"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:14

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Humble Like Jesus

When you read short bios of now famous people, frequently you stumble upon the idea that the celebrity came from humble beginnings. In other words, the beginnings of their lives were not that impressive; no one would think twice about them. Nothing about their environment or heritage caught anyone's attention. Humble is like that...it does not say, "Hey, look at me!"

In Paul's letter to the Philippian church, he calls them to have the same attitude as Jesus, being grounded in his comforting love, tender compassion, and unified in spirit. Doing nothing out of vain conceit, they are, in humility, to consider others better than themselves. They are to look not only to their own interests, but also to the interest of others. (2:1-5)

The attitude of Christ is then described: being God, he did not cling to his status but "made himself nothing," that is, he emptied himself, taking the very nature of a servant in the form of a human:

And being found in appearance as a human, he humbled himself and became obedient to death--even death on a cross! (2:8)

The truth is, the life of Jesus sometimes flies in the face of what we consider a humble man. There, I said it. No disrespect intended, of course. The fact is, Jesus made some pretty astounding statements: No one comes to the Father except through me; I will return to judge the world; I am (God). He repeatedly put the religious authorities in their place, and spoke with an authority that would today be considered dogmatism. He knew who he was (is). Yet his humility is seen in his submission to God the Father, to fulfill his will (for our sakes), living a perfect life and sacrificing that life for us on the cross.

If we follow his example, if we have his attitude, we will find our identity in him. Far from putting ourselves down (as some understand humility), we will find and fulfill our unique role in the Kingdom, not to gain praise or approval of people, but as servants. Remembering that we are human (not gods), we will humble ourselves and become obedient to God. In losing our lives, we find them. And with our lives in him, we encounter the joy that comes from an eternal perspective--our small sacrifices are a blip on the radar screen of eternity.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Becoming Nothing

As far back as I can remember, parents and mentors have encouraged me to "make something of myself." It is one of those things people say without thinking through the implications.  Of course, the well-intended statement was supposed to challenge me to set some goals and achieve them. In so doing, it was implied, I would become "something" as opposed to "nothing." We all do it. I frequently ask kids questions like, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" How would we react if the person we are asking said, "Thanks for asking. When I grow up, I want to become nothing."

Having just exhorted us to have the same attitude as Christ, who was God in his nature, Paul elaborates on the attitude we are to imitate. In spite of his Godhood, Jesus made himself "nothing." Of course, this is meant to point to the status of God-Creator in comparison with man-servant-human. Jesus willingly stepped down from the throne of heaven to become a man, a servant in the likeness of a human being:

"Who (Jesus), being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness." Philippians 2:6-7

Interestingly, Paul repeats the phrase "very nature" to reflect the contrast of Jesus Christ being in very nature God...taking the very nature of a servant. This theological phenomenon is known as the kenosis of Christ, using the Greek word here translated "made himself nothing" and meaning, literally, to empty oneself. Like many other theological ideas, there are more questions than answers here about exactly what that might mean. Was Jesus then, as a human, only human? When he forgave sin and commanded the wind and waves, was he doing so as a man, as God, or as God-man? Interesting as these questions are, to follow their threads too far is to stray from the meaning and implications of what Paul is teaching us.

Apparently the Philippians, like the rest of us, were aware of status and social-climbing (or the religious version of it) and needed to be reminded to follow the example of Christ who slept in the fields, washed the disciple's feet, and obeyed the will of God the Father--all the way to the cross. In our very nature, we compare ourselves to others and compete to come out on top. We are driven to "make something of ourselves." We are saved by grace, adopted children of the King, indwelt by the very Spirit of God, yet we live as those who have something to prove, something to earn.

