"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, February 28, 2013

Something to Boast About

Boasting is everywhere. Last weekend, as Billy Crystal puts it, there was a huge gathering in Hollywood, where millionares gave one another gold statues. Hollywood is a rather easy target for conservative Christians, but what about the country music industry (indeed the Christian music industry), and even local artists (wherever you may be)? It is all to easy to fall into self congratulatory patterns. I am reminded of 1 Corinthians 13 which states, among other things, "love does not boast." Jesus' words, in contrast to  his currently politically correct repackaged image, were harsh on the matter: "How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?"(John 5:44) This kind of self-congratulatory praise is not in accordance with the love of God which is freely given, freely recieved and freely passed on to others. A self-oriented focus is an enemy of intimacy with God and others (even if the focus is negative).

All that being said, it may come as something of a surprise in Philippians 2 that Paul comes out and says that he longs to boast. After all, he is the same apostle who penned the words "love does not boast." As is often the case in Scripture, there is a time for everything...even boasting!

Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life--in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing. (Philippians 2:14-16)

Paul's labor, which he goes on to describe as an offering, was on their behalf and to the glory of Jesus. Yet, he is motivated to boast that these labors created lasting ripples for the Kingdom. As he states elsewhere, every soldier wants to please the one who enlisted him. He was enlisted by Christ on the road to Damascus. He longs to hear--well done, good and faithful servant, come enter into your reward.

I think it is safe to conclude that it is not a selfish thing to think in terms of eternal rewards. Whatever they are, they are tossed at the feet of Jesus anyway. But the words well done are ours to keep even as we remember it is God who works in us, both to desire and to do the good works he has prepared for us.

There is another aspect here that needs mention. Those who came before us and invested in us deserve our best--they count on us to do everything without arguing or complaining and to shine like stars holding out the word of life--so that their labors on our behalf will not be in vain. So much rides on our attitudes, and Paul focuses on the eternal ramifications of them here. Jesus will tell many "performers" to go away because he never knew them (there was no loving abiding relationship, only deeds). Here, Paul focuses on the heart of the matter: Christlike humility and love flowing through us for the benefit of others. As we serve others and see this heart duplicated in them, we definitely have something to boast about!

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.  3 John 1:4

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Shine Like Stars

I have always understood the label, "movie stars." It was created a couple of decades before I was born (go ahead, young ens, laugh). If you are ready to move on, here's the point. Hollywood invented the phrase to encourage worship of certain actors. If the public worshipped them, the reasoning went, they would be eager to gobble up each new movie in which the stars were featured. There were newsreels shown in the theatres before the features, and actors faces emerged from a dark background framed by stars. They were supposedly so far above the rest of people, and it was almost implied they were, ironically, heavenly.

When the apostle Paul talked about stars in his letter to the Philippians, he had something different in mind. Previous posts have laid out the outline of the letter so far (with tedious repetition). We gather that Paul's affection for the Philippians is deep, and that they have shared the ministry of the gospel together. He has exhorted them to adopt the same attitude as Jesus Christ, reminding them that one day every knee will bow before him. The fear and trembling produced by this inevitability should bring about a desire to work out (not for) their salvation. Now he specifically spells out how they are to do this:

Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life--

Certainly there is value in scripture memorization and even in posting verses online, but this passage, more than most, points to the importance of context. How often different verses are quoted from Philippians 2, and because they are out of context, we take them to mean one thing while context points to another. Working out our salvation is done in fear and trembling as we kneel before Jesus, and it looks like this: we do not complain or argue as we hold out the word of life. In so doing, we shine like stars in contrast to the crooked culture that surrounds us. Stop and think, have you ever heard the "fear and trembling" verse connected so directly to not arguing or complaining?

When I think of forgiveness or resisting the temptation to sit in judgment inappropriately (there is a time to judge and a time to let it go: 1 Cor. 5:12), I have often picture just this: I am on my knees before the throne of Christ alongside my offending brother. My brother and I are both in need of grace. Christ will judge, not me. There is freedom in remembering that he is God and that I am not.

Paul, somewhat surprisingly, points to the lack of arguments and complaints as evidence that our salvation is genuine. He further states that it will set us in clear contrast to the unbelievers around us. I am reminded of Jesus' prayer on the night of his betrayal that his followers would be one as he and the Father are one, and that the world will know that they are his followers by their love. (John 17:20-23)

And there is the challenge. It was Paul's measuring stick of true conversion and Jesus' dying wish. Let's be so focused on our true purpose here (to hold out the word of life) that nothing else is worth arguing or complaining about. Ask the Holy Spirit to make it so in your hearts and lives. And shine like stars.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

"Milestones" Makes the News

Check out the growing list of national and international news sources that are carrying the press release for "Milestones: On the Road Home." And a couple just for grins...

My author website has an incomplete listing on the "Press" page http://warnersteve.wordpress.com/press-release/

Scroll down on the "Press" page to see the listing (and visit a few).

