Power vs Humiliation, or when God becomes a man (Part 2)

Pope Francis

Yesterday, we talked about how Christ came to earth, and chose to not wield his power over humanity. He instead chose to come, and give up his rights to power.

This is in stark contrast to the Roman understanding of power.

Emperors used their divine status to gain power, popularity and prestige.

They claimed divine ancestry, asked for people to make sacrifices for their forgiveness of sins. Roman Caesars would claim to be the “son of god.”

And they ensured that this divine status remained through brute force and demands of complete unity of focus and worship.

The masses often proclaiming, “Caesar is lord.”

Two deities square off.

Let think about something together; what happens, in our culture, when two men or women of power come into conflict – be it ideological, theological, politically, or economically with one another?

The puff their chests. They remind people of their status, accomplishments. They ask or demand for people to see the letters before their name, the their alma-mater, and their what they’ve accomplished at work.

They take a power-over approach. And we, as a culture, celebrate it, don’t we?

We celebrate the alpha male.

Western culture celebrates the powerful.

From Superman…

To Liam Neeson…

And when we’re not celebrating the power-over, violent heroes, we’re electing the square (read: strong) jawed men for president…

Slate Magazine once wrote:

Working with subjects rating photos of hundreds of faces, [Princeton University Psychologists] Todorov and colleagues have developed computer models of how faces can suggest character traits like trustworthiness and likability. The competent face shape is masculine but approachable, with a square jaw, high cheekbones, and large eyes. When people say Romney just looks presidential, this is the image they’re summoning.

Even down to our facial structure, power- be it real or assumed- matters to us.

Our culture celebrates the self promoter.

Our culture celebrates the boot-strap grabber.

Marlboro manBut we followed a man who voluntarily gave up every stitch of power that he possessed.

He was there when the Earth, stars, and universe were created. In fact, we’re told that all that exists was created through him.

Christ possessed all power, under heave and on earth, and he gave it away. He confronted a system of oppression, both politically (in Rome) and religiously (in the Pharisees and religious leaders the time) by being the least among them.

He gave of himself. Over and over and over again.

Paul tells us that Christ…

    …humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

The cross.

A slaves death. A disgraceful death.

A Roman citizen (a person of human worth in the eyes of Rome), if executed would have been beheaded. It was a civil death. A death worthy of a Roman son or daughter.

A non-Roman citizen, though, would suffer a different fate.

The Romans were creative with the ways they killed their criminals.

For non-Roman citizens sentenced to death, they could be sentenced to die any number of ways:

▪Being burnt alive

▪Being bound by the feet to the tails of wild horses and dragged to death

▪Being torn to pieces by wild beasts

▪Beaten to death

▪Burned with plates of red-hot iron

But for a slave, a person of zero cultural worth or importance, Rome reserved the most painful and humiliating death of them all. The cross.

The Beacon Bible Commentary talks about this cross this way:

“The Roman writer Cicero called it “the most cruel and abominable form of punishment” (Verrine Orations 5.64; cited by Bruce 1983, 54). “The very word ‘cross,’ ” he cautioned, “should be far removed not only from the person of a Roman citizen, but from his thoughts, his eyes and his ears” (Rab. Perd. 16; cited by Hengel 1977, 42). In other words, cross was an obscenity not to be mentioned in polite Roman society.

What made crucifixion so appalling in Paul’s world was that it combined excruciating torture with total humiliation (Hooker 1994, 8).Victims were paraded through the streets publicly, open to ridicule from bystanders, crucified naked, left to hang sometimes for several days, with even their bodily excretions in full view.

The victims’ bodies were usually left exposed to be eaten by birds or wild animals, with the remnants tossed into a common pit (the Gospels note that Jesus’ burial was an exception to this practice; see Matt 27:57–59). The absence of a proper burial heaped further humiliation on the victims and their families (see Osiek 2000, 63). (BBC)

The social stigma attached to crucifixion was further extended by its close identification with slavery. In fact, it was so common for slaves to be crucified in the Roman world that crucifixion came to be known as the “slaves’ punishment” (Hellerman 2005, 146–47). No one would have had to alert the Philippians to the connection between Jesus “taking the form of a slave” (NRSV) and his death on a cross. Everyone knew that crucifixion was the penalty for slaves” (BBC)

The death of the people’s king

The greek philosopher Plato, once said that if a truly righteous man ever existed, humanity would crucify him.

In him, humanity would see everything that it wasn’t.

In Christ, the religious elite witnessed something they desperately wanted: respect.

They lived their lives- be it through fasting, following rules, or using the law to condemn- in an attempt to prove their greatness.

Jesus lived his life to show his love.

