Christianity 201

October 30, 2018

Andrew Murray on Humility

Today I was led to consider publishing an excerpt from the writing of Andrew Murray, and in preparation for this, I read several different excerpts on several different websites. I settled on this one. It appears at the website Soul Shepherding with a longer introduction, so again, you’re encouraged to click the title below and read this at source.

Jesus’ Humility: The Beauty of Holiness

Humility in the Life of Jesus

An Excerpt from Humility: The Beauty of Holiness by Andrew Murray (written in 1896).

In the Gospel of John we have the inner life of our Lord laid open to us. Jesus speaks frequently of his relation to the Father, of the motives by which he is guided, of his consciousness of the power in which he acts. Though the word humble does not occur, we shall nowhere in Scripture see so clearly where his humility consisted…

In Jesus we shall see how both as the Son of God in heaven, and as man upon earth, he took the place of entire subordination, and gave God the honor and the glory which is due to him. And what he taught so often was made true to himself: “He who humbles himself shall be exalted.” As it is written [of Jesus], “He humbled himself! therefore God highly exalted him.”

Jesus Said, “I Am Nothing, the Father is Everything.”

Listen to the words in which our Lord speaks of his relation to the Father, and see how unceasingly he uses the words not, and nothing, of himself. The not I, in which Paul expresses his relation to Christ [“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Gal. 2:20], is the very spirit of what Christ says of his relation to the Father. [In the words of Paul, Jesus’ attitude is, “I live, yet not I, but the Father lives in me.”]

  • The Son can do nothing of himself” (John 5:19).
  • I can of my own self do nothing; My judgment is just, because I seek not my own will” (John 5:30).
  • I receive not glory from men” (John 5:31).
  • I have come not to do my own will” (John 6:38).
  • My teaching is not mine” (John 7:16).
  • I have not come of myself” (John 7:28).
  • I do nothing of myself” (John 8:28).
  • I have not  come of myself, but He sent me” (John 8:42).
  • I seek not my own glory” (John 8:50).
  • The words that I say, I speak not from myself” (John 14:10).
  • The word which you hear is not mine” (John 14:24).

These words open to us the deepest roots of Christ’s life and work. They tell us how it was that the Almighty God was able to work his mighty redemption work through him. They show what Christ counted the state of heart which [fit] him as the Son of the Father… He was nothing, that God might be all… Of his own power… will… glory… mission… works… teaching… he said, It is not I; I am nothing; I have given myself to the Father to work; I am nothing, the Father is all.

Jesus’ Humility Before God Made Him Humble Before People Too

This life of entire [self-relinquishment], of absolute submission and dependence upon his Father’s will, Christ found to be one of perfect peace and joy. He lost nothing by giving all to God. God honored his trust, and did all for him, and then exalted him to his own right hand in glory.

And because Christ had thus humbled himself before God, and God was ever before him, he found it possible to humble himself before people too, and to be the Servant of all. His humility was simply the surrender of himself to God, to allow him to do in him what he pleased, whatever people around him might say of him or do to him…

The Indwelling Christ Makes us Humble

We must learn of Jesus, how he is meek and lowly if heart. He teaches us where true humility takes its rise and finds its strength — in the knowledge that it is God who works all in all, that our place is to yield to him in perfect resignation and dependence, in full consent to be and to do nothing of ourselves. This is the life Christ came to reveal and to impart — a life to God that came through death to sin and self. If we feel that this life is too high for us and beyond our reach, it must but the more urge us to seek it in him; it is the indwelling Christ who will live in us this life, meek and lowly…

Every child of God… is nothing but a vessel, a channel, through which the living God can manifest the riches of his wisdom, power, and goodness. The root of all virtue and grace, all faith and acceptable worship, is that we know that we have nothing but what we receive, and bow in deepest humility to wait upon God for it.

It was because this humility was not only a temporary sentiment, wakened up and brought into exercise when he thought of God, but was the very spirit of his whole life, that Jesus was just as humble in his intercourse with people as with God… He never for a moment thought of seeking his own honor, or asserting his power to vindicate himself. His whole spirit was that of a life yielded to God to work in…

Study the Humility of Jesus

Study the humility of Jesus as the very essence of his redemption, as the very blessedness of the life of the Son of God, as the only true relation to the Father, and therefore as that which Jesus must give us if we are to have any part with him…

Friend, are you clothed with humility? Ask your daily life. Ask Jesus. Ask your friends. Ask the world. And begin to praise God that there is opened up to you in Jesus a heavenly humility of which you have hardly known, and through which a heavenly blessedness you possibly have never yet tasted can come into you.

