Tag Archives: truth

Philippians 2:12-13; Brief Thoughts

12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Having exemplified the character and nature of Christ, Paul admonishes his hearer to obedience. As Christ is humble, so Christians should be humble. As Christ is obedient to death, so Christians should obey. If a believer bears the name of Christ, then they should behave accordingly.

Take note of the nature of this admonition. Paul’s appeal for obedience does not hinge on an obligation, law, or even assumed merit. Paul’s exhortation is based entirely on the character of Christ. Verses 1-11 serve as the premise for the exhortation of verse 12. Rightfully so, because: the character of Christ establishes the motivation for the Christian life. It is the work of Jesus that calls us to obedience, not the work of our hands or the desire of our will. Consider what Christ has done. Think about the work He accomplished. Now, consider what lay ahead of you. Is there any trial or turmoil you cannot withstand given the work that Christ has done in you?

The Philippians are marked by obedience to the Lord. Paul encourages them to continue in obedience and by doing so, “work out their own salvation” (v 12). Their working out of salvation is connected to their own obedience. When Christians pursue holiness and righteousness, they are working out their salvation. It has been common amidst pulpits in the western church to debate the meaning of “work out your own salvation.” However, there is little merit for the debate. After all, this passage is incredibly simple and self-evident. Believers are called to obey and in that obedience, their salvation is proven as genuine.

Challenge yourself! How strong is your faith? Will you be able to obey in the midst of difficult circumstance? Test yourself in this. Strengthen your faith by walking in obedience to Him with deep respect and fear. You will discern the power and effect of your salvation by your obedience to Christ.

Paul follows his exhortation with the reminder that it is God who does the work (v. 13). In the heart of a believer, God is the active agent for transformation and the subsequent evidence of obedience. The power to obey does not emanate from the human will or spirit. The ability to conquer sin does not come from a desire born within and from the heart of a man. Rather, it comes from God. God calls to Himself a people and in doing so, begins to transform and sanctify their hearts to be more like Himself.

Ponder, for a moment, the power that is given to a believer to accomplish the mission of God. Jesus has accomplished the works of humiliation and obedience on behalf of believers. He sacrificed His own majesty and kingship, became a servant, and died on a cross. He lived a life of perfect obedience on behalf of those who believe, so that they would be able to claim His righteousness. Following His death, God the Father resurrected Jesus in power and made Him King over everything, effectively establishing Jesus’ dominion over every being.

God, who resurrected Jesus, now works in those who believe to accomplish His purposes. His divine power is evident in the obedience and righteous lives of those who believe. A Christian has the power to obey, not because of their own ability or self-righteousness, but because of what God has, is, and will be doing in their hearts. He works in the believer to the ultimate end of supreme value. That is to say, God works within the hearts of believers so that His pleasure would be fully realized in them. It is the great joy of Christians to delight in God. It is God’s delight for believers delight in Him.

So then, get to work! If you are empowered by Christ to obey and God is the one who accomplishes the work, then what do you have to lose? It is not in your power that you are able to overcome, it is by His strength and His power. So… get to work! Pursue holiness and knowledge of God. Get to know the creator of all things and delight yourself in Him.

Philippians 2:9-11

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, humbled Himself, taking weak humanity upon Himself, living a perfect life, submitting to God the Father, and enduring death in the place of people who are undeserving. Because of the great humiliation and righteous obedience, God exalted Jesus as King. The result of Jesus’ humiliation is His exaltation. It is a peculiar truth to hear: that the King of all things should be humiliated by willing choice and thereby attain glory. Such is the way of the Gospel: the lowly are always exalted and the proud are always humbled.

In His brokenness, Jesus submitted completely to the Father. In response to such magnificent humility God exalted Him and granted Him Kingship. Ponder that truth for a moment. Within the God-head, the Son was exalted by the Father. The Son willingly subjected Himself to the Father and the Father exalted the Son. The Son was exalted to the highest degree possible. His name made, “above every name.” Names have power. This is why when someone is associated by a particular manicure, that name can give insight about that person to the hearer. The name of God is sacred. So sacred that the Hebrews left off the vowel markings in the name of The LORD. When the name of a man is spoken it reflects the character of that man and the experiences we have associated with him. Likewise, when the name of the LORD is spoken it bears authority and reflects the experience humanity has had with the Lord.

Jesus’ name is exalted above every name for a result. His name is exalted so that it would result in all creation bowing before Him as Lord. When His name is spoken, the earth and heaven must bow. So great is His name that every tongue will confess that He is Lord. In an age when nations rage against the Almighty Lord of all things, it is comforting to know that every knee and tongue will confess Him as Lord. No one will be able to deny His kingship. Those who reject Him now, will not be able to reject Him forever.

