Not What I Want, But I What I Needed

Shane and Shane (my favorite Christian band) captured perfectly both the attitude of those Palm Sunday Jerusalem crowds and the me-first bent of my own heart in their song “Crucify Him” . . .

“I sing Hosanna when I want it all

Then I crucify the Son of God

‘Cause He isn’t who I always thought

Not what I want but what I needed.

I sing how great and mighty is the King

Just as long as He considers me

High above every other thing

Even His glory . . . 

 . . . . It’s packaged differently than Pharisees

Wrapped in sing-a-longs and Christianese

Empty alleluia’s to the King

When my heart is loving idols . . . “

Again, Jesus came to be the Messiah, but I try to turn Him into a ME-ssiah who will serve my me-first agendas. Look again at John 12:23-26 . . .

Jesus: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified . . . “

Disciples: Here we go guys! It’s time! Let’s get ready to rumble, ’cause the King is about to bring it right here, right now. We can finally show Rome who’s boss. It’s time to make Israel great again! It’s time for a new Hebrew century!

Jesus: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life . . . “

Disciples: Wait, hold on a second. What’s Jesus talking about? Die? Hate my life? Lose my life? No, we don’t get delivered by dying. We don’t win by losing. Do we?  He’s talked like this before. Remember He said something about going to Jerusalem to die? I’m not sure I like where this is going.

Jesus: “If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

Disciples: Follow Him where? He means follow Him to victory, right? Follow Him to the throne? He’s talking about the honor of getting our place, our power, and our prestige back . . . isn’t He?

Jesus’ mission was not what they wanted, but what they needed. Jesus came to be crucified so that He might rise again, to fall dead into the ground like a grain of wheat so that He might bear fruit, to lose His life in order that sinners might gain eternal life, to serve in humility in order to secure honor from His Father.

And He calls all of His disciples, including us, to follow Him in this self-denying life of submission and service . . . If anyone serves me, he must follow me.” He is calling me to stop trying to customize Him and civilize Him, to stop demanding that He be the King I want Him to be, and to submit to Him as the King He is, to stop complaining that He’s not ruling and running my life the way I want Him to and begin trusting that He’s ruling and running my life the way I need Him to.

Again, Shane and Shane capture the heart of the Jerusalem crowds and my heart, too, with these words . . .

“A man of sorrows, acquainted with grief

He had no form, He had no majesty

How could He have the audacity

To ask me to give Him my tomorrows?”

In his short book What Did Jesus Really Mean When He Said Follow Me, David Platt explains . . .

“We pick and choose what we like and don’t like from Jesus’ teachings. In the end, we create a nice, non-offensive, politically correct, middle-class, American Jesus who looks just like us and thinks just like us. But Jesus is not customizable. He has not left himself open to interpretation, adaptation, innovation, or alteration. He has revealed himself clearly through his Word, and we have no right to personalize him. Instead, he revolutionizes us. As we follow Jesus, we believe Jesus, even when his Word confronts (and often contradicts) the deeply held assumptions, beliefs, and convictions of our lives, our families, our friends, our culture, and sometimes even our churches. And such belief in Jesus transforms everything about what we desire and how we live (pp. 26-27)

Someone has said, “If your Jesus never corrects you, never challenges what you say, think, do, or desire . . . then he’s probably not the real Jesus, but one you’ve made in your own image.”

And so I find myself confronted by the Jesus in John’s gospel, the Jesus who says that living in His Kingdom, under His rule and blessing, means I will have to bury my life to see it bear fruit, to stop pursuing a life bound to earth in order to live a life bound for eternity, to humbly serve rather than seek honor from others.

To serve this King, I will have to follow Him through loss to life, through the cross to the crown.

What will those losses be? We’ll look at 3 of them in the days to come.


Book Review: Servanthood As Worship

I don’t like to serve. It’s just that simple.  Serving is inconvenient and uncomfortable.  Serving leaves me depleted, empty.  Serving requires a strength of head, heart, and hands that I don’t possess.

