Serving Others

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As I’ve spent time thinking over the new series that we are doing for players this Spring Training, I find myself trying to take the time to examine my own life so I can figure out different ways that I need to better practice what I’m teaching in each study. It’s the inevitable conflict of those who teach others the truths of God — I can discover and deliver those truths, and yet if I’m not disciplined and discerning, I can easily find myself not fully responding to them in my own life.

I make the case in our first study that God’s plan for creation is that it would be run by obedient humans who would rule over the creation on his behalf. And despite human defiance and our own foolish decisions to try and rule the world our own way by defining good and evil for ourselves, God has never given up on that plan.

The Bible teaches us that Jesus is the obedient human who has retaken the throne at the right-hand of the Creator and who now rules over the creation on his behalf. He has rescued humans from the consequences of our rebellion, and he has restored us back into being creatures made in the image of God.

This means that Jesus restores us into being able to once again fulfill our very special vocation and calling to be real-life expressions of God’s authority over the creation and that we can now join Jesus in ruling over the world on his behalf as his special representatives.

This is a profound truth that ought to help us rediscover the dignity of what it means to be a human being, and an incredible privilege that we would be foolish to not embrace with everything that we got.

And so, over the last few weeks, I have been contemplating what this means for my own life. What does this actually look like for me right now in my day-to-day routine and life?

Here’s a few self-suggestions that I have come up with for now:

Be the Household Leader

First, I need to be a leader over my household and make every effort to make my environment a place of order, beauty, peace and goodness. And I don’t think it does us any good to over-spiritualize this. Being a leader who rules over my environment on behalf of God requires teaching my children about who God is and what he has done for us, but I think it also includes things like cleaning the clutter in our house and keeping hurtful language and imagery off our screens.

I need to create the kind of atmosphere in my home that reflects the order, beauty, peace and goodness of God.

Be a Humble Learner

Next, I need to be a humble learner when it comes to things like social justice, racial reconciliation, climate change, green energy and anything else that promotes care for the environment and serious concern for the flourishing of every human individual. This doesn’t mean that I must agree with every position or not hold any convictions of my own, but I do need to make sure that I’m not so influenced by my own ideological preferences that I feel like I have things figured out.

I need to be quick to listen, concentrated in my thought and slow to speak so that my words will be used to promote any good that God wants in his world and not wasted on what could very well be my own definition of good and evil.

Be a Servant to All

And lastly (for now), I need to diligently pray like Jesus taught us to pray and ask that God’s will be done here on earth as it is in heaven.

This profound truth that we have been restored by Jesus to the vocation of ruling the world on behalf of God as his special representatives ought to open up my mind in new ways about what it means to pray in this way. And it means that I need to realize that part of this request is accepting the responsibility that I am asking God to use me however he wants to accomplish his will here on earth as it is in heaven.

I need to walk around throughout my day aware that I am representing God at all times to all people and stay ready for any opportunity that he may present before me to speak and act on his behalf. And I need to never forget that Jesus demonstrated and taught that we are to rule with him by becoming servants to everyone. I must consider the lives of others as more significant than my own and that includes the life of my enemies and those who might harm me if they could (let that sink in). Ruling with Jesus requires taking up a cross like him, and not a sword like the “rulers” of this world.

And so, as you enter into this next season, realize that through the work of Christ, you have been restored back into being creatures made in the image of God. You are now a special representative of the Creator and therefore responsible to bring order and goodness and peace to your circle of influence on his behalf. To wrap this up with some imagery from the story of Adam, lets all embrace this incredible privilege and calling and make every effort to take care of the gardens that God has placed us in.

Extra-Ordinary Love

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Perhaps there is nothing in this world more unique and unexpected than someone who chooses to love the people that mistreat them and someone who chooses to pray for those who hurt them the most. The world can hardly comprehend this kind of love because it seems so irrational and unreasonable. Extending love to people who don’t seem to love or respect us goes completely against our natural instincts and our natural inclinations.  

So there must be some sort of hidden meaning when Jesus commands us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us, right? Surely, there has to be some exceptions to this command, right?

Sometimes it can be beneficial to begin with what Jesus is not saying before we try to discern what exactly he is intending to say. Jesus is not saying that we should all just be doormat disciples and let the world walk all over us. Some of us read this commandment and think, “Well it sure sounds like that’s what he’s saying.” But Jesus is not against self-defense or running away to avoid evil.

If someone goes to punch you in the face, it’s not a sin to duck.

Let’s give Jesus a little more credit than that. Jesus' own life doesn’t depict being a pushover or someone who runs from confrontation and never resists evil. And so he’s not calling his followers to live a life of weakness and passivity either. 

So, what is he saying?

Jesus does not ask us to pretend that someone is not evil or by any stretch of the imagination to condone someone’s evil behavior. Jesus does not prohibit a proper administration of justice. Jesus is perfectly just so he is certainly concerned with the administration of justice.