It is important to note: Paul does not say that everyone will confess Jesus as savior. His name does not save those who will not trust in Him. He only saves those who believe. While Jesus is Lord of all, He is savior only to those who trust in Him for salvation. If you have not trusted in Jesus Christ, then confess your sin to Him and ask Him to cover you with His righteousness. Follow Jesus. He will be Lord regardless, but you can delight in Him as savior now as well.

Christ, brining Himself low, was exalted by the Father to the highest position possible. Consider how great the height must be. In order to be above all names, Christ must ascend beyond all of creation, all ideologies, philosophies, charities, and monarchies. He must be exalted beyond all power, dominion, authority, and benevolence. He is exalted above the greatest and the least. He is imposing over all things a power that none other can exercise. His name is exalted above all others, because He made Himself nothing.

He brought Himself low. In turn, God raised Jesus up. Now Jesus glorifies the Father. This cyclical glorification is common in the God-head. It is unusual to humanity, because humanity is sinful and cannot manage to think of the glorification of someone else as mutually beneficial to us. For a human, only one person can be glorified in an instant. But in the God-head, the glorification of one is the glorification of all three persons. So, Father exalts Jesus, Jesus exalts the Father. What is remarkable is the effortlessness with which this glorification takes place. The Father does not have to work to exalt or validate Jesus. His glory is intrinsic to Him. In the same manner: Jesus, simply by being Jesus, glorifies God the Father. The glory of God, is natural within all members of the God-head.

If the Spirit of God lives in Christians, then it stands to reason that God can be naturally glorified in believers as well. If a believer bears the image of God on his/her heart, then they will bring glory to God. This truth is evident in the lives of true believers. God has changed their hearts and they live differently. Christians find their joy in humiliation, they love with an almost reckless abandon, and they connect with people in a way that no other community can. It is sometimes difficult for Christians in the west to realize that they are appointed to bring glory to God in this way. Western Christians are sometimes so caught up in the story of their own material life that they forget their life is found in Christ. As a result they will spiritually hold their breath and find themselves gasping for air at events and conferences and occasional worship services. Oh Christian, embrace the humiliation and love that Christ models. God will exalt when God desires. In the embrace of the mission of God in humility, you will find yourself a delight to His heart and a glory to His name.

Numbers 11, The curse of Excess

I live in a culture where all the bells and whistles are available at my finger-tips. The churches I work with and in are blessed with resources unimaginable. We have lights, speakers, computer graphics, bands, productions, programs, and all sorts of gadgets to enhance our ability to worship the one true Lord. We have books, educated teachers, seminaries, webcasts, podcasts, simulcasts, other-casts, and all manner of education to raise our intellectual acumen. We have children’s programing, youth groups, adult bible fellowship, small groups, Sunday Schools, discipleship training, woman’s and men’s groups, and all manner of community development programing. We have afterschool programing, food banks, ESL centers, recovery for addicts, financial helps, and all manner of aid and ministry programs for the outside world. Yet, there is no joy for the Word of the Lord in most American churches. I propose that we have become fat and lazy in our wilderness wandering. I propose that we have lost the vision of where we are going and have exchanged that vision for a false comfort that will not satisfy and will instead, frustrate ardent Christians. I propose that we are suffering the consequence of excess.

In Numbers 11 the Jewish people are wandering in the desert and many have begun to complain about God’s leadership. The chapter opens with the fury of the Lord literally consuming the outside edges of the camp! Take a moment now and go get your Bible and read through the text of Numbers 11. (I’d put it on the screen for you, but there is no adequate substitute for actual pages.) The Hebrew people complained about the magic food they were getting at no cost from the Lord. They complained that the Egyptians were treating them better because they gave them meat! Remember, the Egyptians enslaved, whipped, and mistreated the Jews for 400 years! In this story the Hebrews whine and complain about a lack of meat while they are living it up on magic bread from heaven that evidently tasted amazing! (Exodus 16:31) These people were wandering around with perfect provision and they wanted more. They have God in their midst (literally, in a cloud in the tabernacle) and they complain of His lack of provision. So the Lord hands them over to their excess. They get meat until they cannot stand it and plague comes with it.

It is easy to see the parallels in the western Church. We have all we need, but we are constantly in want of a bigger show. We are experiencing spiritual drought in our country, but we are drowning in aids for spiritual growth. We are immersed in resources, but we cannot seem to sustain the victorious joy of our impoverished brothers overseas. I believe we are suffering the consequence of excess. God has graciously provided us all we need to worship Him and yet we clamor for newer, bigger, better. All this excess comes to not. Our churches have been slain with the disease that accompanies the “craving” (v.4,34).