That’s the battle I experience when I’m asked to serve . . . my me-first heart wars against the you-first heart that God’s Spirit is working to form in me (Galatians 5:16). But it’s a battle the Spirit is destined to win because it’s a battle for the glory of God, a battle for the worship of the true and living God (Isaiah 42:8).  The reason my flesh hates to serve is because serving exposes my idols of convenience and comfort.  Serving empties me of myself so that I might be filled to overflow with the strength of head, heart, and hands that only Jesus possesses but shares with me.  My flesh hates to serve because it hates to give up its own glory, it loves self-worship.

The battle I fight may also be the battle that will keep you from reading Nate Palmer’s Servanthood as Worship: The Privilege of Life in the Local Church. For people like me who don’t like serving, the title of this book might be as inviting as a book called Flossing as a Way of Life might be to people who hate to floss their teeth (I confess that I’m one of those too).  A bold title indeed, but Palmer knows something about God’s people that we tend to forget:  we are made to serve because we are made to “glorify God and magnify the gospel to the benefit of others” (page 12).  The true hearts of those who have been made new creations by the power of the gospel and the Spirit will be drawn to this topic because they know that since Christ has served them with His life they are compelled to serve Him with theirs (2 Corinthians 5:14-15; Ephesians 2:10).

This is an important book. Here are a few reasons why I’m thrilled to recommend it to you:

  • Palmer has served the Church well by packing a rich biblical theology of service into a small package.  He draws from a wealth of Scripture, sound doctrine, and the writings of past and present Bible-soaked teachers to inform our heads, inspire our hearts, and incline our hands to serve.
  • Palmer focuses on the local church as the context for Christian service.  In an age where we are tempted to be consumer Christians who shop around to find the church that “fits us” and “meets our needs,” this book reminds us that we are to focus on how God would use us to build up the body of Christ, not on “what’s in it for me.”  As one who is employed by a church, I, too, needed my own attitude adjusted by this gospel-soaked call to service.
  • Palmer avoids using “shoulds” and “ought tos” to motivate us to serve.  He keeps the focus on Jesus as He is offered to us in the gospel, the One who “came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).  This book is about Gospel-driven, not guilt-driven service.  A friend of mine often says “If you want the fruit of redemption, preach redemption.” Service to God and others is a fruit of redemption, and so Palmer preaches redemption on every page.

CruciformPress is proving to be a trustworthy source for gospel-centered reading that serves the body of Christ well.  This book is quite different than the first two releases, but it holds true to its publisher’s aim to offer resources that are “Short. Clear. Concise. Helpful. Inspiring. Gospel-focused.”

Thank you Nate and CruciformPress for your service to Christ and us.

UPDATE:  You can interact with Nate Palmer about his book at


Christian Leaders Or Christ’s Servants?

In a previous post I put forth the question, Is Leadership A Healthy Christian Aim? I argued that “serve” not “lead” is the overwhelming Biblical ideal for the believer.  Yet “serve” is trampled in the Christian marketplace by the ever-pervasive call and challenge to become, to shape, or to produce “leaders.”Well, Steven,” one might contend, “of course we mean, ‘servant leaders.”

Then why not just call them servants?

Words are important.  With them, we codify thought, shape perception, and engender action.  Professor Richard F. Taflinger explains:

Each word has two definitions, the denotative and the connotative. The denotative meaning is basically the dictionary meaning, the one that almost anyone can understand who speaks or desires to speak the language.  However, of greater importance, particularly in advertising, is the connotative definition, the definition each individual conjures up in their mind in response to hearing or reading the word . . . Why is this difference between the denotative and connotative definitions of words of such importance? It is because the greatest impact of words comes from using the connotative meanings to affect the audience’s emotional response.

When the call to lead or to produce leaders is heralded, are we conscious of the connotative definition in the minds of our hearers . . . even when we nuance “leader” with “servant” as in “servant-leadership?”  Are we OK with the following connotations?

