Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Called Give (2 of 3)

Part 1 gave three categories for church members – those who seek what they can get from church, those who seek more for their own benefit, and those that give. This post will show how James and John fit the first two categories, but were challenged to live in the third.

The essence of Matthew 20.20-28 is about a mom making a request on behalf of her sons, and Jesus' response in regards to that request. The request: for her sons (James and John) to sit next to Jesus in His Kingdom. This represents the attitude of: "What can I get?"

Verses 20-21 begin with the mother of the sons of Zebedee – James and John – coming, with here sons to talk to Jesus. She knelt down. While we do not know why, it is likely because she didn't want others to hear (v. 24). Regardless, Jesus expected something asking, “What do you want?”

Her request was bold! She wanted her two sons to be in a prominent place in His Kingdom – right next to Jesus. Perhaps, she thought this to be eternal (in both Matthew & Mark, this story is right after Jesus predicts His death for the third time). But the disciples were chosen by Him to learn from and to serve with Him on earth. Jesus promise to these disciples was to follow and become fishers of men. James and John were fishermen by trade so this statement would have truly resonated with them. But now, the promise that Jesus made in the past, apparently wasn't good enough. It is as if they are saying, “Jesus, thanks for all this so far, but we need more. Can you just give us two particular seats in your Kingdom?”

Maybe they thought they should ask before someone else does? For these two (and their mother) it wasn't enough to be with Jesus – it was to be in a special place. What can I get? Of course, we, as followers of Christ, we should want to know Him better, to love Him more, to be more faithful to Him. But to make demands of Jesus – even if we were to do it in the form of a question, which they did not – is pretty arrogant.

Think about church membership – someone may come, may spend time with Jesus, but are evaluating based upon the present hopes, rather than on the past promises. Evaluation is certainly good – it is how we grow. But to demand more from God than He promised is to be more worried about getting than giving.

This leads us to verses 22-23, and to the group that asks "What am I missing?" Although some overlap exists with the previous group, this group is often active in the church, but for their own purposes, not for the benefit of others. Amazingly, in relation to the request, Jesus doesn't give an outright “No!” In traditional rabbi form, He answers one question with another. “Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” Basically, He is saying, "I am about to suffer. I will be earning my seat. Are you also willing to suffer in order to earn the seat you desire?"

Their answer: “Yes!”

Jesus: “You're right. You will suffer. But just as my place is given based upon what I do, so too will yours. And I don't get to pick my place...and you don't get to pick yours. That is the choice of the Father.”

Again, it isn't wrong to want more of God? But what is our motive? Our reason? The truth is that Jesus wants to give us more than we can imagine. But what will we do with it? Do we want it for ourselves, or for others? Ultimately, everything we get is a gift from God. But what are we willing to do for Him? Jesus asked James and John the same question He asks us today: Are you willing to do your part for the Kingdom, in order to receive the blessings you seek?

Maybe we want more from Jesus? But we don't change anything about our lives. Maybe we want His blessings, but we aren't willing to do anything different so that He can bless us. Jesus knew that James and John would do their part. But the blessings were still from the Father.

But when our motives are wrong, it will create problems. Our attitude will affect the attitude of others (v. 24). Maybe they were jealous they didn't think to ask first? Whatever...there was hostility brewing. And that led Jesus to a teachable moment. Because rather than asking what He can get, or what more He can get, Jesus asked, What can I give?

In verses 25-28, Jesus reveals the need for His followers to serve. People who are not focused on the His Kingdom focus on power and position. Normally, the higher the position, the greater the power. But Jesus says, His Kingdom doesn't work that way. The greatest is the one who serves the greatest. And no one served others greater than Jesus. This teaching was against everything the culture then, and the culture now, taught. This doesn't mean that we are to be walked over – Jesus was always in control. But it is about being willing to give what we receive – and even more. We all know that we can't outgive God, but we don't often act that way. We horde our time, our talents, and our treasures. Jesus knew His role was to serve others - to give of Himself. And He asks for His followers to give as they live as well. The problem is that this is HARD to do!