He refused to participate in the system as it was designed.

He didn’t seek the approval of the powerful. He conversed with prostitutes.

He didn’t proclaim monetary righteousness. He invited the rich to give all they had away.

He was radical. He didn’t see himself as a deity able to control others. Rather, he chose to take a downward path towards humility and humiliation.

That’s hard for us to understand, isn’t it?

What this means for you and me

How do we use our voice, our power, our influence and our economic system to advance our own causes?

Are we, as christians, using the gospel to bully people into believing like you and me? Or are we using choosing the way of sacrifice to show people what Christ is offering?

The truth is that, when Christ refused to wield the power of his Divine Nature to bring about the Kingdom, that took from us any ability to use our own power to bring about the Kingdom.

When it’s our weight being thrown, it’s not longer a Christ-centered movement. It becomes my own personal vendetta.

When we create a fiction around our lives, tailor our story so others will think more of us, and when acclamation of power matters more than genuine honesty, we can know that we’re not living like the King we’ve been called to emulate.

It’s difficult work, being part of this kingdom. It costs us everything, and requires we hold on to nothing.

But in the holding on to nothing, we will find that we gain everything…but more on that next week.

Power vs Humiliation, or when God becomes man.

Today, we’ll be looking at Philippians 2:5-8. Let’s dive in and read it together…

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

This passage is one of the lofty peaks of the New Testament.  Many scholars Philippians 2:5-11 to be an early church hymn, and many even speculate Paul himself even wrote the words. While much of the background is shrouded in mystery, the purpose and words are clear.

This is a hymn celebrating and exploring the life and meaning of Christ, and this passage is vital to the purpose of this letter. It’s the linchpin that holds the book together.

About this hymn: It’s broken down into two acts:  The Humiliation and The Exultation.

This week, we’ll be talking about the humiliation, and next week we’ll be taking a look at the Exultation.

The humiliation

Up to this point in Philippians, Paul has been talking a great deal about humility, and viewing others as better than yourself. With this passage, Paul is teaching the Philippians, and the church today, that it isn’t enough to know about Christ. We can all have knowledge about him, but that doesn’t do anything for us, or for the world. We must emulate him. We must do everything in our power to become like him.

Sometimes we look at Jesus as the man who died on the Cross and the one whose death brought about our forgiveness, right? We have the nice (or ugly) image of the passion of the Christ in our minds. We are grateful for the sacrifice. However, it’s far too easy to leave it at that. It’s far too easy to not take the next step.

Use it or…

People are tempted to use what they have to gain an advantage.

We see this all over the place.

The Innocent: Baseball. (The use of video to give pitchers or hitters an advantage)

The Corrupt: Insider trading (using private knowledge of a company to benefit your own personal bottom line).

This hymn reminds us of this difficult, yet important truth: Christ deliberately chose not to use equality with God for his own benefit.

With Christ’s power, it would have been easy to raise up an army and overthrow Rome, right?

We even read in Matthew 4, or what is known as the “temptation of Christ”:

…the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
    and they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’[c]”

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’[d]”

It had to have been tempting to use what was available to him

Christ knew the path he was to walk. He knew the end he would face. He knew that this would be the most difficult road he would ever have to walk, and he knew he could take a short cut. He could take the easy way out.

We find Christ often telling people, after being healed, to go and tell no-one what has just happened. We know human nature. We know people respond to the miraculous. The bigger, the better.

Christ wanted them to just look for a quick fix. He wanted to heal the heart, and they needed to experience the slow work of love.

Jesus knew that the flash of a public healing, casting out of demons or through winning theological debates would never be enough to truly change, redeem and restore.

Only invitations could do that.

(Stop by tomorrow as we explore what happened when deities collide)

Finding joy in the mess of community. (Part 2)

Photo Credit:  mathias shoots analogue

Photo Credit: mathias shoots analogue

Paul gives us a hint when he says:

“listen, you all have professed a relationship with Christ. You all have been impacted by his work in your life, and so, with that understanding I plead of you….’If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends.’” (The message)

Agree with each other. Love each other. Be deep spirited friends. What’s Paul talking about here? We’re told to be like-minded.

This Biblical understanding of like-mindedness is a mindset, an attitude or a life-choice. It’s not an intellectual activity.

So often, we choose to run with, or associate with, people who share all the same beliefs and lifestyle choices as us. It’s easy, right? They don’t push us into places of discomfort. We usually don’t have to defend our beliefs, or we don’t have to be stretched by theirs. We can spend our time talking about things we agree with, rather than things we disagree with. But when we do this, when we choose to only be with those who are like us, we miss out on so many opportunities to grow and develop as human beings. The thing is this…our culture tells us that we must all agree on everything. That a person who is different is to be feared. Are you a different political persuasion than I am? I am to fear you. Are you a different religion? I am to fear you. Are you a different sexual orientation? I am to fear you.

