Tag Archives: servant

Finding Calcutta

I thought Finding Calcutta by Mary Poplin would be a casual read – some good stories but nothing to write down, meditate about, and share.  I was wrong.  Mary Poplin spent a period of months working beside Mother Teresa.  She is a professor at U of Texas, but writes so even I can understand.  She writes about her inner and outer journey during those months, and I find her insights pierce me.

“Discouragement is a sign of pride.  It shows that I was focused on results, perhaps in my own power, rather than faith and obedience to God’s direction and his responsibility for results.”

As I read, I was faced with my own self.  Her insights on generosity humbled and frightened me, and I realized that I’ve never really sacrificed.  Her experiences of obedience stressed that my faithfulness to God’s present call prepares me for his call later.  If God calls me to wash windows, I must wash them so the angels stop and say, “There is a great window washer, a man faithful to his call.  What a servant of God!”  Obedience is the path to “my Calcutta”.

This book is an easy, but slow, read.  It was easy to understand, but the application of what I understood made me pause in every chapter.  Truth is like that.



Filed under Be Like Jesus, Missions

Cross-Cultural Servanthood

Duane Elmer’s book Cross-Cultural Servanthood may be the best Christian book I’ve read on the concept of working in other cultures.

He combines practical and theoretical to create an easy reading book on the why and how of working in cultures different from my own.  Perhaps what I like best is that he isn’t afraid to step on some toes.  The back cover has this bold quote, “Missionaries could more effectively minister if they did not think they were so superior to us.”  Then I opened the cover and started reading a number of true but painful words that led me to several conclusions, a few of which I list below:

  • I can be a person who serves or I can be a servant.  One is something I do, and the other is who I am.
  • Withholding acceptance from a person is rejecting a creation of God.  It is a sin against Jesus.    (1 Corinthians 8:12)
  • Trust can take a long time to establish but very little time to break.
  • I will not have meaningful relationships or effective communication in another culture until I can assemble their seemingly illogical, random actions, and reasoning into the framework of their root beliefs – their world view.

He helped me realize that it may not be prudent to jump right into a new culture and start serving.  He believes several factors need to be considered before I step through culture boundaries to serve: openness, acceptance, trust, learning, understanding.

He opened my eyes to one of the most logical, godly forms of leadership, a style he called “Traditional Tribal Chief”.  (I’ll let you read about that in chapter 11.)  And I admired his critique on Christianity’s infatuation with the topic of leadership.  Here are five thoughts on leadership that I gleaned from the reading:

  1. The Bible talks much more about serving than leading.
  2. I can expect good and bad leaders.
  3. Knowing Scripture doesn’t make me a good leader.
  4. God alone gifts and appoints leaders.  People who are trained as leaders, but not gifted and appointed, cause problems for everyone.
  5. Sometimes I may lead uniquely, but I need to lead Biblically at all times.

I’ve gone on too long.  Suffice it to say that I liked the book.  The time spent reading it was a good investment.

My notes on this book can be downloaded in MS Word format from the blue “FILES box” in the left side-bar of this blog.  Look for “Cross-Cultural Servanthood” as you scroll through the box.


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Filed under Missions

Servants Of God

weekly theme #51 Servants Of God*         

week containing the Sunday between October 16-22

The extremes of being a disciple of Jesus are striking to me.  God entrusts his disciple with incredible power for doing good:  healings, raising the dead, and proclaiming the Good News.  The opposite side of the coin is that the disciple is totally dependent upon God and people to meet the disciple’s daily needs.  (Matthew 10)  This irony is probably necessary so the disciple is neither proud nor discouraged, for being a servant of Christ is more than serving.  It is also an attitude of humility in both sacrifice and accomplishment.  Those I serve ought to have a servant who is loving, joyful, humble and earnestly seeking to live each day in a way that is pleasing to the Master and helpful to those served.  I want to be that kind of servant, but most days that goal seems far away.

I’m nearly sixty, and I still don’t live as a servant of Christ.  A servant is consumed with the desires of the Master.  The Master’s command should trump what I want, have planned, or even need, but I find myself clinging to my plans, ideas, and loves.  These personal things clamor for so much attention that I can’t even sense my Master’s efforts to communicate.  Before I was born, he knew that I would serve him, but he also knew that many times I would serve him poorly, or refuse to serve him. Even with that foreknowledge, he loved me, and continues to love me.  His steadfast love is the steady light in the darkness.  My prayer is, “Master, save me from my lukewarm, diluted service.”

I am only able to do the Master’s work because I depend upon the Master for guidance, opportunity, power, persistence…everything.  Including the results.

Note: I’m not sure how this relates to this week’s theme, but in one of the readings, Paul’s ideas at the end of 2 Timothy 2, convicted me.  I must avoid arguments that yield only division.  Respectfully and effectively, I must be able to explain truth, and I need to be patient with those who disagree.  Sometimes he uses my words, actions, or attitudes to impact a person.  Sometimes he doesn’t.

