selfish servants

This is an ODJ devotional I wrote after last week’s visit to Pictured Rocks Lakeshore in the beautiful desolation of Michigan’s Upper Peninusula, which doubles as a metaphor for Michigan’s upcoming football season.

read > Acts 4:1-21

“What should we do with these men?” they asked each other.

The tour guide at the Au Sable lighthouse on Lake Superior spoke admiringly of the courage of its keepers. These men survived harsh and lonely conditions on a meager salary, endured the incessant roar of the foghorn, and rowed their lifeboat onto stormy seas to rescue sailors. But despite their selfless valor, the keepers resisted efforts to install the Fresnel lens that would double the amount of light their station could throw upon the water. The guide explained the keepers had a financial arrangement with the maker of the old lens, and they didn’t want to jeopardize their financial stream, even if it would save lives.

         They seem similar to the religious leaders who opposed Peter and John. These priests and teachers of the law embarked on their careers to help people. They taught the people what God expected and interceded for them when they disobeyed. But they also earned a nice income for their service, an income they would lose if Judaism were replaced by the gospel of Jesus.

          So they found themselves in the awkward position of challenging the disciples’ healing of a crippled man. As Peter asked incredulously, “Are we being questioned today because we’ve done a good deed for a crippled man?” (Acts 4:9). The leaders agreed they couldn’t “deny that they have performed a miraculous sign, and everybody in Jerusalem knows about it. But to keep them from spreading their propaganda any further, we must warn them not to speak to anyone in Jesus’ name again” (Acts 4:16-17).

         The leaders’ conundrum eventually comes to everyone in the helping business. It comes to charities, who spend increasing amounts of money perpetuating their own existence; teachers, whose personal benefits may not be in the best interests of their students; even missionaries, who sometimes stifle the maturity of the national church by staying too long on the field.

         Here are hard questions for us who need to be needed:  Is my service helping or hurting? If necessary, will I step aside for their good?



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2 responses to “selfish servants”

  1. Great analogy here (holding back the greater light). I’m heading up to Pictured Rocks this weekend to hike with my sister and we’ll be by the lighthouse (though I doubt we’ll tour it). Our churches can learn from this as well as we navigate the idea that churches themselves may have a lifespan as they complete one mission/ministry from God in an area and people are called to start other ministries. Our own church, it seems, is being called in a special way to minister to refugees and spread the Gospel to all nations (who seem to be knocking on our very doors rather than being halfway around the world). But I’m sure not everyone in our church feels this is the case and would prefer to carry on in a business-as-usual fashion because it’s what they’re used to (oh, and refugees don’t add much to the financial bottom line). Do we resist the expanding of God’s kingdom in our own communities because it doesn’t look like the good old days when Boomers were flocking to church and having lots of kids to fill the youth programs?

  2. mikewittmer

    Erin: the tour is only $3 and well worth it, I thought. A lot of personal attention and a neat walk up to the top. Sounds like you and Z have a great problem. May be a bit overwhelming, but what a mission, and right at your door! If the church can’t get excited about serving these people, then they need to seriously consider what they’re doing and why they exist. Maybe the church could train the people to do something handy, like catch bats!

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