Serve me, Jesus.

What would it look like for Jesus to serve you?

Jesus once told his followers that he came “not to be served but to serve.” It is tempting to hear that only as some kind of rule of life. Jesus came to serve, so I ought to serve. Jesus didn’t ask people to serve him, so I ought not ask people to serve me. This is how I ought to live my life — like Jesus. Serving.

That works, but only if the Bible is a book of principles and not a living truth.

But if Jesus saying that he came to serve actually means he came to serve, then what does that mean? For me? For you?

Jesus qualified his comment further. He said he came to give his life as a ransom. If we take that seriously and literally (and I think we should), then Jesus has defined his brand of servanthood. This isn’t something for me to emulate, but something he has done and is doing precisely because I cannot. Jesus came ultimately to serve me, not to be served by me.

Jesus came to serve me, to ransom me from captives who sought my destruction.

But only if I’m willing to let him.

Let that sink in: Jesus came to serve us. Not like a waiter serves a table, but like a mother serves an infant crying for milk in the middle of the night. Like a nurse serves a child on life support who is hanging from a thin thread, dangling between life and death. Jesus serves us like a father serves his son, giving nourishment and wisdom and protection and identity.
Jesus came to serve us like that.

Do you begin to get just how radical a thought that is?

What does it mean for Jesus to serve you?

I once asked that question of a small group, and someone responded that for him it probably meant taking more time to pray for people he didn’t much like. He said, “Here is a place Jesus can serve me, because here’s the thing: I don’t like praying for people I don’t like. And yet, Jesus asks me to do just that, so I need him to span that gap between where my patience for people ends and his begins. I need him to love though me as I pray.”

Another person said, “Jesus is probably offering to serve me all day long, and I keep turning him down because I don’t recognize the offer for what it is.” She was referring to people who show up in her life with offers of help — offers she politely declines for pride’s sake.

Think about that. It is one thing to decline an offer of a friend’s help; it is another thing entirely to find out you’ve declined the offer of Jesus’ servanthood.

That thought caused someone else to wonder: “What if letting others serve us begins with letting Jesus serve us? What if I can’t receive from anyone — not well — until I’ve learned to receive from Jesus?”

When Jesus begins to serve us there is deep, spiritual movement. In the midst of our small group conversation, someone in our circle confessed through tears, “I don’t know who I am, and I’m just now realizing it. I have no idea who I am, and I need Jesus to tell me.” For her, allowing Jesus to serve meant letting him give voice to her identity in Christ.

I’m profoundly moved by this notion of Jesus serving me. I find myself in the face of that offer saying with Isaiah, “Woe is me!” I feel my inadequacies.

I’m drawn to the scene in John of Jesus washing his disciples feet, arguing with Peter who so pridefully (ignorantly) pulled away from the act. “You will never wash my feet!” To which Jesus replied, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” After Jesus has washed all their feet, he asked, “Do you understand what I’ve done for you?” I suspect he asks because he knows just how deep an act it is, just how counter-intuitive to our self-protective nature.

Just how uncomfortable …

To let Jesus serve us is the ransom.

To serve, not to be served turns out being more than an elective or a nice thought for a plaque. It is how we have a part in Jesus.

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“Mama, can boys be preachers, too?”

One day as we were driving, my daughter called out this question from the back seat. “Mama, can boys be preachers, too?”

She was five years old at the time (she’s 24 now). We were in the car on the road from Lexington to Wilmore, Kentucky, where our family lived while I was in seminary. In the year prior to our move I was beginning to preach, so for virtually all her life a “preacher mama” is all my daughter has known. Our closest seminary friends at the time happened to be a couple with a make-up much like ours: the wife a preacher, the husband a public school teacher.

“Mama, can boys be preachers, too?”

clergy-barbi4My daughter could not have known how unique a question that is. For centuries, the Christian church has been concerned with the other question: Can girls be preachers, too? Does God’s design allow for women to be part of spreading this story of grace?

The answer is in the story itself. Women were last at the cross, first at the tomb and first to be told, “Go and tell.” Priscilla, Junia, Tabitha, Lydia — all were leaders in this new movement of God. Any woman who preaches the gospel of Jesus Christ stands in that great tradition. It is not a call reserved for one gender or 50% of us. It is the great commission of all God’s people: “Go and make disciples of all nations.”

