Value

Turkey. Mashed Potatoes. Gravy. Cranberry sauce. And don’t forget the stuffing!

Only this year I did skip the stuffing – or at least the stuffing balls my mom made. Which apparently contained bacon and were apparently amazing (according to the reviews around the table). But I passed them up. Because of onions.

Over the years of my life, my brain has taken in the taste, smell, and texture of these pungent vegetables, processed the emotion those senses triggered, and concluded that I do not value onions. Which means that when I see them in a dish that is offered (or even if I can’t see them 😉), I will turn up my nose and walk right past. Yes, even when there’s an opportunity for bacon.

STUFFING ONIONS

As humans we place value on things. Woven into human intelligence is the necessity of determining value because we cannot and should not value everything the same. Our brains take in information from our five senses – sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch. We process that information and the emotion it triggers. That processing helps us determine what we prefer or don’t prefer and, over the long term, what we value. We then assign value by the action we take toward that thing.

Woven into every human-to-human interaction is the ability to assign value. When we are in the same space as another person, we automatically take in information from our senses – mostly what we see and hear (or possibly smell). We notice the external factors of a person’s appearance, race, economic status, family, and relationships. We observe their job or role, their talents, personality, intelligence, and maybe even what we’ve seen on their social media feed.

We process that information and the emotions it triggers, determining that person’s value according to us. We then assign value by the action we take toward that person. Whether we are conscious of it or not, in every interaction we have with another person, we are assigning value.

In Jesus’ day, much like our world today, the combined actions of multitudes of humans with multitudes of other humans led to the assigning of value to people. The circumstances, appearance, and visible actions of a person put them in a category. Based on that category, how they were to be treated was established.

In Jesus’ religion-based culture, value was determined by a person’s faith or connection with God. And the religious leaders of the time, specifically the Pharisees, emphasized human effort as the way to attain and sustain this connection. Their “rites were numerous, expensive, requiring much time, much property, and laborious. The Pharisees were rigid in requiring that all the people should pay the taxes, give of their property, comply with every part of the law with the utmost rigor.”* To them, this was the definition of “faith” and a person who would or could not comply, was devalued as unable to have “faith”.

The tension between these religious leaders and Jesus is noted repeatedly in Matthew’s gospel. As you read, it’s clear that Jesus intentionally interacted with people who could not or did not carry the Pharisees’ “load” (Matthew 23:4) because of their circumstances, appearance, or visible actions. In each case, He assigned value to these devalued people by making a big deal about their faith – or their potential to have faith.

It’s not surprising that Jesus’ first one-on-one interaction mentioned by Matthew (besides with John the Baptist and the disciples) is with a leper who, having been outcast from participation in faith activities because of his condition, showed evidence of true faith by saying “‘you can make me clean’” (8:2). This is followed by another one-on-one with a non-Jewish centurion, after whose confession of faith Jesus points out, “‘with no one in Israel have I found such faith’” (8:10). During an urgent trip to heal a synagogue leader’s daughter, Jesus stops to point out the faith of an “unclean,” outcast woman (9:22). Though many would have viewed people with disabilities as a nuisance or burden, Jesus welcomed them and called attention to their faith (9:29). He assigned faith-value to “tax collectors and sinners” (9:10) and children (19:14).

By seeking out, calling out, reaching out, and touching people who were not considered able to have “faith,” Jesus assigned value to them. He raised them up and raised their value, making them the example of true faith – which was not a heavy load, but a rest-filled trust in Jesus and His power as the Son of God. Their value was not determined by their external circumstances, but by their heart-and-mind connection to Him.

There’s one part of the Thanksgiving meal I certainly did not skip over this year:

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I value pie. All the pies. Just knowing there was going to be pie for dessert resulted in action on my part: I purposely reduced the amount of dinner that I ate in order to save room for the largest socially-allowed amount of pie I could take. Yum!

We live in a society that values pie. We value our people. I value the people who, when I see or hear (or smell) them, they trigger all the positive emotions and therefore I gravitate toward them. I will easily give up other things and pass by other people in order to spend time with them. I assign value to them by making eye contact, smiling, giving them my attention, asking them questions, and being genuinely interested in their responses.

It’s great to have pie, but maybe saving so much room for pie makes me miss out on bacon. As a believer, I have the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit empowering me to see people – to not just take in what I see or hear from them, but to see the faith-value of every person I share space with. I have the ability to see every person as a highly valued intentional creation of God, made to know and be known by Him.

When I assign value to people I might have otherwise passed by, I have a chance to show them how valuable they are. I can’t heal people like Jesus did, but maybe by welcoming someone into my space and listening with my face, by learning their name and referring to them by it the next time I see them, by asking questions instead of talking about myself, and by embracing the awkwardness that always comes with valuing others, I can be part of a miracle.