And therefore, when we begin to think about it, we move from the giver, to the wanter, to the getter. We move from Group C, to Group B, and then to Group A where we often get stuck – at least for awhile. And we often rationalize to ourselves that we are entitled to more – deserving to be in whatever group we currently find ourselves. This rationalization is not healthy, but it is human. And this kind of thought process is likely a part of why the mother of James and John made the request in the third place.

In Part 3, a deeper look at a possible reason for the mother's request will be revealed. Perhaps, she was appealing to Jesus as a member of her extended family.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Called Give (1 of 3)

This week's posts, regarding Matthew 20.20-28, are the last in a series on church membership. Again, these posts (reflecting parts of my sermons) have been inspired, in part, by Thom Rainer's book, I am a Church Member (you can find out more here).

Today's post will serve as an introduction for the week by classifying most church members (and attenders) into one of three categories.

Group A – What Can I Get? – This group treats the time at church as entertainment. It is not something to truly be involved with, or in, but rather mild participation is ok. But the real action is up on the stage. We even call it a stage – and stages are where people perform. The people on stage are the "professionals" – they sing, they talk, they present, etc. And then, like with a show, we evaluate the performance based upon quality rather than truth. Did I get anything? Did I like it? Etc.

Group B – What am I Missing? “Good, But Not Enough” – Now we should always strive for better, but where does this go too far and tip the scales. This group is often active in the church, but often times for their benefit, not for others. It isn't always about others though...sometimes it is about God's blessings. Now I am not saying that is wrong. But we have to ask ourselves a serious question:

Do we want the blessings of God? Or do we want God?

I will come back to this at the end of the message. But sometimes our life, and our prayers focus much more on what God can (or dare I say SHOULD) give us, than a desire to simply rest in Him. We may not often say it out loud, but we know in our hearts this creeps into our thoughts.

Group C – What Can I Give? This is the group Jesus where Jesus wants us. Many are in this group quite often, but none of us are perfect, and we move back to Group B – perhaps out of jealousy, or that our holy ambition becomes selfish for a time. Some move all the way back to Group A and say, well, I have done my giving, now it is time to take!

The reality is that at times, we all may find ourselves in one group or another. But these groups aren't new to us...people have always treated God this way. And this week's passage focuses on one occurrence when the disciples were taught a great lesson – one which applies to disciples – church members – today as well.

In Part 2, each of the above groups (A, B, C) will be put into the context of Matthew 20.20-28. Finally, Part 3 will serve as a challenge to our attitude by examining a possible reason that James, John, and their mother approached Jesus with their bold request.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Called Judge? (4 of 4)

Parts 1, 2, and 3, have discussed our need to be right with God before judging others. When we seek God first, He as our Father, wants to give us good gifts because we are seeking Him - and not just what He can give us.

But in this last post for this topic, I will provide four questions that will help us determine if we are ready to help others remove their speck. I truly believe that if we will ask these four questions, we will find the speck of others is not nearly as concerning as we originally thought it to be. Or if it remains, we will see more clearly how to help remove it because we will always see more clearly through the eyes of grace.

The questions below should be asked in this order. The questions I am learning to ask myself are:

1.  Have I come before God to make sure my vision is clear?  
Have I checked with God to make sure there is not a log sticking out of my own eye (which will impede my vision in helping others)? Psalm 51 is a great place to start.

2. In confronting this person, am I seeking His Kingdom and His righteousness or my own?
What are my motives for judging? Is this about my preferences, or God's glory?

3. Do I believe this person to be a Christian?

  • If so, ask God how to best approach the situation. The Holy Spirit can prepare the heart of the person needing to be confronted. Also, the tone of the confrontation is critical. Rather than direct criticism, showing a willingness to help, or speaking about overcoming an issue yourself is almost always better.
  • If not, ask God for His grace to be evident in you so you are not seen as judgmental. This is an opportunity to share the message of Jesus and His love to all sinners. God often uses our past experiences to help others. If you can relate to the situation, discuss what God has done in your life to help you overcome the situation.
4. What does the Word of God say?
2 Timothy 3.16 reveals that the Bible has the answers we need to help others. But we need to search for God's truth on the situation. Hebrews 10.24-25 says we must spur one another on. A believer will listen to the counsel of God before He does the opinion of man. Let God's Word and Spirit be the spur in the side.