What if we took Paul's admonition to heart and imitated the attitude of Christ by "becoming nothing?" We all have a part in the Kingdom; each person has a role. It is people who assign more prestige to some parts than others. Apart from Christ, we are indeed nothing. United to Christ we can bear abnndant fruit, not because we are something, but because we branches are grafted into the Vine, Christ. What if we viewed the exercise of our gifts, whatever they are, as acts of a servant--a servant of the King and a servant of others for the sake of the Kingdom? There would certainly be less room for prideful or envious comparisons. Guess what, I am nothing, and so are you. Rather than competing to be gods (little "g") lets embrace our nothingness together, and be found in our very nature servants. It's what pleases the King and, ironically, it is in becoming nothing that we find our identity and our home in Him.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Christ's Very Nature

I can remember lazy summer afternoons lying on a blanket in the grass, gazing at clouds. Faces, animal shapes, castles and feathers emerged, morphed and vanished. In the 70's there was a popular song about the illusions of clouds. The theme of the song was the illusions of love and life. Things are rarely what they seem, from clouds to life to love. We only think we know them, but in fact we are acquainted with how they seem. The problem is, the illusions are ever-changing and we may not grow to understand them at all from personal experience, unless we look deeper into their nature.

Having just challenged the Philippians to cultivate the same attitude as Christ Jesus (literally, to be like-minded with him), Paul goes on to remind them of his nature:

Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped... (Philippians 2:6)

Like the clouds over the Sea of Galilee, Jesus appeared to be many things to those who saw him. But to those who truly came to know him, he was something else entirely "in his very nature." This is where the biblical version of Jesus differs from the perspectives of many in the world today. The Bible never describes Jesus as (merely) a good man, as a great moral teacher (only), or as a pallid monk. Bold in his words and actions, Jesus asserted about himself that he exists eternally, that he is the only way to the Father, that he and the Father are one and the same. New Testament writers say that he existed before creation as one and the same as God, that all things were created by him, that all things continue to be held together by him, and that he is coming back to judge the world. See  John 1:1-4; 14 and Colossians 2:9.. An ordinary man who made such claims would be a liar, a lunatic, or a devil from hell "(C.S Lewis).

Such a One, eternally existing, all knowing, all powerful, looked upon the world and the human race. He saw both as broken, lost and, unless he intervened, without hope. As Paul wrote elsewhere, this is how we know the love of God, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. His position on the throne as God (and as a mystery of the triune God, next to God the Father) was less important to him than redeeming everything, including you and me.

This realization carries powerful implications for us, in light of the command to have the same attitude. We like our rights and we love our positions. We want to hold onto what we have. If another gets credit for what we have done, we are offended. We see certain jobs or people as being beneath us. It might even be called the American Dream, to compete and win, to come out on top, and to get what is due us. Paul would say, "Wake up!" Jesus, who was really God, did not hold onto what was rightly his. He did whatever was needed to submit to God and to redeem people.

What if we really were like-minded with Jesus? How would this change the way we walk through our days? In what areas/relationships would we be willing to loosen our grip  for the sake of the gospel? Let's ask the Holy Spirit to show us and to empower us to act, as Jesus did, for the good pleasure of the Father.


Wednesday, January 9, 2013


Charles Swindoll is perhaps most quoted for his statements about attitude. At the end of the day, it is our one choice in everchanging circumstances, the one string upon which we play the melody and harmony of our lives. In this choice is the power to set in motion a domino affect of emotions and actions. Attitude (including our perceptions of things) influences feelings, reactions, responses and behaviors more than the situations we face (with a few notable and tragic exceptions). Even then, how we play the hand we are dealt defines us, not the hand itself.

So when Paul wrote to the Philippians, he knew he was going to lay a big expectation at their doorstep. Rather than diving in with both feet, he first reminded them of his love for them, his appreciation of their partnership with him, and his faith that God would complete them. He went on to anchor them anew in the encouragement, compassion, tenderness and unity of living together in Christ. Then he presented the big expectation:

Your attitude shoiuld be the same as that of Christ Jesus. Philippians 2:5

I have to admit that I am used to reading this verse. It no longer shocks me. I can't remember whether it ever did. Maybe in my youth, my understanding of the gap between my attitude and that of Christ was limited. But, as I take this passage phrase by phrase, allowing the Holy Spirit to carry the verses deep into my heart, I am painfully aware that to me, the command (more specifically the expectation) seems impossible to me now.

