I think Keller just nailed me…

I’m currently reading Timothy Kellers, “Counterfeit Gods.” Wonderful, convicting, and challenging book. I was reading tonight and the following passages really stuck out to me as he began discussing the idols that many Christians and Christian communities have set up, and the damage it has and is doing. You can find it on pages 131-133 in the book.

“An idol is something that we look to for things that only God can give. Idolatry functions widely inside religious communities when doctrinal truth is elevated to the position of a false god. This occurs when people rely on the rightness of their doctrine for their standing with God rather than on God himself and his grace. It is a subtle but deadly mistake. The sign that you have slipped into this form of self-justification is that you become what the book of Proverbs calls a “scoffer.” Scoffers always show contempt and disdain for opponents rather than graciousness. This is a sign that they do not see themselves as sinners saved by grace. Instead, their trust in the rightness of their views makes them feel superior…

Wow, I think Keller nailed me. I like to think I don’t have this issue, but when I search myself and am really honest with myself, there are many times that the above passage here sums me up quite well. Forgive me Lord, I am indeed a sinner, in need of Your grace.

“…the Enlightenment abandoned religious orthodoxy and put in God’s place things like the American system or individual self-fulfillment. The results have not been good. Putting Nation in place of God leads to cultural imperialism, and putting Self in the place of God leads to many of the dysfunctional dynamics we have discussed throughout this book. Why did our culture largely abandon God as its hope? I believe it was because our religious communities have been and continue to be filled with these false gods. Making an idol out of doctrinal accuracy, ministry success, or moral rectitude leads to constant internal conflict, arrogance and self-righteousness, and oppression of those whose views differ. These toxic effects of religious idolatry have led to widespread disaffection with religion in general and Christianity in particular. Thinking we have tried God, we have turned to other Hope, with devastating consequences.”

Again, I think Keller nailed me, and many people I know. Certainly a need for much repentance within the Church…

I encourage everyone, especially Christian leaders to go out and get this book.

The wisdom of children: Another lesson from my kids…

I posted this on the Facebook page of a Christian that I truly respect (Ed Stetzer) the other day, and thought it deserved a mention here on my blog. Ed made the comment, “The Bible is all red letters…It’s all about Jesus and it’s all Spirit inspired.”

His comment reminded me of something I had just spoken with my wife about a few days earlier. Here was my response:

“I was actually telling my wife the other day, I think our 22 month old twins have it right…Every time they pick up their little Bibles, they say “Deedus”, or “Sheezus”, depending on which one asks, and they bring it over to me and climb in my lap…When they bring their Bibles to me, they want me to show them Jesus. I told my wife, they really have it right…Every time they open their Bibles they want to see Jesus, they expect to see Jesus..I think more of us need to have this attitude…”

Jesus Himself said that the Scriptures were about Him, and bore witness of Him. (Luke 24:27, John 5:39) When we open our Bibles, we ought to be doing the same thing as my sons Noah and Caleb, and looking for Jesus. The Scriptures all point to Jesus in some way. It warms my heart so much when I hear those little voices calling out the name of my Savior Jesus, (Deedus, Sheezus). I pray one day they will call out His name, as their own Savior, I pray that same prayer for all of my children. Just imagine, if it warms my heart so much, imagine how much it warms the heart of Christ…

“Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.” -Mark 10:14-16

“And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, “Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise?” – Matthew 21:16

Reflections from a week of pain…

It is now been a week of pain for me. Technically a little over a week, the first bits of pain actually came last Monday. Still I thought this would be a good time for me to reflect on my week, and some of the things that God has been showing me.

First, one of the purposes of pain is to remind us of the horrors of sin, as John Piper wrote in his blog this past week. Notice that God first speaks of pain when talking to Adam and Eve right after the fall. (Genesis 3:16-17) It seems to me that if we did not have pain and suffering in the world, we would forget just how horrible sin is…I think then we would seek God even less than we do.