After asking these four questions, you will be prepared to engage the person. How do I know? Well, in the midst of these verses (Matthew 7.1-11), we are told to ask, seek, and knock. And Jesus said that what we ask for in His name will be given (John 14.13-14). These questions reflect the very nature of Jesus, and seek to bring God glory. These questions are not about us...they are fully about God. The questions put the full focus on God and truly seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness. And He will answer because you have:
  • asked God for His forgiveness, His righteousness, and His truth to be revealed.
  • sought Him, His Kingdom, and His truth.
  • prepared yourself for the opportunity God has for you by knocking.
Ask, seek, and knock as a child of God, knowing that your heavenly Father loves you. But when the door is opened, be ready to enter to whatever opportunities He has for you.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Called Judge? (3 of 4)

Parts 1 and 2 of this week's posts have set the stage regarding what we are to seek (God's Kingdom and righteousness – Matthew 6.33) and what that means in regards to if, and how, we judge others. But now, the idea turns towards viewing God as Father, instead of King or Judge.

Matthew 7.7-11 brings us to Jesus' second principle in the verses for this week – that God is a Father who will give good things. Why? We are His family. We are not merely servants to a king. We are not merely individuals who are on trial. Rather, when we receive the gift of salvation, we become children of God. And just as a good father wishes to provide care for his children, so too does our heavenly Father. James 1.17 says that every good and perfect gift comes from the Father in the heavenly heights. This Father, God, that doesn't change because He is above the shifting shadows because He is the light. And because He does not change we can trust Him to give us good gifts.

In verses 9-10, Jesus says that even regular people will give their child what they ask for if they can. More specifically, if a child asks for bread, he won't receive a stone. Or if the child asks for a fish, he won't receive a snake. Then, in verse 11, Jesus equates the “regular people” to evil with the phrase "though you are evil". He says even evil people know what they are doing and will make the choice to help those for whom they truly care.

But the focus of this week's blogs has been the tie-back to Matthew 6.33 – that we are to seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness. Who is the His? God's. The Judge. The one who can make us righteous or find us guilty. But in Matthew 6.32 the Judge is called Father. In 7.11, He is called Father. For those that are born-again, the one who is the Judge is also our Father. The One who is King is our Father. The One who is Righteous grants us righteousness through His Son, Jesus, that we too might become children of God. (This may be repetitive from the paragraph above, but it is crucial for our understanding that God is not just waiting for us to fail (to judge us), but is waiting for us to give Him the opportunity to show His love in and through us.)

Back to the context of verses 7-11, we see that when we seek first the Kingdom, we are seeking what He wants. Regarding judgment, we will judge according to His standards – realizing that ultimately judgment is not ours to remit, but to help others by judging them (lower j) so they don't face Judgment Day (capital J) unprepared. And as we seek first His Kingdom, we will ask for things that matter to Him. We will seek things that matter to Him. We will knock regarding opportunities that matter to Him, because we are seeking first His Kingdom – not ours. We are seeking His righteousness because we have none apart from Christ. We are seeking His glory – not our own.

And we are being His family. Just as:
  • children ask their parents for things, so too are we to ask our heavenly Father for things. But Jesus promised that whatever we ask in His Name will be given to us.
  • children are often given chores before dinner, we have been given a task to complete – to make disciples - before coming to God's great dinner – the wedding supper of the Lamb.
  • families often have major disagreements, so to does God's family. But what makes a family strong is working through the differences. And that is what God's family must do sometimes as well.

Most people do not like being judge, and some are quite vocal about it using the Bible as a reference – “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” (Matthew 7.1) But ironically, such a statement, said in that context, is passing judgment. Yet, as Part 2 mentioned, just a few verses later, Jesus does say that some degree of judgment is in order (vv. 5-6).

