Archive for April, 2011

Whoever Does the Work Gets the Credit

April 29, 2011

…For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.  Philippians 2:13.

Living to please God implies letting Him work in us.  Paul’s exhortation to the Thessalonians, Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living…It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each or you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen who do not know god; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him.  4:1, 3-6.

Ok, that helps, but if we take only this instruction by itself, we will get a one dimensional view of what it means to please God.  Actually, living to please Him isn’t that hard to figure out nor is it as complicated as some might like to make it.  If God is the one who works in us so that we have the will-power and actions to do what He wants us to, then what is our work supposed to be?  Again, if God is the one who gives us the will to do His good purpose, then learning self-control as Paul suggests is directly connected to the will He gives us.  We cannot have the will to perform or even think about His view of what it means to be good unless He puts it in us first.

Our job is simple; we have to submit to His presence in our hearts for the outcome to please Him.  Once we have this work done, however, it is up to us to maintain contact with Him in order that we might continue to have the will and actions which please Him.

What else pleases God?

All right, we know that avoiding sexual immorality is one thing, but what about the rest of our lives?

Notice the word ”avoid” is the action we are supposed to perform.  In order for us to please God we must “avoid” sexual immorality.  I like that!  All we have to do is steer clear of it and we please Him.  So this probably works for most things antithetical to His nature, which, if we think about it, is pretty much anything going against the nature of loving God supreme and our neighbor as ourselves.  Still, avoiding things only works so long before something runs into us or visa versa.

One of my parents (probably Dad) used to tell a story about a little boy who asked his mother if he could go out and play.  She said yes, but warned him not to go into the swimming hole before supper.  He asked,  “But what if Satan tempts me to go in anyway?”  She replied,  “Then just do what Jesus did and tell him,  ‘Get behind me, Satan!’”  An hour or so later the boy comes back into the kitchen soaking wet for dinner.  His mother got upset and demanded,  “Didn’t I tell you not to go into the swimming hole?  What were you supposed to say when Satan tempted you to do it anyway?”  “Ma, I did tell him to get behind me, but then he went and pushed me in!”

We are much like the little boy finding excuses to fall into the mud of our own sin because it’s what we’re used to or what we enjoy.  I find it pretty irritating that people condemn others for their problems or habits of the heart (sin) yet ignore their own judgmental attitudes—which, by the way, will be judged with the same harshness they used.  I think this is why I’m so merciful towards other sinners like myself.  I don’t’ excuse sin ever, but I do know how vulnerable we are to it.  There truly is no excuse for sin, yet a fallen nature explains why it exists and continues to be problem.  It’s also why we need a Savior like Jesus.

Paul explained our issues with this old nature in Romans 7, 8 by using himself as an example.  The good he wanted to do, he struggled to do and the evil he wanted to avoid seemed to be the easiest.  He’s not excusing our sinful natures but explaining why we struggle against them.  The reason we don’t struggle harder is because we like our sin.  O, don’t give me that look, you know we all like certain things outside of the nature of Jesus.  Some might struggle with obvious problems like alcohol or drug addiction, while most of us deal with the natural issues of pride of place, worry over money, people, security or a host of other issues we can’t control.  If whatever is not of faith is sin, then pretty much our whole human existence becomes a struggle against that nature.

No, the change in us must come as a result of God working in us to give us the will and the way to perform His good purpose, otherwise it won’t happen.  We need supernatural help; someone outside and better than us to show us how it’s done.  Without this supernatural change, change won’t happen.

Yet we don’t get off the hook that easily, for God might be the One who works in us to give us the will and way but we have to submit to the point of Christ’s humility on the cross to access both.  So the work out for us is exercising true humility demonstrated by submission to the Spirit of God at work in us.  Since only He can accomplish a recreation within us, it stands to reason the real work will always be done by Him.  Our part is to keep our fallen nature from controlling by letting Him do so instead—and even that power of choice comes directly from Him!

The Salvation Workout

April 26, 2011

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.  Philippians 2:12, 13.

Sometimes it sounds like Paul is talking out of both sides of his mouth on the issue of salvation.  First he says salvation is by Christ alone and that through faith, then he turns right around to tell us we have to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.  The debate on this issue got so confusing at one point, if that’s the right word, that Martin Luther reportedly debated on whether or not to remove the book of James from the canon.

The problem, however, isn’t as hard as it might sound from a casual read.  James points out that true faith reveals itself in the works a person does not just in words.  If we just take a minute to think about this, it makes perfect sense.  It’s kind of like saying,  “Put your money where your mouth is” spiritually.  If Jesus commands us to love one another, we will, though most of us will have to relearn what the word “love” means in His context.

Just think what would happen if we continued expressing the broken definition of love we either grew up with or developed as adults apart from Jesus, what a mess that would be.  I mean, what if someone’s only understanding of love came from parents who abused them; and we don’t even have to go to those extremes to see broken examples of love lived out in the church.  Look for almost any sample of “love” in the church where someone believes it is not an emotion merely a principle and you will witness some pretty cold comfort.  I mean, Americans especially brought the Victorian stoicism/stiff-upper-lip to new heights.  The John Wayne cowboy who never cried even when he should is a great example of our attitude towards vulnerability and openness.