I believe our only hope for lasting joy will be found in denying our cravings. Fasting from the things we want and clinging to the giver of all things. So fast, pray, practice self-denial, and learn to live in joy. The excess is killing us. It is because of our excess that no one has deep love for the Word. It is because of our excess that we are filling auditoriums but not changing lives. It is because of our excess that the Church is one more thing to do in a week. It is because of our excess…

The call is to simplicity, reduction, and worship.  We want to change the church in the west? Let’s throw off our excess and turn our minds to eternity.

Climbing the Mountain

climbingA man climbs a mountain. Every once and a while he turns and looks out over what God has made, and he is privileged to see the greatest sights imaginable. He watches the valley grow smaller and smaller as he pushes his body to ever greater heights. He sees animals of different altitudes, and watches as the trees grow thin and the air grows crisp around him. He takes note of the way his hands and feet begin to burn as he strives to reach the top of the mountain. He clings to the great rocks and presses himself into them as he climbs further. He is learning this mountain. Every clip of the carabineer, every crack he can grasp onto, every slide and toe grip of his foot brings him closer to his goal and intimately closer to the rock he is climbing. Finally, exhausted, he reaches the top and turns around to see the view he has been laboring so hard to see. He cries tears of joy at the majesty before him.

Another man at the top of the same mountain marvels at the same view and then climbs back into the helicopter that carried him to the top. His hands are not tired. His feet do not ache. His view is the same, yet, his understanding of the mountain and his connection with that mountain are so much less. The ride was not cumbersome for this man of ease. Little was required of him; little was achieved by him.

The man who climbed knows the mountain. The man in the helicopter has only seen the view from the top.

My older brother began to teach me to know God when I was still very young (about 12). Much like climbing a mountain, knowing God is hard work. Memorizing Scripture, laboring over passages, studying hard, thinking deeply. As I have grown, I have found greater joy in the climb. You see, we live in a culture where we can constantly take “helicopter rides” to the tops of mountains of God’s character. We have enough material at our disposal that we can easily listen to a sermon, read a book, or hear a song that would give us a glimpse of the mountain. This is truly a great privilege, but it also has a tremendous danger laced within it. If we become so comfortable with the helicopter rides, we will never make the climb ourselves. We will be dependent on teachers and curricular for our sustenance. We will never know The Mountain.

Before you think I am being overly dramatic, think about it: Do the Christians around you speak of the deep things of God without a prompt from some teacher? Do we quote the Scriptures or famous people more often? When was the last time you sat and examined your Bible until the Lord clearly spoke? I tell you, we are a people of “helicopter theology.” We hear and we repeat some wonderful truths…but how well do we know those truths?

So, I want to invite you to study. Perhaps the single greatest method I have ever used to “climb the mountain” is the inductive study method. But, be warned: this takes work. Studying the Bible in this manner is not for the faint of heart! You will have to train your mind to think about Scripture and carefully observe details before you interpret and apply them. You will have to learn where to place the picks on the rocks and when to clip the carabineers. You will need to learn to deny the helicopter ride to the top…until you have climbed that mountain for yourself.

I’ve been using the inductive method for about 10 years now in my personal study and I do the work (and fun!) of climbing regularly with a small group. We climb together and it is laborious but incredibly rewarding. I pray you too would be willing to do the work to know the Lord intimately! If you want to take the helicopter, that’s fine… You’ll see some spectacular views and you’ll be privileged to stand in awe at those views. But if you will dedicate yourself to the climb, you’ll know The Mountain.

You can find more about the inductive study method here. You can also find numerous other resources to help you learn inductive study methods from lifeway.com and christianbook.com

1 Timothy 4:6-10 – “In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following. But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. It is a trustworthy statement deserving full acceptance. For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers.”

Thursday Words

Since November I’ve been attempting an odd sort of fast.  Every Thursday I’ve attempted to be extremely careful with my words.  The rules are simple, don’t speak unless necessary, be sure to answer questions concisely as possible, and be careful to only say things that matter in eternity.  I would begin my fast on Wednesday 8:30 pm night after youth group and conclude it on Thursday before small group 6 pm.  Each morning on Thursday I would spend a little time in prayer and then try to be as intentional as possible with my words.  I was prepared to adapt my vocabulary, I was prepared to focus my mind on eternity, I was prepared for hours of silence, and I was prepared for this to be awesome!  I was not prepared for what God had to teach me.

The first weeks seemed easy.  Most of the days were spent in my office reading and studying.  Occasionally there was a lunch or meetings to sit through awkwardly, but for the most part these days were quiet already and not talking was only a minor challenge.  Then it happened.  The Lord began to move in the way He does.  God began to speak in the small moments.  God always starts with small moments.

I heard the laughter in the office adjacent to mine and was drawn to the fellowship of humor.  I stood in the doorway and watched as my brothers in Christ bantered with one another.  I longed to engage, I wanted to be seen, I wanted to know that I mattered.  And yet, I stood back and faded into the void.  Thus began my journey to understanding this very peculiar rift in my soul.