Second, this past week has reminded me that I’m not nearly as Godly as I’d like to think I am. When I’m in pain, I become very self focused and self consumed. I have had to force myself this week to pray for others, instead of just worrying about myself. That is not a natural thing for me. I desire to be more like Jesus. When Jesus was hanging from the cross, do you remember what His words were? “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do…”(Luke 23:34) As Jesus hung from the cross He was praying for those that crucified Him, and were then casting lots for His clothes. For me, I have a belly ache, and it’s all I can do just to pray for others who may be sick, or hurting, probably in most cases in an even worse condition than myself. It shames me that as a disciple of Christ, that is not my first reaction, to be more concerned about others than myself. Lord, I certainly need more of You. This past week as I’ve struggled with this pain I’ve not been the disciple, husband, father, son, or friend that I should have been. I repent of that, please forgive me Lord. And for those of you reading this, I ask your forgiveness as well.

Third, as I read through the Psalms a few verses stood out to me that I will post here, I suggest for all who are reading this to go read these verses for yourself. As I read Psalm 3, especially verses 3-6 and verse 8, I was reminded that God is ALWAYS faithful. Therefore I can have peace in the midst of trials and know that God is good. As I read verse 7 of Psalm 3, and then the first verse of Psalm 4, I read how David prayed with confidence knowing that God is indeed faithful. I too can confidently pray to God, and trust in Him, knowing this same truth. All of us who are God’s people can do the same…

Today’s Sermon-Gotta Have Faith

Over the past several weeks, we have been looking at the lives of the Old Testament saints and the Patriarchs, and Will has done an awesome job of going through their lives, and introducing them to us in new ways, and helping us to identify with them in ways that maybe we haven’t before. It’s always a great thing for Christians when we can see Scripture, I think especially for Christians, the Old Testament in a fresh way, and from a different perspective. Many of us tend to look at the Old Testament as not being for us, or not really being relevant to our lives. I think Will has done a great job of showing us that that is not the case. All Scripture, all 66 books are for us, to read and to learn from.

So the past several weeks Will has been introducing us to some of the ”big” guys in Scripture, you know like Adam, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and last week Moses. Today though we are going to be focusing in on a slightly more obscure person from the Bible.

Today we are going to be looking at the prophet Elijah and his meeting and his stay with a poor widow. Elijah is of course not an obscure fellow, but I’m not going to focus in on him a whole lot. Will has said he is going to be teaching on him in the upcoming weeks, so I’m going to let Will dive deeper into his life and ministry, but I want us to focus in on this widow and her faith, and how God works, even when we don’t really understand what He’s doing. Hopefully we can learn from this widow and from the pages of Scripture how to have the type of faith God desires us to have.

We are going to be looking in 1 Kings Chapter 17, so if you want you can go ahead and turn there, and while I’m not going to be going into great detail about Elijah and his ministry, I do want to give you a little background into what is going on when Elijah meets this widow, and some of the circumstances surrounding the situation.

During the time period here we will be looking at, the people of God, “Israel”, the twelve tribes, are divided into two Kingdoms. There was Israel to the north, and Judah to the south. At this time, Ahab is the king of Israel. We are told in Scripture that Ahab was an especially evil king. 1 Kings 16:33 it says, “Ahab did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him.” This is a bold statement because when you read the history of these kings, they were some pretty rough dudes, and were immersed in idolatry. But there was something especially evil about Ahab. Ahab took a Phoenician princess named Jezebel to be his wife. Jezebel was a worshiper of Ba’al, who was a Canaanite God who was believed to have authority over rain and fertility. Jezebel not only worshiped Ba’al, but she also led Ahab to do the same. (1 Kings 21:25) If that wasn’t bad enough she even went so far as to murder the prophets of the Lord. (1 Kings 18:3) It seems that Jezebel wasn’t content just to worship Ba’al, but she wanted to wipe out Israel’s worship of their God altogether. Ahab did little or nothing to stop it.

Here is where we pick up our text. As I mentioned earlier, Ba’al was thought to have authority over rain and fertility. God has this really cool habit of taking on these false God’s directly, and displaying His authority. One of the best examples of this is back in Exodus, and each of the plagues God sent upon Egypt. Each of those plagues seemed to have been related to, and directed towards a different Egyptian “deity”. God does something very similar here in 1 Kings 17. God speaks to Ahab through Elijah, and tells Him that He is bringing a drought to the land. God is basically displaying to Ahab that He and He alone is in control of the rain and all of creation for that matter. With the coming famine, God instructs Elijah where to go so that he will be taken care of. That is where we are going to pick up our text.

