By John Miltenberger
Sitting down, He called the twelve and said to them, “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” [Mark 9:35; NASB]
…and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. [Mark 10:44; NASB]
I was blessed to grow up about 100 years after the American Civil War, but even after that time lapse the issue of slavery was still a hot topic. I attended a small, Midwest college that largely defined the small town adjacent to it. Vietnam was ongoing, like a headache with no foreseeable end, and the nation was increasingly polarized by anti-war protesters and civil rights protesters. At the same time, our national morals, to use a sloppy generality, were being tested on every level, and the hippy/drug/free love culture was alive and well in the soil of those protests.
Concurrent to those social movements, the Charismatic Renewal was sweeping through churches and denominations, and although it was an exciting time to be a Christian, it was also a time of great religious division, and bitter polarity. It seemed evident proof of Jesus’ words when He said He did not come to bring peace, but a sword, and Christian infighting can be the meanest, most merciless kind of fighting. The assumed justification of ‘having God on our side’ often precludes mercy.
I was 30 years old by the time Vietnam officially ended in our defeat, with the odious cost of over 58,000 American servicemen and women dead. That’s a sizable sacrifice, and I daresay, we still feel those losses today. America has never been the same since then; it was a corner we turned that could never be unturned, but how I wish we could. But by the time I was 30 years old, I thought I knew all the answers.
I gave my life to Christ during the Charismatic Renewal that swept the Midwest in the early 70’s. I read my Bible(s), worked in a Christian ministry and felt fully qualified to dispense Christian advice and counsel to many…after all, I had all the answers. In all of this, I never saw any arrogance in myself, never detected the stench of spiritual smugness, and I thought I wanted to serve God for the rest of my life.
I held out against the world and its temptations for almost 7 years…then, worn out and disgusted with the Christian infighting among the groups I had contact with, I chose a secular career path. I put the last nail in the coffin when I looked at my new peers and co-workers and stated, “I want to be like them.” Only after 25 years of a bumpy ride to the bottom of the barrel did I realize that with that one statement, I had turned my back on God and His calling for me. He let me have my own way; He will always do that if we oppose Him long enough. Getting our own way is the easy road; finding God’s road and staying on it narrows the pavement considerably. It only took me about 40 years to figure that out.
Now, much older and hopefully wiser, I feel like I’m starting over with God. It takes a lot more faith now than I needed 40 years ago; I’m not the same Spring Chicken, and some days the old body forces me to rely totally on God’s mercy and grace – well actually, every day, to be honest. One big difference is that now I really love God; before I loved the knowledge of God, and it was so easy to translate it into pride. Gratifying, sure…but deadly in every way.
Several years ago, in the midst of a peaceful retirement, I made a decision with God. If God asks you a question, be careful how fast you answer Him. Think it through – this Guy doesn’t play Christian games, and your answer will stand for, or against you – forever. In short, I told God I would not ever again say “No” to Him. I should have foreseen that testing would be next. One day while reading in my easy chair, with my cat on my lap, I told the cat, “You know, these are the easy times.” I might have guessed it was a prophecy!
Say what high and almighty things you want to say to God, but be advised He is only impressed if your heart says the same. And He will try to prove your word. I think most of the time when we are most impressed with ourselves, God remains unimpressed. God will put your rubber to the road, and the ride may not be at all pleasant or what we would have chosen. I’ve been a little under the weather lately, you know, a lot of “bugs” going around, and was dragging myself through day after long day. I didn’t really voice any complaints, and I didn’t think I was complaining, until God asked me one of His quiet little questions: “Can you serve me here?” And the voice behind that question broke my heart! “Yes, I will be honored to serve you here.” And I meant it.
If you don’t find the heart of a slave within yourself, ask yourself who really, are you serving? He loves us too much to let us get away with anything less.
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