Thankful for the “No’s”

As a basketball fan, I’m always interested in the time after the season when both the draft and free agency take place.

It’s a time when teams and players retool in order to, hopefully, become more competitive.

During this time, a lot of trades take place, which means players find themselves sent to play for another team. I imagine this might be exciting for a few players, but more likely, being traded probably feels to most like the rug has being pulled out from under them.

Back in February, Marc Gasol of the Memphis Grizzlies knew his team was talking to other teams about trading him. And Gasol pleaded with his team not to make such a transaction. Gasol had spent 11 years in Memphis, the only city/team he’d ever played for. In his mind, Memphis was where he knew he wanted to be.

Yet, despite his plea, Marc Gasol was traded to the Toronto Raptors for a bevy of players and draft picks.

He’d asked to stay and the Memphis Grizzlies said no.

Fast forward to yesterday and the headlines splashed across a multitude of sports-oriented websites:

  • Marc Gasol Glad Grizzlies Didn’t Listen To Him In Trade With Raptors
  • Marc Gasol: I Wanted To Stay With The Grizzlies, Thank God They Ignored Me
  • Marc Gasol Is Grateful The Grizzlies Ignored His Desire To Stay In Memphis

Why had Marc Gasol changed his tune about the trade that sent him from Memphis to Toronto?

Because Marc Gasol attained something in Toronto he couldn’t get hold of in Memphis: an NBA championship.

That chance to experience the very pinnacle of NBA victory turned what, and one time, seemed like a sure negative into a very strong positive.

In life, we sometimes hear “no.” And in most cases, I imagine, we don’t like it. Typically, we find the “no” keeps us from what we feel we want or need.

But many “no’s” are actually doorways to something better.

I’ve often had God give me a solid, clear “no” and I responded by wondering if He really knew what He was talking about. Because I felt I knew what was right for me, I questioned whether God was dropping the ball in to giving me “yes.”

But God isn’t the God of arbitrary “no’s.” God is always working things out according to His plan and acting with our best interests in mind.

Perhaps in what could be the biggest “no” in history, the Father told the Son “no” when Jesus asked if the cup of the cross could be taken from Him.

At first glance, the Father’s response seems cold and cruel. Why wouldn’t he rescue Jesus from a death He didn’t deserve?

And yet, out of this “no” came the means for the rescue for humanity.

Sometimes a “no” is the best thing we can every hear. But to understand the purpose behind the “no” means we will have to be humble, submissive and perceptive. Too often, because we don’t want to accept a “no,” we blow a perfectly good opportunity to understand how God’s hand is moving behind the scenes.

Minda Zetlin, in an online article called “FOUR REASONS YOU SHOULD LOVE HEARING NO” offers these four points for people to no always look at a “no” as a negative:

  1. Learn to celebrate your ‘no’s” – If yes makes you happy and no makes you unhappy, you need to get off the yes/no emotional roller-coaster. When you look at no positively, you can see the value in it, celebrate it and have fun.
  2. No doesn’t always mean never – No often means not yet. It often boils down to a matter of timing. Patience and diligence can often give greater results than we can imagine.
  3. A good no is better than a bad yes – This is a very hard thing to wrap our minds around! But, if you’ve embraced the concept that a no isn’t particularly bad news, you can go forward with confidence.
  4. Every no is a chance to learn – Within every no is the information needed to move forward. We just have to be brave enough to pursue what it is we need to learn in order to grow.

One last thought: God’s “no” to our prayers and requests will always be a “yes” to whatever He is seeking to work in our lives. We can choose to cling to Him (even when His “no” is disconcerting for us), believing that He loves us, hears us, and is always at work. Just because God tells us “no” does not mean that He isn’t fully for us. Quite the opposite!

 

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To Know and Be Known

The other day I pulled up to a stoplight. At the same time, two cars (one on my right, the other on my left) pulled up beside me.

Immediately, the drivers of both cars pulled out their cellphones and began fervently looking and poking at their devices.

At that moment, I wondered in my mind: What was so important that, while sitting a few moments at a signal, they both felt the need to check their phones?

I mean, to look at a phone while on the road (even when stopped at a signal) takes away from a driver’s awareness of all that is happening around them. I was sure one of these drivers would miss when the light turned green. Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened!

But back to my question: what is it that drives people to their phones so much? I concluded that the primary reasons are (1) the desire to know and (2) the desire to be known. Either people are looking up information to absorb or they are connecting with someone in online conversation.