1 Kings 17

So when we start out our text at the beginning of Chapter 17, we read that God speaks through Elijah to Ahab, telling him that a great drought is coming, and that this drought will only end when He says so. As I said, God is displaying to Ahab, as well as the people of Israel, and all of the worshipers of this false God for that matter, that He alone is in control, of the rain, and that He alone is their provider, and their sustainer. Then God instructs Elijah to go eastward and hide by the brook of Cherith, where he will have water to drink from the brook, and that God Himself will provide food for Elijah by commanding the ravens to bring him bread and meat. Again, God is displaying to Elijah, and all of us today, that He is our provider and sustainer. We are then told that the drought is so bad, that the brook dries up. The Lord then instructs Elijah to go to Zarephath, and to dwell there, because He has commanded a widow to feed him.

I love this exchange between Elijah and the widow. Elijah arrives at the gate, and he saw a widow that was gathering sticks. Elijah then tells her, to bring him some water so that he can drink. The widow agrees and then goes to get it, and then Elijah says, “while you are getting me some water, bring me some bread too.” The widow goes on to explain that she has no bread baked, and that all she has is a handful of flour, and a little bit of oil in a jug. She had planned to gather a few sticks, go in and prepare a little bit of food for her and her son, and then they planned to die. You get the feeling that this widow is basically preparing herself and her son their last meal. Or at least this is what the widow thinks. Elijah says, “Look, don’t be afraid. Go ahead, do what you said you are going to do, fix yourself and your son something to eat. But first, make me a little cake, or a little bit of bread, and bring it to me. Because God says that your jar of flour and your jug of oil will not empty, until the day that He makes it rain.”

Amazingly she obeys. The Bible says that, “she went and did as Elijah said.”(15) It also says that she and her household ate for many days, and the jar of flour, “was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty.”

I want us to note a couple of things here. Notice what the widow says in verse 12, “As the Lord YOUR God lives”. This woman was not a worshiper of the God of Israel. She did not know, the one true God. Here, along comes this prophet of the God of Israel, a God she didn’t worship, asking her to bring him some water, and some food. She and her son were almost out of food…Imagine what must have been going through her mind here. I have 3 small children, and a wife. Luckily we aren’t lacking for food, you can look at myself and see that. Some of you here have children, or a spouse, and I think we all at least have someone in our lives that we love and are close to. Imagine all of a sudden, there was a shortage of food. Imagine that you had enough, for maybe one more meal. You were pretty certain that after this meal, there would be no more food. Basically, you were planning to die.

Now imagine, here comes some ragged looking stranger, saying that he was thirsty, and wanted some of your food. You’d look at him and say he was crazy. I’d look at him and say he’s crazy. Can you imagine the thought of you or even worse your loved ones going hungry, so that some stranger can eat? Not many of us are going to jump on that train.

But the Bible tells us that this widow obeyed. Now God had earlier stated that He had commanded the widow to feed Elijah. (9) Apparently this is news to the widow because she seems to have no idea. God doesn’t always, in fact very seldom does he speak to us audibly. But what God does is arrange certain circumstances, and ordains situations, and He enables us to make decisions that are in line with His will. So here we have this widow, that is not a worshiper of the God of Israel, speaking to a prophet of the Lord, and she obeys him. This isn’t normal. This doesn’t make sense. This place, Zarephath, was in the heartland of where this god Ba’al was worshiped. Yet this widow was obeying a prophet of the Lord God of Israel.

Sometimes God’s ways just don’t make sense. This whole situation has a big old “don’t make sense” written all over it. First of all God sends His prophet, into the heart of Ba’al country, to be fed by a widow who doesn’t believe in Him or at least doesn’t worship Him, and who doesn’t have any food. If I didn’t know God was involved here, I would say this was a situation with a high probability of failure. But thank God for the widow, He was involved. And thank God for us in our lives, He is involved.