For this reason we need to redefine life through the eyes of Jesus, otherwise we won’t properly live out His teachings.  And this brings us to the crux of the whole matter for me.  Salvation is by faith, and that not by works, lest any man should boast.  The hierarchy starts with faith and ends with works.  First we exercise faith then it demonstrates itself in works.  Peter walking to Jesus on the water had faith first that if the being he saw walking towards them on the water was in fact his Master, then it followed he could do it too.  He walked on water (even though he wavered and sank he knew who his Savior was) and later performed some pretty awesome miracles from that fledgling faith.

Anytime we claim to have faith but refuse to act out of fear of failure we show it to be mere head knowledge or a principle without teeth.  The theme throughout the whole message of the Bible is:  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  Jeremiah 29:13.  Why?  What does the intensity of our search have to do with finding God?  And if the just shall live by faith, what does this whole-hearted seeking/questing have to do with us finding Him?

I believe it has to do with being open-hearted.

To know what it means to be loved we have to be open to receive love.  If our defenses are bulwarked against every incoming thing imaginable, love’s soft touch won’t make much of an impression on the layers of stone we build around our hearts.  Most likely, we won’t even hear it let alone feel it, nor will we recognize it for what it is.  Our only defense must be Jesus.  He alone buffers our hearts in a healthy way.  I know my defensiveness grows out of fears developed over the years from disappointments, mistakes I made, letting the wrong people in and generally living in a very confused world where pretty much anything can happen.  So many people go to therapy to help them get healthy when all the while the best answer is not a psychologist, though one might help us, but Jesus.

“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.  Are not two sparrows fold for a penny?  Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.  And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”  Matthew 10:28-31.

The context of this passage is couched in the instructions to the disciples who Jesus sent out to minister.  The timeline here gets a little blurry because Jesus not only tells them what they need to do for the trip they were taking immediately but also guidelines for the future when He goes back to His Father.  Verse 26, 27 begin His encouragement like this,  “So do not be afraid of them (those who oppose the gospel).  There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.  What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs.”

Jesus desires for us to be fearless.  Peter denied Jesus out of fear of discovery—not because he necessarily feared dying for the Master in battle, but I believe he harbored views of himself as a warrior in the army of the Messiah scouting out the enemy camp.  His fear grew out of a mistaken concept of what it means to follow the Christ, much like many of us.  We fear to offend people by our words or actions so we mute the light of Jesus in order to fit in a bit more.  Unfortunately for Peter and for us, Jesus frowns on this type of behavior for the sake of security or long-reaching spiritual goals.  Our light must shine in season and out of season; when it’s convenient and when it isn’t.  “A city on a hill cannot be hidden; neither do men light a lamp and put it under a pot.”  Our Master never resorted to the obnoxious or confrontational style we see so prevalent in most religions today.  Nor do we see Him cop out and take the road of benignity.

A person fully immersed in Christ displays His message without necessarily trying to for out of their heart emerges the works of salvation.  Paul’s instructions to the Philippians centered on changing one’s attitude, which is a matter renewing our minds not merely behavior modification.  Paul reminds every church to whom he wrote to fully submit to Christ and change the way they think rather than just worry about performance performance.  A person who wants a healthy body works out for diet only accomplishes so much before exercise must take over.  The same in our Christian walk.  We cannot affect the changes necessary to be like Jesus only He can do this, but, working to open our hearts and minds to Him is our job.  In other words, we cannot let word of Christ dwell in [us] richly unless we expose ourselves to it by hearing or reading it.

Jesus said,  “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”  How we think and what we think about is far more important than what we do, since what we do is motivated and inspired by our thought life.  Jesus wants the good works we do to be evidence of what’s already happened in the heart not an act we put on to convince other people of our sincerity.  If our hearts are changed by love, we will be loving.  If we are convinced that Jesus is the Christ, we will live humbly submitted to Him.  If we believe His word is true, we will trust and follow it as our ruler for measuring life.

Every Knee & Tongue

April 25, 2011

Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  Philippians 2:9-11.

I’ve heard a few explanations for this passage, of course, so I know people interpret it a couple of different ways.  From the context of Paul’s writings and the rest of Scripture I get the following view as the most plausible:

Whether anyone acknowledges Jesus as Lord and Savior or not, they will admit on the Day of Judgment He is Lord.  Those who accept Him as Savior allow Him access to their lives in order to be conformed to His mind which is what makes them able to stand His company.  Anyone who refuses to allow Him access to their heart rejects Him as Lord and Savior though they might admit on the Day that’s what He is and kneel in acquiescence without submission.  The former submits to His influence, the latter kneel by force of revelation not in love or any form or willingness to allow Him His place.

