.  That’s almost enough in itself.  But this little psalm is packed so richly that it also contains a request of God.  The second point that is being made by this psalm is that praising God gives us the confidence that we need to approach God.  It puts us in a mindset where we believe in ourselves well enough to think that we are important enough for God’s time, and to believe that God values us enough to listen to us.  What is the psalmist’s request?  “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known upon the earth, your saving power among all nations” (Psalm 67:1-2).  This is each of our prayers in one.  We pray for God to reveal Godself to us and for us, so that we might know that we are following God’s way, so that we might be confident in God, and still further that God’s way might be known by everyone who walks this earth, so that ill will and evil might be hindered or eliminated.  The request for evangelizing the world is there, but I would like to spend a few moments on the first part of that request: “May God make his face to shine upon us” (67:1).

Requesting that God’s face shine upon us is very popular in the Psalms.  In Psalm 80, we read this request three times: “Restore us, O God; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved” (Psalm 80:3, 7, 19).  You may recognize this request from Numbers 6, as it is often used as a benediction: “The LORD bless you and keep you; The LORD make His face shine upon you, And be gracious to you; The LORD lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26 NKJV).  We want to know God has blessed us.  We want to know that we are saved.  And we want to be able to know that God really is looking down on us.  These are only a few possible meanings of what asking God’s face to shine upon us could be.  Ultimately, we want to know that God is pleased with us.

I believe that we can know that God is pleased with us.  First, you can ask yourself if you are coming to God rather than going away.  If you are, ask if you have received the Holy Spirit.  Jesus told his disciples, because he knew they were troubled with these things, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid” (John 14:27).  They wanted to know that they were doing the right thing, and they were not sure how they would manage to know this when their teacher will no longer be by their side.  They had not yet learned how to be confident in the storm.  And Jesus did not expect them to have to fend for themselves.  He told them, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you” (John 14:26).  Who here needs to be reminded of things that someone told them once?  The disciples did too.  We are promised that an Advocate will be with us to help us through the storms, and will help us on our mission to tend God’s sheep, which is what Jesus asked Peter to do when he appeared to the disciples on the beach for the final recorded time.  We know that God is pleased with us if we allow the Holy Spirit to help us tend the sheep.

To tend these sheep, we need to be able to make it through these storms.  We need to praise God in the storms.  We may falter every now and again, which is expected, and then we lean on a Christian neighbor to help us regain our strength.  (If we do not do that then we will keep faltering and not make it back to where God wants us to be.)  First, we go back to praising God so that we remember God’s goodness and greatness, so that we live in a grateful mindset, and so that we share God’s goodness through that mindset and our confidence in God.  Second, we use our restored confidence to make requests of God that will better God’s kingdom and our own ability to fulfill God’s will and his commands.  If our heart is in the right place, I believe that God will fulfill these requests, just as the Lord fulfilled Solomon’s request for wisdom when he wanted to lead the people in God’s way (1 Kings 3).

Jesus said in John 21:17 “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  To be a sent person means being sent into the storm, but also into God’s embrace.  It means struggling with doubt, but also living in peace.  It means that we have a teachable spirit, because we cannot do this Christian life without that teacher.  It would be impossible.  Very few of us if any taught ourselves long division, or how to ride a bicycle.  We all had a guide.  And that guide is our Holy Spirit.  In the weeks following Easter, the disciples heard this promise, and they may have been comforted.  They may not have been sure exactly what to expect.  But they knew that Jesus was not leaving them to the wolves.  They knew that even in the deepest trials, where leaders were seeking their arrest and perhaps even their lives, they could sing these words:

“And I’ll praise You in this storm
And I will lift my hands
For You are who You are
No matter where I am
And every tear I’ve cried
You hold in Your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise You in this storm.”

Praise God.  Make requests of God.  USE the Advocate by having a teachable spirit.  Just as the disciples were encouraged when they were told, “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” may you also come to believe.  May you also come to expect that because your face is turned toward God, God’s face will indeed shine upon you, and you will have your small role in making God’s way known throughout the earth.  The call to be a Christian is not to give in to the pain and the fear and the struggle that we all face.  It is to stand up and praise God in the storm, even when our bodies and the tragedies we see scream against it.  Stand up, and praise God in this storm.  May all glory and honor be to God!  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Scripture Readings:

Acts 16:9-15
16:9 During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”
16:10 When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.
16:11 We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis,
16:12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days.
16:13 On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there.
16:14 A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul.
16:15 When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.