 

September 26, 2017

Humility We Must Sing to Imagine

Today’s thoughts are from Chaplain Mike Mercer at the website Internet Monk. I chose a passage in the online series; Philippians: Friends in the Gospel. At the bottom you’ll see the most up-to-date links I have to other installments in the series. Out of necessity today, in addition to stealing the article, we had to steal a graphic! So please click through and read this at its source page.

Ordinary Time Bible Study: Philippians — Friends in the Gospel (10)

There are some things that can, perhaps, only be said in poetry, and perhaps this [Phil 2:5-11] is one of them. 
• Tom Wright

PHILIPPIANS 2:5-11

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became humanHaving become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.

Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.

As we mentioned last week, this is one of the most discussed theological texts in the New Testament is Philippians 2:5-11, the “Christ-hymn” that describes the “kenosis” of Jesus.

Gerald F. Hawthorne’s interpretation of Phil. 2:5-11 is one of my favorite commentary passages that I have read in biblical studies.

He first describes the near universal agreement that “vv 6-11 constitute a beautiful example of a very early hymn of the Christian church.” Scholars, however, have a number of different ideas about how the hymn might have been structured. Whatever the versification of the hymn might have been, it is clear that it has two basic parts. There are four main verbs: the first two have Jesus as the subject, the second two have God. The hymn then naturally falls into the story of (1) Jesus’ acts of humbling himself, and (2) God’s act of exalting Jesus.

Hawthorne notes that Paul himself may be the author of the hymn or it may come from another source. The striking insight that I learned many years ago from him when considering this passage is that it appears to be a meditation on an event recorded in the Gospel of John.

“…may be the result of deep meditation…on one particular event from the life of Christ as recorded in the gospel tradition — Jesus washing his disciples’ feet (John 13:3-17). Although verbal parallels between John 13:3-17 and Phil 2:6-11 are few, but nonetheless significant, the parallels in thought and in the progression of action are startling. So precise in fact are these parallels that it is difficult to consider them the result of mere coincidence.

Hawthorne uses the following diagram to portray these parallels:

This hymn, whether Paul wrote it or not, emphasizes Jesus’ act of humility using an “descent-ascent motif that is prominent in the Johannine story.”

Gerald Hawthorne also notes another important parallel between the way both John and this epistle reflect on the foot-washing story:

It is also interesting and instructive to note that the purpose of each pericope is similar. The Johannine account is an acted parable to summarize the essence of Jesus’ teaching: “Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to hold the first place among you must be everybody’s slave” (Mark 10:43-44), while the Philippian text is a hymn to illustrate powerfully Paul’s teaching, which at this point is identical with that of Jesus:  humble, self-sacrificing service to one another done in love is a must for a Christian disciple who would live as a Christian disciple should (Phil 2:3-4).

• • •

Ordinary Time Bible Study
Philippians – Friends in the Gospel

March 24, 2016

The Tradition of Maundy Thursday

Over the past five years we’ve seen a major shift in Evangelical observance of what the Mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic churches call Holy Week. There is much more consciousness of Lent and even debates — because of the rapid shift in some denominations — as to its incorporation in Evangelicalism. While we’ve always been observant of Good Friday and Easter Sunday, there is also an increasing awareness of Maundy Thursday and Holy Saturday. This article appeared twice at Thinking Out Loud, but this is its first time here…

2The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. 3Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. ~John 13: 2-5 (NIV)

What’s that saying? “A fanatic is someone who loves Jesus more than you do.” Today I felt somewhat spiritually outclassed.

I spoke with someone and asked what their church was doing for Holy Week. They told me that their church was doing a service on Thursday, as well as Good Friday.

Thursday is called Maundy Thursday. The theological page Theopedia doesn’t cover it for some strange reason, but the regular Wikipedia site offers two explanations for the name, of which I give you the first:

FootwashingAccording to a common theory, the English word Maundy in that name for the day is derived through Middle English, and Old French mandé, from the Latin mandatum, the first word of the phrase “Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos” (“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you”), the statement by Jesus in the Gospel of John (13:34) by which Jesus explained to the Apostles the significance of his action of washing their feet. The phrase is used as the antiphon sung during the “Mandatum” ceremony of the washing of the feet, which may be held during Mass or at another time as a separate event, during which a priest or bishop (representing Christ) ceremonially washes the feet of others, typically 12 persons chosen as a cross-section of the community.

As an aside, if you’re into church hopping, this is the day for you:

The tradition of visiting seven churches on Holy Thursday is an ancient practice, probably originating in Rome, where early pilgrims visited the seven pilgrim churches as penance.

Anyway, this church is having a foot washing as part of their Thursday service, and I was told, “Come and join us and we will wash your feet.”