Think about it: aren’t knowing and being known two of our greatest needs?

Down deep inside of us, we have questions about life, death, eternity, purpose and meaning.

We wonder within our mind: Who am I? How did I get here? Why am I here? What’s it all about? Is there any rhyme or reason to the universe in which we dwell? What lies beyond the grave?

God has answers (found in His Word) to each one of those queries.

That’s the knowing side of things.

When it comes to being known, it’s amazing how much we would like to truly be loved and understood by someone else. To have someone to share our thoughts, ideas and dreams. Someone to accept us.

How many of us possess a desperate desire to drop the masks we often employ to keep people from judging or rejecting us?

While we may seek to find a sense of knowing and being known in the world around us, I believe that to truly experience these things we must look to God.

God has the answers to our most pressing questions.

And He also is able to love, know and accept us like no human being can.

J.I. Packer wrote these insightful words about the nature of God’s knowledge of us:

What matters supremely, therefore, is not, in the last analysis, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it—the fact that He knows me. I am graven on the palms of His hands. I am never out of His mind. All my knowledge of Him depends on His sustained initiative in knowing me. I know Him because He first knew me, and continues to know me. He knows me as a friend, one who loves me; and there is no moment when His eye is off me, or His attention distracted from me, and no moment, therefore, when his care falters.

Yes, we can (to a degree) find significance in our human relationships. We can learn from each other, as well as find closeness and kinship.

But to really know and be known, we must go farther. We must engage God.

John Piper wrote about how well God can both inform us and know us (along with offering us a reminder of how difficult is to know ourselves):

You always have someone to go to for help in knowing who you are. You know one of the great longings of the human soul is to understand ourselves. Who are we? What is our nature? What sort of being am I? What is my deepest thought and feeling? What are my true and deepest motives? What are the relationships, deep inside of me, between my knowing and my feeling and my willing and my doing? If you think you know yourself, you are really deluded. You are so complex. You are so multilayered.

The desire to know and be known is universal. But the source from which we can experience the greatest depth of knowing and being known is singular.

The source of such understanding and deep relationship is the God who formed the magnificent universe, as well as the magnificent you.

Anything else will fall short.

 

 

 

 

Finishing Well: Humility Is What Gets Us Through

Some years ago I came on board as a staff pastor at a new church. Not long after, a couple from the church invited us over for dinner. We certainly appreciated their hospitality.

Overall, the conversation was cordial, but I did notice on occasion some complaints about the church sprinkled in.

Now, I realize every church is worthy of some complaints. No church is perfect; we all have room to grow and stretch.

But what caught my attention was the attitude in which these complaints were delivered.

These comments seemed to come with a fair measure of pride. The kind of pride that communicates, “I have all the answers, and I have a hard time with those who don’t know all the things I know.”

Also, the comments also seemed to be a bit tinged with a spirit of rebellion. Meaning, it almost seemed like going against the grain brought about some strange glee.

At one point, one of our hosts talked about her experience in Bible college and how she took great pleasure in breaking some of the rules she felt were to legalistic for her tastes.

Now, mind you, most of our time together was fine. It was just every now and then our conversation was sprinkled with these disconcerting comments.

But as my time in this church went on, this couple became more discontent and disruptive.

It got to the point that it seemed no one in our church could do anything right.

It began to feel like their perspective of us was that we were just a bunch of oafs tripping over one another.

-We didn’t teach the Word right.

-We didn’t carry out missions to their satisfaction.

-We fell way short in our expression of compassion.

Bottom line, pretty much anything we thought, said, or did was not worthy of their high view of ministry practice.

All in all, we appeared to be a source of constant disappointment to this couple that seemed to have all the answers.

Well, such dissatisfaction can only go on so long.

In time, they left our church in search of something more in line with their lofty standards. (I’m not sure if they ever landed anywhere.)

A few years after I moved on to another church (right about the time Facebook was catching on) I was online and came across the name of one-half of this constantly-disappointed couple.

Guess what? They had become divorced.

Now, it may be too simplistic on my part, but I couldn’t help think to myself: “The couple who constantly let us know all the failures we were committing at our church couldn’t find a way to keep their own marriage together?”

I don’t know the circumstances of the split, but my hunch is that the weight of their pride, disappointment and non-conformity had something to do with their severance.

After enough time, all that pressing burden caused things to finally give way.

