Friday, February 24, 2017

February 24th

 “Which of you who has a servant plowing or tending sheep will say to him when he comes in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down to eat?’ Will he not instead say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat, and appropriately clothe yourself [for service] and serve me while I eat and drink; then afterward you may eat and drink?’

He does not thank the servant just because he did what he was ordered to do, does he? So you too, when you have done everything that was assigned and commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy servants [undeserving of praise or a reward, for we have not gone beyond our obligation]; we have merely done what we ought to do.’”

-Luke 17:7-10. AMP

I once asked Jesus why the bride was never featured in His parables. She is clearly there, for there are weddings with bridegrooms and attendants and great feasts, but she never is shown.

Part of the answer He gave me was that the bride is the servant and the parables that talk about servants are showing the bride- what she does, what is expected of her, where she should be.

Husbands and wives do not serve one another for rewards, they serve one another because it is the nature of love, of charity, faithfulness, devotion and affection.

Previously, I viewed this parable of the unworthy servants as a harsh, difficult to understand parable, but I find it to be invaluable to me now. The phrase, "unworthy servants," does not imply that they are shameful, useless servants, as the Amplified version makes clear. What it means is that this servant does not expect to a special reward by meeting basic expectations.

In my current walk with Jesus, I am sometimes tempted to expect special rewards from Him. For example, I can begin to think, "Well, I have gotten up at five in the morning every morning for days in a row despite being exhausted and I have turned my thoughts toward Jesus every time I realized they have wandered, though I wanted to fall asleep, how blessed He must be by my devotion! No doubt a special reward is coming my way!"

Fortunately, this parable is like a clear sword that cuts that away from me right away. I have given Him one hour of my time at an early hour, is that exceptional service? Isn't that a basic expectation? Even if I lay down my life for Him, is that not a basic expectation of what it means to follow Him? Lord, I have laid down my life and taken up my cross; I have done only what was expected of me and I do not deserve any special gift for simple obedience to Your word.

The other side of this is seen when we realize that it is His Bride who is saying this to Jesus.

Jesus has given her His entire life already. Everything that is His belongs to her. She lives in His house, He's called by His name, she lives protected under His authority and she possesses His entire faithful, devoted, passionate heart, which was expressed most powerfully, most movingly, on the cross, where He laid down His life for her, to save her from sin and death and to redeem her back to Himself for eternity.

Does His Bride say to Him, all that You have given me is not enough? I have served You half a day's work at the most basic expectation of Christian service, now what extra special reward is mine, in addition to all that You've given me?

There are rewards and certainly we will see the reward for our labor in His name, but the Bride does not serve her Lord for reward. She serves Him for Himself. When I was growing in the Lord, He did not let me think that I could do or earn anything in my strength or by my actions, even good actions. Again and again, He made clear to me that I could do nothing of myself and that it must be from Him and through Him that I serve and grow in His Kingdom. In action, this is difficult to understand, because it looks like either scandalous grace or deliberate ineptitude, but leaning on and trusting to Jesus alone was a vital lesson for me to learn, and Jesus had me learn it again and again until it formed a part of who I was.


Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?

-Luke 9:23-25

What does the cross look like?

Sometimes I read this and I think I will cheerfully and effortless shoulder a large wooden beam that probably will never be needed and stride off down the road after Jesus into lovely landscapes, and then I forget about the words entirely, because their reality has gone nowhere near my heart.

Sometimes I assume that the cross is just this piece of extraneous Christian equipment that I pack away with me in my lovely journey with all the other more important tools that will really be needed, because I expect to carry that cross but never die on it.

Or I find myself assuming that now, I have once and for always, crucified myself with Christ and have died to myself and I can leave that cross behind and move on without it, because I will never need it again, I am perfected!

"I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."

-Philippians 3:10-14, NIV

We carry our cross because we expect to die on it. We are not carrying around a mattress, because we do not expect to die to ourselves in our sleep. It is a basic Christian understanding that we will suffer for our Lord. Suffering is bewildering, humbling, heartbreaking, severely challenging, extremely painful; if it is not, than it is not suffering.

If we wish to know our Lord, and to know the power of His resurrection, we must include in the same sentence and in the same thought, the participation of His sufferings. We do not say that we have taken hold of it yet, but we press on toward the goal.

When I was coming to terms with infertility, the whole scope of what Jesus was doing in my life was hidden from me. I could have said to Jesus and sometimes did say, "This is not my cross! This is unfair, this is not right! A Christian shouldn't have to suffer this way, this is not the abundant life that You promised me. Something is being stolen from me and I want it back."

Jesus did and does have abundant life in mind for me and He is constantly at work bringing it forth, and I am fully convinced that what He has in mind is so much more than anything I could have ever conceived of for myself. But there is no resurrection without the cross. If we refuse all suffering and want only what looks outwardly like victory, how shall we be conformed to the image of our Lord?