I’ve never said that to anyone. And I’ve never washed anyone’s feet. I’m not totally comfortable with doing this or having it done for me. But the Biblical mandate to do this is quite clear. I feel like my spiritual pilgrimage is somewhat incomplete, like the person who has never been to Israel (or Wheaton, Illinois; the one time Evangelical equivalent, now displaced by Colorado Springs or Nashville; I’m not sure which.)

14Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. ~John 13: 14-17 (NIV)

Does anyone see a loophole here? An opt-out clause? A reason why this doesn’t apply in the current dispensation?

I don’t.


We covered this topic briefly here at C201 two years ago. Here’s a link to that article, plus three others we linked to at that time, plus the video we ran that day.

For more reading:

January 7, 2016

Jesus: He Reigns and He Loves

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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“Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the first fruit of all creation. All things were created in him––the visible and invisible, thrones and lordships, rulers and all powers––in the heavens and the earth. Everything was created through him and for him. He existed before everybody and all things are sustained in him.

“He is the head of the body of the church; he is the first from the dead. He has become the one who excels all, because all the fullness was glad to dwell in him and through him in order to reconcile all things in him. Making peace through the blood of the his cross, he reconciled things on the earth and things in the heavens” Colossians 1

About today’s author: “Kelley Nikondeha is a lover of God’s justice and jubilee. She is the co-director and chief storyteller for Communities of Hope, a community development enterprise in Burundi. She is a practical theologian at heart, weaving story and Scripture together to create fresh insight and cultivate faithful practice among communities who follow Jesus. Kelley lives her life in transit between Arizona and Burundi.”

Today’s post has appeared on a couple of websites already, we believe what’s below to be the original from SheLovesMagazine.com and you may click the title to read at source and then look around the rest of the online magazine.

The Messy, Confusing, Humbling Love of Jesus

“There is power in the name of Jesus,” we sang full force. “There is power in the name of Jesus to break every chain,” we repeated with arms out-stretched.

“There’s an army rising up,” the refrain assured those gathered in a synagogue-turned-church.

I stopped singing.

That very day a youth militia was rising up across Burundi, armed and ready to suppress opposition with guns, grenades and machetes. Every text and tweet confirmed what war looked like. The metaphor got caught in my throat. I dropped into my chair and stopped pretending that strong armies best represented God’s power in the world.

The early church sang in praise and doxology, too. In Colossians a remnant of one such chorus is preserved, extolling the supremacy of the Lord as the first of creation, the head of the church, and the host to God’s fullness. Scholars call this hymn The Cosmic Christ and some of the highest Christology in the New Testament.

You can envision the small church in Colossae singing, full throat, about the strong Christ who holds the world together. This is the Lord who has the power to reconcile all things, even enemies. This subversive song exalts the Crucified One, the one the empire could not crush. It is the Lord Jesus who rules the world, not Lord Caesar.

I’ve always loved this passage, resting secure with the image of Christ as the glue that holds the universe together like a force greater than nature. The dominance of Christ comforted me.

There’s another hymn sung about thirty years earlier by the community in Philippi. Paul weaves a shard of the song into his own description of Jesus, the one “who though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself …” Jesus, so they sang, emptied himself of all the privileges of divinity in order to be fully human, irrevocably like us.

This church understood Jesus as the Lord who reigned over heaven, but refused to exploit that power. As a matter of fact, Jesus relinquished it. This Lord they worshipped was in stark contrast to Lord Caesar, who held power tightly and used it as a weapon of intimidation throughout the empire.

Voices sang of a savior who abdicated the ultimate throne, something no one could ever imagine Caesar doing. Jesus let go of power and all the privilege associated with it to come close to us. He wanted tongue and groove solidarity with humanity, and knew it would not come by any coercive means. So he let go.

The song continued with verses about Jesus taking the form of a slave, being humbled, obedient to the point of death. Jesus continued shedding power and stripping away privileges until he was the embodiment of a curse–a man hung on a tree.

Only after singing of Jesus traveling from highest heaven to the lowest lot on earth, did the crescendo come announcing God’s exaltation of Christ. The Philippians hummed of humility, of Jesus never lording his power over the world but incessantly emptying himself for the sake of the world in sacrificial love.

This ancient chorus always chastened my own hubris. If Jesus could let go of power and all its privileges then certainly I’m called to nothing less. Down I go, letting go of what little power I imagine is mine.

When I think of these songs together I find myself considering the progression–from Jesus who divests power from birth to death, to Jesus who is completely sovereign over the universe, to a God whose power is likened to a marching army. Maybe we like the notion of a powerful God able to dominate the world and manage it with militaristic force. Maybe it comforts us–or maybe it’s all we know.

