Emptied

pexel pourIn Philippians 2 we find a somewhat well-known passage that is often referred to as the kenosis passage, referring to the Greek word for “emptied” that is used in verse 7.   It is an important Christological passage that reveals a lot to us about who Christ is, although it also opens up a lot of theological questions about what it all means.

One thing we find out from this passage is that Jesus’ existence did not begin with his birth in Bethlehem.  He was with God before coming to earth as a baby.  And not only was he with God, but this passage points out that he was equal with God and shared the same nature.  In other words we find out that Christ and God are one.  We also find out that rather than holding on to that equality with God, he chose to humble himself, leaving heaven to come to earth as a servant for us.

This is a deep theological issue that is very difficult to understand.  Biblical scholars have spent a lot of time and a lot of words diving down deep into the Christological ramifications of these verses.

However, because it is so theologically significant, when we look at this passage, we tend to focus so much on the theological underpinnings that we sometimes miss an important point that Paul is making.  He is not just teaching us doctrine.  He is actually making a practical point.

First of all it is important to understand that what Christ did in leaving heaven and coming to earth for us is a big deal and that he did it in humility and servanthood out of love for us.

With that in mind, notice the beginning of verse 5: 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus

Paul is saying that this example that we see in Jesus, leaving his lofty position and humbling himself to the position of a servant for us is the same kind of attitude we should have.

Actually, if we look at the verses leading up to the kenosis passage we find that Paul is talking about our relationships with one another.  He is talking about how we are supposed to take our eyes off of ourselves and start living for the good of one another.  Instead of my job to be to take care of myself, it is my job to look after your interests.  My role is to be your servant, just like Jesus showed me.

He is not saying that we are to have a low self-image or to think poorly of ourselves.  He is talking about putting others needs ahead of our own and being others-focused rather than self-centered.

When we consider the surrounding verses, we recognize that the kenosis passage is still theologically significant; but, it is also extremely practical.  Paul is teaching us about how we are to live with the kind of humility and servanthood that Christ exemplified to us.

Instead of each of us looking out for ourselves, what if we all looked out for one another and served one another in true humility?  That sounds like the kind of community that I would like to be a part of.  How about you?

Discerning the Body

pexel churchWhen we partake in communion at The River, I typically quote these words from I Corinthians 11: 23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.  (I Corinthians 11:23-26)

Just about every time we partake in communion at The River I use those verses before we partake of the bread and the cup.  But rarely do we ever look at those verses in context.  When we examine the context of the passage as a whole we find that Paul is confronting the church in Corinth about a problem with the way that they come together for communion.  In the early church coming together for communion involved a whole meal called the Agape or Love Meal.  This was probably somewhat similar to what we do with potlucks today.  The problem with the Corinthian church was that when they came together it seems like the food was being divided unequally with the rich getting plenty to eat and drink while the poor were going away hungry.  This implies that the rich were so focused on themselves that they were missing the needs of others in the church.

Considering this overall context there is a phrase that we find a couple of verses later that I believe is often overlooked and yet very important.  A friend of mine, Dr. David Fitch, first pointed this phrase out to me in a lecture at a pastor’s conference.  We find the phrase in verse 29: For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.  (I Cor. 11:29, ESV)

The phrase is “discerning the body.”  Now that is a bit of a strange statement.  I think typically we tend to just lump this verse in with the two verses before it which talk about examining ourselves and not eating and drinking in an unworthy manner.  Those verses are important, but think about the context of this passage as a whole.  Paul is spending a lot of his time dealing specifically with the issue of the way that when they got together some were getting fed and some were going hungry.    And in the midst of that, we find this verse.

It is also important to note that in the both the chapter before this and the chapter following this one Paul talks about how the church is a body.  We are the body of Christ.   God has brought us together and made us a church family.  We have a role to play in one another’s lives, to encourage one another, challenge one another, carry one another’s burdens, hold one another accountable, disciple one another, and also to just make sure that we are all doing okay.

I believe that in this passage Paul is talking about how important it is for us to discern the church.  Do we know how each other is doing right now?  Are we so focused on ourselves that we are missing the needs of those around us?  Do we know the specific needs that others might have?  Do we care about those needs?  And if people are hurting or needing help, are we doing our best to come alongside one another and help out in whatever ways we can?  We may not have the resources to meet every need, but maybe we can do something.  That is what it means to be a body.  That is what it looks like to be the family God has called us to be.  That is what it means to “be the church.”  #bethechurch

 

Response to Waiting for Eagle’s Wings Post

pexel eagle1After the worship service last Sunday when I preached from Isaiah 40 on Waiting for Eagle’s Wings (see earlier post), I was approached by a woman from our congregation.  She told me that she had written a song that fit incredibly well with what I had preached that morning.  She then sang that song for me.  I was amazed at how well it expressed what I had been talking about in the sermon.  It says in I Corinthians 14:26, “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.”  (ESV).  I believe this is something that she had to share with us, so I have asked her permission to post this song on our website.  Here is her song:

 

Lord I Need You

Rebecca Heerdt

 

Lord I need you,

I’m broken and worn down.