How many times in our lives have we said, “okay God, this doesn’t make any sense, what are you doing here?” I know I’ve thought that. I think that all the time. You might be going through a situation like that yourself right now. But just because a situation doesn’t make sense to you, doesn’t mean that God isn’t at work. Why does God put us in situations like this? Why does He put us in situations that make absolutely no sense? I think it’s because God wants us to have faith. If everything made perfect sense, and everything was predictable, faith wouldn’t be a necessity. This isn’t a one time occurrence in this passage, but look in 2 Kings 5, when Naaman a commander in the Syrian army, who was a leper was told to go and bathe in the Jordan, and then he would be made clean. Naaman was looking for a miracle cure, and was shocked that he was told to go and bathe in some muddy water. Yet he eventually obeyed, and was in fact cured. Look at John 9, verse 7. Jesus put mud, made with his own spit, on the eyes of a blind man, and then told him to go and wash. These things didn’t make sense, yet it shows us how God works. His ways are not our ways, sometimes they don’t make sense, but when God has commanded something, and we take steps of faith, God blesses that, and we are always glad that we obeyed Him.

So why did this widow obey? I don’t think there was anything particularly convincing in the way Elijah spoke to the widow, or made his requests. I simply think she was at the point to where she saw what she was doing just wasn’t working. She was at the point in her life, and she was in a situation in which she had no hope. She knew with the way things were going she and her son would be dead soon. She told Elijah she and her son were about to eat and then they were going to die. I would say the widow was at a point in her life of absolute brokenness.

Some of us have been at those points in our lives ourselves. Some of us are going through those situations right now, and most all of us, if not certainly all of us will go through situations like that in the future. You know what, God allows those situations to introduce Himself to us, and to show us how awesome He is. He allows those situations to show us our absolute dependence on Him. God uses those situations of brokenness to show us that without Him, we have nothing, and can do nothing. God uses these situations to show us that He alone is our provider and our sustainer, and He wants us to depend on Him. I’m not just talking here about physical needs, but I’m also talking about emotional needs, Spiritual needs, and any kind of need you can think of.

At a church I used to go to, the preacher was speaking one day about a missionary trip he was on. I can’t remember where it was, but I do remember him talking about how poor the people there were. How they lacked so many of the things we take for granted. There wasn’t a lot of food, many places had no electricity, they were poorly dressed, they probably even had worn out shoes with no soles. But there were some folks there that just had an amazing faith. He told the story of one young girl there that he spoke to, that had such faith, and such love for God. The Pastor asked her, where her faith came from. Her answer he said always stuck with him, and since hearing the story, it has stuck with me. She told him, “You realize that God is all you need, when God is all you have.”

I personally think that should be a prayer for us. If we haven’t gotten to the point of brokenness yet, where we realize that God is all we need, I think we should pray for a situation like that. I think we should pray for a situation that completely breaks us, to the point that we realize that God is truly all we need. I think that is where this widow was at.

She was in a seemingly hopeless situation, and she knew that this Ba’al she was worshiping, or probably had worshiped in the past just wasn’t doing it. She had nothing left to loose, so she obeyed Elijah, she obeyed the Word of the Lord. Eventually she was infinitely glad she did.

She was thrilled I’m sure, and grateful I’m sure that she and her son, as well as Elijah had food to eat. But imagine now what must have been going through her mind when her son became sick and died. Here she was, she had obeyed the prophet, she had obeyed the word of the Lord, and everything seemed to be going fine, and then BOOM! Her son is dead. She was angry. She was not only angry with God, but she was also angry with Elijah, this “man of God”. I can understand. She didn’t have an accurate picture of who God was, I mean here she was blaming Elijah for something that she knew came from God, but she did know that somehow, this was from God. She thought that God was somehow punishing her, for her past sins. (18) I don’t know for sure what sins she was talking about, but I tend to think she was talking about her past worship of this false God.
Elijah too seemed to be a bit taken aback by what happened. He took the boy upstairs and “cried to the Lord, “O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I sojourn by killing her son?” (20) Verses 21-22 then tell us that Elijah stretched out over the child, and begged God to restore the child’s life. God did just that, and Elijah brought the child back downstairs and gave the child back to his mother. The widow responds, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.” (24)

If it wasn’t for God’s intervention, and one step of faith by this widow one day when she met the prophet Elijah, both she and her son would have already been dead. Yet God provided for her, physically, by providing her with food and oil, after she took that step of faith. But even more so I believe on this eventful day, God provided for her Spiritually, and I believe she became a believer in the God of Israel, the one true God, and I believe she was saved as a result of what happened when her son died, and God raised him back to life. She received more of a blessing from this one step of faith than she ever could have imagined.