However (and this is the key), Jesus does forbid us from taking justice into our own hands. When we are mistreated, Jesus does not give us the permission to satisfy ourselves by getting even or taking revenge. Self-defense is one thing, but self-vindication is something else, and our Lord forbids it! 

You see, retaliation is the natural way of this world. Payback is a natural instinct that we possess — If you mess with me then I’m going to mess with you. If you take care of me then I’ll take care of you.

But Jesus says, “No. That’s not how my people are going to do things. Anybody can flex their muscles and try to show off their strength by getting even. But true strength is found in a man who shows incredible self-control and loves others so powerfully that he refuses to take the easy path of revenge and retaliation. A real man of God only concerns himself with giving people what they need and isn’t caught up with trying to dish out what they might deserve.”

Typically, the reason we often seek revenge is because we feel like someone has forcefully gained control over us.

And we hate that!

If an organization mistreats you during arbitration, then you want to stick it to them when it’s time for free agency. If a manager gives you a role that you disagree with then you’ll try and stick it to him by rebelling against his authority and doing your own program. Either way, it’s an effort to regain control that you feel like you’ve lost. 

Jesus was falsely arrested and mocked. Romans soldiers stripped his clothes off leaving him naked in front of everyone. They spit on him. They slapped him. They beat him. They put a crown of thorns on our King’s head to mock him, and yet Jesus declared “No one takes my life from me, but I give it up on my own authority.” 

Our Lord willingly chose to hang on that cross. At the very moment in Jesus' life that it seemed he had lost all control, he was actually the One in complete control.

Jesus wasn’t a doormat; he was an anvil. And as the hammer of evil kept pounding down on him, he remained still and steady until at last, he shattered those forces of evil.

You see, the anvil almost always breaks the hammer. 

There is incredible power in a life that remains strong, still and steady in the midst of being pounded on.

When Jesus tells us to love our enemies, he is simply saying that we ought to extend the same extraordinary love that God has extended to us. We were enemies of God, and yet he willingly died to save us. Praise God that he chose to give us what we needed and not what we deserved!

So how are we supposed to do this? How do we love those that seem impossible to love?

Well, we will never learn to love those that are hard to love until we are captivated and motivated by God's love for us.

God's extra-ordinary love for us has transformed us from being his enemies to being members of his own family. Until we embrace our identity as adopted sons of our Father in heaven, our love for others will be no different than the rest of the world.

A strong awareness of how much God has loved us should humble us enough to help us love those that we feel are unloveable. Our love for our Father in heaven should lead us to love others because we want to be just like him.  

You see, as a father, my children’s love for me leads them to imitate me and to try to be like me.  

And so, as children of God, who are we imitating? Who do we want to be like? 

Are we imitating the way of this world and desiring to get even and get control in this world, or are we imitating the way of our Father in heaven and desiring to give grace?

In the words of Martyn Lloyd-Jones:

“If only we all might begin to love like this, and every Christian in the world were loving in this way! If we did, revival would soon come, and who knows what might happen even in the whole world.”

The world will only begin to see our God as extraordinary when the world begins to experience an extraordinary love from God’s children. This is the way of Jesus and our mission in this world. There's nothing ordinary about our Father in heaven, and so may there be nothing ordinary about those of us he calls his children.

Imitate Jesus

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This week I was reading Paul’s letter to the Philippians, and as I was reading it, I was so captivated by Paul’s mindset throughout the letter. I’d encourage you to sit down and read the whole letter (it would probably take 10 minutes) and just listen to some of the things Paul says about himself and his mindset towards his own life.

It’s a mindset that every Jesus-follower is supposed to have, but it’s also one that many of us today have not developed, and so it’s easy for us to just view it as too radical or not realistic.

For example, listen what Paul says in the following two verses (Philippians 3:7-8):

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…”

We read these words and we hear him say these things and let’s just be honest, most of us aren’t on the same page as Paul just yet. Some of us can’t say what he says here. Some of us feel like Paul is so far out there and so radical that we just can’t even relate to what he’s saying here at all. But hopefully there’s some of us in here who are at least thinking, "I wish I was like this and I wish I could say these things, but I’m not there yet."

How did Paul get to this place in his own life? How did he develop this kind of mindset and view towards his own life?

His life had been completely transformed by Jesus. His worldview and the trajectory of his life was completely changed by Jesus. And Paul understood that the only way to respond to what Jesus had done for him is to become like Jesus — to imitate Jesus.  

What do I mean by that?

Paul understood that living as a follower of Jesus is seeing your own life-story as a living expression of Jesus’ life-story. The very nature of the idea of following Jesus implies that you will begin to imitate Jesus in the way you think and live your life.

That’s the central point of this entire letter. Paul wrote a poem in chapter two of this letter that is the center-piece of everything that he’s teaching in the rest of the letter. It’s a poem worth memorizing if you can, and we read it in 2:5-11 where Paul says:  

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

This poem expresses Paul’s convictions about who Jesus is, and it offers the example of Jesus as a way of life that his followers are to imitate. Jesus willingly gave up his status and privileges in order to love and bless us. And Paul has pointed out how he has given up his status and privileges in order to love and bless others too. And so, Paul is simply instructing the Philippians and us today to follow his example as he is following the example of Jesus.