It’s easy to see why someone might doubt God’s existence, let alone Jesus’ sovereignty, when they don’t see either One of them in person or the evidence of them in their daily lives.  It’s pretty much our fault as believers, I think, since those who quietly and lovingly serve the Master do so without fanfare or attempting to attract attention; whereas the worst among us tend to stand out as charismatic leaders.  With bad examples and little physical evidence (the kind of evidence which can speak both ways), belief becomes a scarce commodity.  Taking that thought and expanding on it, just consider that someone from a foreign country would think about Americans having a president, they might snicker at the possibility someone could believe in such a person.  Especially if they come from a monarchy or city-state a person who ruled by consensus wouldn’t make much sense or  be a plausible possibility of any kind.  Yet once they meet this person in all the pomp and splendor which naturally comes with it, what can they do except admit such a person exists?

Take that poor analogy to the Day of Judgment when you have glory beyond anything anyone has every witnessed being spread from one horizon to another assaulting the eyes of those who have been cut off from such for eons.  What would their response be?  For some it will be dragging out an admission of God’s glory and Lordship.  No matter what they won’t submit to Him but they will realize the reality no matter how much they hate it—or Him.

I choose to be in the camp of those who submit to Him now so on the Day I will be but a step away from being in His physical presence—may be as janitor or doorman, but, hey, I don’t care about my position as much as I care about belonging to Him.

He is the Boss of Us

April 22, 2011

That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  Philippians 2:10, 11.

It’s hard to get away from this truth.  Jesus isn’t some kind of namby-pamby ruler who just gives gifts like Santa Clause, He’s gonna’ rule with or without our approval (technically, He already does).  Not only that, everyone and everything will acknowledge He’s boss.

How can they not?  I mean, at the moment there’s still some doubt and the evidence could go both ways, that’s why we live by faith and not by sight.  On the Day, however, there won’t be any doubt left for those who want something else to be true.  It’s almost startling how often people will choose anything rather than Jesus—and I mean the real Jesus who not only healed, forgave and accepted but rebuked, stood for moral certitude and chased money changers out of the temple court with a whip made of cords.

A “Jesus” who rules without our consensus, however, is rather offensive to us.  Democracy isn’t the ultimate way to govern, by the way.  Because it’s the best mankind can come up with, it’s flawed at its core—not necessarily due to the principles of the system but the nature of humanity.

I am pretty accepting of people’s flaws and idiosyncrasies, so I’m well acquainted with the desire to be all-inclusive.  The gospel of Christ, however, doesn’t include everyone and that was quite a sore point for me for a while.  I mean, why can’t Jesus include everyone in the new earth—even those who oppose Him?  What, is He insecure?  Isn’t He God or something powerful like that?  Why is He threatened by opposition?  Everyone’s entitle to his or her opinion and lifestyle so why would He want to shut that down and make it His way or the Highway to Hell?  A truly loving God would want to save everyone, wouldn’t He (or She)?

The answer to the last question is yes, He does.

Those are all good questions that deserve an answer, and since I can’t speak directly for God except through what I know of Him, I’ll do my best to answer them in one direct statement:  Because.

No I’m joking, here’s the real reason I don’t think all-inclusive works:

Say God did include everyone in His eternal life promise and didn’t require anyone to change or adjust to His way by the miraculous recreation of our bodies and minds.  What this would mean is simply perpetuating sin for eternity.  The world would be made new with not only righteous people but the greedy looking to hoard the “best” spots in the New Jerusalem.  Children would still be unsafe because including everyone would mean there would be unchanged child-molesters and murderers going around grabbing them at will.  On top of this extreme, there would still be wars because without a changed mindset people would continue to disagree to the point of fighting about it.  Then, knowing God as the highest authority in the universe, these same contentious parties would bring their complaints to Him to settle and someone would walk away dissatisfied and angry.  That anger would turn into resentment, since the natural man never went away, which would end up meaning back-biting, more trouble and someone might get hurt.  There would be no peace because people who never would submit to God’s authority would also be included and that, of course, would equal chaos.  Lastly, someone besides Satan would get the idea they could rule the universe better than God—or, if they’re honest with themselves, they would lust for His power.

To me the argument that God should include everyone is like the one where someone complains about the government; constantly grumbling about how we need to get rid of the crooks and charlatans in the system but who never vote in leaders with a total heart change.  What we want is more of the same only safer.  We want our moldy cake to look good, taste good and not make us sick, while not getting rid of the mold itself.  We seem to argue for the mold in our souls with,  “If God didn’t want mold in our souls, why’d He make it?” or “If God didn’t want me this way, why’d He make me like this?”  Both assume God made us to sin or live outside the standard of conduct and thought He holds as absolute.

I constantly field statements by people who say,  “The church is full of control freaks and judgmental people.”  Meaning of course we can’t escape this problem even in the one sanctuary supposedly left to us.  And they’re right.  Jesus predicted this, however, long ago and told us to expect problems such as false messiahs, prophets, teachers, leaders, hypocrites and a host of other people pretending to be sheep when inside they are ravening wolves.

If sin is the fruit of refusing to acknowledge Jesus as Lord, by default only those who do will be allowed access to eternity.  Again, sin is rejecting God as the bottom line, the first and last word on everything right; the evil men do—or even the “wrongs” we do—are the fruit of rejecting Him as our ruler.