And it makes sense. Such corrosive attitudes form a terrible foundation for any type of relationship. Especially the God-ordained relationship of marriage.

No, the pathway of the long haul relationship must be, ultimately, paved with humility, along with a good measure of contentment and a solid degree of submission.

Such is an unrelenting, overarching theme that flows from the pages of both the Gospels and the Epistles.

Its allowing things such as kindness, gentleness, deference, thoughtfulness, love, joy and peace to overcome our flesh-driven attitudes of judgmentalism, discontentment, disappointment, agitation, rebelliousness and gloating.

Of the pride that often does us in, Phillips Brooks said:

“Whatever makes us feel superior to other people, whatever tempts us to convey a sense of superiority that is the gravity of our sinful nature, not grace.”

I’ve often said that one of the quickest ways for us to feel better about ourselves is to find someone we can push down.
The truth is we haven’t elevated ourselves one millimeter. Rather, we often leave a lot of hurt, confused people in our wake.
One of the primary teachings about humility is found in Philippians 2. In this chapter, Paul exhorts the Christians in Philippi not to promote themselves, but to have the well-being of others as a primary goal:
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so 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 2:1-12 ESV)
Humility is the key to what will get us through this life.
Humility is the key to our success.
Humility is the way of Jesus.

Creation is Meant to Point to a Creator

Some 25 years ago, I was able to wander the rooms and hallways of The Hermitage, a world-renowned museum of art and culture located in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

The Hermitage is home to Rembrandt’s beloved The Return of the Prodigal Son, a painting that describes Jesus’ story about the homecoming of a wayward son.

rembrandt

Return of the Prodigal Son, Rembrandt (1663-1669)

The Hermitage also displays works by Leonardo da Vinci, Rafael, Van Gogh and Picasso. Bottom line, The Hermitage hosts top-shelf works from some of the art world’s biggest names.

In fact, it’s the accomplished names attached to the works of art that makes them so desirable to look at. The art is amazing, but the renown goes to the artist who created the piece.

Fast forward 25 years.

This past week we took a quick trip to the Portland Zoo. One thing I noticed was how people would rush to an exhibit and squeeze themselves in to get the very best view of whatever animals dwelt in the enclosure.

Over and over, all over the zoo, people caught glimpses of all sorts of creatures and released expressions of amazement:

“Look at that!”

“That’s incredible!”

“It’s so beautiful.”

Perhaps the two words I heard most often were “Wow!” and “Whoa!”

Which makes absolute sense to me, because the animals in the zoo represent the handwork of God.

  • They display his fondness for creativity.
  • They present his penchant for design.
  • They exhibit his love for beauty
  • They even, in some cases, seem to reveal God’s sense of humor.

When we see a creature of such beauty, design and creativity, it ought to make us ask the same question we ask when we gaze upon a beautiful painting: “Who created this?”

Simply put, to me a trip to the zoo is a trip to the museum of God.

I can’t help be mesmerized by the height of the giraffe, the power of the lion or the comic waddling of the penguin. Although human are is incredible, no painting, sculpture or drawing can compete with the wonder and splendor of the living, breathing natural world.

And yet, so many people look at such glorious pieces of art and fail to ponder the source of their existence!

What often happens, as Romans 1 pronounces, is that people put more attention on extolling the creature rather than the creator.

Perhaps we need to be a bit more like the author of Psalm 104 who made this wise declaration:

“How many are your works, Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number – living things both large and small.” ~ Psalm 104:24-25

The wisdom and creativity of God is on display all the time.

We see it in how an otter cracks open mussels.

We see it in the manner an elephant takes a bath.

And we see it in the way a Venus fly trap clasps it’s prey.

The prophet Isaiah got it. He looked out at the creation set before him and was sure to give credit to the one who put it all together:

“Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.” ~ Isaiah 40:26

Whether we look up, down or all around, God has set before us evidence of His existence.

Will we see the creator behind the creation?

 

 

The Bill Buckner Tragedy

Former Major League Baseball star Bill Buckner died today. He was 69 years old and succumbed to a form of dementia called Lewy Body syndrome.

Buckner’s 22 year baseball career was exemplary: a .289 lifetime batting average, 174 home runs and over 2700 career hits.

Yet Bill Buckner was remembered most for a mistake: a fielding error error that opened the door for the New York Mets to comeback and take the 1986 World Series title.