The beautiful section that follows is poetic in nature, generally believed to be a hymn to Christ in the early church. It is worth savoring, and I hope to do so in these posts in the weeks to come. Suffice it to say, at this juncture, the passage describes the self-sacrificial love of Jesus Christ, who willingly left the throne next to God the Father and came to dwell among us. His perfect life was then given on our behalf as he humbled and emptied himself in obedience to the Father. Because of this obedience on his part, and his willingness to do whatever was needed, ultimately all creation will bow before him.

Paul certainly was a man well acquainted with human nature. The letter to the Romans especially makes it clear that in our nature, we are fallen. Even when we know the right thing to do, we cannot (or do not) seem to do it consistently (Romans 7). So, I am surprised when he makes such sweeping statements as: put sin to death; love your wife as Christ loves the church; have the same attitude  as Jesus. Talk about your high expectations. Potentially, these commands are discouraging--who can do them?

Indeed we would find ourselves in a hopeless situation were it not for the persistent and patient work of God in us. It is he who will complete in us the good work he has started (1:6). As he does, we are to fix our eyes on the One we follow. If God the Son did not see himself as being too good to do anything and everything God asked of him for the benefit of people, who are we to do otherwise? This is a verse to aspire to. It lays before us the ideal of being transformed into the image of Jesus. As we aspire, let's check our attitudes frequently.

The attitude check might sound something like this:
Is my attitude right now like the self-sacrificial attitude of Christ?

And the appropriate response--
God help me to love you and others more fully, so that my attitudes and actions more closely resemble those of Jesus.


Thursday, January 3, 2013


Interest is a fascinating word, really.Bankers love the word, as it represents the amount of return they get for the services involved in loaning us other people's money.  If we are attentive to something, it us usually because we find it interesting. The degree of interest we have in the subject (or person) is usually in direct correlation to the attention we give it (or them). As humans, our tendency is to be interested in ourselves. It is because of this tendency that Paul had to exhort the Philippians to care about others, saying:

Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.Philippians 2:4

The wording seems to acknowledge that we will look to our own interests. There is no need for a commandment to do that. Nor does he command us not to look to our own interests. The command is that, as we do so, we need to look also to the interests of others.

The writer has carefully laid out the basis of all Christian motivation and actions: we are encouraged by our unity with Christ; we are receive comfort from his love, along with tenderness and compassion. Therefore, we are to make Paul's joy complete by being like-minded, having the  same love, being one in spirit an purpose. This will result in the absence of selfish motivations and vain conceit, and we will attend to the interests of others (just as we attend to our own). I am reminded of the second greatest command: Love your neighbor as yourself. The second part is less a command than an acknowledgement. It is the loving others part we needed a commandment for.

In your conversations with others, do you actually listen to the answers for the questions you ask. Do you find yourself eager to turn the conversation back to yourself? Does every story remind you of a story about yourself? These are hidden clues that we may be more self-centered than not. And it is time for a heart adjustment. As infants, we are the center of our own little worlds. As we mature, we realize (hopefully) that we share the world with millions of others. Our interests, our stories, are not the center of everything. In fact, we are to consider others as better than ourselves.

God is not asking us to do anything that he has not already done, and Paul is about to elaborate on the attitude of Jesus. It is through his eyes we are to see one another; it is with his heart we are to love one another...at any cost!

As we go about our days, as we engage with one another at home, in the workplace, on the street or in the church, let us look to the interests of others. His Holy Spirit within us wants to do so, but we will have to move our egos out of the way. Ironically, as we do so, we find our true fulfillment in the law of love.