For the past two weeks we have been talking about how we want our lives to be measured. It’s important to think about this because how we are living today and the priorities we set today will determine how we will be remembered by others and how we will be measured by God in the future. The first week we talked about the importance of spending our time loving others and giving ourselves to acts of love and kindness. We gave out little cards as a reminder to do 2 acts of love each week so that a year from now we can measure ourselves by the love we have shared.
Last week we talked about how our lives need to be measured not by what we earn and accumulate in life but by what we are willing to give. We need to give our money and time and talents and energy to God and others and when we live this way we will come to the end of life and hear God say, Well done my good and faithful servant. Others will also remember us not by what we have amassed during our lives but by the difference we have made by giving ourselves to God and others.
God not only measures how we use the resources of time and wealth that he has given us, but God also measures how we use the power we have been given. Power is the influence we have in the lives of others and like money, power is neither good nor bad, but can be used for good or evil. When we use our power for good we are lifting others up and helping them, when we use our power for evil we are just trying to be in control and have things our way. While we often just think about power in politics and in our national leaders, power can be seen in every one, old and young.
Children are experts at using their power to be in control and get their own way, ask any parent of a toddler. What’s amazing is that children aren’t taught this, it’s just there in them which this quest for power and control is in all of us. My Mom talks about how I used my power to control my sisters when I was young. My Mom would put me in a playpen where I would immediately toss out all my toys and then sit down and cry. My sisters would feel sorry for me so come in and put all the toys back into the playpen. I would wait until they left the room and then I would throw them all out of the playpen and cry until they came back and served me again. Apparently I got very good at doing this and could do this for quite some time. While my Mom but a good spin on this and said I was teasing my sisters, the truth was I was using my power to control them and get them to do what I wanted them to do. Somewhere along the line my sisters started using their power and stopped doing everything I wanted because today when I sit and cry because I don’t get my way they just ignore me.
While this might be a comical example of children using their power, much of what we see in children and youth is not funny at all. Bullying is an abuse of power. When some children use their position and influence to put others down, it is an abuse of power. Bullying doesn’t stop when we leave school, however, hostile work environments are an abuse of power. The horrible ways people talk about others on social media is an abuse of power and at some point in time we will all be measured by how we use the power we have been given.
The issue of power was clearly addressed by Jesus when his disciples came to him seeking positions of power and authority. Jesus was making his way to Jerusalem at the time of the Passover and while Jesus knew he is going to Jerusalem to give up his life for others and carry a cross, his disciples were thinking that Jesus was going there to becoming a political leader and maybe even a king. As they walked along the road, James and John, two of the first followers of Jesus, who had been with him from the beginning and saw all the ways Jesus served others, asked Jesus if they could sit at his right and left hand when he came to power. Mark 10:35-45
What James and John want is power. They want to be in charge and have control. It’s like they are asking Jesus for the top positions in the cabinet Jesus is going to form. Even though Jesus had always talked about sacrifice, serving others and denying ourselves and the disciples had clearly seen Jesus building a kingdom where he gathered together the outcasts and sinners, the disciples still wanted worldly power. While Jesus talked about loving others, the disciples still wanted to be in charge of others. This is the struggle we all face. We know what Jesus says about how we should love sacrificially and live for others first, but we still want to be in charge and have control and have all our needs met. As this battle rages within us; which force will win? Will we seek positions where we can use our power to control others or will we humble ourselves and use our power to serve others? How will we measure our lives?
Jesus is clear that our lives need to be measured by how and who we serve. Look again at Mark 10:43 – whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. Our lives need to be measured by serving people and helping people and putting the needs of others before our own and Jesus used three powerful illustrations to make this point and the first one was a child.
Earlier in Mark, children being brought to Jesus so he could bless them and children in Jesus day were not honored and revered the way they are today. Children had no social power or position so spending time with them was seen as a waste. The disciples saw what was going on and tried to keep the children away from Jesus because he had better things to do. But Jesus rebuked his disciples. Mark 10:13-16.
So Jesus used a child to show us that our lives will be measured by how we use our power. When we use our power and position and influence to bless others we are commended, when we use our power to control others or keep others in their place, we are condemned. Jesus used his power to help and save others and Jesus calls us to use our power the same way.