Ask yourself this (because I did years ago and it stopped me in my tracks for a few days):  Who do the crooks and fakes prey on, their own kind or the good, innocent and honest?  A dishonest person is also incredibly distrusting for like recognizes like.  A person who is crooked recognizes their own type quite quickly because they know all the signs of such character traits within themselves.  You’ve heard, I’m sure, of honor among thieves, but I know quite a few former thieves and they will tell you the main code of operations is self-preservation and survival.  The top dog survives by the leadership and power he or she wields over the others in the camp.  It isn’t by a consensus of trust but from fear or appealing to greedy, power-hungry natures.  Betrayal isn’t forgiven or forgotten but chalked up on the board for later payback.  This is why you don’t see a lot of obvious crooks in the church since the best wolves disguise themselves to look like what we think the image of a believer should be.

For a long time I couldn’t understand why what Peter did on the night of Jesus’ trial was so bad.  He went to the trial undercover in order to help his Master—although without being able to use violence, I’m pretty sure he felt helplessly out of his element.  Jesus, however, made it clear in His teachings that whoever was not for Him was against Him.  There is no middle ground here.  A person might confess that He is the Christ, Son of the living God and reject Him as their God at the same time.  Judas did.  So did the Rich Young Ruler.  For that matter, so did the Jews who saw Jesus perform the greatest miracle of all just days before His betrayal and crucifixion by raising Lazarus from the dead.  On the other hand, Peter didn’t reject Jesus, he merely denied his connection to Him in a hostile environment.  A best secret agent always looks like the enemy, which is what I think Peter attempted to do.  Unfortunately, his Galilean accent and look gave him away and he had to cuss like a fisherman to divert discovery.  In other words, to avoid detection he had to look and sound like the enemy.  Since this is the norm for secret agents or spies in the world, Jesus calls it a denial of Himself.  We cannot resemble the enemy in any way, shape or form for the sake of the gospel or self-preservation.  It’s dishonest and out of character for the child of God.

Paul in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians claimed he and his associates spurned any kind of dishonesty or lack of openness, seeking rather to be above board and forthright in every transaction.

Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.  Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God.  On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.  And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.  The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.  4:1-4.

To me this speaks volumes about what God expects of us now.  We are to declare Jesus as Lord of our lives no matter what comes and remain open-faced despite any opposition or threat we might face.  If we refuse to confess Jesus as Lord now, the Day won’t make us anymore willing to allow Him lordship over our lives for our reaction will merely be out of fear not love and devotion.

I will say, however, I believe some will recognize Jesus as Lord on that Day for Zechariah 12:10 (and then later John 19:34) declares,  “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication.  They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for Him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for Him as one grieves for a firstborn son.

I feel this will have an ultimate fulfillment either just prior to or directly on the Day Jesus returns.  All humanity pierced the Son; and Jesus is the firstborn of all creation, the promised seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the Hope of Israel.

Since I don’t see the beginning from the end and barely understand what I read from the Word as to what is coming, I am not arrogant enough to declare I get how it will all come down.  I learned a lesson from prophecy and history:  The Jews knew the prophecies of the coming messiah and rejected to the point of a humiliating death the One who came with the strongest evidence possible.  The world of theology is full people who think they know, which should scare us, since some of the greatest spiritual blind alleys have grown from these types of teachings.

I say this:  Since no one knows the day or hour, nor can they know exactly down too the details how all of this will come down, I say we hold on loosely to the headline truths.  Every knee will bow and every tongue confess in one way or another that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

Heaven, Earth and Down Under

April 18, 2011

And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!  Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  Philippians 2:8-11.

Paul shows by Jesus’ choice what it meant for Him to save mankind.  Yet the whole context points us to His example for our own life.  I’m not sure how anyone could read this passage of Scripture and miss the evidence of how the mind of Christ works—you know, the one we are to have in us…

How did Paul start this section out?  Have the same mindset as Christ Jesus

Jesus humbled Himself to become man; humbled Himself to become obedient to death.

Every phrase in this passage shows a characteristic of Jesus falls under the instruction of Have the same mindset as Jesus or Let this mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.  There’s no way to avoid the obvious ramifications here, for the Son of God became man so that we might be reconciled to God.  Thus, when we read a phrase like He humbled Himself, we have to understand it in the context of how Jesus thought.  He didn’t need to grasp for power because everything belonged to Him.  Yet that isn’t the only reason for His apparent lack of ambition, rather His goal was to reconnect creation to Life

Paul shows by Jesus’ choice what it meant for Him to save mankind.  The whole context points us to His example for our own life.  I’m not sure how anyone could read this passage of Scripture and miss the evidence of how the mind of Christ works—you know, the one we are to have in us…

Now for a non-sequitur…

I’m always curious when I read things like under the earth as to what the people writing these types of phrases were thinking.  Were they just covering their bases, or were they stating what they considered to be a reality?  I don’t know but I do know that whatever under the earth means it covers anything that is not known.  In all likelihood Paul spoke here of the fallen angels known as demons.  The reason I limit it to this is simply because Paul warns elsewhere about buying into myths based on human invention and good story telling.  I don’t think he minded hearing them just didn’t recommend anyone believing them.  At the same time, he probably believed there were plenty of things unknown to human kind in other dimensions—the spirit realm for instance.