Slowly, my Lord began to expose my wound.  Over the next few months I would experience opportunities to rest in silence and be inconsequential.  In the silence God revealed a deep fear in my soul.  I am absolutely terrified that I will not be heard.  I fear people will not hear my voice and I will not matter.  I fear that my life and my voice will be inconsequential.  The remarkable truth about fear is it’s propensity to inspire irrational responses.  The fear that I would not matter drove me to say and do things that didn’t matter.  I would make jokes that bore no weight on the soul.  I would engage in trivialities.  My fear drove me to inconsequential existence.  When I intentionally forced myself to only say what matters it was revealed how little my words have mattered.  Giving into the fear of meaninglessness drove me to meaningless speech for the sake of attention.  Whereas striving to make my words significant forced me to be silent and often fade into the background, but what I did say matters.

John 12

In John 12, some Greek believers seek out Jesus almost immediately after the triumphal entry. Now, it is no surprise that some Greeks might find the message of Jesus appealing or that some of them might seek Jesus out. What is surprising is what Jesus responds with. John 12:21 The Greeks ask Phillip if they can go see Jesus. Phillip goes to Andrew and asks him and then they go to Jesus to tell Jesus.

Let’s clear some things up here first. All of the named disciples were Jewish. Jesus was Jewish. Jesus was claiming a messianic position in the Jewish religion. So it is only natural for them to be skeptical about non-Jews wanting to see the Messiah of the Jews. Second, Jesus had already had an awkward conversation with a Samaritan woman at a well and that made all the disciples uncomfortable, but they went along with it. Here the two disciples are not certain whether they should turn these Greeks away. Everything they have ever been taught in their religious practice has trained them to explain to Greeks, “you can come to the outer court, but not to the inner court, and certainly not to the holy place.” But here Jesus is the Holy Place. So where is the line supposed to be drawn? They don’t know where the line is. Further, each time they try to draw a line, they get taught a lesson. Remember John 9, the blind guy on the side of the road. They ask a goofy question because they have been taught some bizarre form of cosmic karma. Jesus reproves them, tells them to get on board with the mission, and heals the blind guy. Third, the Greeks recognize the disparity as well. They don’t go directly to Jesus as we see so many others do. They ask the disciples to get them access. Even the Greek believers were living under the assumption that Jesus was for the Jews only and that they would have to be second class. Jesus, however, has constantly demonstrated that He has a rescue for ALL types of men, women, and children, regardless of ethnicity or religious background. For all must be surrendered to Him anyway.

So, verse 20-22 already presents us with an awkward situation in which Jesus must make a decision. The truly odd nature of this portion of the story is what Jesus says to Phillip and Andrew. (The Greeks may be standing right next to them, but we don’t know for sure because the Bible doesn’t say.) When Jesus is approached with the news of these Greeks coming to see Him, He launches into a cryptic sermon about needing to die in order for life to spring up. He explains that a seed must fall to the ground and give up it’s life in order to bear fruit. So the call of Jesus arises to the surface. “Die that you may live.” Surrender your life so that you may find life. These Greeks are confronted with the message of the Cross: it’s not about who you are or where your from or what religious underpinnings you have. All these things must be counted as nothing and forfeit for the sake of following Christ. So the call lands on us. Will we surrender all our preconceived notions of what it means to be good and follow Jesus? Will we break fellowship with the systems that hold us captive in a false since of religious righteousness to follow Jesus? Will we serve the Father and die to self?

But Jesus isn’t finished here, you see He is about to have a conversation with God that everyone is going to get to hear. It’s a freaky, amazing thing. Jesus admits that He has come to lay down His life and says He wants God to glorify His name. A that moment God speaks!

The best I can describe my feeling as I read this is through a cartoon I watched recently with my daughter. Some bugs were playing in a garden and one thing leads to another and they say, “lets ask the Lord!” (yes, I am that hokey Christian parent.) The lady bug bows its head and asked God the question. I was expecting a moment of silence and then the lady bug should have a bolt of inspiration and know what was right! The moment of silence was there, but the cartoon suddenly boomed a voice answering the little bug. I was floored! God spoke outwardly. It was only a cartoon, but it was AWESOME! So… I get the same since here. Everyone must have felt a sudden jolt of “what was that!”
Jesus explains that it is the Father and that He is about to die… of course no one understands because we are told in verse 16 that even His disciples aren’t going to get it until He is glorified.
Reading this story makes me wonder if I come to God with the expectation that He would actually speak. Jesus did. The Greeks clearly overcame their own awkwardness to address Him. Even Phillip and Andrew approach Him expecting to be rattled a little. Do I? Do you? What are you expecting to receive from Jesus?

There is a whole lot more in this text, but I think I’ll leave it there for now.