So what does this mean for both men and women?

1. All of us are empowered to share the story. All of us. Steve Jobs was once talking with a group of high-ranking officials in Egypt. He was sharing business principles with them and at some point, someone asked him if he thought Egypt could ever be a viable world leader. Jobs response was, “Not as long as you are using only half your population.”¹

Of course, God can do anything he wants with whomever he chooses but sometimes I wonder if he looks at the Christian Church, hears our prayers for the Kingdom to come and thinks, “Not as long as you’re using only half the population.”

Earlier this year in India, a few hundred girls went through a re-naming ceremony. These girls all carried the Hindu name Nakusa. It means “Unwanted,” a common name among girls in India. Someone decided to issue an invitation to girls carrying that name, offering them the chance to choose a new name. Literally hundreds of girls showed up for that ceremony — girls tired of being called “Unwanted.”

This seems to be part of our unredeemed nature. In many places in the world, cultures oppressclergy-barbi3 girls. In many places, females are made to feel like runners-up in the gender contest. This is not a Christian teaching. Paul said, “Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you.”

As followers of the gospel of Jesus, we believe everyone is wanted and gifted in some way for sharing the good news. John Wesley once said, “God owns women in the conversion of sinners, and who am I that I should withstand God?”

2. We have a unique call. After years of dealing with my own insecurities, I now claim God’s call to take authority and preach the gospel. God is using me because of how I’m made, not in spite of it, to be demonstration of the Kingdom. I am not a runner-up. I am God’s choice, called to serve a world that desperately needs Jesus in all the ways and through all the people Jesus can be shared.

3. Engage the real question. The real question is not, “Should women lead or preach in churches?” That is a freedom question but ultimately, that is not a salvation question. The real question is: “How many people does God want to reach, and how many people is he willing to use to reach them?” What if all God’s people who are equipped for the work are called to humbly proclaim Jesus to a lost and hurting world?

All his people … including you.

“Mama, can boys be preachers, too?”

It is a beautiful question, reflecting the movement of God who has given all kinds of people the call to preach, who has given every one of us a platform to suit our spiritual gifts. This is great news! Because Jesus sets people free, he is able to redeem us from the pits we’ve dug for ourselves so he can call us forth to spread the good news of freedom through Christ. As we come, He is able to present us before His glorious presence without fault.

He is able to present us before His glorious presence with great joy!

He is the only God, our Savior. He is glorious. He is majestic. He is powerful. He has authority in this world and in the world to come. He is our Master and our Redeemer. He Who Is, Who Was and Who Is To Come is Truth Eternal.

Who wouldn’t want to share that news? And who wouldn’t want to hear it?


1. Sandberg, Sheryl. Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. New York: Alfred Knopf, 2013.

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How I’m missing the great moves of God (and other lessons from “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”)

There is a quirky little documentary on Netflix called Jiro Dreams of Sushi.

It is about the life of this 90-year-old man who is considered the finest sushi master in the world. He owns a small restaurant in Tokyo that seats ten people. The wait for a reservation is about a year. He takes incredible care in the seating of the guests and the experience they have, but according to food critics who have been there it isn’t exactly a comfortable experience. He serves one piece of sushi at a time and then watches you eat it.

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan talk with sushi master Jiro Ono, owner of Sukiyabashi Jiro sushi restaurant, during a dinner in Tokyo, Japan, April 23, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.
President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan talk with sushi master Jiro.

Those same critics would say it is the best sushi they’ve ever had. And every visit is better than the last.

It is a vocational hazard of preachers to look for sermons in movies (it ruins a lot of movies) and I am no exception. In Jiro Dreams of Sushi, I found not one sermon but two.

Jiro must be a good bit on the compulsive and perfectionist side; he is radically committed to discipline. In fact, he credits that as the secret of his success. He is almost machine-like in his work ethic. He never misses a day at the restaurant, even when there are deaths and disasters. Every day, get up and make sushi. Every day, perfect the process. Every day, be obedient to this duty to do this thing.