The battle is so hard Lord,

Can’t do it on my own.

 

Here I stand,

Worn and weak,

Waiting on You, Lord,

Your strength I need.

 

To run and not grow weary,

To walk and not faint.

To rise up with wings like an eagle.

Lord renew me again.

 

Here I stand,

Quiet and still.

Waiting on You, Lord.

I seek Your will.

 

Here I stand,

Waiting for You,

Here I stand,

I’m waiting on You.

 

Thanks for sharing that Rebecca!

Waiting for Eagle’s Wings

pexel eagle2One of my favorite passages in the Bible is Isaiah 40:27-31: 27 Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God”? 28 Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. 29 He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. 30 Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; 31 but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;  they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

I believe that we all wrestle with the kinds of questions we see in verse 27.  We all have times in our lives where we wonder if God sees what we are going through or if he does see us we wonder why he isn’t stepping in to fix things.

Verse 28 reminds us that God is the Creator and that he is all-powerful and all-knowing.  We know that to be true, but in the midst of tough times in our lives it is hard to not have questions about why God does not seem to be saving us from the trouble we are facing.

Verses 29-30 go on to remind us that God is in the business of giving strength to the weary and that it is normal for us to be weary at times.  We are all going to face times where our strength is waning physically, spiritually and emotionally.

And all of that leads us to verse 31, which is an often used verse that gives us the image of God swooping in like an eagle to carry us away from the trouble we are facing.  At least that is what I used to think it was talking about.  However, after closer examination it seems like the point of this passage is not God saving me from the tough things in life, but rather renewing my strength and helping me to grow in the midst of my struggles.

Notice that verse 31 does not say that we will be carried away on eagle’s wings, but rather that we will mount up with wings like eagles.  It seems to indicate more along the lines of the wings being developed in us.  That also fits with the focus on the Lord renewing our strength so that we can continue to walk and to run even though we are weary.

I think one of the most important words in this passage is the word “Wait.”  I believe that waiting implies an expectation that someone is going to show up.  Like when I am waiting for a friend, I am waiting because I am expecting that friend to show up.  If I didn’t expect him to show up, I would not be waiting for him.  Waiting on the Lord implies that we are expecting him to show up.  But I think often in the midst of my troubles I don’t really have the expectation that God is going to show up.  Or if I do expect him to show up my expectation is that he is going to deliver me from the tough stuff that I am going through.  But that is not what I see in these verses.

This passage is saying that in the midst of tough times I should wait in expectation for the Lord to show up and renew my strength and to help me continue to walk through what I am facing and in the midst of it even to grow in such a way that I will be better able to handle all that I am going to face in this life.

Upcycling

pexel upcycledHave you ever heard of upcycling?  It is basically the practice of taking something old and making something new from it.  Like this example from pulptastic.com of an old TV console that was transformed into a new aquarium.

In 2 Corinthians 5:17 we find a verse that seems to indicate that God has done some kind of upcycling in our lives.  In that verse Paul writes these words, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come.”

That is a well-known verse, but it is typically used without any reference to the context of the rest of the passage, even though it begins with the word, “therefore.”

When we put the verse back into the context we begin to see that Paul is talking about how in Christ we are no longer to look at ourselves or those around us the way we did before.  God is calling us to take the message of reconciliation that we have received and share that with others.

Take a look at verses 18-20: 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling[c] the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.  20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

I love this image that Paul gives us about how we are to view our lives.  We are supposed to look at ourselves as ambassadors.  An ambassador is someone who is sent from one country to another.  That involves living among those he has been sent to, getting to know them, their language and their culture, building relationships, but always recognizing that they are there to be used by the one who sent them.  What a powerful way to view ourselves.  As ambassadors to this world, living our lives on a mission for God.

That puts a different spin on verse 17.  In his old life Paul was an enemy of God, but God stepped in and did more than just a little upcycling.  He reconciled Paul to himself, transformed him into a new creation and gave him a role as his ambassador.  And God has done the same with is.  It is time for us to grab hold of this mission God has given us.  To realize that we are not who we used to be and to start living like his ambassadors to a world that desperately needs his message of reconciliation.

 

Zombies, Vampires, Ghosts and Mummies

When I was growing up the term “Zombie” didn’t refer to a flesh-eating corpse, it referred to someone who was kind of zoned out.  Like someone who was really tired, or lazy, or just kind of out of it.  For instance our basketball coach might have said, “Quit acting like a bunch of zombies and get out there and score some points.”

But that is not what people are talking about when they mention zombies now.  Zombies are kind of a big deal in our society today.  Personally, I don’t really understand the appeal, but between video games, movies, books and television shows, zombies are all over the place.  Fictionally speaking of course.