What does victory look like? In the last few years, I have passed through gate after gate after gate of victory, and I expect to see more, and larger. But what did that look like, in the moments of gaining it?

I hear "victory for Jesus!" and I think that means to stride into that moment fully capable, with commanding gestures and admirable stance and give a decisive speech that wins the day, and to have everything and lose nothing.

But victory for me looked like late at night, flat on my back in bed, having reached the utter end of what I was able to bear and wanting in that moment to give up and escape, and being reminded by the Holy Spirit that I must die to myself, and then praying the Lord's Prayer and committing myself to die to my will, that His will might be done here on earth as it is in Heaven.

It was not inspiring in that moment. I had no strength to stride and I had no commanding gestures to make and I was wearing pajamas. But in twelve hours there was an outright miracle that entirely altered the whole situation, and that led to life and more life. That is the pattern in all the victories Jesus has given me.

"But He said to me, My grace (My favor and loving-kindness and mercy) is enough for you [sufficient against any danger and enables you to bear the trouble manfully]; for My strength and power are made perfect (fulfilled and completed) and show themselves most effective in [your] weakness. Therefore, I will all the more gladly glory in my weaknesses and infirmities, that the strength and power of Christ (the Messiah) may rest (yes, may pitch a tent over and dwell) upon me!

So for the sake of Christ, I am well pleased and take pleasure in infirmities, insults, hardships, persecutions, perplexities and distresses; for when I am weak [in human strength], then am I [truly] strong (able, powerful in divine strength).

-II Corinthians 12:9-10, AMPC

Sometimes I read this and I think, "Well, Paul might have said that then, but afterward, I bet he went right back to being strong and having no infirmities! I bet after that he was never  insulted and escaped all hardships and was lifted out of all persecutions and surely he was never afterward perplexed or distressed! Because seriously, who could actually, really and truly glory in their weakness, even if it does mean that the strength and power of Christ actually pitches a tent over and dwells upon them?"

The miracles that I have seen in my life happened because in my weakness, the strength and power of Christ rests- has pitched a tent over and dwells on me, so I am well pleased in hardship, for when I am weak, then He is strong. It has never come another way.

"But test and prove all things [until you can recognize] what is good; [to that] hold fast."

-I Thessalonians 5:21, AMPC

I know suffering is one of the most difficult things to understand spiritually, and that Christians have struggled with this in every period of history. I certainly do not expect to explain it in this blog post. But when we consider the place of suffering in the Scriptures, the cross of Christ, the length of time that Jesus spent speaking about it to His disciples while He was on earth, and the witness of our brothers and sisters in Christ who have gone on ahead of us, this shows us how important it is to deeply and prayerful considering the place and role of suffering in the Christian life- in our own lives. What does it mean? What is it producing? How does Christ explain it?


"I have told you all these things, so that you should not be offended (taken unawares and falter, or be caused to stumble and fall away). [I told you to keep you from being scandalized and repelled.]
They will put you out of (expel you from) the synagogues; but an hour is coming when whoever kills you will think and claim that he has offered service to God.
And they will do this because they have not known the Father or Me.
But I have told you these things now, so that when they occur you will remember that I told you of them. I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you.
But now I am going to Him Who sent Me, yet none of you asks Me, Where are You going?
But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts [taken complete possession of them].
However, I am telling you nothing but the truth when I say it is profitable (good, expedient, advantageous) for you that I go away. Because if I do not go away, the Comforter (Counselor, Helper, Advocate, Intercessor, Strengthener, Standby) will not come to you [into close fellowship with you]; but if I go away, I will send Him to you [to be in close fellowship with you].
And when He comes, He will convict and convince the world and bring demonstration to it about sin and about righteousness (uprightness of heart and right standing with God) and about judgment:
About sin, because they do not believe in Me [trust in, rely on, and adhere to Me];
About righteousness (uprightness of heart and right standing with God), because I go to My Father, and you will see Me no longer;
About judgment, because the ruler (evil genius, prince) of this world [Satan] is judged and condemned and sentence already is passed upon him.
I have still many things to say to you, but you are not able to bear them or to take them upon you or to grasp them now.
But when He, the Spirit of Truth (the Truth-giving Spirit) comes, He will guide you into all the Truth (the whole, full Truth). For He will not speak His own message [on His own authority]; but He will tell whatever He hears [from the Father; He will give the message that has been given to Him], and He will announce and declare to you the things that are to come [that will happen in the future].
He will honor and glorify Me, because He will take of (receive, draw upon) what is Mine and will reveal (declare, disclose, transmit) it to you.
Everything that the Father has is Mine. That is what I meant when I said that He [the Spirit] will take the things that are Mine and will reveal (declare, disclose, transmit) it to you."

-John 16:1-15, AMPC