Jiro would make a great Methodist. Our contribution to the Body of Christ is our emphasis on sanctification through the spiritual disciplines.

In My Utmost for His Highest (which my husband calls “My Forehead for His Two-by-four”), Oswald Chambers affirms the importance of the disciplines in a life of faith. He would call it routine; I would call it discipline. He writes, “Routine is God’s way of saving us between our times of inspiration.” I would say,“Discipline is God’s way of saving us between our times of inspiration … Do not expect God always to give you his thrilling minutes, but learn to live in the domain of discipline [Chambers calls it drudgery] by the power of God.”

This is how Jiro journeyed from an abandoned childhood to the distinction of being called the best sushi master in the world. It didn’t happen by accident or luck or even sheer talent. Jiro discovered this great secret: Discipline breeds results.

The documentary spent time exploring the great care Jiro takes in choosing the ingredients he uses. He is relentless in his pursuit of quality — only the best tuna, the perfecting of every element and ingredient.

Even in his own meals, Jiro only uses the finest ingredients. He allows himself only gourmet food, is determined to taste only the best of the best. By limiting himself to the finest, he says, he is developing a sensitivity to anything less. In his comments about a French chef he particularly respects, he notes with some envy, “If my palate was as sensitive as his I’d make even better sushi.”

I am struck by that idea of a more sensitive palate. It occurs to me that maybe this is exactly what I’ve been asking for in this season of seeking a richer quality of faith in my life.

I am embarrassed to admit, actually, just how recently it has occurred to me that I ought to be praying for my own faith — for the character of it and the density of it and the life of it. It just hadn’t occurred to me for far too much of my walk with Christ that if faith is all that connects me to Jesus and if faith is the only thing of any value I bring into my work, my parenting, my ministry, and if I can’t conjure it up on my own because even my faith is a gift from God, then I had better start praying for it. I had better get to shaking the gates of heaven on behalf of my own faith, praying for God to give me more of it, to increase my heart for him and to have more of him in my heart.

I’d better start asking to trust God farther than I can see him … and then farther still.

Think of it like you’re hanging over the edge of a cliff, and the only thing between you and a 500-foot drop is a piece of rope you’re hanging onto. Don’t you think, if that was your situation, you’d become very interested in the quality of that rope? Don’t you think you’d be really grateful for the guy who was really good at rope-making and for the quality assurance manager who inspected that rope for flaws? If that rope is all there is between you and death, don’t you think you’d be praying like crazy for that rope to hold?

If I want to see beyond my present circumstances, if I want to detect the great moves of God, if I want to be able to trust what I cannot see, then I’m going to need a faith that will hold me between the high points.

I need a more delicate spiritual palate. This is my confession and my prayer.

Why? Because Isaiah tells me God is doing new things all the time. God is making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. But if I can’t sense it — can’t taste and see that the Lord is good — then I will miss out on the delicacies of the Kingdom of God.

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I went to church on a Saturday morning to meet a group of folks who wanted me to offer communion to their group.  The first person I saw was one of the leaders. She drove right up next to me in the parking lot, rolled down her window, and said, “The dog ate the communion bread.”  I thought she was joking, but she looked at me with dead seriousness and said, “No, really.  How can a miniature dachshund need that much communion bread?”

What a powerful analogy for what has happened to so many people in this world.  So many people I know are such good people, such intelligent people, but somewhere along the way, something happened.  Either they got hurt by the church, or they found such hypocrisy among Christians that they couldn’t see the point of it.  It is as if the dog has eaten their communion bread. Its as if Satan, or life, or fallen human beings – the world has stolen their right to be in communion with God.  And the terrible result for too many of us is that we no longer trust God.  We are suspicious that maybe he does not have our best interests at heart.  We secretly wonder if, given an inch, God would try to make us walk a mile we don’t want to walk.

After all, if God is so good, why is life so hard?elohim

This question baits the enemy of our souls.  If he can get us to suspect God’s motives, he can yank us right down into misery and anger.  All the anger, fear and loneliness we feel has a single root cause.  It grows out of a basic distrust in God — in his power to provide, in his sovereignty, in his desire to do for us.