I believe the same thing is, and can be true for all of us. God asks us all to take steps of faith. He first does that for salvation. God reveals Himself to us in all of His awesomeness, as He did to this widow, and He asks us to take a step of faith and believe in Him. Now it isn’t a blind leap of faith, don’t misunderstand me, He has done much to show us who He is, namely in the person of His Son Jesus Christ, through His miracles, and finally in His resurrection from the dead. If any of us haven’t taken that step of faith, I would ask us to reflect and search our hearts, and ask if maybe He is asking us to do that here today. I’m not talking about attempting to live the Christian life by our own power, but I’m talking about have we ever come to the point that we realize we are totally lost without Him. Have we ever realized our complete dependence on Him, and made Him Lord of our lives. That is what I’m talking about.

But even after salvation, God asks us to take steps of faith. I think that is different for all of us. God has ordained all of our lives to glorify Him in different ways. Perhaps it is to take a step of faith and share your faith with your neighbor, your co-worker, or perhaps even your spouse, or your children. Perhaps it’s a change of career, or making some sacrifices so that you can be more financially independent. Perhaps it’s planting a church, like we are trying to do here. I don’t know what your “step of faith” is. But I do know that if God tells you to do something, and you trust Him, and obey Him, He will bless it. And the blessing will be greater than you could ever imagine. I believe we see an excellent example of that here in the life of this widow. She trusted and obeyed even when it didn’t make sense. Remember God’s ways don’t always make sense. We saw an example of that here in this text, but I think we see an even greater example in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Does it make sense that a virgin would become pregnant and give birth to God’s own Son? Does it makes sense that God would take on human flesh and come to earth, and live the life of a poor man, then die so that we could be forgiven for our sins? No, that doesn’t make sense to our tiny finite minds, but that is precisely what God did. Does it make sense that a man who was beaten to near death, then hung on a cross to die, and was then buried, could be raised from the grave? Nope, that doesn’t make sense either, but that is precisely what happened. And all of that was done, ultimately for God’s glory, but also it was done for us. God asks us to take a step of faith, and believe in Him, then live our lives for Him. If we do, the blessings will be even greater than we can imagine. I’m not promising you a new Cadillac, or a big house, or lots of money, like some preachers will. But I am promising you an eternity with the God of the universe. To me that’s much better.

God’s ways don’t always make sense. He is beyond us. But I’m glad for that, because if we could understand all of His ways, He would cease to be God. God does require us to take steps of faith, God does ask us to trust and obey Him, even at those times when it may not make sense. God may break us, but that is not a time to doubt God, or to be angry at God. It is at those times we need to have more faith.

In my studies this past week I came across a passage in the Book of Mark that just grabbed me. I’m going to end the message today with these verses, and a short prayer.

Mark 9:17-27

Jesus told this father “All things are possible for one who believes” The man then cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief.” I wonder how many of us pray, while at the same time we are doubting God, and what He is doing, and can do in our lives. Perhaps our first prayer ought to be for faith, and a change of heart. I think what this man cries out, ought to be our prayer as well…We all at times suffer from a lack of faith, we all at times suffer from unbelief, we all at times doubt God, we all at times doubt what God can do and is doing in us and through us.

So this is my prayer for all of us, “Father, please help our unbelief.”

Post with a purpose…

Everything on this planet that was created, has a creator, and was created with a purpose. When someone builds a house, they have a purpose in mind for building that house. It is to become a home, it is to be a place where people can rest, and be protected from the outside world, and the elements of nature. When someone designs and builds a car, it is built with a purpose in mind. It is transportation, to transport someone from point A to point B.

The Bible tells us that we too, as people, have a creator. Genesis 2:7 says, “then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” Multiple passages in the Old Testament speak of the way God has formed us in the womb. (Psalm 139:13, Isaiah 44:24, 49:5, Jeremiah 1:5) Seeing as though we too were created by a creator, the next logical question is, “What is our purpose?”

In my study of Scripture, I believe I’ve found two passages that give us this answer.

First, in Mark 12, Jesus is asked by a Scribe, “what is the most important commandment of all.” Jesus then says, (Mark 12:29-31) “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord your God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this; ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Jesus is here summing up what God had already told the nation of Israel back in Deuteronomy 6:4-6. Very simply what these two commandments tell us, is that we are to love God with all that we have, and with all that we are.

