Steve, The Great???

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Before I let you go on and on about the title, let me say that I Googled “Steve, The Great” and came up empty with that search. Can you imagine? Perhaps my understanding of great needs some clarification? Maybe this story will help?

Some years ago St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City was seeking a new president. Over one hundred candidates applied for the position. The search committee narrowed the list to five eminently qualified persons. Then somebody came up with a brilliant idea: let’s send a person to the institutions where each of the five finalists is currently employed, and let’s interview the janitor at each place, asking him what he thinks of the man seeking to be our president. This was done and a janitor gave such a glowing appraisal of William MacElvaney that he was selected President of St. Paul’s School of Theology.

Somebody on that search committee understood, in a flash of genius, that those who live close to Christ become so secure in his love that they no longer relate to other people according to rank or power or money or prestige. They treat janitors and governors with equal dignity. They regard everybody as a VIP. Children seem to do this intuitively; adult Christians have to relearn it.

How do we grow to the point that we stop measuring people by their successes and start regarding people for their service, for their sacrifices? How do we move from a world’s model which measures value in terms of wealth, fame, and power to a model which measures value in based on Jesus’ teachings? What is greatness in the kingdom of God?

Someone once asked Dr. Albert Sweitzer who was the greatest person in the world. He answered: “Some unknown person, who is doing the work of love.” When Mike Peters won the Pulitzer Prize for political cartoons (1981), he wasn’t expecting the honor. He described his response by saying, “It is like you are asleep and it is two in the morning and you are hugging your pillow and you are in your funny pajamas and somebody bursts through the door and they come over and start shaking you and they say, ‘Wake up, wake up!’ And you say, ‘What is it?’ And they say, ‘You have just won the Boston Marathon!’ And you say, ‘But I’m not running in the Boston Marathon.’ And they say, ‘Doesn’t make any difference, you won.'”

Jesus taught that heaven will hold some surprises. Honor and glory will be granted for behavior that was so natural, so undistinguished, and so noncompetitive. Take the simple illustration that Jesus gives of receiving a child. From somewhere Jesus finds a small child who he stands in front of them. It is interesting that Mark tells us that Jesus stands the child in front of them and then takes the child in his arms. Perhaps he was highlighting how low the child was by comparison. But as he raises the child in his arms he says to them, “Whoever welcomes on of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” Now, what does he mean? He is talking about having a humble servant attitude, being willing to reach out and help the lowliest of people so that we might show them the love of Christ. Such simple acts will be greatly rewarded.

Yes, many of God’s children will be surprised to find that their faithful simple service has brought them top honors. The servant will be honored; the last shall be first. And if there is one thing in this world that short circuits such simple acts it is self-promotion. You cannot both serve and conquer. So put on your funniest pajamas and get ready to hear from God that you have already won… because of Jesus.

Dear Lord, sometimes I would like to think that I am great. I know that history will not record me as “Steve, the Great.” But I do hope that someone will notice that Steve did seek to let you live through me and that all my brothers and sisters mattered. I pray that you lifted someone’s spirit because I happened to be there with kindness and peace. In and through Jesus. Amen.

Grace and Peace


Jesus at IHop

Have you ever noticed that sometimes breakfast seems much better at night? I recall a “special” night a couple of years ago when Shirley and I went to that internationally known restaurant “IHOP.” It has nothing to do with bunnies, I hope. When asked “Smoking or non-smoking” I replied VERY non-smoking. So they seated us in the second booth on the right… just one aisle away from the smoking section. It was okay though, since no one was in the smoking section. I ordered FRESH coffee and two eggs over medium. That means the yellow is just a little runny. Before the meal arrived they seated someone in the smoking section, just across the isle, who smoked like a coal burner approaching Fancy Gap. At that point all I could do is fan and wait it out.

Next, they seated DIRECTLY behind us a young family with a young child who was having an EXTREMELY loud bad day. They brought my coffee, which must have been two days old… it was that bitter. My two eggs were brown… SOLID brown and my toast was black. To top all that they seated another young couple with a fussy child beside us. We quickly finished our meal, as we flinched from the screams behind us and beside us, and headed for the cashier. I was thinking to myself “I can’t wait for him to ask me how things were. Because I am going to TELL him about the coffee, smoke, two screaming children, burnt eggs and toast. I am going to let them have it.” We got to the cashier and he took my money and did NOT say one word. I just stood there waiting for him to “make my day.”

Why did I want to unload on that cashier? Could it be because everything in that restaurant went against us? We wanted a nice pleasant meal consisting of food prepared the way we ordered it. We didn’t want smoke blowing across our table… I gave that up years ago. The way things were going, I am just glad we didn’t get robbed. I think I stewed about that night, off and on, for a day or so.

Then I had to start preparing for the Romans study I was teaching. The text we were dealing with had to do with how the redeemed of Christ were to behave. We are to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice. We are not to be conformed to the patterns of this world, but transformed in the image of Christ.

When I started studying those verses I couldn’t help but think of how I wanted to VENT to that cashier. Maybe it was a good thing that young man didn’t give me a chance to say anything. I probably would have been conformed to the patterns of this world… the rage world. But what was expected of me, a Christian, was to be transformed in the image of Christ… to act as Christ would have acted in that very same set of circumstances. I am afraid I was not a very good representative of Christ that night. Even though I didn’t get to speak, I was not very Christ-like in my thoughts.

Maybe my example will be an example for you to remember not to follow. Before we get into conforming to the world let us think about being transformed in the image of Christ. In other words, before we act… before we speak, ask ourselves “What would Jesus have me do?”

Dear God, forgive me for being too much like the world and not enough like you. Remind me that the world needs to see examples of Christ in daily living… when his eggs and toast are burned…when his coffee is bitter… when there is smoke in his face and screaming children in his ears… let me be Christ even when on a cross. Amen.


Daily Devotions with Pastor Steve

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