Have this mindset

Jesus humbled Himself beyond what any human living or dead would consider logical or fair in order to show His great love for us.  He wasn’t humiliated emotionally by it like we certainly would be, rather He saw it as a form of honor to reach such “heights” of humility.  Let’s be clear:  Being humble is different than humiliation, since the former is a choice we make whereas the latter is our reaction to someone else.

The Jews attempted to humiliate Him—and did a good job by any human standard, I might add—but once a person places themselves at the lowest possible position in human estimation, where else can one go but up?  Still, we know from the Law anyone hung on a tree was to be considered cursed and cut off from any inheritance in Israel, which is why the Jews sought crucifixion over stoning.  The Mosaic law demanded a blasphemer be stoned to death, but the Jews in Jesus’ case went for the ultimate humiliation they could throw at Him.  Oddly enough, the very One who gave the maxim for death on a tree died on one Himself–on purpose.

Do you think it coincidental Jesus was crucified or that the law was so specific as to the consequences?

What can we learn from this mindset then?

Quite a bit actually.

First off, being first in the world’s eyes is not a goal we need to worry about, since their value system is pretty messed up.  Jesus didn’t knock money or earning it, quite the opposite when you look at some of the parables which deal with lost coins or worker’s wages.  What He stood against wasn’t money or possession but greed, avarice, hoarding, selfish-ambition, selfishness, being tightfisted, callous to the needs of others and trying to purchase God’s grace, good-opinion or rewards by any means other than submission.

What does it mean to put others first, rejoice when trials hit and be disadvantaged without bringing it on ourselves.  Self-preservation is a good thing, instilled by God as a failsafe when we face heart-threatening or dangerous situations.  Where I get it all mixed up is in the business of dealing with the world in general—or, for that matter the body of Christ.  Make no mistake, it’s harder to deal with other “Christians” in business, relationships and host of other tricky social places covered in the Christian manual.

There are those who look upon any suffering they go through as suffering for Christ.  I don’t agree with this outlook anymore nor have I for about 20 years.  Ecclesiastes 9:11  I have seen something else under the sun:  The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.  God doesn’t instigate every situation, though all situations and their outcomes are calculated into creation.  Some things are simply the natural programmed outcome of sin working in nature and humanity without any special interference from the divine hand.

It’s sort of like gluing stuff to a top then spinning it.  If the glue isn’t strong enough in one spot, whatever’s attached to it will fly off once the top is going full speed.  The time and chance part of the equation results from not enough glue being applied to that spot, granted, at the same time it would have held fine had the top not been spun more slowly or not at all.  The speed at which it’s spun and inertia in conjunction with the glue not being enough for such an exercise causes the object to go flying.

We read this and think “Duh!” yet go along in our spiritual walk as if cause and effect stopped working somehow just because of the cross.  God set the outcome of the cross in the law by calling anyone cursed who got hung on a tree; the hatred of the Jews for Jesus set the law in motion so that the cross became the death of choice.  God knew the nature of sin for He programmed life and understood full well what entropy, disintegration and death meant.  By default God creating life programmed what dying would be like; when He created positive ions, He then added neutral and negative ions.  God created matter, then designed a thing we know from Star Trek as “anti-matter” and now measure as dark matter, if I remember right.  In giving the law about being hung on a tree, He set in motion one key possibility (which in His foresight meant high probability) in the rescue mission for mankind.

A good chess player calculates the moves possible for both players as far out as his or her memory can go in order to win.  The big difference between Satan and God in this chess match for power is that God already knows all the possible moves by default since He is Creator—Satan’s His creature.  For Him to step down from being God would be impossible, for all life would cease to exist by default since in order for Satan to rule over God he would have to keep Him chained as a power-source and slave.  So God knows all the possible moves precisely because He’s aware of all the properties available for the game; all the possible combinations were created by Him indirectly when He created life.

Jesus shows by His choice what God values and in His example we find what we are to value if we follow Him.

Essence

April 11, 2011

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  Philippians 2:5-7.

It really struck me as I read Vine’s take on the word “attitude” (translated as “form of” in the KJV) that God can have a different outlook on everything since He made it.  He lacks nothing, accomplished everything and never needs to be ambitious for power because He’s the source of it.

Jesus’ very essence is God, so trying to be God holds no attraction for Him because He already has it in the bag.  Instead He took on the essence of a servant, the very nature of one, and became what He was not to make us what we are not by nature anymore:  Children of God.  Yet as out of character as this move may seem, Paul informs us it’s just God’s MO—you know, modus operandi, mode of operation, that sort of thing—1 Corinthians 1:27-28 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him.