But the tragedy wasn’t Bill Buckner’s inability to scoop up a slow roller toward first base. Truth be told, almost every single baseball game has its share of errors.

Yes, the fact that the error occurred in the midst of a World Series game magnified Buckner’s mistake. It broke the hearts of millions of Red Sox fans.

But the real tragedy regarding Bill Buckner was that so many people forgot he was a fallible human being.

Wikipedia describes the fallout of his error like this:

Regardless of any of the other perceived shortcomings that led to Boston’s loss in the 1986 World Series, Buckner’s error epitomized the “Curse of the Bambino” in the minds of Red Sox fans, and he soon became the scapegoat for a frustrated fan base. Buckner began receiving death threats and was heckled and booed by some of his own home fans, often with the false belief or implication that his play alone could have instantly won the series for the Red Sox. Meanwhile, he was the focal point of derision froom the fans of opposing teams on the road—especially when he faced the Mets in 1987 and the first time he came to bat at Yankee Stadium during the regular season.“

For me, the bottom line regarding Buckner (and any other athlete who makes a blunder to cause a loss) is that no human being should bear such a burden of having their entire life defined by a singular mistake.

No game matters as much as the well-being of a human soul.

It’s okay to be disappointed when our team loses. It seems a bit over the top to be so crestfallen to the point of torturing a person with guilt and blame.

To do so is to become possessed by a type of myopia that keeps us from seeing what matters most in life.

Many years ago a good friend played an amazing piano solo during a church service. But at one point, she hit one note that was an obvious clunker.

But she was undeterred, and powered through the highly technical piece.

After the service, I saw my friend in the church lobby and made mention of the one sour note that happened in the midst of an otherwise perfect performance.

Her response was humble, but direct. She simply said, “And what of all those notes I got right?”

I instantly realized I was hyper-focused on her one faux pas, causing me to lose sight of all the notes she nailed.

I needed that gentle rebuke to remind me that being over-focused on one failure is a greater failure in itself.

The Bill Buckner tragedy wasn’t about a baseball that rolled through a player’s legs.

No, the tragedy was a lack of human grace, understanding and forgiveness.

Bill Buckner missed a ground ball in a World Series game played by imperfect, fallible humans.

But a group of diehard fans seemed to lose their connection to humanity when they decided to make him the lifelong scapegoat for a Red Sox loss.

That was a way bigger tragedy.

An Audience of One

I live before the audience of One – before others I have nothing to gain, nothing to lose, nothing to prove. ~  From Os Guiness’ book “The Call”

Throughout the course of my life, I’ve been able to choose some cars that I would classify as fairly “cool.”

My first car was an Opel GT, which looked like a miniature Corvette.

I’ve driven trucks, SUVs and sleek sedans. In the last 20 years, 4 wheel drive has been pretty standard.

But when grandson Jude was born in 2015, I realized that with this new addition to the family, I needed a vehicle that provided more passenger space.

So, I went bought one of the most uncool cars known to man.

I bought a minivan.

Some of the memes that have taken shots at the minivan include these zingers:

  • The minivan: time to admit you’ve given up!
  • Mom’s minivan: less conformist than the bus.
  • “I used to be cool” – the only sticker you should put on a minivan
  • “Cool minivan!” – said nobody ever
  •  “I just bought a minivan. Now I’m turning in my man card.”

Not a whole lot of love out there for the minivan, is there?!

But, my minivan has a least one ardent fan: Jude.

Simply put, Jude thinks my minivan is the best!

Recently, I asked Jude what his favorite type of car is. His answer came without hesitation. “A van!”

And why not? The doors slide open automatically and there’s a DVD player hanging from the ceiling. And the stereo plays Beatles and VBS songs.

We all fit in the van’s cabin. Even the dog has a spot on the floor.

Last year while on a family trip to the east coast, Jude’s mom and dad had to rent a car. And they ended up with a van just like mine. Which thrilled Jude to no end.

So, for all the minivan hate going on out there, I’m actually quite happy.

Because the only person that matters to me is the opinion of the person who gets to ride in my van. If Jude’s happy, I’m happy.

I think that’s how it’s supposed to be with God.

So often we worry about what others think.

But the only thing that really matters in this life is what God thinks.

His opinion should drown out all others.

