Sunday, February 15, 2015

What God Wants From Us, Part 3

Note: This is a long one, but worth your time.

Today's northeast Ohio forecast? An arctic front bringing -20 wind we skipped church. In lieu of a corporate sermon I decided to read sermons at home and continue a series I started in late December:

What God Wants From Us in 2015, Part 1

What God Wants From Us in 2015, Part 2

God wants us to:
To Love Him
To Seek Him
To Serve Him 
To Trust Him

Part 1 discussed Loving God
Part 2 discussed Seeking God

Now it's time for Part 3, which is Serving God.

I must admit that when I peered into and studied John Piper's sermons and devotionals on Serving God, I was surprised, for there was nothing about working in your church, your neighborhood, or your community, or even serving the less fortunate living abroad. 

So, other than loving our families, how exactly do we serve God?

“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). What does that mean?
  • It means to do what he says in a way that makes him look supremely valuable in himself.
  • It means to submit to him in a way that makes him look thrilling. 
God has told us not to serve him as though he needed anything.
“He is not served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25).
“The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). 
Both these texts put all the emphasis on God’s giving to us when we serve.

So the kind of service that makes God look valuable and thrilling is the kind that serves God by constantly receiving from God. The key text to describe this is 1 Peter 4:11 —
“Whoever serves, [let it be] as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.”
God is seen as glorious when all our serving is moment-by-moment receiving from God’s supply.
We receive this supply by faith. That is, we trust moment-by-moment that what we need, in serving him, he will supply (“life, breath, and everything”). This is the opposite of being anxious. Such serving is happy. And it makes God look no less authoritative, but infinitely more desirable. This is the glory he means to have. The giver gets the glory.
Therefore, “serve the Lord with gladness” (Psalm 100:2).
Taken from a Piper devotional : What Does It Mean to Serve God? John Piper  July, 2011
The message to us this: Our purpose in serving God is to glorify Him, not to help Him.

Whatever we do, we're to do it through God. The strength must come from God, who serves us. He didn't come to be served, but to serve. He doesn't have a laundry list of things for us to accomplish. 

He doesn't need us to feed the poor, for he can do it. 
He doesn't need us to feed his sheep spiritually, for he can do it. 
He doesn't need us to disciple our children, for he can do it. 
He doesn't need us to toil for our daily bread, for he can supply it.