This is modeled by our political pundits through the ways in which they talk to the “other side”

or…

Our cultural political leaders teach us that those who look, talk, think or act differently than us must be our enemies, and we must never listen to our enemies. This is opposite of what Paul is telling us to do. He is telling us to stop focusing on having a perfectly aligned intellectual opinion. He’s telling us to stop huddling in like-minded holy huddles.

Instead, Paul says, before we worry about theology, before we worry about politics, before we worry about any other non-essential division, let us first find commonality in Christ.

Let’s choose to make that our singular point of agreement. The rest, he says, are details. Now, it must be said, that this is not as easy as it looks. Right? But Paul doesn’t leave it at this.

Paul tells us to have the same love for our enemies that Christ modeled for us. 

The word for love in this passage is the word agape. Agape love means endless and boundless love. A love without borders. A love without conditions. A love without expectation of return. Agape is a love that says, I disagree with you, I don’t understand you, but you are my brother or you are my sister and I will choose to  not let my disagreements and personal conditions determine your worth. Agape love lets others speak. Agape love listens. Agape love refuses to stereotype. Agape love seeks to break down barriers. Agape love refuses to let go of forgiveness. Agape love refuses to hold grudges. Agape love remembers it’s all about Christ. Agape love begins and ends with Christ. Agape l love says that I will love you as I see Christ love me, us, the church, the world. How does this look practically? In many ways, it seems impossible, right? Paul tells the church in Philippi, if they want to find contentment, peace and joy, they must:

Resist Vanity

The word used for vanity here is kenodoxia, which means: a state of pride which is without basis or justification – ‘empty pride, cheap pride, vain pride.’ We see this all over the place, don’t we? We see it in the way we manufacture our memories through platforms like Instagram and Twitter. We carefully construct these moments, using filters or carefully placed shots, in hopes that people are jealous of our lives. This was perfectly modeled by Zilla van den Born, a dutch student, who faked a trip to southeast Asia. She explained her purpose for the deceit this way:

“I did this to show people that we filter and manipulate what we show on social media–we create an ideal world online, which reality can no longer meet . . . My goal was to prove how common and easy it is for people to distort reality. Everyone knows that pictures of models are manipulated, but we often overlook the fact that we manipulate reality also in our own lives.”

When we attempt to show ourselves as more popular, more happy, more beautiful, more (  fill in the blank  ) than we actually are, we rob ourselves of the beauty of our real lives. In our pursuit of manufacturing our truth and happiness for others to be jealous of, we miss out on the moments of true happiness all around us!

Paul tells us to resist blind ambition. 

That desire to accumulate more and more. To build your wealth. To build your clout. To build your reputation. To build your career. To build your twitter followers. To build your blog following. To build your influence. To build your… We so easily find ourselves pushing for more of something, don’t we? And in this pushing, we’re celebrated by our culture. It’s is celebrated by the books we read: Atlas Shrugged The movies we watch:

The celebration and adulation of those who earn, succeed and win at all costs is a cornerstone of the American dream. We want to be [ rich, successful, powerful] like them. While it might be an American cornerstone, we must reject the belief that it’s a Christian pillar. We must remember the pursuit of power, influence or personal gain is not what life in Christ is about. We were not built for this, and we must always remember that joy does not come when Atlas Shrugs.

Lastly, Paul reminds us to not believe yourself to be larger than the church community.

Despite what we’re often taught, Christianity isn’t about the single person. It’s about the collective; the whole. We are a Kingdom Community.   While thinking about the individualistic Christian faith might sound nice on post-card, it isn’t real or true. While we know that, yes, Christ would have come and died for the salvation of only one (he loves us that much!), we also know what’s taught in Colossians. We understand Christ came to redeem and reconcile all of creation to himself. Everything. Everyone. This is a group effort. This thing we’re part of is much, larger than any one person, and when we’re part of the community of believers we’re reminded us of this truth, right? In the community of believers, we’re surrounded by people all working to make it through life. We struggle. We bicker. We fight. We love. We forgive. But there isn’t one here that is bigger or better than another in the eyes of God. We’re all equal. We’re all sons and daughters of God. But we must remember that we’re part of something bigger than ourselves. That we’re not entitled to extra, or more, or that something extra is owed to us. How this begins the process of joy Part of what creates despair in us is that, in the process of trying to show ourselves to be something we’re not, we lose ourselves and we forget who God created us to be. Part of what the community of believers offers us is the chance to be real. To be our true, and honest self; warts and all. When we’re able to be ourselves, and when we’re accepted for who we truly are, we will find that joy comes naturally to us. It’s easy to find joy when we’re honest, open and recipients of God’s grace.