Psalm 67
67:1 May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us,
67:2 that your way may be known upon earth, your saving power among all nations.
67:3 Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.
67:4 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth.
67:5 Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.
67:6 The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, has blessed us.
67:7 May God continue to bless us; let all the ends of the earth revere him.

John 14:23-29
14:23 Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.
14:24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
14:25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you.
14:26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.
14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
14:28 You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I.
14:29 And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.

Good News!

Second Sunday of Easter – 11 April 2021

Written by Pastor Bryan Niebanck

We declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. ~1 John 1:3

“I heard that Tony doesn’t like to do anything.  He just sits around and watches TV all day.”  “Oh, I heard that Maggie doesn’t like people; she just pretends she does in order to get along but always finds excuses to not come to gatherings.”  “That’s great; I also hear that Amy is going to get that promotion.  She deserves it so much!”  Do you like to spread news that you hear?  Good or bad, we capture things that we do not think others have heard yet, and we are excited to be the one to tell it.  Parents and grandmothers are probably the most likely to spread news about their children.  It is either exciting to spread the news, or we need someone to talk to about it.

The news media makes spreading news their business.  Sadly, it is often the negative news that gets passed down to those who follow the media, or at least it is the negative news that is most remembered.  What makes it more exciting to spread negative news than good news?  Perhaps because the people who hold power are always due to take the worst criticism.  Maybe people always criticize the people in power.  This is the kind of news that people seek.  Yet, it just brings most of us down.  Together, we can do our part to spread positive news, and not start spreading negative thoughts about another person unless you want your deepest mistakes publically criticized as well.  There is some news that must be heard, such as when tragedy strikes or perhaps when a promise is broken.  But we can make an equal effort to notice when something good happens, when a broken promise is restored, and when we are actually having a good day.  People are twice as likely to post on Facebook or Twitter when they are having a bad day or are upset about something as opposed to when they are having a good day or are excited about something.  We complain more than we are thankful.  Is there something that we can do about that?  Can we spread the good as much or even more than we spread the negative?  People want to see and hear this news too, and it contributes to society as a whole because it will ultimately make people more productive.

Continue reading “Good News!”

Now What?

Easter Sunday – 4 April 2021

Written by Pastor Bryan Niebanck

So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid. ~Mark 16:8

Now what?  Jesus was beaten, and sentenced to death.  His disciples turned away from him in order to protect themselves.  Those who had welcomed him into Jerusalem were too afraid to speak up for Jesus on Friday morning when he was being tried in front of Pilate.  Some watched from afar as Jesus was taken to Golgotha.  As Mark writes in the passion narrative, “There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James.  These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem” (Mark 15:40-41).  The one they had followed had very suddenly been taken away from them.  They had devoted their lives to follow him.  The disciples left their lives as fisherman to travel with Jesus.  Were they now to go back to being fisherman?  What was left for them to learn?  What was left for them to do?

Have you ever asked the question, “Now what?”  You may have lost a spouse or a job that literally defined your life.  Many lost a job or were furloughed during the pandemic.  In such a change of lifestyle and a shock, what’s next?  The answer may not always be clear.  Often, it is not.  This past year, when restrictions and regulations seemed to change on a daily basis, a lot of people were heard grumbling, “Now what?!”  Some have a family member who calls them too often, and we ask to ourselves, “What do they want now?”  Today, we have turned from the grief of the crucifixion to the joy of the resurrected Christ, but is it really a joy to us?  Does the news of the resurrected Christ seem old?  We cannot force ourselves to feel joyful.  So, if you are one of those who was looking forward to Easter, but now feel that it is here and there is nothing too special about it, you may be asking, “Now what?”  The answer is to find meaning in the resurrection again.  It is to prove to ourselves that the resurrection did happen, and it is to understand our current role in light of it two thousand years later.  How do we understand our role as disciples of Jesus in a world following the resurrection?

Continue reading “Now What?”

To Be a Disciple

By Pastor Bryan Niebanck

28 March 2021 – Palm Sunday

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” ~Philippians 2:5

When was the last time that someone was coming home to see you, perhaps from a long time away, perhaps from somewhere quite distant?  Perhaps it was a family member coming back home to the States after being abroad, on a mission trip or in the service.  Perhaps it was a college student who you have missed at home.  Perhaps it was a family member or friend who had merely taken a job states away and was coming home for a visit.  How did the thought of them coming home make you feel?  For many, this is an exciting time; it is a time of reunion, to catch up, and to celebrate the time that you are blessed to spend with each other.  It is all that you can focus on.