Taking on the nature of a servant is not out of character for God.  O, the enemy of our souls might want us to believe that but it isn’t true at all; His nature is exactly the opposite.  Think of everything that breathes, creates something or has energy one can read with a meter, that’s God’s power radiating from it all.  Jesus has this very power in Himself because He’s part of the united authority we call “God”.  John 5:26 For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself. Thus He serves us by keeping everything running and alive.  In another place, Jesus explains to the Jews,  “My Father works on this day (the Sabbath) as well.” Finding a place where God doesn’t constantly supply the basic energy and very existence of anything is quite impossible, so He knows what service is.

Look at the wording of our text in the NIV and you’ll see it says but made Himself nothing, which in the KJV is translated but made Himself of no reputation.  The gist of both is that Jesus didn’t want any advantages by the world’s standards in the contest for human hearts so He saddled Himself with a handicap.  Just so you know, He won even with all the disadvantages…Still, what He set out to do was not to make Himself noticeable for anything except for who He is.  That’s quite a feat if one can pull it off, which Jesus did.  He showed us by His life that substance wins over abundance of wealth, esteem, power, beauty or anything else humans value without knowing what’s behind the veneer.

Jesus came in weakness to shame the strong; uneducated by the standards of the day to shame the wise; lowly and despised (though He was worshiped and adored by all creation) to cancel what was in existence already.  All this to show us where the true power lies.  Paul pleaded with God to remove a thorn in his flesh three times, but the Lord just said no My strength is made perfect in weakness, My grace is sufficient for you.  We mess up when we think somehow we have to have this or that to make God’s work move forward.  God doesn’t need us perfectly sinless to work through us—in fact, I think it’s to His advantage if our rough edges are visible right alongside of our devotion so that people can witness first hand the miracle of change His Spirit brings.  It also stands to reason that if God could use a cross to bring about salvation, the grossest death imaginable and one of the cruelest, He can certainly use me in my stumbling, bumbling attempts to work for Him.

Another passage claims Jesus laid aside His divinity to become man.  I don’t think this means He wasn’t divine or that His nature left Him, rather He left it alone and depended on the Father’s power instead of His own.  Knowing you have the means to rescue yourself but choosing not to use it takes self-control, which I know I don’t have in abundance as yet.  Still, He set aside His power in order to demonstrate to us what the power of God is able to do in our lives as well.

The entire message of salvation hinges on relationships—human to God, God to human, and human to human.  This text in Philippians points us to what God desires in all three directions.  Without the relationship between God and us settled both ways, we won’t be able to know a healthy one with other human beings.

Attitude

April 8, 2011

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus…  Philippians2:5.

The KJV uses the word “mind” from the implied meaning, since what is used in the Greek is the word “phroneo” which means either to think, to be minded in a certain way or to think of, be mindful of (Vine’s).  What we get out of this in the NIV is the word “attitude”.  “Attitude” is how someone displays what they think about a certain subject; in other words, it’s the posture we take about life, the mood, the action that tells the world around us what we are about.  The dictionary also interprets this word as one’s disposition, opinion, etc., which places it in the realm of the body showing what the mind is thinking or feeling.

So how we think needs to fall in line with how Jesus thinks.  This has to be a goal for us, unfortunately, since we’re not gonna’ be able to pull off a total switcheroo all at once without a miracle.  Paul isn’t making a request of the readers but commanding them to think like their Mentor and Master.  If we admire someone enough, we will emulate the things we appreciate the most.  With Jesus that’s an easy place to go since He’s so wonderful, don’t you think?

Children, sinners, outcasts, rich, poor and everyone in between the extremes loved to hangout with this man—ok, the Pharisees and rulers didn’t like Him much, but that’s because they disagreed with His acceptance of everyone they looked down upon.  His one goal was to seek and save that which is lost; for God didn’t send the Son of Man didn’t come into the world to condemn it, but that the world might be saved through Him.  John said in a letter to the churches,  Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did.  (1 John 2:6)

Do we crave to know what God requires of us?  Then we look at Jesus’ life and ministry to get an idea.

But in Humility

April 6, 2011

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Philippians 2:3, 4.

How does one read such a statement?  I mean when I read it the first time, I went in a different direction than I am now simply because the first reading was influenced by some pretty heavy religious bias.  And that’s not to say I haven’t been influenced by the other side of that pendulum swing—though I hope I’m more leveled out than that now.  Although Paul goes on to give us the answer in a pretty vivid way, I would like to chew on this a bit more, since it’s one of the key verses I use for how I believe we should structure our lives.

What is “selfish ambition”?

Is it having personal goals or pursuing one’s passions (the good kind)?

Is it being ambitious in our careers or success in our family life?

Is it seeking positions of power or prestige?

Yes and no to all of those questions, because what motivates our ambition is far more important than what they are, if we are going for the above list that is. Think about it for a moment and you’ll see what I mean.

For example:  A famous pastor who merely seeks to be a good shepherd to his personal flock who goes viral on the internet because he’s a good teacher may have one goal in mind:  to bring people to Jesus or a greater knowledge of Him.  This kind of ambition doesn’t even enter the scope of selfishness.  At the same time, if he’s a charismatic, intelligent person, figuring out how to use the Bible as a means of self-improvement isn’t all that hard, since the principles work no matter what a person’s personal commitment to God.  Anyone who practices honesty, integrity and generosity will find a blessing—God rains His blessings down on the righteous and unrighteous alike.  By being open to those moral truths people open themselves up to a part of God’s heart, which may not mean they accept God as God though they buy into the principles taught by Him.  My point is a person could start off with high standards and end up with selfish ambition once they “arrive” wherever fame and fortune take them, or, they could remain untouched by it all because they are hidden with Christ in God.