Second, in Ephesians 2:10 the Apostle Paul tells us this, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Very simply Paul is telling us that we were created for good works that He (God) has already prepared for us to do. God has prepared those things before the foundations of the earth. Technically I believe this last verse, can also be summed up in the previous two commands given to us by Jesus.

So what do we know so far? Everything on this planet is created, and is created with a purpose. We as people also have a creator, God, and we were created with a purpose as well. Our purpose is very simply to love God first and foremost, and to love people. These things work themselves out in various ways. But everything we do, must be rooted in our love for God first and then a love for people. If this is not the case in our lives, then we are missing our purpose. We are not doing what we were created to do.

So now we must ask ourselves, what happens when something that is created, doesn’t serve its purpose? Let’s look back to our previous two examples. When a house is not doing what it is built to do, when people aren’t living in it, when it cannot serve to protect people from the elements of nature what happens to it? Generally it is torn down and thrown away, unless it can be repaired. The same thing is true with a car. If a car is not able to do what it was created to do, when it cannot take a person from point A to point B, it is sold for scraps, or thrown into the scrap heap. That is of course, unless it can be repaired. People are no different. I believe we see great and frightening examples of this in two places in the book of Matthew. (3:12 & 25:41-46)

The great thing is though, we CAN be fixed, that is why Jesus came to earth…Read John 3:16-21 and pray.
God bless…

Be watching for a related post in the coming days…

Today’s Sermon-“Humble Pie”

I’m not sure whether or not many of you are going to agree with the statement I want to get us started with or not. Some of you may agree, some of you may not. That’s okay. Some of you may think I’m flat out wrong…or maybe think I’m just looking at it from the wrong angle. I don’t know…but one thing is for certain, I hope it makes us all think. So what is this statement?

“The biggest stumbling block for Christians in their Christian walks, and their service to the Lord is not their sins. It is themselves.”

I suppose I need to clarify somewhat. The big problem, in the big picture is definitely sin. But I think many of us have this idea, that if we could just stop sinning, we could serve God better, become more intimate with Him, and finally be all that He wants us to be. I suppose in theory there may be some truth to those thoughts. So yes, in general, “Sin” is the problem. But, for each of us on a personal level, on an individual basis, in our individual lives, in our individual relationships with Christ, I don’t believe our individual sins are the problem. The problem for each of us is well…us. Some of you may be confused, but I pray that you guys would bear with me, as we go through several passages, and hopefully I will be able to articulate, and accurately “handle the word of truth”, as Paul instructed Timothy to do.

Philippians 2:5-8

This is by far one of the most amazing texts in the entirety of the Bible to me. I say that a lot…I guess because the Bible in itself is amazing. But in all seriousness think about this. John 1:1-2 tells us that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God…” What is John telling us here? John tells us later in John 1, that the “Word” he was speaking of became flesh and dwelt among us. He tells us that the “Word” he was talking about was Jesus Christ Himself. John is saying in these verses that Jesus Christ was with God from the beginning, and Jesus Christ was Himself God. In the text we just read in Philippians 2, Paul tells us that Jesus was in the form of God. Jesus was equal with God. But Paul tells us that even though Jesus was God, and was in the very presence of God the Father, He made Himself nothing. Jesus let go of His equality with God in order to become a servant. He took on the likeness of man. He humbled Himself, He was obedient to God, even to the point that He was willing to suffer and die.

Think about that for a second. God Himself came down from heaven, took on the form of a man, emptied Himself of the majesty that He had, became a servant, and died for you and me. I don’t think most of us really grasp this. I don’t even know if we can.
There is an interesting verse to me in Luke Chapter 2. It’s very easy to just read past this verse and not think about it, I did that for years. But look with me real quick at Luke 2:52, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.”
I think many of us have this idea of Jesus popping out of the womb, chilling in the manger for a bit, then getting up and starting to recite Scripture. This isn’t how it was. This verse shows us that. I think we all have this idea that things were so easy for Jesus. He was like a superhero, with super powers. But I don’t think that’s an accurate picture. Luke tells us here that Jesus “increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” If He increased, then obviously he didn’t have the wisdom, and even favor with God and man that He needed, from birth. I believe Jesus had to pour over the Scriptures and learn them just like you and I do. I believe Jesus had to learn humility, and obedience just like you and I do. How exactly that all worked out…I don’t know. You and I are sinners, we sin, the Bible tells us that Jesus did not. Generally we fail at humility and obedience and God has to discipline and humble us in some way to get our attention. That wasn’t the case with Jesus, but still, like us, God used the circumstances, trials, and even disappointments in Jesus’ life to prepare Him and grow Him into His ministry, and what He had been called to do.