Winston Churchill once made this declaration:

“I hear it said that leaders should keep their ears to the ground. All I can say is that the British nation will find it very hard to look up to the leaders who are detected in that somewhat ungainly posture. Nothing is more dangerous…than to live in the temperamental atmosphere of a Gallup Poll–always feeling one’s pulse and taking one’s temperature.” 

The Apostle Paul, in Romans 12:2 made this important statement about not going with the flow, but rather going with God in all things:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

According to Jesus, it’s what God thinks of us that matters, not what others think .

Remember, it was Jesus who taught us to pray in private where no one could see us, rather than in front of people in an attempt to get credit for being spiritual (Matt. 6:6).

In other words, we are to live for God and not others.

So here’s the question: Do we strive to get attention and applause from others without considering what God thinks?

Jesus invites us to let go of that competitive struggle and to trust that God’s opinion of us is the only one that ultimately counts.

How would our lives be different if we truly lived our life to an audience of One?

Certainly our sense of pride, envy and competition would fade, because we would no longer need to worry about proving ourselves to others.

I don’t know who wrote it, but this two-line poem does a great job at redirecting a person’s mind to be about living for God’s sole attention:

Only one life, ’twill soon be past

Only what’s done for Christ will last.

We’re Not Quite There…Yet

It’s the Monday after Easter Weekend.

On Friday evening we held a Good Friday service full of scripture, song, reflection, imagery and communion.

On Sunday we went into full celebration mode, starting the morning with a fellowship breakfast, kid’s crafts and a humongous egg hunt. Then, at the service, we experiences rousing music, testimonies, a kid’s message, and a sermon that focused on the victory that comes from knowing Jesus. It was a blast thinking about the risen Savior in so many ways.

If there is a scripture that I think best described the spirit of yesterday’s events, I’d say it comes from Romans 8. Read it through and soak in the messages of hope, assurance and victory:

Romans 8:31-39 (NIV) ~ What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us,who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

From the cross to the empty tomb, Easter provides an amazing narrative of how God has fully provided for our spiritual needs.

But now its Monday, and I’m back in my office doing church stuff again.

  • I have a message to write for next Sunday.
  • One of our church members is in hospice.
  • We have some couples struggling with marriage.
  • Others are trying to navigate parenthood.
  • All of us are still faced with the daily battle with sin.
  • Some of us feel like our faith hangs by a thread.

To be honest, after all that celebrating on Sunday, it fells a little deflating to come in on Monday and be facing the same old battles. Didn’t we just spend yesterday exalting God’s victory over all these struggles that continue to ail us?

Here’s the reality: the battle has been won, but we have yet to experience the victory in it’s fullness.

Although Jesus fully paid for our sins, we still wait to understand what that fully looks like.

Rather than whisk us all up to heaven for the ultimate party, God still has us on this planet to carry out his mission.

That’s because not everyone has laid claim to the victory God provides to whoever will receive it.

I think the challenge is this: to lay claim to an attitude of victory, even as we navigate the multitude of challenges this life throws at us.

This is what I see going on in 2 Corinthians 4, where Paul attempts to balance the struggles of this world with the awareness that one day our struggles will be no more.

In 2 Corinthians 4:7-12, Paul writes:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

 And later in the chapter, Paul comes to this conclusion:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

All in all, I’ve come to this understanding: We do have reason to celebrate. And we ought not miss the opportunity to do so! But, that doesn’t mean we cease from our labors.

The fields are still ripe for harvest.

God wants more people to come to the party.

He's still risen the day after

 

 

Good Friday Message 2019

In the song we just sang, the phrase “you are worthy” is repeated over and over again. And it’s a great reminder that the reason Jesus was able to conquer sin and conquer death was because Jesus is truly worthy. That’s what makes Good Friday truly good!

Jesus was able to accomplish what we are not able to do.

Of Jesus worthiness, Thomas Brooks said this:

“Our sins are debts that none can pay but Christ. It is not our tears, but His blood; it is not our sighs, but His sufferings, that can testify for our sins. Christ must pay all, or we are prisoners forever.”

And that He did!

….

When we think about the events of the crucifixion, the most common symbol we refer to is the cross.

The cross was a well-known implement of execution in the Roman world.

And it was to a cross that Jesus was nailed to suffer and die in our place.

But what was it that was used to attach Jesus to the cross?

It was metal nails, three nails to be specific.

Two in each of his wrists, one to secure his feet to the wooden cross.