The antidote is in the names of God.  We discover in his names the character of the One worthy of our trust.  Yahweh:  “I Am.”  Emmanuel:  “God With Us.”

Figuring out who God is is fundamental to how we relate to him.  Thomas Merton says: “Whether you understand it or not, God loves you, is present in you, lives in you, dwells in you, calls you, saves you and offers you an understanding and compassion which are like nothing you have ever found in a book or heard in a sermon.”

Jeremiah Smith says this: There is nothing more important, no higher priority in your life, than for you to figure out who God is. It affects everything else in your life. You choose how to approach situations in your life based on your understanding of who God is and what He’s like.

In the quest to know him, where do we begin?  I believe we begin where the Bible does, with the name that assures us God is enough.  Whatever our sin, brokenness, problems, whatever else in our lives vies for our attention, God is enough.

Elohim.  Enough.

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What makes us tick: men, women and leadership

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ — Ephesians 5:21

Men and women are designed for a relational posture that points away from self and toward both God and others. Submission is not oppression; it is a self-giving posture that calls men and women to something bigger than themselves. Husbands and wives, men and women, submit to God and one another because they are designed to bear the image of God.

In the theological world, submission has become something of a controversy. The arguments gather not around submission itself but around the nature of human design. Is this design a hierarchy or a partnership? In the debate over that question, two terms surface. Let’s look at them, shall we?


A complementarian worldview says men and women are equal in dignity but different in roles. In this way of viewing human design, the man has responsibility for “loving authority over the female” and the woman has the role of “willing, glad-hearted and submissive assistance to the man.”¹ Antagonism is introduced into this design at the Fall, leading the woman to compete for authority. Complementarians are adamant that the power given to men is to be used only in self-sacrificing ways, in keeping with the character of Christ. John Piper and Wayne Grudem, who have both written extensively on this view of human design,² claim that the male-female hierarchy has been so from the beginning. They argue from Genesis, chapter two, that woman was taken out of man, and that man was given dominion over the whole earth before woman came on the scene. They both lean on their heavy exegesis of the word “helper” to suggest a woman’s supportive role.

Complementarianism emphasizes the distinctions between men and women, as well as their roles. In the healthiest view of this theological stance, men and women bear God’s image equally, with the man having the role of leader and the woman having the role of helper. In its most extreme form, complementarianism may imply that the image of God is given to men alone (“God did not name the human race ‘woman’”²).

Do you see just how dangerous this theology is if you follow its trajectory all the way out? At the very least, the danger of this approach to human design is it emphasizes roles over gifts. Where Genesis, chapter one, paints the picture of partnership, complementarianism introduces a hierarchy.


An egalitarian worldview says men and women are equal in dignity and equal in responsibility. Both men and women are created in God’s image and both are given responsibility to rule over His creation. The emphasis is on responsibility rather than role, on being rather than doing. As Tim Tennent writes, “Submission is not the duty of one, but the call of all.”³

Egalitarians emphasize our common responsibility to live out our design. This worldview is more consistent with all of Paul’s extensive teaching on spiritual gifts. Body and soul, character and ministry, gifts and call, are all interwoven, so that humans are divinely prepared for service and expected to live out that call.

Egalitarianism emphasizes equality while acknowledging that men and women have clear distinctions — physically, emotionally, socially. Their physical differences reflect deeper realities. Men in general are wired to provide and protect; women in general are wired for nurture and community. In this way, both complementarianism and egalitarianism have merit. The problem comes when we limit the roles of women. The differences between men and women do not necessarily equate to roles as a complementarian worldview might suggest.

The real theological test is in the Trinity. Remember that we are made in the image of God. If indeed, Father, Son and Holy Spirit exist as a hierarchy (a notion that destroys unity of essence), a hierarchical relationship between men and women is justifiable. But if within the Trinity, Father, Son and Spirit are equal in both essence and relationship, any other theological stance falls short by limiting a Trinitarian worldview to the same terms we might use to define fallen humanity.

A hierarchy within the Trinity tears at the fabric of unity; likewise, a hierarchy among humans tears at the fabric of created design. Sin set us against each other; Christ calls us to stand together against the real enemies — the powers and principalities of the air.