So, is the church is to judge? Yes, but with great humility. The church is not to issue any kind of eternal judgment. That is for God. The King. And our Father. But just as many of us may have feared the statement, “Wait till your Father gets home”, there is a time now – before sinners face the wrath of God that we can get right with God. Our God is not like a Father that is looking to punish someone when He arrives home from work. No, our God is waiting to show His love to His children, but with the necessary discipline to mold our character into that of Christ. (Again redundancy is intentional).

And because of that, we are to judge – to help one another. As Christians, as people who have had the log pulled from our eye, when we see another with a speck, we are to help. Paul gives a couple of examples of the need for the church to judge others in the church (1 Corinthians 5.12-6.5). Paul also gives us our source for judging (2 Timothy 3.16). This verse says that Scripture is for teaching and training in righteousness. But it is also for rebuking and correcting. That involves discernment and judgment. In fact, Paul states that we will one day judge the angels, but God will judge the world – those apart from the church.

As Christians, we have a bond with one another through Jesus. Most everyone has heard the phrase “blood is thicker than water.” It is a phrase that is used by people who want to clarify that their allegiance to family (by blood) is more important than friendships. As church members we should be friendly towards one another. But we are also family united by the blood that holds all believers together – the blood of Christ. As members of the God's family, we have not only been made righteous by the blood of Jesus, we are held together through it.

It is because of Jesus blood that we can boldly approach the throne of grace as Hebrews tells us. We can come before our King not only to confess our sins and have our log removed, but to ask our King, our Father, for good things – things that He wishes to give us. And then, with His wisdom, and for His glory, we can help others remove the speck from their eye.

But before we go to remove the speck, we must ask ourselves four important questions. These questions will be revealed in Part 4.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Called Judge? (2 of 4)

In Part 1, a brief introduction was given to Matthew 7. The passage discusses judgment in the midst of the Sermon on the Mount – a sermon about living within the Kingdom of God filled with warnings of hypocrisy.

So, in Matthew 7, who is Jesus talking to? Everyone? No. He is talking to His disciples then and now (see Matthew 5.1). Or whom we might consider – the family of God. And, of course, the crowds that were nearby too. So what is it Jesus is saying in these verses? I think Jesus is saying two main things in these verses.

First, those that wish to follow Jesus are to realize they are not to judge the world, but they help others avoid a greater judgment – after being deemed righteous themselves.

The word judge (Greek – krino) is used in several times in the New Testament. But consider the context of Jesus' message. If we are seeking the Kingdom (Matt 6.33 - two verses prior to Matt 7.1), then the King is the true judge, not us. So what are is whole plank & speck example about?

I have heard people preach on this before, and the comment is talking about one person's sin being bigger than another's. This may be true, but who is the judge of that? Both parties would likely feel the other person has the bigger issue, so a third party must be the judge. Well, again, Matthew 6.33 provides the answer. The judge is The KING! Seek first His Kingdom and His RIGHTEOUSNESS and all these things will be added to you. This can't be overstressed. Unfortunately, most look at this statement as reflecting on the "these things "that God will give us from the preceding verses (shelter, clothing, etc). But few ever look forward to see if these words apply later. (Consider Matthew 7.7-11!!! These verses will be explored in Part 3.)

Consider how the Pharisees must have heard these words from Jesus. The Pharisees were the judges of the day – at least from a religious perspective. Ultimate authority was at the hands of the Roman empire (i.e. the governor of the region). The trial of Jesus provides insight here. The Chief Priests found Him guilty, but really couldn't do anything except take Him to the Romans. Eventually, the Romans were the ones who exacted judgment.

Its the same thing here. The Pharisees were condemning everyone for minor infractions (specks). Were they infractions? Yes. But the Pharisees were guilty of a greater infraction. They needed to get the plank out of their own eye first. How? Confess their sins to God. The unrighteousness of the Pharisees did not allow them to judge others correctly. They judged by their law, not the King's. But if they were to get right with the King (if they were to become righteous before God), then their eyes would be opened and they would see enough to help others who needed help. I believe this is the greater message of these verses. Yes, the sin of the Pharisees may have been greater, but the sin was truly believing they were beyond the need of judgment.