But what I learned in seminary hermeneutics still instructs me: the earlier version is to be preferred because it’s closer to the original. Less time has elapsed and less human preference has eroded the earlier and more radical meaning of the text. And so, for me, the earliest song holds sway. I sing of Jesus who let go of power.

I sing of the Jesus who bucked patriarchy as he sat at a well and conversed with a woman, transforming her into the first evangelist.

I sing of the Jesus who dined with those never invited into gated communities or supper clubs, unconcerned with his tarnished reputation.

I sing of the Jesus who could imagine being snubbed by society’s elite and still throw the party–hosting the unseemly and shunned, despite all appearances.

I sing of the Jesus who engaged in dangerous conversations with lawyers, tax collectors and women without ever lording his theological bone fides over them.

I sing of the Jesus who never overlooked children, but gathered them and laughed; never too cool for school.

I sing of the Jesus who did not brandish a sword when cornered in a dark garden by enemies, but offered a healing hand instead.

I sing of the Jesus who suffered death rather than inflicting it on anyone else, though as Lord he had every right to raise an army in his own defense.

I sing of the Jesus who could have dominated the world with awesome power, but opted for amazing love instead.

Yes, I believe there is power in the name of Jesus. But that power looks nothing like military might, suffocating sovereignty or strong-arming dominance. It looks like emptying at every turn, letting go of power and privilege for the chance of human connection.

Jesus holds the world together with the great power of love–messy, confusing, humbling love. Any other kind of power, he lets go …

I sing of Jesus who let go of power. I hope I can do the same.

April 30, 2015

Dying to Self

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Gal 2:20

I want to know Christ–yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…
Phil. 3:10

He must become greater; I must become less.
John 3:30

Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.”
Luke 9:23-24

… anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
Mark 10:38

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Romans 6:11

May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
Galatians 6:14

Today’s scripture verses were just a few that came to mind after reading the following, which I found in an old church bulletin.

DYING TO SELF

When you are forgotten, or neglected, or purposely set at naught, and you don’t sting and hurt with the insult or the oversight, but your heart is happy, being counted worthy to suffer for Christ.

THAT IS DYING TO SELF

When your good is evil spoken of, when your wishes are crossed, your advice disregarded, your opinions ridiculed, and you refuse to let anger rise in your heart, or even defend yourself, but take in all in patient, loving silence.

THAT IS DYING TO SELF

When you lovingly and patiently bear any disorder, any irregularity, any impunctuality, or any annoyance; when you stand face-to- face with waste, folly, extravagance, spiritual insensibility-and endure it as Jesus endured.

THAT IS DYING TO SELF

When you are content with any food, any offering, any climate, any society, any solitude, any raiment, any interruption by the will of God.

THAT IS DYING TO SELF

When you never care to refer to yourself in conversation, or to record your own good works, or itch after commendations, when you can truly love to be unknown.

THAT IS DYING TO SELF

When you can see your brother prosper and have his needs met and can honestly rejoice with him in spirit and feel no envy, nor question God, while your own needs are far greater and in desperate circumstances.

THAT IS DYING TO SELF

When you can receive correction and reproof from one of less stature than yourself and can humbly submit inwardly as well as outwardly, finding no rebellion or resentment rising up within your heart.

THAT IS DYING TO SELF

 

April 14, 2014

Jesus Responds to John’s “I Should be Baptized by You”

Matt 3:13Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. 14But John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” 15But Jesus answering said to him, “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he permitted Him.…

Believer's Baptism

This is a sample article from a great series — Jesus’ Baptism and Ours — by Mark Love which ran at the blog Dei-Liberations.  There is some really good study material here. To see it all, click through for this article and then click the top of the page and then scroll down to the first post on March 25th, 2014; and then scroll up to read each article. This one was titled Jesus Baptism and Ours: I Should Be Baptized By You.

In both Matthew and Luke, John the Baptist protests Jesus’ request to be baptized. “I need to be baptized by you. And do you come to me?” We understand John’s reluctance. Jesus seems to us an unlikely candidate for a baptism of repentance and forgiveness of sins. For John, though, Jesus’ desire to be baptized seems to be more tied to their relative status regarding the restoration of Israel. John is the forerunner, the path straightener, the warm-up act. As Luke records John’s response, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, whose sandals I am unworthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” Jesus is greater than John and his baptism is greater. The roles here are reversed.

The one who is greater is making himself the least. And this is the shape of the coming Kingdom of God.

In the movie, The Apostle, Robert Duvall plays a pentecostal preacher who commits a murder and escapes Texas for Louisiana to avoid the law. Duval’s character has done a terrible thing and needs forgiveness from God to be restored to his calling. So, in an amazing scene, he baptizes himself–three times–and emerges from the river, not only forgiven, but promoted. He is now an apostle. I’m not sure which is more audacious, calling yourself an apostle or baptizing yourself.