Submission means placing “self” at the feet of Jesus for the sake of a greater mission — the building of the Kingdom of God. This is the biblical design for women and men and we add dignity to the work of the church when we learn to submit to one another’s strengths, rather than establishing power bases.

When Jesus says, “This is my body, given for you,” he is painting a picture of God’s Kingdom and of human design. When men and women enter into true partnership with one another, they also become a picture of that Kingdom.


1. Ware, Bruce. “Summaries of the Egalitarian and Complementarian Positions.” posted June 26, 2007. The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

2. Piper, John and Wayne Grudem, eds. Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A
Response to Evangelical Feminism. Illinois: Crossway Books. 2006. see especially loc 2224.

3. Tennent, Timothy. “Marriage, Human Sexuality, and the Body: Egalitarianism vs.
Complementarianism (Part XI)” website.

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You’re not crazy (or, what it feels like to be a pastor)

You don’t want to be me.

According to a series of New York Times articles* and a plethora of other studies** done on the topic, people like me are ticking time bombs.

Consider these stats:

  • Pastors suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans.
  • The rate of depression among clergy is 11% — about double the national rate.
  • 13% report issues with anxiety.
  • 33% felt burned out within their first five years of ministry.
  • 33% say that being in ministry is an outright hazard to their family.
  • 50% feel unable to meet the needs of the job.
  • 52% of pastors say they and their spouses believe that being in pastoral ministry is hazardous to their family’s well-being and health.
  • 70% don’t have any close friends.
  • 90% feel unqualified or poorly prepared for ministry.
  • 90% work more than 50 hours a week.
  • 94% feel under pressure to have a perfect family.
  • 1,500 pastors leave their ministries each month due to burnout, conflict, or moral failure. There is actually a viable market for something called “pastoral dismissal insurance.”

What sane person would want to deal with competing demands, the constant fear of failure and the chronic loss of sleep (not to mention the loss of weekends)? And those are first-world, 21st-century struggles. Pastor-friends in African countries tell me they wake up every day prepared to die. A pastor’s home in India is likely to be smaller than your master bathroom. A friend in Nepal hid in an attic to avoid being killed by a Hindu extremist (he later escaped the town on foot).

In the first century, signing on to be a leader in the Christian movement meant signing on for something that was completely reviled by the prevailing religious and political world. The life expectancy of a circuit rider in early Methodism was 33 years.

A person would have to be crazy to sign on for this job, right?

In Paul’s two letters to Timothy, he counsels endurance even when it seems crazy. In Paul’s advice we hear Timothy’s state of mind. He is hanging by a thread — tired, stressed out, anxious. “Take some wine for your stomach,” Paul advises, because bearing other people’s burdens will give a person stomach problems. Watching them slide backwards after you’ve tried so hard to move them forward can make a person downright depressed. Competing complaints can send a person over the edge. Battling heresy can wear a person out.

Timothy is tired. I can relate. I’m grateful the Bible gives me permission to admit it when I have those days.

Maybe you are right there with Timothy and you are tired, too. Tired of day-in, day-out stresses. Tired of conflicts and misunderstandings. Tired of physical issues and mental issues and marital issues. Tired of the battle.

Are we insane to stay with this, when so much of it is crazy-making?

My experience after eighteen years of ministry and the start of two congregations is that the only thing standing between me and complete burn-out is not success, but the power of God. It is the power of God that saves me from those baser fight-or-flight instincts. The strength of this gospel keeps me bound to this call because in the end I’m convinced that’s where the power is.

Herein lies the difference between crazy and courageous. It depends on the thing you’re fighting for. What sets us apart who serve this gospel is not sheer force of will nor sheer enjoyment. What separates us from “crazy” is the character of what we believe in, which is proven by the character it brings out in us.

It is not crazy to make ministry your vocation. Given the vocational hazards it is perhaps the most courageous possible choice. On this day, may that be encouragement enough to help you begin again.

*Several articles appeared in the New York Times in 2010 addressing the issue of clergy burnout. Begin with this one, and follow it to others.



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