No matter the road we take, and no matter our path, the process towards true joy will always end with Christ, and will always be by way of the community of believers.

Finding Joy in the mess of community. (Part 2)

Photo Credit:  mathias shoots analogue

Photo Credit: mathias shoots analogue

Yesterday…

We talked about the physical and spiritual toll loneliness inflicts on us as people. We talked about how we spend our time trying to find happiness, but that we only find ourselves sinking deeper and deeper into isolation and darkness. (Want to catch up? Read part one here)

The question remains: How can we find joy together? Even though we’re taught to talk over one another?

Paul begins the conversation on conversation

Paul starts off by saying, “listen, you all have professed a relationship with Christ. You all have been impacted by his work in your life, and so, with that understanding I plead of you….’If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends.’” (The message)

Agree with each other. Love each other. Be deep spirited friends.

What’s Paul talking about here?

We’re told to be like-minded.

This Biblical understanding of like-mindedness is a mindset, an attitude or a life-choice. It’s not an intellectual activity.

So often, we choose to run with, or associate with, people who share all the same beliefs and lifestyle choices as us. It’s easy, right? They don’t push us into places of discomfort. We usually don’t have to defend our beliefs, or we don’t have to be stretched by theirs. We can spend our time talking about things we agree with, rather than things we disagree with.

But when we do this, when we choose to only be with those who are like us, we miss out on so many opportunities to grow and develop as human beings. The thing is this…our culture tells us that we must all agree on everything. That a person who is different is to be feared.

Are you a different political persuasion than I am? I am to fear you.

Are you a different religion? I am to fear you.

Are you a different sexual orientation? I am to fear you.

But this isn’t what Paul is telling us to do. He says, no, stop focusing on trying to match up our intellectual opinions. Stop huddling in same minded groups.

Instead, he says, before we worry about theology. Before we worry about politics. Before we worry about any other division, let us, instead first find commonality in Christ.

Let’s choose to make that our singular point of agreement. The rest, he says, are details.

Now, it must be said, that this is not as easy as it looks. Right?

But he doesn’t leave it at this…he moves on to say…

We’re told to have the same love that Christ modeled for us. 

The word for love in this passage is the word agape.

Agape love means endless and boundless love. A love without borders. A love without conditions. A love without expectation of return.

Agape is a love that says, I disagree with you, I don’t understand you, but you are my brother or you are my sister and I will choose to  not let my disagreements and personal conditions determine your worth.

Our culture teaches us a different message, doesn’t it?

It demonstrates the message that, if I don’t like what you say, I’ll talk over you. If you don’t agree with me, I will refuse to listen to you.

Your words, your worth, are tied to how closely our politics or religious beliefs alight.

We see this on both sides of the political isle.

We see Republicans do this…

We see Democrats do this…

We must refuse, at all costs, to be caught up in this agression towards others.

After all, we are a people called to love our enemies, and serve those we disagree with.

This can only happen through Agape love.

Agape love lets others speak. Agape love listens.

Agape love refuses to stereotype. Agape love seeks to break down barriers.

Agape love refuses to let go of forgiveness. Agape love refuses to hold grudges.

Agape love remembers it’s all about Christ. Agape love begins and ends with Christ.

Agape l love says that I will love you as I see Christ love me, us, the church, the world.

How are we supposed to do this?

It seems impossible, right?

Paul tells the church in Philippi, if they want to find contentment, peace and joy, they do two things.

Resist Vanity

The word used for vanity here is kenodoxia, which means: a state of pride which is without basis or justification – ‘empty pride, cheap pride, vain pride.’

We see this all over the place, don’t we?

One of the most articulate explorations of this search was done by Zilla van den Born. This Dutch student faked a trip to S. E. Asia in order to show us how easy it is to create and manipulate how others see us.

We are all guilty of this. We take photos of a meal, a beautiful building, or a child’s smile. We place a filter on it, and post to Instagram. In this, we attempt to show ourselves as more popular, more happy, more beautiful, more ( fill in the blank ) than we actually are.

We want to be the ones others are longing to be.

Someone along the way, in these blind pursuits towards creating our own versions truth and happiness, we will find that we’re missing out on the moments of true happiness all around us! The kind of happiness you can’t fake. The happiness you can’t re-create.

Resist blind ambition.

It’s easy, right? To find ourselves overwhelmed with a desire to accumulate more and more.

To build your wealth.

To build your clout.

To build your reputation.

