Keeping Christianity Weird: Sacrifice…with a Smile

I recently got into a conversation about the various motivations that spur human beings to serve others, particularly focusing on those times when service to others requires some form of self-sacrifice. The discussion touched on all of the more-obvious answers fairly quickly – it actually feels good to serve others, serving others provides a larger purpose to life, there is so much need all around us, etc. Where things started to get weird was when I casually mentioned that unless one’s ultimate hope is placed somewhere firmly outside the short lifespan we all have been assigned, then service to others actually makes no sense whatsoever. (Awkward pause.)

Serve One Another with JoyThankfully, many of us want to make a positive difference in our world, but the one thing our prevailing cultural narrative does not (and cannot) provide is an eternal motivation for service to others. Unless you have a category for Meaningful Self-Sacrifice built into your operational meta-narrative, the smart money is on Cutting One’s Losses when the cost or inconvenience of serving others grows too great.

In short, if we are ever to effectively move past our own self-interest – which includes our desire to be known as “good people” – there must be a motivator that stands outside of all known human boundaries and brings lasting meaning to service that, otherwise, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Alongside over 2,000 other people in Boone County, including all volunteers and those we plan to serve, the Mayer family is looking forward to an exhausting day of service this Saturday, April 29th, when we all hit the streets to serve our community as part of #ForColumbia2017.

The three questions with which I opened this blog have been a regular source of self-examination (and corresponding sobriety) as I frequently fall into the error of valuing “Task Completed/Check the Box!” over the greater gift and purpose of building relationships and therefore, God’s Kingdom. My specific assignment this weekend includes replacing the kitchen flooring at a local homeless shelter. But my primary mission is actually less about providing new flooring, although that is certainly part of it; my primary mission is rather, as Bono, lead singer for U2 once said, to “tear off a corner of the darkness” by working in cooperation with God’s Spirit to invite others into a meaningful relationship with Jesus.

Jesus calls His followers to a Kingdom “not off this world.” The “world” Jesus refers to in his conversation with Pontius Pilate (John 18:28-38) is the world ruled by self-care, self-love and self-soothing. According to Jesus, we can serve God with a corrupt heart as long as we continually acknowledge our need (Luke 18:9-14). The kind of service that is of no eternal value, according to Jesus, is the kind of service we offer so that we can feel good about ourselves (Matthew 7:21-23) and beat down the inner voice that gently points out just how awful we are being to others as we push our own agendas: “Don’t interrupt me! Can’t you see I’m trying to serve you?”

Though prone to cynicism, I have high hopes for what God might be doing through the various churches who have signed on to serve together this Saturday. Whenever something unprecedented takes place – 48 churches of varying stripes coming together to do anything – it shows me in unmistakable terms that God is indeed on the move. For myself, I suspect that ForColumbia represents a test of sorts:

  • Will we serve our community in the unlimited power that Christ provides, and with great joy? Or will we instead serve our community in the all-too-limited and fragile power of self, and in doing so appear to be “just like everyone else?”

Long after the power tools go quiet and 48 church congregations return to “normal” lives, I hope to revisit the questions with which I opened this post. Opportunities to serve alongside people you normally would not spend time with do not come along every day. I truly hope that we complete our tasks, yes, absolutely; my heart very much wants the residents of the homeless shelter to have a nicer kitchen in which they can prepare meals. More than that, though, my hope is that at least one other person will take note of our willingness to serve and, far more importantly, our all-too-obvious joy that he or she might reconsider the Person and work of Jesus.

Devotional Classic from the Christian History Institute

Monday, April 24, 2017
There is Oneness in the Church

You are all one in Christ Jesus.
Galatians 3:28

The church of Jesus Christ is one,
Though form’d of many parts;
He claims the members as his own,
And rules in all their hearts.

One body, join’d to Christ their head,
In him they live and move;
No longer number’d with the dead,
They sing redeeming love.

One living temple built for God,
His glory to proclaim;
And spread through all the earth abroad,
The honors of his name.

One service shall the saints employ,
The same in every age:
They serve their God with cheerful joy,
And all their powers engage.

One object have they all in view,
The glory of his name;
Which all, with holy zeal pursue,
Their hopes and joys the same.

One spirit kindles every breast,
One faith, one hope, one way;
They journey to their heav’nly rest,
To one eternal day.

Nicholas Hellings, The Daily Hymn Book Containing A Hymn On A Passage Of Scripture For Every Day With An Appendix Of Hymns Etc. (London: Thomas Ward, 1838.) Late in the 1830s, Nicholas Hellings found himself anxious and overwhelmed by his duties. As a calming measure, he decided to write a hymn for each day of the year based on the daily Scripture given by the Christian Almanack. Here are the stanzas from the hymn he offered for the fourth Sunday of April.

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