The problem was made worse by the fact that their sin of judging and oppressing people stood in contrast to what they should do, The Pharisees, as religious leaders, were to help the people become who God wanted them to be. Thus, Jesus' warning in v. 2 is that because they oppressed others, their judgment would be harsh.

One other point on the log and speck must be made. The log is our sin against God. The speck is another's offense against us. We may feel that someone has offended us greatly, but our sin against God is far more offending to a holy and perfect God, than any issue we might have with others. Therefore, if we go to God to have our log removed, we might find out that the speck we thought we saw in another's eye, really isn't a big deal at all.

Many people quote Matthew 7.1 because they don't want to be judged. But the passage actually does say we are to judge, however we must do so out of righteousness. Verse 5 says we can help take the speck out, but only AFTER having your issue resolved before the king. Verse 6 says we are to be discerning – not giving holy things to those that are not holy.

The fact is, if we get right with God (have our log removed), we will be able to help others. We will be able to discern the holy from the unholy. But we must always seek to remain holy – not allowing our pride, or anything else, make us think that it is our judgment, and not God's, that matters.

In Part 3, Jesus reminds us that God is more than King and more than Judge, He is our Father – who gives good things.

Finally, in Part 4, four very practical questions will be listed that will be beneficial to ask ourselves before approaching another in judgment.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Called Judge? (1 of 4)

The family is the most fundamental of social units. These "units" have many different descriptions. Some of these descriptions are: immediate family, extended family, biological family, adopted family, friends who are like family, church family, etc. In addition, some families are functional or dysfunctional. And on and on.

From the perspective of the church, believers in Christ are called brothers and sisters in Christ which obviously are family terms. But just as not all families biological or other types of families get along, many church families do not as well. And there are a lot of reasons for this. But some of the reasons are the same – too legalistic, not enough discipline, lack of know how, etc. Yet, if the Bible is God's Word, and if He wants us to be a functional family, it makes sense He would leave us some instructions. And He has. Passages such as 1 Cor 7, Eph 5, Col 3, and select others can help. But today, we go to a passage you might not think about first – yet it has a lot to say. The passage Matthew 7.1-11, and although it is about judgment, it is in the midst of a greater section about Kingdom living and hypocrisy.

These verses are towards the end of the Sermon on the Mount. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about from a different section of Jesus' sermon (Matthew 5.21-26) regarding anger and reconciling with others. (You can read them here and here). Although much has been said by Jesus in the next chapter-plus, the theme is still about the Kingdom. A quick look at the Sermon on the Mount by chapter might be as follows:
  • Chapter 5 – The Beatitudes – it was the rich, the powerful that thought they had it all together (and in that culture – FAR MORE than ours, they did). But God honors the poor in spirit, the peacemaker, etc.
  • Chapter 5 – hypocrites thought they were keeping the commandments, but weren't
  • Chapter 6 – hypocrites thought they were giving, praying, fasting, but were not honoring God.
  • Chapter 7 – hypocrites judging others on their standards, not God's; the wise man thought he had it all, but the foolish man's house was the one that stood

So, the Sermon on the Mount is about how to now be a hypocrite. As I mentioned two weeks ago, it is about being more righteous than the Pharisees (the true hypocrites of the day). And this brings us back to Matthew 7 and the notion of judging. However, two verses prior to chapter 7 is Jesus' command to seek first the Kingdom of God. And when we remember that chapters and verses are for our benefit, the verses about judgment become much clearer.

In Part 2, I will explore what Jesus was trying to communicate in these first few verses of Matthew 7 by keeping Matthew 6.33 forefront in our minds.

Part 3 will show that God is more than King and more than Judge, He is our Father – who gives good things.

Part 4 will give four very practical questions to ask before approaching another in judgment.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Called Out...To Pray

Much could (and should) be said about prayer. It is literally a lifeline for believers as a way to converse with God. But, as members of a church for who or what should we pray? The list is long and items such as salvation and health certainly belong on a list. But for this post, three groups of people in the church will be the focus of our prayers. Church members should pray for their leaders, their deacons, and themselves.