To build your career.

To build your influence.

We must remember that this is not what life in Christ is about. Remember that joy does not come through things like this.

We must fight the temptations to believe we’re larger than the community that welcomes us.

Despite what we’re often taught, Christianity isn’t about me, nor is it about you. It’s about us- the collective whole.

The community.

On a post-card, the me-centered grace sounds wonderful. Who wouldn’t want to think that God came for just you, or just me? While, we know that Christ loved us enough to come for only one. We’re taught in Colossians that Christ came to redeem and reconcile all of creation to himself.

Not you. Not me. WE.

This thing we’re part of is much larger than any one person. The community of believers reminds us of this truth, right?

In church, we’re surrounded by people all working to make it through life. We struggle. We bicker. We fight. We love. We forgive. However, there isn’t one of us that is bigger or better than another in the eyes of God.

We’re all equals. We’re all sons and daughters of God.

We must remember we’re part of something bigger than ourselves. Because of this beautiful equality, we’re not entitled to anything extra.

How this begins the process of joy

Part of what creates despair in us is that, in the process of trying to show ourselves to be something we’re not, we lose ourselves and we forget who God created us to be.

Part of what the community of believers offers us is the chance to be real. To be our true, and honest self; warts and all. When we’re able to be ourselves, and when we’re accepted for who we truly are, we will find that joy comes naturally to us. It’s easy to find joy when we’re honest, open and recipients of God’s grace.

Conclusion

No matter the road we take, and no matter our path, the process towards true joy will always end with Christ, and will always be by way of the community of believers.

Finding joy in the mess of community. (Part 1)

Photo Credit:  David Hodgson

Photo Credit: David Hodgson

Intro

We are continuing on with our study of Philippians. In this study we’re looking at how joy and suffering applies to our 21st century lives.

Last week (part 1, part 2) we talked about how God uses suffering to advance His work in the world, and his work in the hearts of those who we interact with. We talked about how he uses difficult times in our lives to help others connect with God in a new and real way.

We’ve talked about how being real with our story invites others to be real with their story.

Today, we’ll be continuing this discussion of community and the joy that comes from being complete together.

Joy is spelled S.O.L.O

Happiness is solo venture. You will often hear people talk about what it means to be or search out happiness, and it will often be said that we are “going to make myself happy for a while.”

A Google search for “happiness” yields 75 million results, and nearly 40,000 books on or related to the topic are available for purchase on Amazon.com.

Happiness, and the pursuit of it, is at the forefront of our culture, isn’t it?

Yet, we’re not a happy culture.

In a 2013 New York Times Op-Ed piece, Ross Douthat states,

In the 1990s, the suicide rate dipped with the crime rate. But since 2000, it has risen, and jumped particularly sharply among the middle-aged. The suicide rate for Americans 35 to 54 increased nearly 30 percent between 1999 and 2010; for men in their 50s, it rose nearly 50 percent. More Americans now die of suicide than in car accidents, and gun suicides are almost twice as common as gun homicides… there’s a strong link between suicide and weakened social ties: people — and especially men — become more likely to kill themselves “when they get disconnected from society’s core institutions (e.g., marriage, religion) or when their economic prospects take a dive (e.g., unemployment).”

In Slate, it’s been documented:

Loneliness is a serious health risk. Studies of elderly people and social isolation concluded that those without adequate social interaction were twice as likely to die prematurely.

The increased mortality risk is comparable to that from smoking. And loneliness is about twice as dangerous as obesity.

Social isolation impairs immune function and boosts inflammation, which can lead to arthritis, type II diabetes, and heart disease. Loneliness is breaking our hearts, but as a culture we rarely talk about it.

Loneliness has doubled: 40 percent of adults in two recent surveys said they were lonely, up from 20 percent in the 1980s.

This, then, begs the question…if so much of our time and resources are dedicated to the pursuit of happiness, and if this happiness is becoming more and more rare, then it would be wise for us to take a serious look at how we are looking for it, right?

We must look at what we’re expecting to bring us happiness, and how we’re finding ourselves disappointed by it.

Ultimately, is happiness found as a community or is it found alone?

Philippians 2:1-4

2 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

We must begin with unity

When we begin  to talk about community and happiness that’s found within community, we must first discuss unity.

We are a fragmented society.

We have republicans. We have democrats.

We have Americans. We have Mexicans. We have Chinese.

We have college graduates. We have high school drop-outs.

We have nuclear families. We have single mothers.

We have White collar. We have blue-collar. Some have no collar.

We have heterosexual. We have homosexual.

We have musicians. We have accountants.

We have Protestants. We have Catholics.

We have whovians. We have trekkies.