*A Guide To Prayer by Job and Shawchuck provided the scripture references and readings that inspired these reflections.  I found this devotional to be the most heart changing of any I’ve used.  It truly lives up to its title.


Filed under by weekly theme

Planning To Obey

This is a revision of a previous post called, “Think Big For Jesus”.

I recently went through some personal “stuff” that opened my eyes to two nasty qualities in my life: judging and injury by words.  I realized that “Think Big For Jesus” bore witness to both.   This revision is more about me and a lot less about others.  My goal for this post is to let you see the trap I was in and help you avoid it in your journey.

I bought into the USA business model that says I control the results.  It said that I must control as much as possible in order to “stay focused”, “ahead of the curve”, and “guarantee success”.  But I no longer feel comfortable with this model.  If Jesus is LORD then all I have to do is obey him.  I don’t need to be strategic or significant; I can leave that to him.   What was happening to me was an invasion of selfishness.  I started to think more about my planning and manipulating than God’s provision and production.  I plotted too much and prayed too little.

There is nothing wrong with planning.  I still consider that to be a valuable part of following God.  But I do it with less selfishness.  I am more earnest in asking God what is best.  I give more accolades to him and less boasting about myself.  And I really try to do what I think is right by God rather than right for me. 

I can’t pick out the best instructions from God as I would pick the strawberries out of a fruit salad.  When I start deciding which of God’s instructions will have the greatest yield on my investment, I am actually evaluating God.  It’s almost like God and I have traded places.  He tells me his ideas and I decide what’s worth my time and then revise accordingly.  I can’t believe that he finds that arrangement satisfactory.

I freely admit that there is a part of me that wants to run the show.  “It’s your life,” says the voice in my head, “You should be able to do what you want.”  However, I can’t do whatever I want if I truly think God is God.  If God is God, then I am his inferior.  (Unless I am God, then we’re all in trouble.)  I have often heard of people being called “children of God”.  And in most cultures around the globe, parents expect their children to submit to instruction.  Often the child disagrees or does not understand why the instruction is given.  But as time passes, the lessons learned become the character of the child – a reproduction of the character of the parent.  If the child resists instruction, the character formed no longer resembles the parent.  In the case of God and his children, his character is the most enviable, and his instructions are always the best.

 So whose plan am I committed to follow – his or mine?  I think I’m supposed to follow God.  If my obedience doesn’t produce something significant, that’s God’s doing.  Gandhi, a Hindu who admired Jesus but was disappointed with Christians, said that nothing he did was significant but everything he did was important.   Obedience does not always yield results I would consider significant, but neither does significant results always indicate obedience to God’s call.  It is enough to obey.

“But you don’t want to do something wasteful or trivial!” says the part of me who likes to plan, plot, pick, and choose. “Didn’t Jesus pick the twelve most strategic disciples?  And besides, being strategic is just figuring out the best way to do something.  What’s wrong with that?”

The part of me that makes these arguments is trying to distract my focus from three basic principles:

  1. If God says to do something, big or small, I should do it.  I don’t need to evaluate it to see if it yields a return worthy of my efforts.  It is a dangerous thing to believe God’s call is beneath my qualifications, ability, education, or position.  Jesus spent all night in prayer to be sure he selected the right disciples, but his chosen disciples didn’t look strategic at all.  The final dozen included some fishermen and a tax collector, not the ones who were doing the best in seminary.  God’s ways are different from my ways.
  2. Results aren’t my concern, let alone my responsibility.  Focusing on results, rather than obedience, invites me to take charge and do things my way.  It also tempts me to take the credit for success.  If I say that something was accomplished because I was strategic, it sounds like I deserve credit.  If I say something was accomplished because God used me and other resources, it shifts the credit to him.  Often this takes a blind faith, a step into the unknown.  Personally, I find it awesome to look back and suddenly have it dawn on me, “Wow.  Now I see why those things happened!  God had it planned all along.”  And I can’t take a bit of credit for being strategic.
  3. Sometimes little insignificant things can add up to be big, significant things.  I’m pretty sure Jesus likes it when his followers fully follow his instructions.  That allows him to use many of us in a grand and beautiful tapestry of events.  No single thread gets admired, just the final product.  And the artist gets the praise.

I wonder what would happen if I was more passionate about obedience to God than about getting big results.  What if I was willing to obey a step at a time in insignificant things rather than seek giant leaps in spectacular things?  How would things be different? 

I bet I’d have more faith and less stress.  Joy would be common; anxiety would be rare.  My faith would be lived daily instead of when it suits my purpose.  My work would be less mine and more God’s.  I would be more godly and less business-like.  People would remember God more than they remember me.

I’d like that.


Filed under Christianity, Inside Phipps