Members should pray for their leaders because of the task at hand and the expectations of both the membership, and more importantly God. The Bible has three words that are used for the leaders of local churches.
  • Overseer (Greek - episkopos - bishop)
  • Elder (Greek - presbuteros - elder/leader) - most often plural in regards to singular church
  • Pastor (Greek - poimen - shepherd)
  • Above reproach (blameless character)
  • Husband of one wife (or one woman man)
  • Sober-minded (free from rash actions)
  • Self-controlled (sensible person)
  • Respectable (dignity and orderly behavior)
  • Hospitable (caring for others)
  • Able to Teach (skill in communicating God's truth)
  • Not a drunkard (not addicted to wine; does not prohibit medicinal value)
  • Not violent, but gentle (not a quick-tempered bully, rather being flexible in relating to others)
  • Not quarrelsome (verbal fighter)
  • Not a lover of money (get rich quick schemes instead of the souls of people)
  • Manage his household well (governing, leading, giving direction)
  • Not a recent convert (otherwise pride may ensue)
  • Well thought of by outsiders (respect from others so they might give an ear (good witness))

Certain denominations use different titles for their leaders. But one passage, 1 Peter 5.1-2, tie all of the above titles together quite nicely. These verses show that these words are not different people (per se), but do represent different functions of the leader.

The Bible does give qualifications for the overseer. These qualifications are listed in 1 Timothy 3.1-7.

In the next set of verses, the Bible gives qualifications for deacons which is the next group of persons for which church members should pray. From a biblical perspective, deacons are servants. The qualifications in 1 Tim 3.9-13 are very similar to that of the overseer in the previous verses. While some of the wording is different, the main exception is that of an overseer being able to teach.

Historically, individuals were trained to be deacons who were then (often) trained to be elders. This explains why the characteristics are very similar and why teaching was not included. Deacons who might be considered as possible teachers could be trained to do so before becoming an elder.

The final group church members should pray for is one another. Romans through Jude provides plenty of information on the Christian life. Each Christian has a call to do something. And several times we are encouraged to live worthy of our calling (in various phrases). In order for us to succeed we need others around us - encouraging, prodding, helping, and praying for us. And yet, we still disqualify ourselves - or at least we think we do. Yet, think of may of the great characters in the Bible. Abram lied about being married to his half-sister. Moses killed a man. David killed thousands. Peter denied knowing Jesus. Paul killed Christians.

But of all the promises in the Bible, two distinctly show that you are not disqualified from serving God.

If you have not placed your trust in Christ or if your "disqualifying sin" was before you did, then 2 Corinthians 5.17 means you are qualified - because you are a new creation - once you do commit your life to Him.

If you are already a Christian, then 1 John 1.9 says that by confessing to God, ALL unrighteousness is gone. If that is so, then whatever unrighteousness disqualified you in His eyes has been cast as far as the east is from the west.

Ultimately, church members should pray. And a part of those prayers should be for the church body, the deacons, and the leaders of the church. But as we pray, we must understand that prayer is more than just expressing our desires to God. Prayer is also allowing God to reveal to us His desires for us.

As you commit to pray for your church and others in the congregation, ask God to reveal how He wants to use you to further the work in the church and advance His Kingdom.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Called Out...In One Mind (2 of 2)

In Part 1, the idea of worship wars was criticized because the argument is more about our preferences than true worship. Although none of us may be able to perfectly set aside all preferences for the sake of worship or service, we have been given an example - by Christ - for what it means to truly have a mind like His.

Having a mind like Christ means not insisting on our way (Philippians 2.5-6). At the end of Philippians 1, Paul appeals with his readers to let their life be worthy of Christ. Having the mind of Christ would certainly make us worthy. What does this look like? Well, not working from a position of rivalry or conceit is a good start. But considering what others need is important as well.

Isn't this what Jesus did?  Jesus didn't look at the plight of humanity and say – well, I'm God, so let them figure it out. Despite being the "form of God" (some translations say “very nature of God”, Jesus – as God – was willing to give up everything because He didn't let His status get in the way of what needed to be done. In fact, it was because of His status – as God – that He was the only one capable of doing what needed to be done. But He still had to choose to do it. And He did. He didn't insist on His way because of the plight of man. What was that plight? That we, as humans, make ourselves equal with God by choosing our way instead of His. Its called sin. Isn't this ironic? It is our desire to control our life that created the need for Jesus to give up control of His. Such an act is truly an act of love, and epitomizes putting the needs of others ahead of self.

