service: His light shining through us

when seen most clearly, the Gospel is a call to serve. i was recently convicted of this truth more clearly than i have been convicted of anything in a very long while.

the line

i stepped out of my car, dressed in my business attire, and i walked toward the food bank to deliver a proposal. we have worked with the food bank in the past, and they had recently approached us for some help with their web site and print materials. i was happy to help, as not every business opportunity that comes my way has such an admirable mission. most do not.

but as i approached the food bank, i realized i had come during their food distribution hours. or immediately prior, as people were lining up in front of the building waiting for it to open. i walked by the line and i suddenly felt as though someone kicked me squarely in the gut. i was overwhelmed with a sense of anguish and guilt for those before me (why was i not among those in this line?). and, as i approached the building’s entrance, my eyes fell on one girl in particular. from what i could tell, she must have been around my age, and her clothes did not identify her as in need; had you passed her on the street you would not have thought she was in poverty. but the thing that struck me most was that this girl never looked up. she sat, rather than stood, in line, her back to the building, her eyes on the pavement below her, head down in shame. and my heart went out to her.

i quickly walked past the line of people, through the doors they were waiting on to open, and i delivered the proposal to one of their staff inside. i apologized for coming at such a time, an apology she quickly shook off, and i left. as i walked out, my eyes caught those of a man waiting for the food bank to open, dressed in his own work attire (much less formal than my own), and i immediately wanted to tear off the outfit that only earlier that morning i had been so excited to wear. a new outfit i had recently bought on a trip to seattle. each item of clothing a luxury i did not deserve. this outfit that only hours before had given me pride, now made me sick to my stomach, and appeared to me now as trash. stinking, rotting trash, clinging to my body. as i drove back to my office, i couldn’t shake my sense of guilt and anguish. and it stayed with me the rest of the day, visibly affecting me.

time, meals

as i left the food bank that day, i felt convicted about who i have been spending my time with, and who i have been sharing meals with lately.

my involvement in our home church has led me to spend much of my free time with churchgoers. youth, young married couples, church leaders. and i found myself thinking that perhaps this wasn’t the best use of my time. that perhaps my time would be better spent with those who don’t already know the gospel.

for both vocational and personal purposes, i have arranged a number of recent meals with several prominent and influential local business people. meals i have enjoyed. meals that have given me a certain amount of pride.

and, after the food bank experience, my mind immediately wandered to Jesus’ ministry, and who He chose to spend His time with. i remembered a passage from the book of matthew where Jesus rebukes a group of self-righteous pharisees who critique Him for spending so much time with people who, in their minds, were dirty, filthy and undeserving of His attention.

when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” on hearing this, Jesus said, “it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick… for I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

if Jesus spent so much time with the ‘sick’ during His time, then surely He must call us to the same way of life?

shells and bubbles

later that evening, while my wife and i were running some errands around town, we drove by a billboard for a local Christian radio station. this sign for a radio station i listen to on a daily basis now caused me to secretly feel ill. it was the same sick feeling i had experienced earlier that day as i left the food bank.

the billboard we drove by displayed a picture of a beautiful, smiling family. all dressed in white, laughing and sharing a moment together against a blue backdrop. the sign also carried a series of inspirational words (which i cannot recall now), and referenced the name of this particular Christian radio station.

and i couldn’t help but think to myself, “is that what this is all about?” did Christ die so that we (His believers and devoted followers) can create clean, tidy, american-dream bubbles around ourselves? so that we can wear our Christian turtle shells, which separate us from the outside world? all the while people in our very own hometown go hungry? interestingly enough, this billboard was less than a half mile from the food bank i had visited earlier that day. the food bank with its line full of hungry, shamed faced. which makes me wonder, how does that make the Church look? how does that make the Christian faith look? how many of the food bank’s volunteers are giving their time on a regular basis because of what Jesus Christ has done for them? i hope those people make up the majority of the volunteer staff there. but i fear that’s not the case. and that kills me. it kills me that, though professing faith in One who laid down His life for my own, i give so very little of my own time to ‘die’ for others. that i so rarely die to myself, and die to my own selfish desires, as He called me to.

again in the book of matthew, jesus said:

no one can serve two masters. either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. you cannot serve both God and money.

it seems, i fear, that i have been serving the wrong master. i have been serving my own comfort and desires, rather than God. and i fear the same is true of the Church. building up this wall of comfort and pleasure that separates us from them.

marked by suffering

in this clip that i have watched many times now, a clip that i have found extremely convicting and yet helpful, dr. john piper shares his wishes that the church would be marked with suffering for Christ.

oh how my heart aches and breaks for the Church. how i fear we have missed the point. how, as His bride, we have been living a life we believe to be a life of devotion, when we have actually completely missed the point. that, rather than presenting ourselves as a wholly devoted bride, instead, we come to Him with what we feel are beautiful, rich gifts of devotion (church attendance, biblical knowledge, ministry involvement, etc), yet in reality our hands are full of filthy rags, rotting trash and filth. tears stream down my face when i think that His bride, the Church (and churches), are focused on maintaining the status quo, rather than serving His people: those lost and tortured souls who so very desperately need His Light. the Light that He desires to shine through each one of us who profess faith in Him, into the lives of those who need Him most.