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Fear and Trembling?

Many of my dreams carry a theme of frustration. In the dreams I am at a music camp or at college or about to deliver a message at a local church. Something comes up and I realize I need to go find a necessary item: my instrument, my notebooks, or sermon notes. As I backtrack, I hit one new complication or detour after another. The flow of what I thought would happen and when is interrupted. I hit unexpected turns in the road to progress.

While I am sure that the Apostle Paul was deliberate in his approach to his letters, when he wrote to the Philippian church, his message seems to take an unexpected turn. He has declared his deep affection and appreciation for the Phlippians; he has expressed his faith that God will complete in them the work he has started; he has reminded them of all they have in Christ (comfort, compassion, tenderness, and love); he has challenged them to have the same humble, self-abasing attitude as Jesus (who stepped down from the throne of heaven to sacrifice his life for us). He points to the ultimate sovereignty of Christ...every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Then, an unexpected turn of phrase. Seemingly out of the blue (and in apparent contrast to most of what Paul writes about the gospel) he encourages them to "work out their salvation with fear and trembling." It is enough to cause the attentive reader to stop in his tracks. The full verse reads:

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

In his typical style, Paul delivers the difficult news in a love sandwich. He addresses them as his dear friends. This, no doubt, reminded them of his earlier terms of endearment and of their history as partners for the gospel of Christ. He asks them to do as they should all the more when he is not there. This makes me think of "company manners" that some families adopt when an admired person visits. When the guest leaves, they resort to the cruder, ruder behavior that is their true norm. He admonishes them not  only to act the same in his absence, but to step it up in terms of their treatment of one another.

Paul does say they are to work out their salvation in fear and trembling; he does not say they are to work for their salvation. This is an extremely important distinction. Elsewhere in his writings he is very strong in his emphasis that salvation cannot be earned, that to attempt to earn salvation is to "fall from grace," and that those who bring such a different gospel are to be accursed. So, this absolutely cannot refer to works salvation. But it can refer to salvation works. That is, true salvation shows. We are to remember that we are saved by grace through the sacrifice of Christ, and we are to kneel, side by side at his throne. He alone is Lord. In his presence the appropriate response is the realization of his holiness and our fallenness--fear and trembling at the thought of being in the very presence of God. This stands in stark contrast to the prideful, self-centered approach the Philippians were taking in in their treament of one another their church.

Context is everything, especially in understanding difficult phrases. Earlier, Paul stated his confidence that God will complete in them the good things he has started. Now he concludes his exhortation by reminding them it is God who works in them, both to will (desire) and to do (act). I am increasingly conviced that the Christian life is not a series of increasingly difficult hurdles we have to clear in our own strength. Rather, it is learning the skill of submission: submission to Christ as Lord of all, submission to the will of the Father (in following the example of Jesus), and in submission to the Spirit who works within us. As we kneel before the throne of God in fear and trembling, we recognize his holiness and our need. Pride evaporates as we recognize who is God and who is not.


Thursday, February 7, 2013


Yesterday I saw a moving video and posted it on my facebook wall. It is the true story of two young brothers. The youngest has CP, and the parents were apparently told to institutionalize him. His prognosis at birth was that he would be bedridden and non-responsive. His big brother had a better idea, taking him along for the ride on kids races. Older brother's motivation was just to see little brother smile. And he did...a lot! When the media got ahold of this, it went all the way to Sports Illustrated as a cover story, and the brother's were named Sports Kids of the Year. Big brother's serving attitude was amazing. Essentially carrying the equivalent of his own weight in a cart behind the bicycle, big brother willingly came in last for his younger brother. Therefore, he was exalted, and younger brother too.

The apostle Paul reminded the Philippians of a similar story. Jesus, existing as God, left his lofty position to dwell among us as a man. Appearing as a human, he emptied himself and humbled himself in obedience to the will of the Father for our sakes. Now comes his "therefore":

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

Jesus first appearance here on earth was as a servant. He came to seek and save the lost. He had no home, much less a palace. The "hosannas" he did hear were short-lived, followed within days by intense cries of "crucify him!" His life and ministry, apparent failures, lead to a martyr's death. And then, in the throws of blinding grief, a discovery--the empty tomb.

Beyond the triumphant resurrection from the grave, the best is yet to come. As Paul puts it, the end of the story will be the worship of everyone on earth, in heaven and "under the earth." For our purposes, this "vision" should bring us great hope and joy.

But there is another message here. The passage is so familiar we might miss it. There is only One exalted above every name. There is only one Name to which every knee will bow. There is only one Lord.

Some day, every knee will bow to him. For those of us who know him, why wait? Give him the worship he deserves. Move off the throne of your heart any and all (things, concerns and people) who compete with him there. There is room for only One. Wash his feet with your tears...he will turn them to peace and never-ending joy!

Then I turned and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne...In a loud voice they sang:

"Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!" Rev. 5:11-12