Secondly, having a mind like Christ means looking out for others (Philippians 2.7-8). The important thing here is that the attitude of Jesus led to action. I know there are times when I think  I should do something, but I don't. Perhaps I literally cannot do it, but usually there is something I can do...I just must choose to do so. And Jesus did make that choice.

  • He made Himself nothing.  This does not mean He ceased to exist, but rather God became human (nothing in comparison). Another contrast is found in this text - “taking the form of a servant” (the master became slave). This statement shows a paradox – not only what He has done, but what He values. The world says from rags to riches. Jesus came from riches to rags. The world says man will become God. Jesus, as God, humbled Himself to become man.
  • He humbled Himself. He was obedient to the Father even to the point of death. A great verse in the Bible is Acts 3.15, when Peter makes the charge to the Pharisees that “you killed the Author of Life.” This is such an awesome thought. But the "you" truly includes the "we". We did it too. The Pharisees may have been the ones shouting at the Romans, but it was our sin that required it. Yet, He, the Author of Life, the Creator of the universe, allowed Himself to hang naked on a cross that you and I might live forever with Him. That is truly looking out for others.

Finally, having a mind like Christ means we allow God to honor us, not others (vv. 9-11). Jesus received very different rewards for His coming to earth, taking on the nature of humanity, making Himself humble and being a servant? The reward from humans was to kill Him. But the reward from God was that Jesus was highly exalted and given a name above all other names. Why did God honor Him? Because He was obedient. When did God honor Him? After His obedience – after His death. God can show honor and favor to us during this lifetime. But the better honor comes later.

Of course, we are not Jesus and will not have our name elevated as such. Nor should we. So, what do we take from this? We take the queue from our lead – Christ, the head of the Church, and thus our head. We are to be servants like Christ. We are to have His mind (attitude). Like Jesus, we should:

  • not insist on our own way.
  • look out for others.
  • allow God to honor us, not worrying about the commendation or condemnation of others.

As members of Christ's church, we do not have to give up our preferences. But sometimes we must set them aside for the community (common-unity). In order to properly worship and serve our Lord, we might also consider the words of John, the baptizer. About John, Jesus said that there is no one born of women that is greater than John (Luke 7.28). Yet, John the apostle wrote in John 3.30, that John the baptizer said of Jesus, “He must increase, I must decrease.”

May each person who reads this be a church member who exhibits the words of John, but more importantly the qualities of Jesus.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Called Out...In One Mind (1 of 2)

Worship Wars! Such a phrase has become common in many churches over the past few decades.  But it is such a sad phrase. Those who are engaged in worship have chosen to worship their preferences as opposed to the worship of Jesus. Jesus statement about worship was that it is to be done in spirit and in truth (John 4.24), not with or without certain instruments...not with our without certain lyrics...not with or without a hymnal, etc. The reality is Isaac Watts was nearly excommunicated from the church for writing songs. He wrote over 500 hymns including Joy to the World and Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed (At the Cross). And a hymn many love, Because He Lives, was written in 1972 - was it rejected at the time?

Worship is not about the style and it isn't about the instrumentation. It is about to whom we are singing and what our words and hearts are expressing. The songs are not about us...they are not about our singing...they are not about how well we do or don't know them...they are not about how US. They are about HIM!

Of course people do have different preferences. God made us that way. I believe that is one of the reasons there are so many different churches. But if the gospel is being proclaimed, and that can be a big if, then shouldn't we celebrate with others the name of Jesus. Think about it this way. No one would reasonably expect a worship service in a foreign county (say Uganda) to be just like one in America. Unfortunately, Christians often let their preferences get in the way of their worship and their service to God.

In Philippians 2.1-11, Paul wrote that people should be in one accord - with a mindset like that of Christ. Verses 5-11 is a great passage about Christ (see also Colossians 1.15-20). This section of text in Philippians 2 was likely a hymn of the early church which not only speaks of the nature of Christ, but gives us an example to follow as well.