*https://biblehub.com/commentaries/barnes/matthew/23.htm

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100%

It was a blessing to grow up in Vermont. Though I didn’t appreciate it at the time, I had the gift of knowing everyone in my small town, attending a school with only 25 students in my grade, and seeing some of the best fall foliage in the world right out my back door.

But mostly, it was the maple syrup. Pure Vermont goodness on my pancakes, drizzled on a bowl of freshly fallen snow, or molded into candy form – what a treat!

And a treat it was – because real maple syrup is not any cheaper just because you live where it’s made. Most of the time, our waffles were coated with good old Aunt Jemima maple-flavored syrup. You know, corn syrup mixed with some high-fructose corn syrup, water, caramel color, and “artificial and natural” (notice the artificial is listed first) flavors. Oh and don’t forget the sodium hexametaphosphate 😉

100% Pure Vermont Maple Syrup doesn’t even have a list of ingredients. Because it is the ingredient! There’s no corn syrup, colors, flavors, water, or sodium hexametaphosphate. There is nothing but the syrup itself. Because 100% is 100%.

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Serving others is a 100% necessary part of life with Jesus. We follow His example by giving our time, energy, and resources to enrich the lives of others. We use our God-given abilities to spread the good news of His love. We make our contribution, no matter how small, to keeping the body of Christ functioning and growing.

We tend to think of “serving” as something that goes against our self-centered human nature. But for many of us, it only serves to boost our pride.

It feels good to do good (and that’s a good thing!) But under the surface, there’s some high-fructose corn syrup getting mixed in – because one of the reasons helping feels good is because we’re doing it. Being on the helping side feels good. Being on the receiving side can feel embarrassing and even humiliating.

Our friend Peter knew this well.

Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end. It was time for supper, and the devil had already prompted Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him. (John 13:1-5)

What Jesus did in this passage was a common thing. Feet traveling in sandals on the non-paved streets of that day were dirty. And dining at a low table without chairs meant eating your meal up close and personal with someone else’s feet. It was customary for feet to be washed before the meal and this task was usually performed by a servant, or a wife might wash her husband’s feet, children might wash their parents’ feet, or a disciple might wash their teacher’s feet.*

So when Jesus, the teacher, got down and started washing His disciples’ feet, this became a very uncommon thing and Peter decided it was not right. If anything, he should be the one washing Jesus’ feet – not vice versa!

When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus replied, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.”
“No,” Peter protested, “you will never ever wash my feet!”
Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me.”
Simon Peter exclaimed, “Then wash my hands and head as well, Lord, not just my feet!”
(v. 8-9)

Serving in our human eyes looks a lot like Aunt Jemima. We put in the effort and then God sprinkles in some of His “natural flavor” and makes it awesome. But that’s not the case! We may think we’re the ones doing the washing, but we’re actually the ones having our feet washed.

“But I did the work,” I protest, “I used my hands and my arms and my feet!”

And God says, “Did you give yourself those hands? Did you give yourself working, healthy legs and arms that allow you to move around and do things?”

“But I mustered up the energy to do the work!”

“Did you give yourself that energy? Did you give those plants and animals the air, light, earth, and water they needed to grow to become the food you ate to gain that energy?”

“But I made the choice to serve!”

“Did you arrange it so you could be born in the place where you were born at the time when you were born so that you could have the opportunity to serve in that way? Did you give yourself a brain that enables you to make choices like that?”

It’s all received. 100%. We can’t lay claim to any act of service and there is no place for even a drop of pride. Every act of service I perform is something I’m receiving. I am only the receiver, never the giver. Every time I’m helping someone, it’s not because I did anything to earn that position – it’s only because God allowed me to do it and because He gave me the ability and strength to do it. 100% is 100%.

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As a long-distance runner, I carry these things called “gel packs” with me – because when you’ve been burning up energy for over an hour, your body needs a boost. After trying a few kinds and not liking the strange flavors or the complicated lists of ingredients, I decided there must be a better way!

Then my mom introduced me to “Untapped All-Natural Athletic Fuel” made with – you guessed it – 100% Pure Vermont Maple Syrup. I did some research to figure out what else they added to the syrup to make it “athletic fuel” but I found nothing – and that’s because they added nothing! It turns out maple syrup naturally contains all the “minerals, antioxidants, amino acids, and vitamins” needed to give you that “strong kick when you need it” along with “sustained fuel” for the miles ahead.**

I gave it a try on my next long run and it worked! I finished the last three miles of an 11-mile race in what might be my record 5K time. Goodbye raspberry-mint-chocolate-salted-caramel goo 😝 Running is now my excuse to down a full ounce of 100% Pure Vermont Maple Syrup in one swallow!

Using your time, body, and abilities to serve can be life-sucking and the chances of burnout are high if you’re leveraging any of it on your own contribution. But seeing every ounce of your service as something you’re receiving is exactly the energy you need to keep on keeping on. It’s a beautiful thing to have your feet washed by Jesus and every time you serve, you get to experience just that!