  • ‘Lead’ connotes a superior position rather than a servant posture
  • ‘Lead’ connotes ‘conquest’ rather than ‘submission’
  • ‘Lead’ connotes success as ‘number of followers’ or ‘size of influence’ rather than success as ‘faithfulness’
  • ‘Lead’ focuses on ‘what you have’ (to offer) rather than on ‘Who’ or ‘what’ has you
  • ‘Lead’ connotes ‘be’ or ‘do’ some great thing rather than ‘belong to’ or ‘participate’ in God’s great thing
  • ‘Lead’ lends itself more to an “it’s about me” paradigm than  “it’s about you” thinking

What are we teaching our people, especially the young, when we call them to be leaders?

Tim Keller writes in Counterfeit Gods:

Modern society . . . puts great pressure on individuals to prove their worth through personal achievement.  It is not enough to be a good citizen or family member.  You must win, be on top, to show you are the best . . . David Brooks’ book On Paradise Drive describes what he calls ‘the professionalization of childhood.’  From the earliest of years, an alliance of parents and schools creates a pressure cooker of competition, designed to produce students who excel in everything . . . the family has become the nursery where the craving for success is first cultivated. (p. 79)

Are we unintentionally but no less responsibly contributing to the idol of success?  Why not just call ourselves servants? The apostles seemed quite content with that:

  • Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God (Ro. 1.1)
  • For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. (2 Cor. 4.5)
  • Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus (Phil. 1.1)
  • Just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant (Col. 1.7)
  • If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 4:6)
  • Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant (Heb. 3.5)
  • James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ (Jas. 1.1)

Oh God.  Captivate us with You that we may be small and rejoice that we know you and are honored just to be in the service of the King.


Is Leadership a Healthy Christian Aim?

I hear a lot about developing Christian leaders for the next generation.  Many schools and churches target development of “leaders who will make an impact” as a necessity for their institution to survive in the marketplace of Christianity.  Christian parents and seminary candidates are attracted to slogans like “Preparing Christian Leaders for Tomorrow’s World.”  Clearly this kind of thinking sells because it is all over the place in Christian Day School, Christian College, and Seminary marketing.

One Christian University brochure states it plainly enough:

*** will engage the minds and hearts of students in such a way that they will be Christian leaders after they graduate.

That’s quite a promise.  But is it a good one?

Leadership is never an aim for the Christian in the Bible.

The English word “lead” occurs 128 times in 124 verses while  “leader” occurs 85 times in 80 verses in the English Standard Version.  The words “serve” and “servant” come in at well over 1100 usages in the ESV.  Word usage alone, of course, does not settle a question. However, it is interesting to note that never is a believer commanded to or even encouraged to lead (except when already in a position of leadership (Rom 12).  What is extolled and commanded is servant-hood.

Are there people who led others in the Bible?  The answer is certainly, yes.  Are there multitudes of others [often unnamed] who, with no position of leadership, made an indelible mark in the history of God’s redemptive work?  Again, yes.  I wonder, however, why do we not celebrate the second with same energy as the first?  Why don’t we extol the virtue of being like the young girl of 2 Kings 5:

2 Now the Syrians on one of their raids had carried off a little girl from the land of Israel, and she worked in the service of Naaman’s wife. 3 She said to her mistress, “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” (ESV)

Here is a young girl quietly sharing the truth of God’s healing power and reign over sickness with the wife of the man who was most likely responsible for her family’s deaths. She is a hero of faith!

Consider those who later in the same story confront Naaman’s pride:

Then his servants came near and spoke to him and said, “My father, had the prophet told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?”  (NASB95)

Where is the call to be the quiet, anonymous servant?  Mostly on the lips of Jesus:

Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28)

Church Historian John Hannah once stated, “Ultimately, the men that shape the world are the quiet people who touch the catalyst people: Melancthon’s influence on Luther for example.”  He later cautioned, “If we don’t develop a generation of people who are not afraid of anonymity, who are willing to be nothing as far as being unknown, who don’t see sacrifice as a crime, and who realize God has commanded contentment not happiness, then what will happen to the missionary enterprise in two generations?”  He said those things in 1989.  Now a generation later, have we the courage to be nothing that He might be preeminent in all things?  Have we the courage to serve even as the Son of Man came to serve?