Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Philippians 2:18-30; Honored Servants

The text talks about honoring those who serve well in the name of Jesus. In my life, there have been people that definitely have served well and deserve honor.

I think of Wilfredo in San Felix, Venezuela. I do not know anyone more gentle and humble than him. He has shown me how to turn away wrath with a gentle answer. He has lived out his faith even at gunpoint. When others failed to keep their promises, he has kept his even when it cost him greatly on a personal basis.

I think of Ronald in San Jose, Costa Rica. It would be hard for me to think of anyone who has dedicated themselves to the work of the Lord more than Ronald. He is a tireless servant whose intensity of compassion has touched the lives of everyone around him. Anyone that meets him soon respects him.

I also think of Wendell Broom. His gentleness and depth of joy impress me. I can honestly say that I know of no one who will finish life more robustly and joyfully than Wendell.

My hope and prayer is to live so that one day someone writes my name in a list of people they believe worthy of honor.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Philippians 2:5-17; Work out

Jesus went from being set apart as God to being a murdered human servant. So when the text calls me to "work out" my salvation, it calls me to a lot of work. To follow in those footsteps repeating that pattern is an intimidating call. Everything within me wants to leave the words as "good theory" and then play a nice church game. Daily self abasement without complaining is a high calling.

The prayer of "not my will but yours be done" is easily stated but not easily lived. It is a heartfelt decision that must proceed daily from time alone. Jesus uttered those words in private as he grappled with his own desires. Unless I put myself in the same position, my prayer will simply be words spoken out of a sense of duty but with no heart conviction. It was this prayer that permitted him to fulfill his purpose though no one understood it in the moment.

Can I utter this same prayer with the same conviction and carry it out with no complaints like he did? If not, do I have the right to call myself his follower?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Philippians 2:1-4; Self or Not

I work in a Christian university where it seems that we live and promote a paradox. We teach courses on persuasion and brag about successful graduates where success is defined by position and status. We never have a chapel speaker that is a construction worker or day laborer who is held up for his unselfish life. Our publications on the web look like those of other UnChristian universities. We often are more inclined towards the word "university" than the word "Christian."

Yet I have to ask if I am any different. I struggle to look beyond the superficial, i.e., the looks, the finances, the pretense. I have been programmed to admire achievement, to praise someone for "pulling herself up", to smile about success. So the real issue here is my belief. Do I believe that the way I should be programmed by God is better than the programming I receive from society? Do I believe that a life without selfishness will be worth living? Can I be successful without self-promotion? Can I substitute other-promotion for self-promotion? Can I bring myself to believe that I will be as fulfilled and happy by service as by being served? Do I believe Jesus knew what he was talking about when he called me to serve rather than be served? Or will I just keep mindlessly living the American dream while professing different norms?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Philippians 1:27-30; Live Worthy

Be united. Be fearless. Suffer well. As North American Christians, I think we fail in all three areas.

The Barna groups says that statistically there is no difference in Christian and UnCristian behavior in most areas. Forget what we teach with words; what are we teaching with actions? If we do not live counter culturally without fear, our actions scream a message of unbelief in the gospel. If I am not living united, fearless and suffering, would Paul recognize me as Christian? Do my friends and neighbors? Do I have a right to claim the name Christian if Jesus in me comes out as divisive, scared and status quo? Do I truly believe that the spiritual message conveyed in the gospel of Jesus is more reality than what I see with my eyes?

It is always easy to point the finger at establishments and lament their shortcomings. Yet that is also divisive and UnChristian. Today, rather than point fingers, may I focus on the gospel as communicated by my actions.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Philippians 1:20-26; Meaning

Singleness of purpose; that's what I hear in this passage. In life or in death, there is only one purpose, i.e., to live for the glory of God. That might mean to live directly in his presence or to enhance the image of the glory of God in others. Yet it is all focused on the glory of God.

"If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean . . ." For most of us it means to go on working and seeking entertainment through some form of self-gratification. It means acting just like everyone else who has no clue regarding what life is really about. It should mean that thousands of us make decisions that look really strange to those around us. It should mean that we distinguish ourselves from everyone else by service to them. It should mean more time to be more different than the rest of society.

One of the great driving motivators in this has to be that death is not death but rather a transition to the presence of God. On the Mt of Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah talked with Jesus about his "departure". In John 13, Jesus knew he was about "to leave". Here Paul talks of departing and even qualifies living as "in the body" since a follower of Christ never really dies.