So how does this apply to us? Well, if Jesus, God in the flesh, humbled Himself, took on the form of a servant, how much more should we? If Jesus had to pour over the Scriptures, learn about God, and grow in His relationship with Him, how much should we have to? For Jesus to be obedient to God, and glorify God, the first thing He had to do is empty Himself, of Himself. If that is the case for Him…how much more should that be the case with us?

Lets look at Philippians 1:27-30

I think many of us think that, “well, we believe in Jesus, so we’re good.” But that isn’t enough. James tells us in James 2:19 that even the demons believe in Jesus, so just an academic belief, or a knowledge of God and of Jesus isn’t enough. It’s about a real faith, that changes your life, and causes you to submit to Christ. It is about striving for the Gospel of Christ. Paul tells us that this is a sign of our salvation, and the destruction of those who would seek to hinder the Gospel. I wonder how many of us today are striving for the Gospel? If you were to look up the word “Striving” in the dictionary, the word means to “try hard” or to “struggle”. Are we trying hard and struggling for the sake of the Gospel? Paul tells the Philippian Church that they will not be frightened of their opponents. How many of us are fearful of the world? Maybe not fearful in the sense that we fear death, but how many of us are fearful of losing ourselves, or giving up things in our life that we love? How many of us are fearful of what the world is going to think of us? But Paul tells us that we should also suffer for the sake of Christ. How many of us suffer for Christ? How much did Paul suffer for Christ and “striving for the Gospel”? Paul was ridiculed, persecuted, shunned, called crazy, imprisoned, lost friends, beaten, and many people believe He was beheaded. Paul willingly endured all of these things for Christ. As Paul said in Philippians 1:20-21, “…Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

Now, I’m not saying we all need to go on foreign mission trips, or be homeless, and travel from town to town preaching the Gospel, or even be beaten and die a martyr. But we should be willing to do without, or make sacrifices for the sake of Jesus, for the sake of the Gospel.

What do I mean by sacrifices and doing without? Well that is a very broad question, with a broad answer. We touched on it a bit this past week in small group, so let me tell you what I believe it means.

Lets look at Philippians 3:7-11

I believe where Paul was at in His Christian walk, is the place we must get in ours. Paul said that he had suffered the loss of all things, and counted them as rubbish. As Will so elegantly explained in Small group, the word translated as rubbish here, would literally be our word for crap.

How many of us have gotten to the point in our lives where we count everything in our lives, except for Jesus, as crap…or rubbish if you want to be a little more “proper”. Think about Paul for a second here. Paul was “the man” in Jewish circles. Some say he was even on the fast track to becoming High Priest. Paul was well respected, and more than likely was financially well off. Some say he might have even had a wife, though that is only speculation, since the Bible doesn’t speak of that. Yet, when Paul became a Christian. He lost all of that. He was willing to lay all of that aside, and here he calls all of that stuff, all of the things he had gained in the world, as crap. Why? It was because he was willing to lay aside all of that “worldly gain” so that he could gain Christ. All Paul wanted was Jesus.
Can any of us sit here today and say that all we want is Jesus? Have any of us gotten to that point yet? We need to plead with God to transform us, and change our hearts so that that will be our mindset. How many times in our lives do we desire stuff more that Jesus? How many times do we desire the approval of our peers, more than we desire Jesus? How many times do we desire television more than Jesus? How many times do we desire time with our spouses, or children, more than we desire Jesus? How many times do we desire food, more than we desire Jesus? How many times do we desire sin, more than we desire Jesus?