Imagine what would happen if more of us were living examples of Jesus’ life story?

How much of an impact would we have in this game and in our communities if we were willing to give up our status and privileges and become servants like Jesus who sacrifice ourselves in order to love and to serve and to bless others?

 

3 Steps to Start Celebrating the Success of Others

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Minor League Baseball can breed this awkward team dynamic where everyone's individual pursuit of the Big Leagues secretly but not-so-secretly trumps the overall performance of the team.

Sadly (but truthfully), this can cause players to struggle with the success of their own teammates (especially those who play the same position). And so, even though your teammate's success will help the overall performance of the team, it can also be seen as a potential threat to your individual pursuit of being the next guy who gets called up to the Big Leagues.

But honestly, who likes being the guy who struggles with the success of his peers?

Not only is this incredibly selfish; it is also self-defeating.

Such a scenario puts you at the mercy of conditions out of your control and places more pressure on your own personal performance. You end up cultivating an environment in your soul that harbors bitterness, resentment, insecurity and all sorts of jealousy. And then once this happens, gossip and pity-parties become your desperate method for regaining some control over the situation.

Nobody wants to become the former professional player who finds ways to talk about how he should have been in the Big Leagues instead of that other guy who’s still playing.

If this is where you’re heading or where you already find yourself, there is hope, but it will require a sincere desire and a definitive decision to change.

If you’re willing to change, the following three principles can get you out of a bitterness funk and help put you on the path to celebrating the success of others.

 

1. Admit Your Struggle to Someone You Trust

Yes, this is about as basic as it gets, but this is necessary for any change to take place. There is a reason Alcoholics Anonymous begins their recovery program with this same principle. Admitting that you have a problem weakens that problem’s control over you. It takes the monster off your back and places him right out in front of you where you can see him and all his ugly features. The people around you are no longer your enemy; only this monster.

Find someone to share your secrets with and someone who doesn’t add fuel to your fire. Find someone willing and able to keep you accountable to change. This can be a mentor, counselor, pastor, family member or even just a close friend.   

Admit that you struggle with the success of others. Admit your bitterness, resentment, insecurity and jealousy. Acknowledge the pity-party that you are still throwing for yourself, and that gossip has become your coping mechanism.

There is nothing else to accomplish here except unpacking the backpack of bitterness that you’ve been carrying around and then spreading all of its contents out on the table in front of you. The strength to change starts with sucking it up and being real about your weaknesses with someone you can trust.  

 

2. Learn to Love Even If You Don’t Feel Like It

Self-centeredness is what keeps bitterness towards others alive. The best way to cut the supply line of bitterness is to think less about yourself by spending more time looking for ways to love others. 

We will never become selfless by simply trying not to be selfish. It is proven science that our brains respond more effectively to positive goals than negative goals. Therefore, we must focus on something we want to do instead of dwelling on the thing that we are trying not to do.       

And so the best way to overcome the habits of jealousy, resentment and gossip is to begin the new habit of looking for ways to love others even if you don’t feel like it. Let random acts of kindness become your new hobby and part of your daily routine.  

Avoid the trap of assuming you must feel love for someone before you can show love to them. Love is an action first. The feelings may or may not follow. 

C.S. Lewis puts it this way: 

“Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.”

This can be a turning point in our struggle because it gives us a new goal that is entirely in our hands and not dictated by our circumstances or the performance of others. Many of us need to get over ourselves and give more of ourselves to others.  

One of life’s greatest secrets is the way that a life of self-denial in service to others mysteriously leads to more self-fulfillment than the other kinds of success that we spend so much time pursuing.

 

3. Empower; Not Power

Who doesn’t want to make it to the pinnacle of their profession and experience the rush of being a superstar and the wealth and luxury that come with it? 

I’m not delusional. Becoming a Major League ballplayer can bring all sorts of joy and excitement for those who have put so much time and hard work in the pursuit of their dream. And we should all strive to be excellent at what we do. But if we want freedom from having to have these things in order to be happy, we need to take our new habit of loving others to the next level. 

Instead of having to be the guy with more power and popularity than others, what if we were a guy who empowers others instead? What if we became the guy who's greatest value to the team cannot be quantified on a stat sheet?

True leadership isn't a matter of being better than everybody else but rather being someone who makes everybody else better. If you really want to cut bitterness off at the roots then embrace being the guy who makes everyone around you better instead of the guy who has to be better than everyone around you.

And so, if you ever find yourself fighting off the bitterness monster that seems to thrive in highly competitive professions, be real about your bitterness, begin a new habit of doing random acts of kindness for others and become the guy who makes your environment and everyone around you better. 

We should all be striving to succeed at what we do, but along the way we should be secure enough to celebrate the success of others too.