Baptism requires someone besides you. It’s a mediated act. Our way to God passes through another’s life. This is the way salvation would have to be if our besetting sin is self-centeredness. It’s different than saying a prayer or some other act that is only internal to us. Jesus can’t be only in our hearts, but must be external to us as well, calling us out of our selves and into life with and through others. In this sense, baptism is not something we do, but something we receive. In fact, in baptism we completely rely and trust another to bring us up from the watery grave. We are vulnerable and submissive (in the easiest baptisms, at least. I’ve had a few fighters). We are not the active agents in the act of baptism. Someone else is.

When my father baptized me, he represented both Christ and the community of Christ. I did not originate this story and it’s truth doesn’t depend on me. In baptism, I am being claimed by realities greater than myself.

And this is the way of the Kingdom of God. As I argued in the last post, John’s summons to repentance and forgiveness of sins would have been heard as an end to Israel’s long exile and the coming nearness of the Kingdom of God. Israel will be restored to a central place in God’s covenantal purposes for all of creation. But the nature and shape of participating in the Kingdom of God will be surprising and require repentance. Namely, it will require God’s chosen one to submit to God in everything, including death on a cross. This is not just so that God can get God’s way. This is because loving submission and covenantal trust are God’s way. This is what the world looks like when God’s rule and reign are operative.

So, it is not surprising to see Jesus come to John for baptism. First, he is aligning himself with a movement that anticipates the coming Kingdom of God. Second, the very nature and shape of that movement is based on those who are great becoming the least. The baptism of Jesus echoes throughout the rest of the gospel story. “If you want to find your life, you must lose it… The greatest will be the least, the servant of all…the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve… not my will, but yours be done.”

When we are baptized, hopefully we are saying the same things. We are aligning our lives with the good news of God’s coming kingdom and are recognizing that power in this kingdom is expressed as submission and service.

November 29, 2013

A Sermon for Reign of Christ Day

Luke 23:33When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. [[ 34Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”]] And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” 36The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

39One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

At my other blog, Thinking Out Loud, you’ll find repeated references to Nadia Bolz-Weber — like this one — but we’ve never used here material here. Nadia, the founder and pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, is a very controversial Lutheran pastor. Actually, let me amend that, she’s controversial-looking, but when you get past the outward appearance, she is surprisingly orthodox in her beliefs and teaching.  This is taken from her most recently-posted sermon text on her blog, there’s also a link where you can click to listen along as you read. Most sermons, like this one, run 11-12 minutes.   Click to read, Losers, Amish and the Reign of Christ.  (Again, please note what follows is only an excerpt.)

Nadia Bolz-Weber…I’ve been obsessed all week with the fact that three times in this text during his crucifixion, people say to Jesus, “save yourself”.

Seriously Jesus, you healed the sick and raised the dead and performed wonders and miracles, so we know you have it in you…for God’s sake man, save yourself. If you are the son of God, if you are the messiah, then why on Earth are you allowing yourself to be humiliated like this. Make it stop.  You’re embarrassing us.  And why are you being such a loser, anyway?

See, we humans tend to be obsessed with winners and losers, insiders and outsiders, good people and bad people. And we can only win if someone else loses. This is the game. Some win, some lose. It’s everywhere.

And that win-lose, good-bad, insider-outsider thing we are all engaged in?…I know this is a little pop-psychology-y but think that it is somehow linked to our own fear of death and loss and fear that we are not loved.  So we fight, and compete and argue based on principle. Or we send passive aggressive emails when we feel wronged.  Or we talk trash about someone who has hurt us.  All of which I have either done or considered doing in just in the past week alone, but none of which will ever fend off loss or convince me I am worth anything in the ways I think they will in the moment.

Which is where Jesus enters the story…annoyingly.

Jesus shows us that these strong at the expense of the weak, rich at the expense of the poor, good at the expense of the bad ways of being together debases everyone involved.  The bully is as dehumanized by bullying as the victim.

In our win-lose way of understanding things it would have made a lot more sense for Jesus to have come and be a superhero, kicking ass and taking names. Showing everyone how strong God is by winning at our game.

Instead, at the cross we see that Jesus came and showed us how strong God is by voluntarily losing at our game.

No wonder people kept yelling “save yourself!” If you are God, then have some self-respect. Because that’s what we would do. But that’s the thing about God.  God doesn’t seem nearly as interested in self-preservation as we are.  God isn’t self-preserving, God is, by nature, self-giving…not in the way that keeps abused women abused.  But in the way that loves the abused and the abuser. Which is to say, God is self-giving in ways that don’t seem to make a lot of sense to our ideas of win-lose, right-wrong, insider-outsider.