The question I have, and perhaps some of you have wondered as well, is: How is it that the creator God of the universe…the one the Bible describes as all-powerful, could be constrained by three measly nails?

And the answer is this: by His design and by His decision. The reason the nails held Jesus in place because of God’s will to do so.

Interestingly, Rick Warren posted this truth on Instagram a couple days ago:

“Jesus could have saved himself – but then he couldn’t have saved you.”

Perhaps no scripture captures the essence of what really took place on that cross than what Paul wrote to the Philippian Christians in Philippians chapter 2.

In it we discover something theologians refer to as THE KENOSIS, a Greek word that speaks to the idea of “emptying out” or “self-emptying.”

Beginning in verse 1, Paul reveals the motivation of his teaching: His desire is that the Philippians embrace humility and selflessness toward one another.

Here’s Paul’s exhortation:

1 So, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

But then at verse 5, Paul decides to use what I would describe as the SUPREME EXAMPLE of selflessness to illustrate his point:

5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied (kenosis) himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

For me, I sum up this passage like this: Jesus’ determinate obedience results in my life-saving and life-transforming blessing.

….

At any point of Jesus arrest, trials, torture and crucifixion, Jesus could have said, “No more of this!”

In fact, when Jesus was arrested Peter tried to thwart God’s plan from going forward.

Do you remember how Peter took out a sword in an effort to defend and protect Jesus?

To which, according to Matthew chapter 26, Jesus replied to Peter’s efforts by saying:

 

52“Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. 53 Are you not aware that I can call on My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen this way?”…

When nailed to the cross, Jesus could have effortlessly popped the nails out of place and climbed down.

But He didn’t.

He remained in the pain, the agony and the suffering.

Even to the point of death.

Why? Because Jesus’ death was not arbitrary but intensely strategic and purposeful.

As often described in the New Testament, God’s plan for salvation was conceived “before the foundations of the world!”

And this mission of Jesus was revealed to Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph, before Jesus was even born.

If you recall from the first chapter of Matthew, an angel of the Lord came to Joseph in the form of a dream to help Joseph understand what God was doing through Mary.

Here’s what the angel said:

20 “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which s conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

Jesus went forward for one reason: He knew it was God’s plan for Him to die. And He knew it was God’s plan because by His death He would become the final sacrifice for the sins of the whole human race.

The nails in Jesus’ hands and feet were only us able to hold him because he allowed them to.

But what really held Jesus on the cross was God’s passionate purpose to draw us out of darkness into light; out of death into life; out of sin’s bondage and into the Spirit’s freedom.

God is all-knowing, all-powerful, all-wise.

But for our sake, He placed limitations upon Himself that we might escape sin’s curse.

Of the cross work of Jesus, Matthew Henry said:

“Come, and see the victories of the cross. Christ’s wounds are thy healings, His agonies thy repose, His conflicts thy conquests, His groans thy songs, His pains thine ease, His shame thy glory, His death thy life, His sufferings thy salvation.”

 

Move into communion…

Thank You, Society

This morning I was struck with a strong sense of gratitude.

The reason was this: I wondered to myself what life would have been like if Aaron had been born 40 years ago.

As I recalled my teen years (1970’s), I remembered how people with special needs were often ostracized and ridiculed.

I know this personally, because I was among the numbers of those whose profound immaturity, insecurity and lack of understanding caused me to keep a clear distance from those who were mentally challenged.

Such people would often find themselves the butt of one my cruel jokes.

In a word, my behavior was pathetic. Yet, such behavior was pretty much the norm in society.

Then I wondered what it would have been like if Aaron had been born 80 years ago.

And, based on the accounts of those who lived in the mid 20th century, I learned that at this time in history, the common response to dealing with a person with Down syndrome was to place them in an institution, completely separated from society.

In fact, when we first adopted Aaron, it wasn’t uncommon to have older people ask us why we weren’t putting him in an institution.

To me, the sad thing about putting such people in institutions was that their potential to enrich and bless society would never be realized.

But Aaron wasn’t born in the 30’s or the 60’s. He was born in 1992. Which means his life has been met with much more compassion, understanding and inclusiveness.

Bottom line, society has greatly improved its relations with special needs individuals.

Aaron leading worship at VBS

Although there have been a few isolated incidents of teasing (primarily during the school years), by and large Aaron’s life has been full of affirmation and inclusion. The good stuff has dramatically outweighed the bad.

He’s fully engaged at his work, in his church and in his community.