We have war veterans. We have pacifists.

I could keep going, but we all understand, right?

With so many differences, with so many ways in which we can experience life and come to find some semblance of foundation in our lives, how can we exist together in community?

An even deeper, and more difficult question, how can we come to exist together even when our differences are so drastic or glaring? How can we find joy together? Even though we’re taught to talk over one another?

Tomorrow, we’re going to dive into that question together.

When in the midst of suffering we discover God. (Part 2)

Today, we’ll be continuing on with our discussion of Philippians one. Need a refresher? Check out part 1 here.

****

philippians

Paul is a passionate man.

He’s dedicated to the one thing he feels called to do; preach the gospel. He talks often about his moment on the road to Damascus when he had a meeting with Christ. Calling, for many, can be a fluid and uncertain thing. Not for Paul, though. He knew and he followed this call to the end.

He was driven. He took 3 missionary journeys during his life, and he has been credited with planting between 14-20 churches.

He was a man on a mission. Literally.

So imagine him, in that prison, it would have been easy for him to spend his time thinking of all that still needed to be done. All he had not been able to accomplish.

Yet, this isn’t what we see from Paul, is it?

Paul writes, “what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.” And that, “because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.”

In Philippians 1, Paul is conveying two difficult but important truths.

First, our suffering, or the difficulties of life, are used by God to advance the gospel.

The math doesn’t add up here.

In this first chapter, Paul writes about how the news of him had spread throughout the palace guard. This guard was known as the Praetorian Guard. These were an elite branch of the Roman military called upon to guard and protected the higher-ups within the roman military and political world.

These were the best of the best within the roman world. They were paid higher, entrusted with more, and as a result, were men of great honor.

It was the “guards of the gods” that guards Paul now. And its this group that has been seeing and hearing from Paul while he is in captivity. They hear his message, his story, and it has piqued something within them.

They’re talking. Talking amongst themselves. This is a big deal. Paul, the Jesus follower, the man teaching that Caesar isn’t god, has sparked something within the minds of those who guard the gods.

This suffering, this imprisonment, has been used by God to spread the message that there is only one King, and there is only one Kingdom.

Is it possible that God could have found another way, an easier way, for this message to be spread across Rome? Maybe. Maybe not.

All we know is that he used Paul, in his most useless and powerless state, to disrupt the system that oppressed and fabricated lies.

Isn’t that just how the kingdom works, though?

It’s the weak. It’s the imprisoned. The oppressed who show the world the heart of God?

This is what Paul is pointing the Philippian church back to. He is saying,  yes, I’m in prison, yes my future on this earth is uncertain, but God is at work. And it is in this work that I find my greater purpose and God’s perfect plan.

It’s in this understanding that we can have peace.

Now, when a Christ follower comes to a place of deeply understanding this, as Paul did, something happens within the Body of Believers, too.

Second, our suffering unites us with Christ.

Paul says, “…because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.”

If there is one thing most dangerous to the church, it’s fear of isolation. Isolation is the belief that you are on your own, that your experience is singular, and that nobody knows what you’re going through, is one of the greatest lies and most destructive beliefs in the Christian faith.

Whether it be sin, sickness, loneliness or depression, we believe it’s the pressure point that satan most often uses to press us into silence and meekness.

This is where Paul’s statement here is so beautiful and so important. He reminds us that, yes, he’s suffering and yes he’s going through hell, but he is aware that others are watching him. That fellow Christ followers are taking note of his courage, his ability to draw comfort from God, and to proclaim the goodness of God in spite of any and every situation.

It is in this witness that the church, more specifically, the individuals whose eyes see Paul, that a church is inspired to move. They are moved to action. They are reminded that, while our situations are difficult, and we wouldn’t have chosen them, God is still on the move!

And when the church witness’ this, a fire is ignited within us, and the Gospel is propelled into a world filled with chains, sadness, brokeness and instead drives us to a deeper knowledge of God and the joy that only he can bring.

 

When in the midst of suffering we discover God. (Part 1)

philippians

Intro

Today, we are kicking off our series on Philippians. We have titled this series, “A rebel’s guide to joy.”

Joy. We all want joy, right?

We sing songs about it.

We name our kids after it.

However, the difficult truth is we don’t always know how to find joy.

Joy, for us, is mixed up in so many things. Achievements. Satisfactions. Success. Comfort. Accumulation of goods. Friends. Family. The list goes on and one, right?

How do we find that real, true, soul quenching joy that seems to always elude us?

This is the question we’re going to be searching to answer in our time walking through Philippians. I promise, it won’t be an easy answer. I promise it won’t be a simple answer. However, Philippians will being our journey towards real, life-sustaining joy, and I promise it will be real.