The second illustration Jesus used to talk about how we need to use our power was a towel. At the Passover meal the disciples had all gathered together and there were no servants on hand to wash people’s feet and none of the disciples wanted to do this job either, so Jesus got up from the table, took off his outer robe, wrapped a towel around his waist and started washing the feet of his disciples. Our lives need to be measured by how we serve others. Providing shoebox gifts to children around the world is one way we are doing this. Feeding the hungry in our community and making sure people have food for Christmas is one we are doing this. The towel needs to be the measure of our lives. Will we humble ourselves and use the power God has given us to serve. Sometimes service is messy, inconvenient and challenging, but it is the measure God uses.
The last symbol of how we need to use our power is the bread and cup. Jesus didn’t just bless children and serve others he was willing to give up all his earthly power and his life in order to forgive and save. What would it look like for us to measure our lives not just by service but by sacrifice? What are willing to give up and go without so that others can have life and feel loved and know the full measure of God’s love and kingdom?
A child, a towel and the bread and cup need to be the measurements we use in evaluating our lives. Are we reaching out to the least and last are lost? Are we serving the needs of people in our community? Are we sacrificing what we have and who we are so that others can live? This is the measure God uses in our lives and we hear this in the parable of the sheep and the goats.
This parable often leads to questions about our salvation. Are we saved by what we do or are we saved by grace through faith in Christ alone? Let me say clearly that we are saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Salvation is not earned it is a gift, but our faith in Christ can be measured and seen in how we live. If we truly believe in Jesus then it means we will strive to live our lives the way Jesus did and we will serve the way Jesus served. We aren’t saved by our service but our faith can be measured through our service. With that in mind, let’s look at this parable of Jesus.
Jesus shows us that our lives will be measured by how we serve. Did we feed the hungry, clothe the naked and welcome the stranger? Did we care for the sick and visit those in prison? Our lives will be measured by how we use our power to do these things, to serve others. If we can’t look to specific times and places in our lives and say – this is how I served, then we need to start serving. If we can’t identify how we lift up those who are forgotten in our society or how we take up a towel and serve others or sacrifice for others, then we need to re-evaluate our lives so that we are giving ourselves to the things that matter the most. It’s not too late for any of us to change our priorities and start serving and this season of the year is the best time to find specific times and places and people to serve. Trust me, there are people all around us who are in need and if we will open our eyes and ears and hearts God will show us the people God wants us to serve.
So our lives will be measured
How we love
What we give
Who we serve
Which means these are the things we need to give ourselves to and these need to be a priority in our lives and today is the day to start. I am not sure that I will ever do a series like this again because in the past 3 weeks as we have been talking about the measure of our lives I have done 6 funerals. It certainly has put all of this into perspective. None of us knows how much time we get in life. None of us knows when our lives might be over and when we will be standing before God. When that time comes, how will we measure up? Will God be able to see all the people that we loved? Will God be able to see all the ways we gave our money, time and resources back to him? Will God be able to point out the people we served? How will we measure up? How we are living today will not only determine what people will be saying about us later, but it will be how God will measure our lives at the end. So let us commit our lives today to loving and giving and serving all in the name and in the love of God and in the power of Jesus.
How will you measure your life? Who you serve.
Jesus used three illustrations to talk about serving others: a child, a towel and the bread and cup.
1. A Child
Identify those in our community who have no voice, no respect and no standing. In what ways can you bless them?
2. A Towel
Identify an immediate need in your family, friends, church or community. What can you do this week or through the upcoming Christmas Season to meet that need?
3. The Bread and Cup
In the areas of service you have already identified, how might God be calling you to not just serve but to sacrifice?
4. Read the parable of the sheep and the goats found in Matthew 25:31-46. Jesus said we will be measured by:
• Giving food to the hungry
• Giving water to the thirsty
• Offering hospitality to strangers
• Clothing the naked
• Helping the sick
• Visiting the prisoners
Choose one of these measurements to focus on during the Christmas Season and serve Christ by serving those in need. Invite others to serve with you.
5. Make time during this week of Thanksgiving to thank Jesus for His blessing, His service and His sacrifice