*https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/ivp-nt/Jesus-Washes-Disciples-Feet
**https://untapped.cc/

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Layers

I love a good storm. I’m no meteorologist, but when there’s some excitement in the forecast, you can bet I’ll be on my weather app, staring at the radar and hoping we’re going to get at least one good flash of lightning and a solid crack of thunder!

But a couple of years ago, I got caught in a storm I wasn’t such a big fan of.

It was SERVE 2017 and I was running an errand with another leader. As we drove toward Ludlow, Vermont, I noticed the sky was getting unusually dark for that time of day. The wind was picking up and just as we got into town, the rain began pounding down on the windshield – or wait, was that really just rain? No! It was hail!

Thankfully, we happened to be at our destination and were able to park and ride out the storm there. I couldn’t decide if I was more excited to experience this rare weather event or more worried about the damage it might do to my car!

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Hail is a ball of ice that falls from the sky – but it doesn’t start out as a ball of ice. A droplet of water vapor inside a cloud above freezing level turns to ice. Gravity pulls the ice particle down below freezing level, where it collects a layer of water. Updrafts in the storm then force the particle back up above freezing level, where the water freezes and becomes a coating of ice. Gravity takes over, the process repeats, and depending on the storm, that single particle can collect enough layers to become the size of a softball or grapefruit!

Serving God should be simple. As purposeful creations of an all-knowing God, we’ve been shaped to serve. Each of us has been gifted with a unique combination of personality and passion, along with a knack for certain tasks. And as believers, God’s own Spirit within us further enables us to confidently make our contribution to the building of His Kingdom.

But serving God gets complicated in our culture. We’re forecast-checkers, constantly evaluating our position in comparison to our fellow servants, and often the signs point to: “not qualified,” “not talented enough,” or “not as good at that as __________”. Believing we’re not enough at our core, we let gravity and updrafts take over and help us accumulate layers – layers of “more creative like her” or “more outgoing like him,” “more generous like him,” or “more organized like her”. We’ve seen God use “those” people, but us? We’re not quite there yet.

The book of Judges tells the story of Gideon, a not-so-hero-ish guy who served God in a very heroic way. Suffering under incessant attack from the Midianites, God’s people were reduced to starvation. Desperate, they cried out to God for help, and as He always did, He called forth a rescuer to save them.

“Then the angel of the Lord came and sat beneath the great tree at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash of the clan of Abiezer. Gideon son of Joash was threshing wheat at the bottom of a winepress to hide the grain from the Midianites. The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, ‘Mighty hero, the Lord is with you!’… ‘Go with the strength you have, and rescue Israel from the Midianites. I am sending you!’” (Judges 6:11-12, 14)

Confused by this calling, and wondering if the Lord had made a mistake, Gideon asked: “‘How can I rescue Israel? My clan is the weakest in the whole tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least in my entire family!’” (6:15) The reply he received, though, confirmed there was no mistake: “I will be with you. And you will destroy the Midianites as if you were fighting against one man.” (6:16)

After giving in and agreeing to go, Gideon did what any good military leader would do – he gathered troops. 32,000 of them to be exact. He may have been “weakest” and “least,” but with 32,000 layers surrounding him, he might have a chance!

But the Lord thought otherwise and said to Gideon, “‘You have too many warriors with you. If I let all of you fight the Midianites, the Israelites will boast to me that they saved themselves by their own strength. Therefore, tell the people, “Whoever is timid or afraid may leave this mountain and go home.”’ So 22,000 of them went home, leaving only 10,000 who were willing to fight.” (7:2-3)

And, as if losing that many layers wasn’t enough, the Lord then sent home 9,700 more! Seeing himself as “not enough,” Gideon thought he needed to be “more”. In Gideon’s mind, the definition of “mighty hero” was grapefruit-sized hail, but in the Lord’s eyes, it was “Go with the strength you have” (6:14). He didn’t need all those layers!

Here’s why: “When the 300 Israelites blew their rams’ horns, the Lord caused the [Midianite] warriors in the camp to fight against each other with their swords.” (7:22) The bad guys ended up taking themselves down! Gideon ended up being celebrated as a mighty hero – not because of his ability to accumulate layers – but simply because he said “yes” and stepped forward in obedience.

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Every time I serve, I think, “You must have picked the wrong person!” because I never see myself as enough. But when God leads me to serve, he’s not expecting me to be anything more than I already am. He doesn’t need my layers. In fact, all those layers end up doing is producing damaging false confidence, so He’s in the process of melting them away. God is constantly working to reduce me down to the original “me” He created – who, believe it or not, is already enough!

Any reason you feel disqualified or inadequate is null and void. You are incredibly valuable to God’s Kingdom and every contribution you make, no matter how small or weak, is substantial just because it came from you. You don’t need to become a “mighty hero” – you already are one!

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