The above "tasks" are all part of the Christian life, but they are not our purpose. Without that distinction we run astray easily; we grow weary in doing good; we get lost in ego and experience frequent conflict with our fellow man. We lose hope. We choose the wrong things, or the right things at the wrong time.
“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” (Acts 17:24–25)
We do not glorify God by providing his needs, but by praying that he would provide ours — and trusting him to answer.
Here we are at the heart of the good news of Christian Hedonism. God’s insistence that we ask him to give us help so that he gets glory (Psalm 50:15) forces on us the startling fact that we must beware of serving God and take special care to let him serve us, lest we rob him of his glory.
This sounds very strange. Most of us think serving God is a totally positive thing; we have not considered that serving God may be an insult to him. But meditation on the meaning of prayer demands this consideration. Acts 17:24–25 makes this plain.
“If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine. . . . Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me” (Psalm 50:12, 15).
Evidently, there is a way to serve God that would belittle him as needy of our service. “The Son of Man came not to be served” (Mark 10:45). He aims to be the servant. He aims to get the glory as Giver.
Excerpt from John Piper's book: Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, pg. 168
In a November, 1997 sermon, John Piper teaches why the Gospel was so detestable to Saul of Tarsus, who later became the Apostle Paul. Can you guess why? What was Paul (Saul) like before his conversion? An excellent Pharisee. The best of the best. 
Here was a man who had spent his whole life till that moment defending a way of salvation - a way of acceptance with God - that basically said, "If you want to be right with God and have eternal life and everlasting joy with him, then take the law of God, put it on like an ox wears a yoke, and pull your own weight and show God that you are good enough to go to heaven." Now Paul had heard the message of Jesus. He probably had heard it straight from Jesus' mouth while Jesus was teaching in and around Jerusalem. But we know he heard it from Jesus' early followers like Stephen - and the message he heard was not the way of salvation Paul himself preached as a member of the Pharisees.
This is what threatened Paul in those early days and made him hate Christianity. He was a very successful Pharisee. He had accomplished things in religion and morality beyond all his peers (Galatians 1:14Philippians 3:4-6). His whole identity hung on serving God with resolve and strength and rigor and accuracy and beyond all his contemporaries. This was his identity. This was his boast and significance. And here comes a message about God that says, "God is not served by human hands as though he needed anything." Well, Paul did not hear this as good news. It was shattering. His whole life seemed in vain. What have I worked for? Why all this study of God's law and all this moral striving if God cannot be served? It would be like spending your life doing aerobic leg exercises only to discover that the final contest of life is hang-gliding, not running.
What's wrong with saying that the law of God is like a yoke, and that you put it on, and exert yourself morally to show that you are worthy to be in God's presence and have eternal life and everlasting joy? Isn't that what our consciences tell us: God is great and holy and righteous? And we are sinful and make many mistakes and can't even do well enough to satisfy our consciences, let alone God? So we must work harder, and pull our own weight and offer God better service? What's wrong with that?
That's what I want to ask this morning, so that we can get the meaning of Christianity very clear in our minds, and see how different it is.
This view of serving God is bad news for some, and good news for others, Piper tell us. If you are like Paul used to be and do everything in your own strength, and have a high opinion of your abilities, it's bad news. God cares nothing for our efforts, in so far as they are aimed at glorifying us and our worth. 
On the other hand, if we are aware of our weakness, our insufficiency, our total dependence on God, than this view of serving Him is a glorious, life-giving one. I don't need to have all the answers, the strength, the courage, the intelligence, the creativity, the stamina or the perseverence. I just need God...serving me, as he came to do.
If you are weak and helpless and sinful and know that any good you do, you need God's help to do, then this comes as the best news in the world. That God is the kind of God who cannot be served, but loves to serve. His message to the world - the Christian gospel - is not a "help-wanted" sign, but a "help available" sign. He is not served as though he needed anything, but he gives to all people life and breath and everything. To those who feel morally self-sufficient this is bad news. It threatens to take away our basis for boasting. But to those who feel morally desperate and hopeless before a holy and infinitely righteous God, this is good news. Maybe a God who doesn't need me would be willing to be for me what I need.
"Even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."
Here we have Jesus telling us why he came into the world. This is the central Christian claim: Christ, the Son of God became a Son of Man and lived among us. Why? Did he come to recruit workers and servants for God? Did he come like a employer's company scout goes to a job fair at a college to find bright, young, able workers to help him keep his company afloat and prosperous?
No. That is not why he came.  Jesus came not because he needed us, but because we needed him.
Specifically, how do we need him? There are hundreds of ways that we need him. But he tells us the main way in the rest of the verse: "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." What we needed most of all was someone who would die in our place. Because the Bible says, "the wages of sin is death." When we are honest with ourselves, we know that we have neglected and offended God very deeply. He has not been first in our lives. He has not even been second or third or fourth. And we know that this is a great offense to him. And we are in grave danger because of his righteous judgment.
So we are in no position to serve him, or impress him in any way with our abilities or our moral prowess. We are rebels at the root, and God is not our loved and honored and trusted and treasured king. We are captive to sin and destined for righteous judgment. That is why our greatest need is not for health, or wealth, or marriage repair, or job, or obedient kids. Our greatest need is someone to die in our place and ransom us from the penalty and power of sin, so that we escape God's judgment and enter eternal life.
Jesus is the very One we need above all other needs. God sent his only Son to pay what we could never pay: an infinite ransom price because of an infinite debt to God because of our sin. Only the Son of God could pay it. Only he is infinite.
Being a Christian means getting up in the morning and saying in your heart: Jesus, you are my Savior, my King, my Friend, my Treasure, my Hope, my Joy, my Guide, my Protection, my Wisdom, my Advocate, my Strength. I need you, I love you, I trust you to be all that for me today. I know you have given me muscles and a mind and a will. I know you intend for me to use them all in doing things that are just and loving and God-honoring. But you have shown me that without you my will is rebellious, my mind is darkened and my muscles obey the rebel will and the darkened mind.
And so, Lord Jesus, I need you every day. Work for me today - not because I deserve it, but because you paid my ransom. Serve me today - to subdue my will, so that I love what you love and find joy in doing your will; to bring light to my mind, so that I think the truth and see you for who you are, infinitely valuable and beautiful. And so may my body magnify you whether in life or death. That's what it means to be a Christian.
The good news this morning is not that God offers to keep us from death or suffering. He doesn't. The good news is that God works for those who wait for him (Isaiah 64:4), even in suffering and death. He forgives all our sins, he removes all our guilt, he takes away all our condemnation through the death of Jesus. And in the place of sin and guilt and condemnation God works for us - he makes himself our Servant not only at the cross but every day of our lives. He pursues us with goodness and mercy. He works all things together for our good - even the hardest things. He never leaves us for forsakes us so that "we confidently say, 'The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What will man do to me?'" (Hebrews 13:6). And in the end he will carry us safely through death and bring us home to heaven and everlasting life and joy. And there too he will serve us. He will never surrender the all-glorious position of infinite self-sufficiency as the overflowing fountain of life and joy.
His closing word to you this morning is this (Matthew 11:28-30):
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
The yoke of faith and obedience are easy and light because even when he puts it on us he carries it. "Fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand" (Isaiah 41:10).