Simply put, Aaron has a life, and a full life indeed.

aaron seahawks

The Ultimate Seahawks fan

He has relationships that are meaningful and he enjoys work that is purposeful.

Thanks to the compassion and generosity of many, Aaron gets involved in life rather than being a spectator. Or even worse, someone who isn’t even invited to the table.

So, with a sincere heart, I say, “Thank you, society!”

In some ways, the world can seem like its going downhill fast. There are some aspects of society that make my jaw drop in disbelief…sometimes even despair.

But on this front –  the care and inclusion of those with lesser abilities – my experience has been that society is courageously rising up and beautifully ringing the bell.

 

The Essentials of Transformation

When it comes to the changes God wants to bring about in our lives, the list can seem a mile long.

We know our faults. We know our struggles. We know our embedded temptations.

Each one of us has our own unique patterns of sinfulness.

I may struggle with something that doesn’t seem to be an issue for you, and likewise, you may battle a particular sin that doesn’t seem to have such a grip on me.

Yet, at the core, I tend to think all of us share the same “common to man” areas where God wants to bring about transformation within our lives.

But be warned. These areas of struggle do not give in easily! They can be quite stubborn to remove.

So, here’s my short list of what we so desperately need:

Transformation from self-exalting pride to God-glorifying humility

This is an issue of worship. When we are full of ourselves we have little room to exalt and glorify God. Of all the sins listed in the Bible, pride is the transgression that seems to be particularly condemning because it is so odious.

Galatians 6:3 is direct in it’s exhortation:

For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.

Pride is one of the most deeply embedded sins to remove. Why? Because it’s hard to admit we are so frail and finite.

Satan appealed to pride when in the Garden he made the false claim to Eve that she and Adam could become like God. No wonder the Bible tells us that pride comes before destruction!

Of pride, Francis Frangipane said

“God can never entrust His Kingdom to anyone who has not been broken of pride, for pride is the armor of darkness itself.”

When we worship God, we are saying we are not great, but He is. We admit that we are fallen, limited human beings in contrast to the infallible, immutable, omnipotent Creator of all things.

Transformation from self-centeredness to becoming others-focused

It’s super easy to be obsessed with ourselves because we constantly live with ourselves.

The temptation to tend, satisfy and please ourselves seems unending.

But core tenet of Christianity is that we seek to get our eyes off ourselves and think about the needs and concerns of others.

Three quick verses that make this point:

Philippians 2:4: Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Romans 12:10: Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.

John 13:34: A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

Author Bob Goff wrote: “Every act of selfless love is a declaration of faith.”

What’s amazing about being selfless toward others is that rather than being emptied, we are divinely refilled. No wonder the Bible makes the claim that it is indeed better to give than receive (Acts 20:35).

Transformation from self-sufficiency to God-dependency

As a child, one of the first phrases to depart from our mouth is this declaration: “I can do it myself!”

And from that point on, we live like we truly believe that we can take care of ourselves.

Yet, in reality, God is the one who takes care of us. It just sometimes takes us some time to figure that out.

Jesus, in his amazing Sermon on the Mount, shared these words with His listeners:

“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.”

Not only does God know we need them, He is the one who provides them.

And God does not only provide for us physically, He’s also in the business of meeting our needs relationally, emotionally, and spiritually.

The problem for us is that our pride and independence often keeps us from becoming God-dependent.

Yet, at the core of the Christian message is the proclamation that we can’t meet our needs and that we are dependent on someone outside of our selves.

Spiritually speaking, self-sufficiency could be given another name: self-righteousness.

The idea that we attempt to justify ourselves by our own means.

Robert Murray McCheyne offered this amazing reflection about the problem of such spiritual self-dependence:

Self-righteousness is the largest idol of the human heart – the idol which man loves most and God hates most. Dearly beloved, you will always be going back to this idol. You are always trying to be something in yourself, to gain God’s favor by thinking little of your sin, or by looking to your repentance, tears, prayers ; or by looking to your religious exercises, your frames, etc; or by looking to your graces, the Spirit’s work in your heart. Beware of false Christs. Study sanctification to the utmost, but make not a Christ of it.

Self-exaltation. Self-centeredness. Self-sufficiency.

Note that each one of these shares a common denominator: self.

Self is the biggest hurdle in the pursuit of transformation.

May we be willing to embrace and apply the words of John the Baptist: “He must increase, I must decrease.”