So why not be different? Why not live as one who is in on the big secret (the mystery as Paul calls it) while others don't know what the game of life is about. Life is never-ending and should forever have the same focus, i.e., to live for the glory of God.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Philippians 1:1-19; Shema today

Love and knowledge. They often seem to be two ends of a spectrum. We have churches, movements or leaders that are known for one or the other. We seem wired from birth to gravitate towards one end or the other. Yet when Paul talks about bearing fruit, he says it comes from love that overflows with knowledge and insight.

Then he tells his story of being in prison for the gospel and watching others with impure motives preach openly to make money. I wonder how I would feel in those circumstances. Would I so long to be with those I love that I would turn inward with self pity? Would I be so angry with those who make a profit from preaching truth with impure motives that I become bitter? What would happen to my heart and my head?

His response was to rejoice that God was using even lesser people for good. Only by combining knowledge and love does one get to that point. He could understand God at work and he could feel joy in his heart for it despite his circumstances. Paul's heart and head were united. It is the core concept of spiritual transformation. It is the Shema of Deuteronomy; the most important commandment to Jesus. "Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts." Commandments in hearts, not heads. It seems ironic to say it that way. It seems to be a corrective to our natural tendencies to gravitate to one end of the spectrum of love and knowledge.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Romans 16:20-27; Obedience of faith

The book begins and ends with the same concept, i.e., obedience of faith. Chapter 1:5 and 16:26 both have the phrase. All the rest has been commentary. This is the goal of the message, that is, to move us to obedience of faith.

My mind instantly shifted that to say "faithful obedience" but maybe that is not the same. Faithful obedience seems to feel like "sticking it out and always being obedient no matter what happens". Yet obedience of faith seems to strike me more as obedience that flows from faith. Rather than gritting it out in obedience, it seems we have been given revelation that inspires a belief that is compelling enough to move us to action. Obedience flows from faith. Rather than focusing on obedience, the focus is on faith which is simply manifest in obedience.

Somehow we seem to do well at obedience because its "right" and faith which has no actions. I sometimes wonder if the early followers of Jesus would recognize us by our lives or not.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Romans 16:1-19; Greetings

I hung up the phone last night after talking to my friend in Venezuela and made sure I said goodbye in an appropriate Venezuelan way. Not only did I say "goodbye" in three different ways but I also sent "saludos" (greetings) to each of the other family members. To not have done so would have demonstrated my self interest and lack of concern for others. When reading the first of chapter 16, it sounds exactly the same.

Then Paul throws a "curve ball". He reminds them that not everyone is really after their friendship; they need to be wise about who they give their hearts to. What a difficult balance. Be loving and be wise. Build genuine authentic relationships but be wise in who you do it with. Keep your guard up a litle but once someone passes the test, love them deeply.

Maybe today I'll take a relationship inventory. Have I chosen wisely? Have I developed deep bonds? Who are my "garden friends" that I can count on during "garden of Gethsemane" type moments?

In Venezuela (and many other Latin American countries) we say "Dime con quien andas, y te diré quien eres" (Tell me who you walk with and I'll tell you who your are). I think Paul would have liked that saying.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Romans 15:17-33; No more work

What an amazing thought. Paul said there was no more place for him to work in that region where he was. He had visited all the town and cities to make sure the gospel had been spread.

I wonder how many of us today could even say "there is no more place for me to work" in my neighborhood. Or maybe on my job. Surely it would be a stretch to say the same about our city or region.

Why such a difference? When did Christianity become so private in our culture? When did we decided Jesus came for me but not for you? After all, that is what we communicate when we don't share him. Sometime in our history Jesus moved from being the Savior of the world to being my personal Savior. It makes life easier for us but I have to think it also guts life of purpose and passion. At the same time, surely it frustrates Jesus to watch us. . . at least that was his message to Jonah, i.e., he is concerned about a lot more people than me.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Romans 15:14-16; Offering

Paul worked to present people as an offering acceptable to God. In Numbers 8, the entire Levite tribe was presented to God as a wave offering. They were then allowed to perform the duties of priests in the tabernacle, working for God in his presence.

Often our fellowship has proclaimed that we hold to the concept of a "priesthood of all believers". Yet practice and proclamation don't seem to meet. What would a church look like where each person saw himself / herself as commissioned to work for God in his presence on a daily basis.