I have felt something similar for seeing my scout camp again, in addition to seeing my family.  I spent many off-seasons looking forward to when I could be working another summer at camp.  Every Sunday campfire one of the long time staff members sang this song at the beginning of our week, which spoke to how we all felt: “Sequassen I am coming home, I can see your rolling hills of trees and your crystal waters flow; I am reaching out, won’t you take my hand?  I’m coming home Sequassen!”  It truly has been a second home for all of us and somewhere which always holds a special place in our hearts.  It was not just any camp to us; we always formed a special bond and often cried when we left; it is hard to describe to someone who has not experienced it.

Continue reading “To Be a Disciple”

The One Served – 21 March 2021

Fifth Sunday of Lent

By Pastor Bryan Niebanck

Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. ~John12:26

Who do you serve?  If you work in a restaurant, you serve the customers who come through the door looking for a meal.  And you remember that the customer is always right.  After working in a restaurant for three years, I heard of plenty of times where this was aggravating.  A server told me, “They definitely asked for no cheese on their bacon cheeseburger.  But then they asked me where the cheese was.  I can’t tell them that they asked for no cheese, but I have to ask them if they want a new one made and make it seem like it was my fault.”  I definitely have a new appreciation for what restaurant workers go through, having worked there myself.  We serve the public, and make their experience as enjoyable as we can even when they are the ones who make a blatant mistake.

Our healthcare workers serve those who need medical care.  They attend to some of the most urgent needs.  They also want to make those who require services to have as comfortable a stay as possible, whether it is extended in a hospital or simply a checkup at a doctor’s office.  Though, they deal with a lot too.  During my time as a chaplain at Marion General Hospital, I remember one nurse talking about the patient I was about to go see.  She warned me that he saw this place as a prison, believed he was perfectly healthy, and was being held here against his will.  He physically fought the nurses every time they tried to administer his medication.  Neither the nurse nor the patient was necessarily in the wrong, since the patient was in an altered mind state, but this goes to show that serving others can be incredibly hard, even when we are called to the job.

Whatever job you have, you are serving somebody.  There will be times where that serving is a joy.  For every frustrating customer or patient, there were three more who thanked us and were very pleasant people to talk to.  There will be difficult moments also, though.  The disciples were seen by some in a negative light because they did not abide by every rule that the Old Testament laid out.   In Matthew 9:14, Jesus was asked of his disciples, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?”  Assumptions were made, and they were not always the most fair.  How do you do balance the feedback from the people that you serve?  Do you let it bring you down?  Does it motivate you to do better?  Do you want to scream at them because you are doing the best that you can for them?  Or do you choose to forget about the complaints and focus on the good?  Perhaps you do all of these things.

There are plenty of things that we choose to focus our minds on.  Some of it is the good and some of it is the bad.  We prayed over the past couple weeks for God to help us renew our minds so that we fill it with good things and not the things that bring us down or distract us from our true focus, being servants of God.  You spend so much energy trying to please customers and those you serve in this world.  How much of that energy do you save to try to please God?  Do not misunderstand me, for it is important to try to please those who we serve in this world.  Yet, we should please others with the wider context behind us; while serving others we are working to spread the grace and kindness of God.  We give someone grace when we do not yell back at them even if they deserve it.  Instead, we give them a smile and keep doing the best that we can.  Jesus knew that the world would hate his followers, for as he was preparing to leave the world, he prayed, “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world” (John 17:14).  Today, we want to ask ourselves, “Who do we serve, and is this evident by who we follow?”  Do we serve the people who demand too much of us?  Or do we serve God by giving grace to the one who wasn’t so kind, and love to everyone?  I read a conversion story once about a man who had jumped someone and held them at gunpoint asking for their money.  The man with the gun was so surprised that the person responded with a smile and spoke to him that he dropped the gun and asked how the person could have been so calm.  He was baptized later that week.  Do we serve our fear, or do we serve God knowing that whatever happens to us, God will have our back?  Do we serve our worry, or do we trust God to make the most out of every situation, even if it is in our own pain?  Do we serve the need to please others, or do we place priority on serving God?

Continue reading “The One Served – 21 March 2021”