I guess our society has always had a bit of a fascination with things like zombies, vampires, ghosts and mummies.  Back when I was growing up, the Ghostbusters movies were a big hit.  And before I was born, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney, and Boris Karloff made careers out of playing creepy surreal characters like Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Wolfman, and the Phantom of the Opera.

But we don’t need to turn to the movies or television to find a story about a corpse coming back to life.  Actually, the Bible contains for us some of the most incredible, unexplainable, larger-than-life stories we could ever imagine.

For instance, this Sunday at The River we will be taking a look at the story of Jesus raising a man from the dead.  When I picture this story, I actually picture the kind of scene we might see in one of those mummy movies, where the mummy comes walking out of the tomb all stiff and restricted because of the burial cloths.  But this story is not just something we might see on a movie screen, it’s real.  You can read about it in the Bible (John 11).  And come on out to The River this Sunday to find out more about this amazing story.

Caller ID

Caller ID is a very interesting part of our society.  I would imagine that Alexander Graham Bell probably never would have guessed that the telephone would eventually become so prevalent that people would have a service that would allow them to see who is calling so that they could decide whether or not they actually wanted to answer.  We see this all the time when we are out and about and someone gets a call on their cell phone.  The first thing they do is to look at the screen to see who the caller is, so that they can decide whether or not they want to take the call.

Caller ID is a nice feature, but when you are on the other side of the phone call, wanting to have the person answer, it can be very frustrating.  No matter how badly you need to talk to the person, it is up to them to pick up the phone.  And you can just envision the person on the other line, looking at the screen, seeing your number, and saying, “I’ll just let that go to voicemail.”

Caller ID is a convenient feature, but it has allowed us to pick and choose who we will allow to have access to us and gain our attention.  The question I want to ask is, do we ever do this with God?  Do we hear Him calling us, and yet just ignore Him, because it is an inconvenient time or because we are scared of what He might say, or because we just don’t want to focus on what He wants to talk about right now?

I think we do use a little Caller ID to help us ignore God at times.  And that is not a good thing.  God has the right to interrupt our lives whenever He wants.  He is our Creator, our Father, our Lord.  When He calls, we should be ready to stop whatever we are doing and listen to Him

This Sunday, we are going to take a look at a man that God took the time to talk to.  His name was Moses and God called him to a very special task.  I invite you to join us this Sunday for a look at Moses and the Burning Bush from Exodus 3.   And then we are going to ask ourselves some questions that will help us be ready for when God wants to call us.  Hope you can make it.

Sin City

Several years ago, when my wife and I were first married, I surprised her with a trip for Valentine’s Day.  I wanted to take her away for a long weekend vacation and found that I could book a trip to Las Vegas for very cheap.  The airfare was only about $75/person round trip.  I booked us in a great room at a large hotel on the Vegas Strip for less than the regular cost of a Holiday Inn.  Meals were cheap and a lot of the entertainment was either low cost or free.

The reason everything was so affordable was because the casino owners were doing everything they could to get you to come to their casino.  That was where they made their money.  Fortunately, Julie and I are not gamblers, so we were not enticed by the fancy slot machines, card tables, and roulette wheels.  Instead we hung out at the pool, took walks on the strip, and enjoyed the sites and sounds of Las Vegas.

Overall, it was a good vacation, but by the end of our time I was tired of the constant bombardment of temptation.  Wherever we went we were accosted by people who were trying to tempt us to gamble away our money, drink away our problems, or give into our lustful desires.  The streets are literally littered with smut peddlers who hand out pamphlets for escort services and other adult entertainment.

Las Vegas has sometimes been referred to as Sin City, or even as a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah.  I have to admit, I can understand the comparison.  For those who wish to fulfill their whims and desires, just about everything is available in Las Vegas.  But while it is a city that provides a lot of opportunity for carnal pleasure, when I compare it to the Biblical account of Sodom and Gomorrah, I think Las Vegas doesn’t look so bad.

Genesis 13:13 says that the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord.  And later on in Genesis 19 we see that God wipes the city off the face of the map with burning sulfur.  The fact that God would actually destroy the cities because of their wickedness must cause us to take notice.  There have been some pretty bad places throughout the course of history and yet, for some reason God chose to make an example out of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Kind of makes you wonder just how bad Sodom must have been, doesn’t it?

If you have never read the account of Sodom and Gomorrah, you may want to check it out in Scripture.  You will find it in Genesis 18 and 19.  However, if you have never read it, I will warn you that it is a bit of a disturbing story. It gives us a glimpse into the depravity of man and provides a powerful warning of judgment for sin.  But what can we learn from this tale of 2 cities?  What can we apply to our lives from what we read in those pages?  Those are good questions.  And that is exactly what Pastor Rob will be addressing this Sunday at The River.  Come on out and join us as we ask the question, “so what can I learn from this amazing story?”

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