Let’s begin by reading our passage together. Philippians 1:3-6, 9-14, 19-26:

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

A little background on Paul and the church in Philippi:

The book of Philippians was a book written to a church in the Roman city of Philippi. Now, Philippi, was one of the leading cities in the district of Macedonia. It was of extreme strategic importance (located near important resources and trade routes), and as a result, Philippi enjoyed important privileges within the Roman empire: autonomous government and immunity from tribute. This was a destination city. It was a city where others wanted to live.

philippi

Traditionally, scholars agree that Paul drafted the epistle during his two years of house arrest in Rome (though, because Paul was imprisoned more than once, there is some debate as to which imprisonment Paul refers to throughout this book.

The church in Philippi was, for Paul, an extremely important and deeply loved congregation. This being the case because Paul himself had established the church in Philippi approximately 10 years prior, during his second missionary journey recorded in Acts 16. Thus, his tender love for the believers in Philippi is apparent in this, the most personal of all Paul’s writings.

The Philippian church represents the best of what he experienced as a missionary and pastor. In other letters (or what we know as the Pauline Letters in the New Testament), we see Paul’s writing reflecting the range of emotions. There are some churches which disappointed Paul. Others left him disappointed, while still others were in need of strong rebuke.

This wasn’t the case with the church in Philippi.

From the moment pen touched parchment, Paul’s love bursts from within him as he writes, “I thank my God every time I remember you.”

As far as new churches go, Philippi is one of the good ones.

And for all of this church’s success, Paul had to earn every bit of it.

The issue of suffering:

As we dive into the book of Philippians, it takes all of 12 verses for us to get at one of the two major themes of this book; suffering.

The other theme? We mentioned it at the beginning: Joy.

From the first lines written to the church in Philippi, we witness a story, and it’s a story that finds its roots planted firmly in suffering, and through Paul we see this beautiful interplay between suffering and joy.

The history

Paul’s history with the Philippian church started with imprisonment. It started with Paul and his partner, Silas, casting

Photo Credit: Falln-Stockout a demon that was in a slave girl. This miracle upset the locals, they arrested Paul and Silas, flogged them and threw them in jail. However, through a miracle, Paul and Silas were freed.

Soon after, they met and baptized Lydia, a local dye merchant, and thus began the church in Philippi.

This was a church started with literal blood. It was a church that cost literal pain to begin. It wasn’t cheap. It wasn’t easy. It was very, very difficult. Not only did the Philippian church survive, it thrived, and it grew, matured and came into its own over the course of 10 years.

Paul in Chains

Then they hear about Paul, and it seems as though this reminds the Philippian Christians of what happened ten years prior. Maybe they had grown complacent. Maybe not. However, with Paul’s imprisonment, the true cost of following this “Jesus” and being part of his group of Jesus-followers was brought back to the fore-front once more.

Death. Persecution. Pain. Suffering.

These were all options on the table. And they needed to understand and be willing to accept this. The church members, though, most likely afraid (and understandably so).

I’m guessing their minds raced with questions…like:

What do we do if Paul is killed?

What do we do if we are killed?

Who will teach us? Who will lead us? Who will protect us?

Is this really the way we want to spend our life?

Philippian church in fear because of Paul’s imprisonment. What will happen to them?

Paul dives right in and meets these fears and questions head on:

(12-14) Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.

In this first chapter, Paul begins by reflecting on his troubles

Paul says, yes, I’m in chains. Yes, I’m in prison. I’m not currently able to travel, preach and teach as I had hoped, or as I feel called to do.

To not do what you’re called to do/passionate about. This is a bigger deal than we often let on, right?

How many here have been in a situation where you were unable to do the one thing you love to do, or the one thing you felt called to do?

These dark moments are an invitation, written in neon lights, for pity and self-loathing to take hold. These emotions lead us into a place of darkness, and leave us unable or unwilling to see how God is at work in the present moment.

(Our discussion will continue tomorrow!)

An honest look at Joy, Suffering and the beautiful letter to Philippi.

chainsFor those who follow this blog, you’ll know that I often share my sermon manuscript from the prior week. While they tend to be grammatically crude (I write specifically for how I’ll talk, rather than focusing on proper grammar), I do hope that, beyond the errors and rough composition, these messages mean something to you. After all, they are in many ways, my own spiritual struggle put into words. I am a canvass which displays the working of the Spirit. In other words, these sermons are very often, biographical.

Why Philippians?

I’m still young, and in my role as preaching pastor at Living Vine, I’m still figuring out how to guide a congregation through 52 weeks of sermons. There is a beautiful and spiritual dance that takes place between the Word of God and his people. One of the ways I have been doing my best to remain faithful to where God wants to take Living Vine is by planning out all sermons over the course of the coming year instead of just jumping from series to series.