The word “vain” means “vain glory” or empty glory.  To seek one’s own glory or to pursue that which would give one an honorable reputation in the eyes of the world or church.  Vine’s says the word “glory” primarily signifies an opinion, estimate, and hence, the honor resulting from a good opinion. So seeking the good opinion, honor or estimate of men is empty, while seeking to be honored by God is not.  Yet if we seek to be honored by God for our works without faith, our pursuit will come up empty.  Faith is the key to our success in Christ for without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.

Shooting for the moon in a go-cart won’t reach the goal.  All man’s efforts to please God without His input on what is pleasing to Him is kind of silly.  Say a man wants to give his wife a gift that tells her he loves her.  If she enjoys quiet evenings at home with no kids but he gives her roses instead, what has he really told her?  Nothing except that he’s completely out of touch with her heart.  On the other side of that illustration, women who tell their husbands they love them then set out to change everything about them say exactly the opposite.  That isn’t even “like”…I don’t know what that is but it definitely doesn’t equal love.

The Master gave us a warning about this issue,  “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.” Knowing we have the good opinion of the people around us isn’t a bad thing necessarily, yet the value we place on it is dangerous.  I’ve noticed human opinion is fickle depending on the circumstances.  The moment who we are stands in contrast to the norm of society we can expect problems and bad-mouthing.  Now if we’ve done something outside the boundaries of love, then we need to stop and take stock.

Jesus said,  “If you love me, you will keep my commands.” What did He command?  “And this is my command:  Love each other.” Before we get too far we have to define to ourselves, at least, what Jesus means by “love each other”.  Looking out for one another’s interests like we would our own.  Notice the wording above doesn’t subtract looking out for our own interests, rather Paul instructs to not only look out for our stuff but include others as important as our own.

This rule of Christian conduct can be misused, however, for there are plenty of people who will use this very text to manipulate and harness for their own goals fellow believers into a form of slavery.  Paul troubleshoots this problem in Galatians 6:1-5 by making two vital points within the context of restoring and helping other believers remain on the path of Christ:  We need to carry each other’s burdens, yet each one should carry his/her own load.  The first is easy to understand, I think, as a specific load someone struggles to carry on their own—a sin perhaps, health issues, etc.—the second could be read as each one should carry their own life, for isn’t that the burden of every person?  Someone who leeches off of others generally sucks them dry eventually.  In the meantime, because the person being used submits to such a “burden” out of misunderstanding the gospel they put the chains of enslavement on themselves.

The Bible is chockablock full of stories where God required something specific of one person He didn’t ask from anyone else.  This should give us pause when we try to foist our own calling on others—an action, I’m ashamed to admit, I’ve been guilty of many times.  Our experience is ours alone, as Proverbs says  No one can share another person’s sorrow just as no one can share his joys.  We are not islands, but we definitely are autonomous and individual.

Following the path while walking with others means we might have a similar experience, but picture a path wide enough in the mountains so that two or three can walk side by side.  If there’s a root on the right side of the path, an incline on the left and relatively level in the middle, each person’s going to experience the journey differently.  One will have to walk rather stilted and off-balance, one will have smooth steps and the farthest toward the other edge will probable either hop over or step on the root.  It may not seem significant to anyone but me, I guess, but these things make for unique experiences.  But say the middle dude or dudess is walking through mud because it rained really hard, their experience is going to be a lot different as well.

Before we judge another person’s journey, we have to be able to see where in the path they happen to be at the time.  May be we can pull them onto better footing, or may be, just may be, we have been hiking the path so long we’re used to the rugged terrain and don’t realize how difficult it is for a new comer to navigate.  Some Christians bulldoze their way into the level ground by displacing others because they feel it is their “right” to be on an easier path.  What’s so sad about these types is they look at those they’ve just shouldered out of the way and shake their heads in either condescension or disgust because the others aren’t in the same place as themselves.  The others, however, start preaching to the people on different sections of the path about how to walk it effectively, many times completely unconscious of the obstacles or ground those people are facing.  The one hopping over a root sees the person on the incline struggling at an odd angle and yells,  “Hop over the roots and use the branches to help you stay upright!” which confuses the one on the incline since there are no roots or branches.  It’s even funnier when they say the same thing to the person walking on relatively level ground.

In other words, instead of judging merely by our own experience what a another person needs to do to be more effective in their lives, we should observe where they are on the path.  Then and only then should we advise, and that only if we see a better way they could deal with it or have been on that side of the path.  Otherwise, it’s better we concentrate on not tripping up ourselves by being too worried about someone else’ journey.  If someone does trip though, the best person to help them is the one who’s experience gives them the wisdom to assist without falling down themselves.