The example from this text is that like Jesus, we should:
  • not insist on our own way.
  • look out for others.
  • allow God to honor us, not worrying about the commendation or condemnation of others.

In Part 2, I will briefly expand on each of these principles.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Called Out...Together (2 of 2)

In Part 1, Jesus challenge for His hearers to be more righteous than the Pharisees was discussed. In Matthew 5.21-26, Jesus commands us to leave the alter if we realize someone has an issue against us. What is the connection to church membership? How does this relate to church unity? 

Jesus challenge against the Pharisees was made because what they did only external. He later calls them white-washed tombs. Their attitude was horrible. The command Jesus discusses was the 6th Commandment given on Mt Sinai (Do Not Murder). But Jesus gets deeper than the act of murder...He goes to the issue of anger. Jesus said:
  1. to be angry (without cause) with a brother is similar to murder
  2. to call a brother a fool (Raca) was equivalent with committing murder

The issue with Jesus is the heart. Church members must have a proper attitude to have true unity. In the first verses of this section (21-23) Jesus is talking about a member of the religious community – especially his disciples. That translates to you and me as members of His church. This doesn't imply that it is ok to be at odds with those who are not believers. Primarily, it implies if we understand the work that Jesus has done for us and other believers, how could we feel that way about someone else? How can others come to know that God loves them when we, as God's people can't love one another? After all, John 13.34 is a new commandment to love one another. We must also consider that Jesus tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. So, whether the person is a Christian or not, a member of this church or not, etc...we are not to “murder” them – by action, by words, or by thought (murder is premeditated).

The next verses (23-24) are some of the most shocking in the Bible. Jesus doesn't just suggest that we leave the alter to make amends with others, He commands it. What humility one must have! What courage one must have! Perhaps, that is why it is so often ignored.

Think about what Jesus is saying...if you are at the altar. For us, you are in the midst of worship. It is time for the offering, you are ready to give your gift – to the Lord, and you remember that someone else has something against you, go to that person.

It doesn't say if you have something against the other person...although I think we can infer that here. It says, if you know that someone else has something against you.

It doesn't say that what they have against you is right, is real, or anything like that. It says if you know your brother (or sister) – again Christian brother or sister – has something against you – leave your gift...then after you have talked with the other person, then come back and offer your gift to God.

To be that kind of person – that kind of member – requires a great deal of humility and courage. It may force you to say, “I don't know what I have done to offend you, but I am sorry.” And that may set off a firestorm in your face. It may be just the excuse the other person needs to unload a bunch of dirty laundry on you. That takes GUTS! Why? Because this passage does not say that we have the right to return an unloading of dirty laundry on them.

And here action is as important as attitude. Jesus doesn't say, “Well, I understand if you are already at church, you can wait until after you worship me.” No, He says, “If you want to truly worship me, then you need to set your other relationships in order.” Maybe this is what John was thinking about when he wrote that we can't truly love God if we don't love others. (1 John 4.19-21).

Does this sound like the kind of membership that is present in our churches? Not for most. But this is the way God designed it. This is how Jesus wants His church built. Jesus wants church members are to be reconciled - to one another as well as to God.

A key aspect of this passage is the need to avoid judgment. By reconciling with others we might avoid imprisonment (v26); by reconciling with God, through Christ, we avoid hell (v22).

Yet, we can not succeed on the basis of our own righteousness. Ultimately, this passage is more about Jesus sharing what true righteousness involves. He is telling the people that they must be more righteous than the pharisees, and then He proceeds to give a couple of examples that show attitude to be on par with action. You can't just have the actions, you must have the attitude. It is a matter of the heart. And our heart (attitude) can only be changed by yielding our life to Christ - allowing Him, and His righteousness, to reign in our lives.

To whom do you need to reconcile. To whom do you need to offer forgiveness. Certainly, it takes both sides to truly reconcile and not everyone will be receptive. But Paul's statement in Romans 12.18 provides some counsel here: "If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all."

May we be a people that truly reflective of the new commandment - "Love one another." (John 13.34)