And that’s the reign of Christ.

He’d been trying to tell us this the whole time: by having a mom without status, and there being no room in the Inn for his birth, and by gathering around him, not a team of all-stars, but a motley crew of losers…He tried to teach us maddening things – things that destabilize our systems of trying to get-over on people by saying that the first shall be last and the last shall be first.  If you want to find your life then lose it. The greatest among you must become servants. If someone slaps you offer them the other cheek as well. If someone asks for your coat, give them your shirt too.  Why? Because like being right about everything… It doesn’t matter.  All of this losing can happen and we will still be ok.

None of this losing matters because the source of our worth, the source of our dignity, the source of our lovability does not lie in the – who is right who is wrong, who is good who is bad, who wins and who loses game. Our worth, dignity and lovability lies in Genesis 1:26 and our having been created in the image of God.

I think this imago dei, this image of God, creates in us a longing for what is real and beautiful and redemptive. And even as we are drawn to self-preservation and the game of winners and losers, there is something in us that always knows it’s all a lie.

I think this is why, despite the countless stories of revenge that could be told, that story from 2006 of the shooting at an Amish school continues to be told and continues to pull at that place inside all of us, the imago dei, reign of Christ, kingdom of heaven place that longs for the Gospel. On October 2, 2006, Charles Roberts walked into a one-room Amish school house and shot 10 young girls before taking his own life. The response of the Amish community was not one of self-preservation, saving themselves, revenge, or winning in any way.  The response was one of pure Gospel and this is why it is still told to this day. We recognize the real thing when we see it.

Amish community members affected by the shooting offered forgiveness.  They refused to hate. Instead they visited and comforted the shooter’s widow.  Reportedly, “one Amish man held the shooters sobbing father in his arms, for as long as an hour, to comfort him”[1].

I may feed my desire to be right, to get over on others, to make people who have harmed me pay for what they’ve done by narcotically consuming movies, TV shows and video games that indulge my revenge fantasies. But it’s an empty high and then I crash. But the reign of Christ is significantly quieter than a Jean Claude Van Dam movie.  Jesus of Nazareth kept saying the kingdom of God is like things that are hidden and small and easily missed. He also said that the kingdom of God is within you. Quiet, hidden, small, easily missed.  But unmistakably THERE. There within the image of God from which you were created, is the kingdom of heaven, wanting to be known, wanting to be expressed, wanting to be lived and absolutely lighting up when it hears the real thing. Within it is your beauty, your value, your dignity. And it has absolutely nothing to do with being right, or making your point, or saving yourself or winning or losing.

Catholic theologian James Alison puts it this way – he claims that at the cross it is as if God is saying to us:

“I’ll occupy that space of loserdom to show you that I’m not out to get you, that I really do like you. Then you need no longer engage in that awful business of making yourselves good over against, or by comparison with each other. Instead you can relax about being good, and as you relax you will find yourselves becoming something much better, much richer in humanity than you can possibly imagine.”[2]

And I have to believe that the Image of God within us, that source of our worth and dignity and lovability from where our longing for truth and beauty comes – is nourished and honored every time we come here and once again hear that we are loved like crazy by this crucified God who doesn’t mind losing…

This, brothers and sister, this is the reign of Christ.  It is within you. And the true source of your dignity, worth and lovability… and nothing else matters. Not really. So relax and find yourselves becoming something much richer in humanity than you can possibly imagine. Amen.


[2] James Alison, Jesus the Forgiving Victim; Listening for the Unheard Voice (Raven Foundation)

May 2, 2013

God Among The Maggots

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Yes you read the title correctly.  A few days ago at Daily Encouragement, Stephen Weber shared memories of driving the garbage truck on his Bible College campus. This is the second half of the article, you can read the whole piece at their site where it appeared at Stephen and Brooksyne’s site under the title For Such A Worm As I.

“How then can a mortal be righteous before God? How can one born of woman be pure? If even the moon is not bright and the stars are not pure in His eyes, how much less a mortal, who is but a maggot—a human being, who is only a worm!” (Job 25:4-6). “But I am a worm and not a man” (Psalm 22:6). “What a wretched man I am!” (Romans 7:24a).

Alas! and did my Savior bleed
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?

…I specifically recall emptying the dumpsters behind the cafeteria. As I can still vividly recall, especially during hotter weather, the dumpsters would have a lot of crawling maggots; tiny white worms that fed on the decaying food. It was a very unpleasant sight to say the least!

At that time I was pondering God’s love for the fallen race and considered what it would be like to send my precious child to live among the “maggots”. Well, like most illustrations, this one has some deficiencies but it sure has caused me to marvel in God’s far-reaching love. Some may find this particular illustration distasteful or offensive. But actually the Scripture uses this same imagery in our daily texts.

