March 18, 2010

March 18: No matter how much I do

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By Matt Helmuth, a first-year sociology and Bible and religion double major from Elkhart, Ind.
SCRIPTURE:Philippians 3:4b-14 (NRSV)
Scroll down for complete Scripture.

DEVOTIONAL:
I spent spring break this year with a group of my fellow students in LaGrange, Ga., learning about issues surrounding illegal immigration. We spent the week with people whose lives were given over to fighting for justice in God’s name. We witnessed extreme poverty and extreme wealth existing side by side, visited prisoners unjustly detained, and helped in the feeding of the hungry and the distribution of clothes to the needy. It was a thoroughly Mennonite service trip.

No one, I think, would argue with me if I said that Mennonites are strongly service-oriented Christians. We emphasize awareness of social maladies and subsequent whole-hearted attempts to cure them. Being the Mennonite college student that I am, I’m idealistic, full of energy, and bent on changing the world in God’s name.

Here, though, is where caution introduces itself. In my rush to better the world by improving my capacity to serve, I must always keep my eyes on God. I’ve come dangerously close to turning acts of service into my method for redeeming the value of life. Anton Florez, one of the folks we met in Georgia, suggested we ask: “When do I labor in vain without first seeking to be still and know that I am not God?” Further: how much do we try to save ourselves by living well?

Paul wrote that whatever was to his profit he considered a loss for the sake of Christ; he wrote, too, that he did not want a righteousness of his own that came from the law. As I grow into my Mennonite shoes, I want to avoid at all costs letting acts of service become my salvation. I want to keep “the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith,” no matter how much I do – or don’t do.

SCRIPTURE: Philippians 3:4b-14 (NRSV)
…even though I, too, have reason for confidence in the flesh.

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

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Comments (19)

  1. Earlier this evening I was reading my March issue of Sojourners Magazine. There was an article by the Jesuit priest Daniel Berrigan who is a veteran activist. (Passing the Peace—pp. 35—37.) It related to what was written on your posting today. If you haven’t read it I think you might find it interesting.

    M. Blaser

    Marla Blaser March 18, 2010 |
  2. Anton Florez, one of the folks we met in Georgia, suggested we ask: “When do I labor in vain without first seeking to be still and know that I am not God?” Further: how much do we try to save ourselves by living well?
    This is always the challenge when we go out to be in service to others. Indeed, we are all, in some way, trying to find our own meaning by helping others. But, our amazing God works through all of our behaviors; if we, keep our eyes on the prize; if we–and those we journey with–help us to be still and know that God works through and with even our most vain motives, then we will work not for ourselves, but for our God and God’s creation.

    Rev Elizabeth Griffin March 18, 2010 |
  3. Matt, this is lovely. You have great wisdom. That said, you’ll sit with my compliments and know that you are not God. Very, very elegant worship. My day will be better now. Thank you.

    Maureen Nalezny March 18, 2010 |
  4. Good Morhing> As i sat with this verse, at first I felt fear – of letting go of the familiar, of what I have accomplished – no longer identifying with “me”. As I sat longer, I began to feel a sense of liberation, of lightness and spaciousness. It is like letting one’s self die a little, in order to follow Christ. Preparing for the big “letting go”.
    Peace, B

    Beth March 18, 2010 |
  5. That was good Matt.

    Mom Johnson of Arienne March 18, 2010 |
  6. …..but I feel so “good” when I do “good works”!! Thanks so much for the reminder that salvation is a grace gift from God. Your insight and ability to put this message into a thoughtful devotional are especially meaningful to me at this time. From an older former GC grad………Nancy

    Nancy March 18, 2010 |
  7. excellent Word today. A timely warning to even the most mature Christian.

    Terry Lind March 18, 2010 |
  8. The wisdom and sincerity of your devotional were a very good lead-in to the Sripture from Paul. Both are great lessons in humility and truth. Thank you!

    Ron Prince March 18, 2010 |
  9. It is very easy to get ‘wrapped up’ in the doing and the ‘high’ that follows from helping/serving others, and that truly is laboring in vain. Today you have reminded me to press on to the goal and seek His righteousness – “no matter how much I do – or don’t do”. Thanks, Matt.

    Carol Mellinger March 18, 2010 |
  10. Your thoughts today, Matt, spoke to my heart. Thank you for sharing your experience and the spiritual prompting that made me think more about my place in God’s world as an instrument of change…by His grace.

    DeeDee Barnes Bruns March 18, 2010 |
  11. Excellent words, Matt. How easy in every generation to substitute something, anything, for living faith in, and passionate following after, Jesus. May God give you the desire of your heart!

    Conrad Showalter March 18, 2010 |
  12. Beautifully written, and wonderfully conveyed. I thank you for sharing your thoughts about service.

    Jennifer March 18, 2010 |
  13. Thanks, Matt, for this kind reminder to examine motives as we give/serve. I needed this insightful devotional today.

    Martha March 18, 2010 |
  14. Today’s devotion was much needed in my life and is a very relevant reminder. Thanks.

    jane March 18, 2010 |
  15. Wise, wise words from such a young man. Thank you for reminding us about surrendering all and being still. Good works are right — but not righteousness.

    Bonita Portzline March 18, 2010 |
  16. Thank you for sharing this. I think we definitely need to hear this in the Mennonite World! Amen!

    Sarah Lashley March 18, 2010 |
  17. Please allow me to second the observations of some of the other folk. Matt, 30 years later, I can vividly recall being 18 (and vaguely on the more contemplative side of Calvinism anyway), and your wisdom is, okay, very impressive. Not enough, of course, but for purposes independent of personal salvation, you’re likely to Go Far.
    Many thanks for this reality check about trying to keep one’s motives consciously in balance, before the eternal face of a relentlessly merciful God.

    Jon March 19, 2010 |
  18. thanks matt that is very good

    pa pa March 20, 2010 |
  19. Matt,
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Your humble compassion and wisdom shine through.

    Jerry Hessel June 11, 2010 |