John Piper: Why God Cannot Be Served But Loves to Serve 
This is particularly life-giving to me in this season. The future is murky for one, perhaps two of my children: Peter and Beth. 
If Beth isn't one of the 50% who grow out of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, she may face life-long need for dangerous drugs just to function...just to avoid a wheelchair and have full use of her wrists and other joints. She may face one or more joint replacement surgeries. Can she be a mother with the physical ability needed to serve her active children? Will she be able to handle a special-needs child, given that special needs run in her family?  Will she be fulfilled and not bitter if she never grows out of this?
And Peter? What if he never gets his concentration and intellectual stamina back after suffering the August, 2014 concussion? What if he wanders around not able to focus or meet goals? What if he continually serves his OCD rituals, allowing them to deplete his energy and hope? His ADHD makes it harder for him to concentrate on beating the OCD, and the OCD makes it harder for him to compensate for the ADHD. We fight for hope daily, even though it's clear he's a young man after God's own heart--even more true since his injury. Still, he drives himself and all of us crazy with the symptoms. Will he drive a wife crazy? Will he be able to concentrate well enough to serve highly demanding children of his own? 
The answer to all these questions is yes...if we allow God to serve us. He came to be for us what we couldn't be. His purposes are served quite well when we are at our weakest. 
So I need not worry about my children's weaknesses, nor my weaknesses and imperfections as a mother and wife. I can live in peace, in joy, knowing that the Son of God came to be for me what I couldn't be. My service to him is to allow him to serve me...not to give me everything I want, but everything I need to glorify Him. 
The book I am reading, Grace Based Parenting, teaches that the most important thing we can do for our children is to raise them with hope. To raise them with hope is to raise them with grace. We do that by making sure we are, ourselves, living by the Hope of the Gospel. The hope of the Gospel is that the Son of Man gives us life eternal, and everything we need until then.
He will give me everything I need, everything you need, everything our children need. Amen

End of story...but oh, how we complicate it!

Prayer Time: Dear Heavenly Father, we love you. Thank you for coming to serve us. Thank you for loving us, forgiving us, for continually working in us your glory, reflected. May we stop complicating it all, Lord. Forgive us for making it about us. Forgive us for living by fear and in doubt. Help us to live through you, glorifying you with our humility, our simple faith, our sincere worship and gratitude. Help us to switch our view of serving you from "Help wanted" to "Help available". In Jesus's name I pray, Amen.

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