Back to the statement I made earlier. “The biggest stumbling block for Christians in their Christian walks, and their service to the Lord is not their sins. It is themselves.” Look closer at what Paul says in 3:9, “…not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”

I’m not here today trying to get any of us to start following certain rules, or to start praying more, or to stop certain sins in our lives. I’m trying to wake us up to the truth that everything apart from Jesus doesn’t matter. Jesus is all that matters! Once we come to that realization, everything else will fall into place. When we desire Jesus more, we will seek Him more, we will pray more, we will read our bibles more, we will stop doing the things that separate us. But it starts first, with our desire for Jesus, above all else. We must get to that point. So don’t just try to stop sinning, that doesn’t work. Love Jesus. That is what works.

I believe when we say that sin is our biggest stumbling block, we are placing blame on something other than ourselves. We have an attitude that “well, we can’t stop sinning, so we’ll just do the best we can.” That is an attitude of defeat, and one that will not draw you closer to Jesus. You don’t need to defeat sin. Jesus has already done that. You need to have Jesus in your life, you need to love Jesus, yes, more than you love sin, but more importantly more than you love yourself. It isn’t about stopping to sin. If you lived the most pious life in the history of mankind, but didn’t love Jesus, it would do you no good. You’d still end up in hell. Actions without a pure heart mean nothing. The only way we can have that purity of heart is if we are focused on Christ, above all else.

This is a message that applies to each one of us here today on an individual level, and I pray, all of us will go home today and take it to heart, and truly ask God to transform us. I also believe this is a message that applies to this church(Crossmark Church). If this church is going to succeed, we must be a church that desires only Jesus. No fancy programs, no big rock band, but Jesus. If we are focusing on Jesus, then I don’t believe we can fail. For our church to succeed as a church, it is going to take all of us, as members of this body, to individually be willing to put away all of the nonsense in our lives that are drawing us away from Christ, and seek Christ above all else. We must as a church get to this point that Paul speaks about, where everything but Jesus is crap.

Will said in small group that this is his desire for our church. To be a church that is about Jesus, and nothing else. I echo that with my whole heart. That has to start with each of us individually. If that doesn’t happen I don’t believe God is going to bless this, and we might as well pack up and go home for good. We might as well find another church with a cool band, and rock out to some Casting Crowns or Chris Tomlin songs. But I want us to be a church that loves Jesus. It’s just that simple. We must, WE MUST, be willing to step out of our comfort zones, and lose ourselves, in order that we will glorify God. It may be sacrificing time with our spouses, it may be our kids going to bed a little late, it may be not having as much family time as we’d like, it may be driving 30-45 minutes out of our way, it may be getting to church early to set up, and staying late to encourage others, it may be missing a fishing trip. But isn’t Jesus worth it? As Paul said, we must be willing to suffer for the sake of Christ. We must be willing to strive side by side with our brothers and sisters here, for the sake of the Gospel.

There is a great song on Christian radio these days, that I quote all the time. I believe we all should make one of the lyrics from the song our prayer. “Rid me of myself…Lead me to the cross”

Father rid me of myself, and lead me to the cross. May we all decrease, in order that Christ may increase…Amen…

You’re so vain…I bet you think this post is about you.

Someone once asked me, “What exactly is a blog?” I struggled for a bit, and then finally it came to me and I answered, “Basically it is a place where people who think they are more important than they really are, or believe that people actually care what they think, write stuff down, and hope people read it.” I think these words often apply to our social media posts as well.

I’m sure I am over-simplifying it, and there are many reasons that one should blog and use social media. But many times I believe my summary is pretty right on. Don’t worry, I include myself in this category. Sure I hope my words can encourage others, perhaps inspire them, and basically just share some insights that I believe God has given me in my daily life that they can apply to theirs. Many times though, maybe even most times, it is me being vain, and thinking I am very important, and wanting to show someone else just how clever I am. Who knows, maybe I am doing that even now…Sometimes it sucks being human…

Something I read recently in a blog by John Piper, seems to apply here:

“Humility is the gift that receives all things as gift. It is the fruit not of our achievement but of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). It is the fruit of the gospel—knowing and feeling that we are desperate sinners and that Christ is a great and undeserved Savior.

Humility is the one grace in all our graces that, if we gaze on it, becomes something else. It flourishes when the gaze is elsewhere—on the greatness of the grace of God in Christ. “

Lord help me to gaze upon the greatness of the grace of God in Christ, and nothing more…