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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

he's with me

On Philippians 3:1-11...

It is so easy to think that our Christianity is about church attendance or our prayer life or doing good deeds or avoiding major sins or performing certain rituals or behaviors. In the right perspective those things can be helpful, but they are not – they are not – what makes us right with God.

God makes us right with God!

He does it through Jesus Christ. And if we miss that, we’ve missed the whole thing. What gets in our way most often is us. We come to believe that we make us right with God – somehow, by doing something or thinking in a certain way. And that just gets our attention off God and onto ourselves.

God makes us right with God!

Our faith, our hope, our confidence, our focus needs to be on Jesus Christ – not ourselves. That’s what Paul writes in Philippians 3:9:

…not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith…
Paul points us entirely toward God through Jesus Christ, saying that the one thing we need to know is Jesus. Nothing else matters in comparison to that. (Or all other things find their right perspective in the light of knowing Christ.)

So, when Paul says “beware,” consider what gets in the way of you knowing Jesus and through him trusting God to make you right before Him.

Only by knowing Jesus Christ, Paul writes, can we “be found” in Him. And it is only then that we can know, in the sense of comprehending, what the Lord is doing in our life… and what future He intends for us.


What the Lord Is Doing

What is the Lord doing? He is reconciling the world to Himself through Jesus. He is seeking and saving the lost. We’ve talked about this a lot lately. God is on a mission in the world, to invite people into a relationship with Him. The purpose of the Church is to join God’s mission, not something else – certainly not to substitute a false religion of trying to make ourselves right for God’s salvation, His powerful hand, God making us right with God.

So listen to how Paul describes knowing God through Jesus Christ. He declares the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus as his Lord, being “found in Him” so that:

I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (vv. 10-11)

This is one of the deepest theological truths I know. What “knowing Jesus” means is that Jesus knows us and, in effect, says to God, “He’s with me… she’s with me.” Remember ch. 2 again? Jesus did not cling to Heaven, but took on human flesh to live as one of us, in perfect obedience to the Father. He took on our sin, but was sinless. He died our death, for our sake. When we trust in Jesus in faith, God joins us to him, that his death becomes our death. His suffering becomes our suffering. And his destiny becomes our destiny – his resurrection becomes our resurrection.

That’s the “power” and the “fellowship” Paul talks about in v. 10. It is God’s power to make us right with Himself – a power we do not have in ourselves. And the fellowship is the joining, the binding, that God accomplishes when we know Jesus through faith. The Holy Spirit makes us one with Christ so that his death and resurrection become ours.

One of the best illustrations I’ve heard of this was from a speaker named Baxter Kruger. He described a scene that I’ve experienced myself – maybe some of you have as well. Baxter loves to play around and wrestle with his son. That’s an expression of their fellowship – their love – for one another. His son had a friend from the neighborhood who came over one time when the father and son were wrestling. When the son called the friend over and said, “Come on, let’s get my dad” the friend joined in the fellowship of the father and son. It was not something he could have initiated or participated in directly with a man he didn’t know. But because he knew Baxter’s son and was invited into the loving play time, he experienced what it was to be a son in that house.

That is what Jesus has done. We cannot generate our own “rightness” with God, but Jesus is already perfectly “right” with his Father. And through him, we have access to the Father, in fact to the perfect love and fellowship of the Trinity.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

show the way

There is hardly space or time here to address theodicy (the problem of evil), nor do I claim to have all the answers. But, I wanted to share one set of thoughts on the problem of evil that is meaningful to me. It is a song by one of my favorite folk musicians, David Wilcox, called "Show the Way." David is not an outspoken Christian, but he is a deep thinker and, I believe, a man of quiet Christian faith. Consider his powerful song as you struggle with the weighty things of this world.


You say you see no hope,

You say you see no reason we should dream

that the world would ever change
You're saying love is foolish to believe
'Cause there'll always be some crazy with an army or a knife
To wake you from your day dream, put the fear back in your life...

Look, if someone wrote a play just to glorify what's stronger than hate,

Would they not arrange the stage to look as if the hero came too late?

He's almost in defeat… it's looking like the evil side will win,

So on the edge of every seat, from the moment that the whole thing begins…

It is Love who makes the mortar
And it's love who stacked these stones
And it's love who made the stage here
Although it looks like we're alone
In this scene set in shadows
Like the night is here to stay
There is evil cast around us
But it's love that wrote the play...
For in this darkness love can show the way.

So now the stage is set.

You feel you own heart beating in your chest.

This life's not over yet, so we get up on our feet and do our best.

We play against the fear.

We play against the reasons not to try
We're playing for the tears burning in the happy angel's eyes,

For it is Love….

Listen here: http://www.archive.org/details/DavidWilcoxShowtheWay

making disciples

And Jesus came up and spoke to [the disciples], saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." -Matthew 28:18-20

Christians are disciples of Jesus Christ. If you have trusted in Jesus for salvation and committed yourself to following and obeying him, then you are his disciple! The last thing Jesus said to his disciples was the "Great Commission" quoted above from Matthew 28. What are we supposed to do as disciples? Most simply put, we are supposed to make MORE disciples. The rest of the Great Commission gives us the details…

We are to make disciples when and as we go. We are not to build up high walls around our church and shut out the world. We come here for shelter, for upbuilding, for worship, for support, and for mutual encouragement. We come here to be fortified and healed and equipped. But then we are to go back out again and again into the world to be salt and light for Jesus Christ. And as we go, we are to make disciples. That puts the responsibility on EACH of us to penetrate our own personal mission fields with the good news of Christ. Our personal mission fields are everywhere you go – the soccer field, the grocery store, Bank of America, school, your neighbor's living room, the uttermost parts of the earth… all of the above and more!