Bildad, one of Job’s friends, asks a question that is theologically sound in light of the rest of Scripture that teaches about our innermost need for God due to our sin nature: “How then can a mortal be righteous before God? How can one born of woman be pure? If even the moon is not bright and the stars are not pure in his eyes, how much less a mortal, who is but a maggot—a human being, who is only a worm!”

Isaac Watts likely had this verse in mind along with our second text when he wrote the personalized phrase, “such a worm as I”. In using this image he was illustrating a theological concept known as total depravity. This doctrine runs so contrary to the self-esteem emphasis of our generation but we do well to recognize the awful extent of sin and our only hope exists in God’s redemption through Christ.

Paul, in what many see as a description regarding his state without Christ, declares, “What a wretched man I am!” (Surely he’d be required to attend a class for positive self-imagery today.) But immediately following this he asks and answers his own question, “Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24b,25)

Matthew Henry commenting on Psalm 22, which is considered a Messianic Psalm writes, “What little reason has man to be proud, and what great reason to be humble! So weak and impotent, and so easily crushed, and therefore a very unequal match for Almighty God. Shall man be such a fool as to contend with his Maker, who can tread him to pieces more easily than we can a worm? … Let us therefore wonder at God’s condescension in taking such worms as we are into covenant and communion with Himself, especially at the condescension of the Son of God, in emptying Himself so far as to say, ‘I am a worm, and no man’.”

Although Isaac Watts ends the first stanza of his hymn with this question, “Would He devote that sacred head for such a worm as I?” the hymn goes on to declare that we have victory due to Christ’s reconciliation. In a refrain written nearly 200 years later, by Ralph E. Hudson in 1885, we exultantly sing the chorus:

At the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light,
And the burden of my heart rolled away,
It was there by faith I received my sight,
And now I am happy all the day!

December 17, 2010

Key to Understanding Incarnation: Christ’s Humility

Our Friday feature comes to us from Joshua Hawkins who serves in intercession ministry with International House of Prayer in Kansas City, where it appeared under the title, The Humility of God in the Incarnation.

Perhaps the humility of God in the incarnation is one of the most considered aspects of Advent and Christmas. How could One surrounded by perfection and beauty descend to the lowest place and be born in a filthy animal feeding trough? How could one so highly exalted stoop so low to be the Servant of all?

To rightly understand His humility in becoming a human, we must be informed biblically on where He dwelt and how He was worshiped before He took on flesh. Only with this backdrop are we rightly prepared to experience the potency of His emotions and desires that flooded His heart and caused Him to constrain Himself to the poverty of a human frame forever.

Before creation, the Son was dwelling together with the Father, daily His delight (Proverbs 8:30). He was perpetually adored by all the host of Heaven from the moment of their creation, never ceasing to be recognized for who He was and never ceasing to receive worship. He was the preeminent One, beautiful beyond comparison, so excellent in all His ways. He was one with Yahweh, the LORD. There was no one like Him in all of creation.

In the Incarnation, Jesus descended to the earth from His throne at the height of the heavens, and chose to be born through a young frightened maiden in an obscure town in Israel. Of course the act of the eternal Son of God being born demonstrates spectacular humility. The apostle Paul says that He “made Himself of no reputation” (Philippians 2:7). That Jesus would actually choose to be born instead of simply appearing on the scene in glory is astounding, and speaks of His burning heart of love for fallen humanity. Later on in His life, Jesus spoke of His humility in emptying Himself of reputation and giving everything for love:

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field…Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”
(Matthew 13:44-46 NKJV)

Though His humility can be considered in every moment of His life, few things exemplify the humility of Jesus in the Incarnation more than the circumstances surrounding His birth. We know the story well (and perhaps too well that the weight of what happened does not bear down upon us as it should). Mary and Joseph had not yet been married, but were betrothed to each other. Mary went to visit her older relative Elizabeth who was miraculously with child in her old age. After returning to Nazareth months later, she was showing signs of her pregnancy. Can you imagine what Joseph must have been feeling when she saw Mary’s belly? Soon, the news would fill the entire town – Mary had returned and was pregnant. Who was the father of Mary’s child? Was she unfaithful to Joseph during her stay outside of Nazareth? The rumors about her would most certainly be the talk of the town.

Jewish law typically required one to divorce an unfaithful wife, and that any woman found in indecency could be given a certificate of divorce (Deut. 24:1). The penalty was worse for a betrothed virgin – if she was found unfaithful, she would be stoned by the men of her city (Deut. 20:20-21). Joseph had considered the implications of “going public” and not accepting the child in Mary’s womb as his own, but because he was “righteous” (Matthew 1:19) he decided to “put her away quietly”.