the point

so, what is the point of all this? the point is certainly not to volunteer at the local food bank, homeless shelter or soup kitchen so that we can put another badge on our Christian member’s only jacket, only fueling our pride and self righteousness. the point is not to come in, Christian guns ablazing, firing off “if you died today, do you know where you’d go?” kind of questions, dropping Bible tracts at every opportunity.

no, the point, as i see it, is to bring the Light that He has shone into our lives into the lives of others who need it most. and to do so with a presence of love, compassion and service. does this mean that we are simply to love others without ever bringing them what they need most (Jesus Christ)? no, absolutely not. in fact, that flies in the face of what i have said here before. rather, what that means is that Christ is so deeply ingrained in our lives (because of the life-changing work and redemption that He has achieved in our lives) that others see Him when they see us. that the goodness, kindness, love, compassion, selflessness, humility, gratitude, and more that they experience in our presence is a reflection of Him, because of Him, not because i am such a great guy, or because she is such a great gal or you are such a great person who just so happens to be blessed with a warm heart and pleasant demeanor. no, but because of the change in your and my heart that Christ has achieved. because of redemption. and because of that work, their hearts may in turn be opened and receptive to receive the love of a Savior whose heart breaks for them, for their pain, and who has desired their hearts, their devotion and their souls to be drawn near to Him, in an intimate and loving relationship for all of eternity.

that is the reason i was saved. that, and that alone, is the reason He revealed Himself to me, and that is the reason He continues to be at work in my life even now, so that He can redeem a fallen people to Himself. that is the point. and that must be the point of everything we put our hands to. all our love for all of Him.

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6 thoughts on “service: His light shining through us

  1. Ryan,

    How amazing God is that he can use something as innocent as a scheduled business meeting to teach so much in such a short instance. You have an amazing ability to put what is on your heart into words.

    Thank you,

    Brian

  2. brian,

    thanks so much for taking the time to read my thoughts, and for your words of encouragement. both very much appreciated!

    best,

    ryan

  3. Ryan,

    That was very good. And it did hit home.
    Keep up the incredible writings. God has given you a great gift!

    Krystal Davis
    (Jen’s cousin)

  4. This is encouraging! Thank you.
    You are a deep thinker! I am not surprised at your need to get it out in word form! I greatly appreciate the opportunity to read this and have my thoughts be guided with a new perspective! I was struck by John Piper’s comment as well when he said that we are: “…elevating gifts above the Giver….” I have been bothered by a repeating thought that I’ve not been able to reconcile. So often, believers will ask for prayer and then if it is answered in a desirable way, they quickly report it back as a praise. If it is not answered in a desirable way it simply remains on the prayer list. I have not allowed this burden to go past my thoughts because I simply didn’t understand why it bothers me. But, maybe this is why. Not that we would ever consciously say or think this, but there seems to be this sense that God is here to bless us, after all we are faithful church attenders, bible readers, tithers, etc. The truth is that we were created and designed to serve and glorify Him not the other way around. There should be resounding praise to God following every prayer, regardless of what His answer is. There should be a sense of peace in the truth that He is God Almighty, the One in control of saving us and sanctifying us. I don’t think we struggle so much with the saving part, but accepting His sovereign role in our sanctification is a bit harder. We want to do that part ourselve.
    I think I got a bit off topic, but that’s where my thoughts went.

  5. thanks so much for your thoughts, mindy. they’re very much appreciated, and they have had me thinking as well (which is why it has taken me a little while to respond).

    i too shudder to think that we look upon God as a simple gift giver. as a genie whom we beckon when times get tough, or when we really need something.

    and i absolutely agree, it seems somewhat peculiar to say that when something that we ask for in prayer happens that God is answering our prayers and that it is worthy of being deemed a praise. yet, when our prayer requests are not answered, we look upon that situation as something we just need to continue praying for (i.e “it remains on the prayer list”). if God truly is sovereign, then surely He knows better than we do, and surely His will is better than ours. so, perhaps the best approach is to come to God with our prayers, knowing full well that, ultimately, His will is good, and asking that His will be done (matthew 26:42). for, what may seem to us to be a terrible situation may end up playing a small part in the larger picture of God’s perfect plan for our lives (i.e. the terrible pain and suffering of Christ’s crucifixion, and what must have seemed like the end of a very good thing as He was placed into the tomb, ultimately brought salvation as for all who would believe in Him as Lord and Savior).

    with that being said, there is a small part of me that wonders, “if God is truly sovereign, then why bother praying?” if the wedding dinner is salmon, it does me very little good to hope for steak. and yet, the truth is, God calls us to Himself in prayer. His Word calls us to lift up our prayers to Him (philippians 4:6), that Jesus made regular time for prayer, and that our prayers even please Him (proverbs 15:8). and so we must continue in faithful prayer, even when the questions remain.

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