What is involved in making a disciple? Jesus highlights two crucial factors. We make disciples by bringing people into God's family through baptism in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This involves sharing the Good News of salvation through evangelism; it involves drawing people into a church family through baptism; and it involves the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. Secondly, we make disciples by teaching obedience and love of God. We do this through Christian education, Bible study, and through leading people to and through the Word of God.

Probably none of this is new to you… but here's where I am challenged by it. It is easy to become molded into the cultural consumer model of church. We'll offer quality teaching, leadership, and programs, and if anybody wants our "product" we will service them effectively. We may even do a little "advertising" locally for our product. And it's possible to grow a church that way.

But Jesus' model and mission for us is that the church, Session, and pastor equip and mobilize each of you as an army of disciples who are prepared and willing to go out into the world and multiply yourselves by making more disciples. That may or may not grow the local church (it probably will); but more importantly, that's how God grows His Kingdom!

Be encouraged by Jesus' promise – he is with us in all this! And be encouraged too – we are in this together, and there's no fellow-disciples I'd rather work with for God's glory than you!


Tuesday, May 08, 2007

shining humility

What is humility?

Don’t confuse it with humiliation, which is when someone else exerts their power to put you down. I remember that all too clearly from the playground – even 30 years later.

Humility can look a lot like humiliation, but the difference is that it is something you choose. It is letting go of power and putting others above yourself.

Do you see the difference?

I remember the whole team-choosing process on the playground. I don’t think I was every chosen last, but I got close a few times. That was humiliating, when the playground alpha dogs deemed you unworthy of their team or came up with something like, “Ha – your stuck with Stevie!” as little Stevie is chosen last.

I witnessed unmistakable humility one time when Blake was captain. He was a playground "alpha dog" – always in charge of picking teams (or being picked first), and he said, “I don’t want to be captain; let Stevie be captain in my place.” That was choosing to put another before himself - that was setting aside power; that was humility.

Humiliation is often caused by those looking out for #1 and doing so by making sure the best anybody else can be is #2.

Humility is stepping to the back of the line so others can be served first. It is looking out for the weak and thinking of others first.

Humiliation often comes, unfortunately, because of weakness.

Humility comes from strength.

It is a mistake to look at Jesus’ abuse, suffering, arrest, and shameful death and see humiliation. Paul tells us that “he humbled himself.” Jesus was strong, even at what seemed to be his weakest.

In today’s text, Paul challenges us to be like Jesus… that is, to live in humility. To do so, says Paul, will have extraordinary results, not only in our life, but in other’s lives, and in relation to God.

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,
who, although he existed in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,
but emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant,
and being made in the likeness of men.
Being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient
to the point of death, even death on a cross.
(Philippians 2:5-8)

What was Jesus’ attitude? It was complete and perfect humility. Look at three different acts of humility.

1. Humility before God – he “did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped.” (v. 6)

Though Jesus was fully God, fully divine, he did not reach or cling to divinity as Adam was tempted to do, but “released” his place and right as God in order to do God’s will and serve God’s purpose.

2. Service to God – he “emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.” (v. 7)

This humility translated into obedience and service to God, whereby Jesus emptied himself and took the form of a human being, a servant of God. Jesus demonstrated this humble obedience in a living parable to his disciples when he, their teacher, donned the towel and washed their feet.

3. Humility and compassion towards human beings – “he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (v. 8)

That humility become obedience then became acted out obedience and compassion toward the human race, as Jesus suffered and died, fulfilling God’s saving plan for the world.

These acts of humility, obedience, service, and love are what we are to imitate. They are attitudes and they are actions. And while we do not act to save the world from sin, we do act to show God’s compassion and grace to our neighbors. We are to be “little Christs” to the world around us.


Tuesday, May 01, 2007

what do you use these for?

I recently read an article by a nurse, Kamalini Kumar, entitled "Work as Worship" that talked about how our weekday work (and other work) is a significant context in which we offer worship to God. That article (footnoted below)^1 had a number of interesting points, but I just want to focus on one illustration in it. It is a story told of some body-builders on a television talk show^2…

They were showing off their muscles when the host asked, "What do you use these muscles for?" One man answered by flexing his muscles in one of those body-building poses.


"No, you don't understand me," said the host. "What do you use these muscles for?"

The body builder answered, "I'll show you," and flexed again, posing another way.

"No, no, you still don't understand what I'm asking. What do you use them for?" and the guy posed again.


Kumar goes on to comment that many Christians are like those body-builders. We come to worship, Bible study, Sunday school, and other church events and keep training and building up our spiritual muscles. But then we don't use them for the reason God created them.

As we talked about this past Sunday, we DO come to church and worship to be built up spiritually. But we also come to worship – which is to serve and obey God with our praises and spiritual muscles. And we are SENT OUT as "salt and light" into the world… as "leaven" to carry the transforming word and Spirit of God with us. Each of you has a unique "mission field" that involves your workplace, school, neighborhood, family, friends, and many other places you go. As you have conversations, as you work, as you shop, and as you build relationships, consider where God fits into your life and how the Good News of Jesus Christ can be woven into those experiences.


Psalm 90:17 says, "Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us; and confirm for us the work of our hands; yes, confirm the work of our hands." (NASB)

May God give you a vision for worshiping Him through your work and everything else you do as you use your "spiritual muscles!"
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1 Kamalini Kumar, Work as Worship in Journal of Christian Nursing, Volume 16, Number 2 (Madison, WI: Intervarsity Press, 1999). Article was found online at: www.intervarsity.org/ncf/jcn/archive/99sp/kumar.html
2 Tim Hansel, Holy Sweat (Dallas: Word, 1987), 26-28.



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