The scriptures are silent on the social context in Nazareth before Jesus’ birth, but we can only imagine what it must have been like for the young betrothed couple, bearing the stigma from their friends and loved. Undoubtedly Mary’s reputation in Nazareth was tarnished as she lived under reproach and carried the Creator and Ruler of all in her young womb. It wasn’t until six months later that the couple departed for Bethlehem and Mary delivered her firstborn Son in the abode of sheep, horses, donkeys, and goats. By man’s standards, her first pregnancy was memorable but for all the wrong reasons. Remembering that angel told her she was “highly favored”, what must Mary have been thinking? Through the birth of Jesus, it’s clear that our modern Christian definition of “favor” and “blessing” is completely different from the Lord’s.

The circumstances leading up to our Lord’s birth are scandalous, and the trials did not stop after He was born. Herod had been informed of the sign of a King born in Bethlehem. Fearing political conquest by another King, Herod put to death all of the children in Bethlehem who were two years old and under. Not only did Jesus escape death by the power-hungry sword of Herod and have men seeking after His life from a young age, but He grew up bearing the stigma of a child conceived out of wedlock.

The remarkable aspect of His humility is revealed through these early moments of His life when we realize that Jesus, the Holy One, actually chose these circumstances to be born and raised in. It was not fate, mere chance, or bad luck that hindered the Creator of all from a more “normal” birth. Jesus could have come into the world in a king’s palace under perfect conditions, and He still would have been unspeakably humble to do so when considering who He was and where He came from. But He went lower still.

If every moment of the life of Jesus is revelatory concerning the heart of God, what does this say to us about His humility?

Pondering the life of Jesus as a minutes-old baby to a two-year old toddler has got to be one of the most enthralling things for one to do! Not only does it thrill our hearts with God’s personality, but it beckons us into His likeness. May the Lord grant you grace to behold Him in His humility today and the rest of this Advent and Christmas season.

Joshua Hawkins

December 15, 2010

What Does Spiritual Maturity Look Like?

The following are some very small excerpts from a much larger piece posted today at Christianity Today under the title Welcoming Limits.   If you have the time, I would urge you to read the entire piece by David L. Goetz, author of Death by Suburb (HarperOne) and the president of CZ Strategy, a marketing consulting firm in Wheaton, Illinois.

One of the more arcane theological concepts—the kenosis of Christ—has taken on new meaning for me as I walk through the valley of the shadow of midlife. Kenosis (“emptying”) is the theological attempt to explain what happened at Christmas, when God became a human in the person of Jesus. The word comes from the Greek for self-emptying, which Paul uses in a crucial passage in his letter to the Philippians: “Though [Christ] was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave ….” (2:6-7, NLT). What Christ volunteered to do models a different kind of spiritual growth as I involuntarily come to terms with the limits of my own story.

These accumulating “limits,” as Franciscan Richard Rohr has described them, enable me to grasp emotionally and actually what Christ experienced as a human. I have, of course, always been human. But I’ve experienced only a modicum of suffering, unlike my Christian brothers and sisters throughout much of the rest of the world. Suffering is not meted out evenhandedly in this life. In my darkest and most lonely moments, I can’t recall thinking much about the life to come. I don’t have to. I awaken most mornings with the naïve assurance that tomorrow will be better than today.

When God took the form of a human, he was confronted with our limits, though, granted, much different in degree and in kind from my petty psychological and physical ones. The cryptic expression that Christ “gave up his divine privileges” has raised numerous theological questions: Was Christ still all-knowing as he lived and suffered? Was he still knowingly and actually all-powerful, even as the whip tore up his back and as he hung on the cross?

Theologians have framed their debates in the context of Christ’s humility, a trait for which I have little imagination. Christ’s humility, though, is not like the demeanor of a passive lap dog. His humility originates in power, and that is an important starting point for someone like me, who has achieved a modicum of power and status in this life. His voluntary decision comprises both self-knowledge and self-restraint, modeling how I should submit to the limits of this life.

The ability to accurately assess how I’m doing spiritually doesn’t seem to come standard with the original equipment at conversion. I paid scant attention to this interior banter as a young man. I exhausted myself corralling the sins of the flesh (lust, ambition, and greed). I spent years absorbing all the information I could about the earthly expressions of faith: friendships, church, Bible study, mission trips, and other forms of Christian service—all important to establishing a beachhead on the shores of faith.

So much of my pursuit of God was conflated with my anxiety about significance…

These quotations are from pages two and three of a five page article.   I urge you to consider the whole piece and see if you resonate as I do with its insights.   Link here to read all of Welcoming Limits.