All this to say, looking out for our fellow travelers is part of our job with grace, mercy, understanding and love.  Looking out for the “interests” of others is easy once we care about them.  God made everyone the same in basics and unique in characteristics.  I say let’s enjoy the unity where we have Christ in common then celebrate the diversity.

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Thinking Alike

April 2, 2011

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.  Philippians 2:1, 2.

Like minded…

Being like Jesus is conditional.  After all, if we want to be “married” to our job or wife or children in the metaphorical sense, we have to spend the greater portion of our time with them, otherwise it’s just a word we use to describe how we feel about them.  With Christ it’s no different, for the basis of any relationship is the “relating” part where interaction happens.

I fall down on the relating part in almost every single one of my relationships because I don’t interact very well.  O, I’ve improved over the years and grown more socially adept, but in the end I don’t communicate very well.  Seems odd for a guy who writes a couple of blog entries a week to be saying, right?  Not at all, since processing things out loud is how I do it best, writing things down makes that process even better.

Let’s take apart this text a little…which means in my “language”: a lot—if you’re trying to relate to me.  😉

Paul begins each statement with the word ifIf you have any encouragement…if any comfort from His love…etc.  So we need to deal with that preposition first.  If is a conditional word setting up what comes next as contingent on an action or whatever that comes later.  When someone says,  “If you pick up the dry cleaning, I’ll get the groceries” they are really making a deal with the other person.  Yet in that case it’s not conditional necessarily, rather the efficiency depends on both parties fulfilling these separate jobs.  The person making the deal is probably thinking about a supper deadline, which means in order for them to get supper done in a timely manner they can’t pick up the dry cleaning and buy groceries.

Every one of these relationship benefits are contingent on being connected with Christ in an intimate way.  Anyone “in” a building is inside it; anyone wanting to be “in” a relationship has to be on inside it.  Each benefit named above comes as a result of being “in” Jesus, for the Greek word used here is ei which means to go into.  How the translators got from this word to united is contextual, since the last phrase uses being one for the body of Christ.  In order for us to be one with each other in Christ, we have to be united with Him as well.

The only way to find encouragement is to be in Jesus.  Where will we find comfort?  From His love.  How do we fellowship with the Spirit?  By being united with Christ.  How do we develop tenderness and compassion?  Through our unity with Jesus then, as a result of that connection, unity with one another.

Using like-minded to describe the church can be misconstrued to mean we agree on everything.  Later on in this very book Paul debunks that POV, which is something we’ll study more about when we reach chapter 3.  No, the scars on the right hand won’t be the same as the left if we are right handed.  I use my right hand more than my left, so my left hand has been bruised by hammers and cut by sharp things far more often than my right.  The experience of the left hand has been quite different from the right, since it has been on the receiving end of many of the bad aiming mistakes my right has made.  (Those aiming “mistakes” are due to concentration and focus, for the most part, which involve wandering mind.)  Yet no matter what the differences are in the two hands’ experiences, they are united by and work for the goal of one body—mine.

Paul wants the Philippians, and so us, to have the same love while being like-minded.  How can such a disparate bunch of people have the same love, be like-minded and united in spirit and purpose?  They would have to take on the mind, spirit and purpose of Christ.  There’s no other way for us to be one in spirit, since the only spirit we have in common is the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit gives us the mind of Christ, which in turn unites us into one purpose and love, for the mind we submit to is His; the purpose we take on is His; the love we know and express is His.

The moment we step outside of Jesus being the source of all these things is the moment fissures in the body of Christ begin to happen.  Paul uses the rewards of His presence in our lives to inspire us to unity.  If we have any encouragement from being one with Christ, and through this connection we find fellowship, comfort from His love, compassion and tenderness, our next step by default is to be united with other people who follow Him in the same way.  Jesus might be the Truth, the Way, the Life, but He is a being not a philosophy or religion.  If the word “religion” means something we practice in a committed and wholly dedicated way, then our relationship to God can be called a religious experience.  You can’t have a religious relationship with someone without being with them all the time.

The encouragement we experience is from the presence of Jesus in our hearts.  The friendship with God comes through opening our hearts to the Spirit.  Once we open up we find comfort in His love, for we realize He loved us before we were willing to be open.  The fruit of such a connection grows out of the spirit of love we find there and inspires us to be loving, compassionate and tender with one another.

If we are submitted to the love of Christ, then we have the same love.  That love will bring with it a natural tendency to comfort those who share in His mind.  We will grow more loving, tender and compassionate toward everyone because of our connection with Jesus and His body of believers.

I will make a bold statement here:  If people are growing colder in their religion, harder in their judgment, less pliable in their POV and generally exclusive in their relationships, from the words of Paul I gather they have cut themselves off from the mind of Christ.  To be like Christ one sacrifices for the sake of others.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Philippians 2:3, 4.

Notice the wording in that last sentence doesn’t subtract having personal interests or negate pursuing them, rather it includes the interests of others as being as important as “my” own.  If this is the case, the only way to this kind of mindset is through having the same mind, and the only mind in existence which thinks like this is Christ’s.