All of life would be an act of service. Everything would become holy because every action would be performed for God. Life would have purpose.

So why do so many Christians act like so many UnChristians? Why do I meet so many Christians who are still seeking a purpose? I wonder how odd the church today would look to Paul if he were transported in time to see us now? A priesthood that has forgotten its purpose.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Romans 15:7-13; Acceptance

In few words, Jesus gave his entire life -- not just the passion week -- to bring praise to God by uniting people. He accepted those that most did not. He reached out to Jews and Gentiles alike, though his focus was service to the Jews. By his efforts, he gave hope to everyone.

So when my life is over, what will people say about me? How will they judge the use of my time? Will people unlike me be grateful that I lived? Will those who do not look, think or act like me be praise God for what I have done?

If Jesus spent his life tearing down walls and accepting people, why should my focus be any different?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Romans 15:1-6; Others

To bear the pain of another, to feel insulted whenever another is put down and to do everything possible to build the other up, these are what the text calls living like Christ. It is all about living in relationship with the image of God in others. What can I do to enhance the image in others? How do I take away some of the pain others feel that is covering up that image?

That really does not sound much like some of the superficial arguments presented from pulpits these days. Nor does it look like what society thinks of Christians. Petty arguments and judgmental attitudes are quite out of place here. Regardless of what is correct or not in an argument, the very fact that an argument exists demonstrates a lack of living out the goal set forth in the text. That is not to say that error should be tolerated and sin permitted. Rather it has everything to do with the attitude, manner and motivation for treating it.

Oh how simple and yet how hard to live out our calling.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Romans 14 Seeking HIgh Roads

Disputable matters. I guess they have always existed and will always exist. Often we think of how great it would have been to have lived in the first centuries when Christianity was unadulterated; however, I think that is a false assumption. Disputable matters were already present.

Their matters were more connected to their identity than ours. Often today these are issues of worship for which we do not have specific ancient instruction; their matters, on the other hand, came from direct commands of the Torah. Surely they had more emotion connected with their opinions than we do.

Paul's call to them was not a call to uniformity but rather to higher ground. It was a call to do everything in faith, have mature beliefs, seek mutual edification and live out the kingdom of God. No matter what that looks like today surely it will not be anymore uniform than what they experienced. Uniformity is not synonymous with unity.

All of life is about reflecting the image of God. Since we are all shaped differently by different backgrounds and origins, diversity that is united will better reflect the amplitude of the creator than will uniformity. No room here for judging and bickering; only room for uniting behind a common purpose.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Romans 13:8-14; Focus

Its all about focus. If you focus upon details, you lose the big picture. If you focus on details, you lose sight of what the end product is supposed to be. How often do we teach on the details but forget to teach on the big picture.

Love is the goal and the journey. All the commandments give love shape and direction. However, focusing on the detailed commandments has a subtle way of focusing us upon the negative. If I spend all day focused upon not lusting, still the only thing on my mind is lust. If I spend all day focused upon not reacting in anger, my first thought is going to be anger. So the little line at the end of this section that says "do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature" is quite profound. Instead of meditating on or questioning where the line is and how far can I go, the concept is to question how close to the heart of God can I live? If the focus is upon loving others who have the image of God rather than "thou shalt not", the result will have to be quite different, the result surely will be more positive and loving.

It is such a simple concept that it sounds almost ridiculous. Yet, living in a ridiculous way sounds a lot like Jesus.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Romans 13:1-7; Honor

It is an old theme from the Torah, i.e., "I treat people with honor because they bear the image of God within them." Creation is treated well because God made it. Authority is respected because God established it. People are honored because God placed his image in them.

Yet I sit here today struggling with respecting some authorities. In the past month, two friends have become unemployed because of ridiculous laws or rules. They were highly competent and yet lost their position. Somewhere along the way, the authorities lost focus on treating people as images of the Creator God. The result was that law was respected but the image of God was dishonored. The actions of the authorities did not reflect the hand of God.

The scary part is that I can so easily do the same thing. All it takes is focusing upon rules instead of people. Is he right or wrong? Is she a Christian or not? Do they measure up to my standards or not? All are rules based evaluations of people to whom I owe a debt of honor as bearers of the image of God.

May God be merciful to my efforts and may my efforts be to honor rather than judge others.