Practically, I have probably only kept half of the sermons as planned, and due to various reasons, I have changed, altered or completely done away with the other half (so much for efficiency!).

Rarely, though, in my time as preaching pastor has a sermon series been so timely and necessary as our approaching Philippians. This study of Philippians is exactly what I and those I serve, need to hear in this season of life. Honestly, as I look around and as I look within myself, I am fully confident that this is the word, and this is the message I and this church needs to hear. And so, I invite each of you on this journey with us.

Together, may we learn what it means to find joy in the midst of suffering.

Note: I am actually a week behind. To catch up, I’ll be posting two weeks worth of sermons this week (broken down into multiple posts).

Off The Shelf Review: “Conflict Management For Faith Leaders” by Houston E. Thompson

Disclaimer: Occasionally, I receive books from Beacon Hill Press with the request to read and review on this site. Aside from being provided a copy of the book, I am not compensated in any way for this post. All comments and opinions are my own. 

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Conflict Management coverIf you’re in the leadership business. 

If you’re a pastor.

If you are married.

If you have friends.

If you are a living, breathing human being, and if you deal with other living, breathing human beings, you’ve been and will continue to find yourself in conflict.

Along with the laws of thermodynamics, Newton’s apple inspired Law of Gravity, and to a lesser degree, Murphy’s law, there should also be a law which states that when two people are in the same room, chaos will inevitably ensue. After all, it’s only natural!

People have opinions (often strongly held ones, at that) and expectations, and when people don’t match up to, or go along with these opinions or expectations, relational tense is sure to follow.

Conflict, for good or ill, is with us for the long run.

Breaking it down

What I loved:

1. I appreciate how Mr. Thompson brings a narrative form to the issue of relational conflict. Conflict is filled with faces, voices, skin and bones. These chapters reflect this “real-ness” and are filled with anecdotes which creates an easy read (though, don’t mistake ease of reading for ease of practice!).

2. I appreciate Mr. Hunter’s desire to add “handles” to the issue of interpersonal conflict. As pastors, we’re often guilty of taking conflict and making it “Otherworldly” or ethereal. Hunter, however takes this ethereal concept and he brings it down to earth. He talks about the in’s and out’s of what it means to be in conflict, and he does it with depth and clarity. He doesn’t give the reader an “out,” which would allow us to over-spiritualize conflict (be it our tendency to use the Bible to proclaim all conflict as evil, or just the other person as evil). Rather, he calls each of us to account for our participation in the conflict, to deal with it head-on, and to find way towards restitution and reconciliation.

3. I appreciate his ability to name the unique brand of conflict typically present in the church. In the church, we often default to naming conflict between two people as spiritual warfare. When we do this, we refuse to see the nuance and intricacy within conflict, and we blind ourselves to the ways in which we can find healing in the midst of strife.

As Mr. Thompson names the different patterns and behaviors often present within conflict, he helps the reader process through which tactics they might choose to employ, and how one might be more successful than another. This helps the reader see that dealing with conflict cannot, and never should be approached as, “one size fits all.” This gives the reader hope that, while they might currently find themselves bogged down in conflict, there will be a day when this conflict will cease.

4. I appreciate his willingness to name the importance within conflict instead of over-spiritualizing or demonizing it. When conflict enters our lives, or when we witness conflict in others’ lives, we try to find and name the villain or the victim. Conflict rarely has a clear-cut victim or villain (that’s not to say it never happens…just not as often as we try to declare). As the old adage goes, there are always two sides to every story.

What I didn’t

I felt as though, if Houston was guilty of anything, it was erring on the side of oversimplification. I mentioned previously that I loved Houston’s ability to draw distinctions between different conflict resolution tactics. The positives of this approach is it allows the reader to think through conflict and to see it as the unique and multifaceted issue that it is. While there were some positives in this approach, I believe there are also some negatives.

I found this book spending it’s time talking about specific conflict resolution styles while overlooking the reality that, within most conflict, there will be a need to work through multiple or various conflict resolution tactics or approaches. Conflict, like a dance, evolves and changes as 2 (or more) people work through the pain and struggle together. There will be times when one must be direct, yet there will be other times in the same situation when they must be subtle or gentle. There is beauty in naming the various ways in which we can resolve our differences, however we must not assume life and conflict will ever fit into a neat box.

When we approach conflict in this way, the only neat box we’ll see is our own casket.

Conclusion

Conflict Management For Faith Leaders is a solid and important read for those whose job it is to deal with people and the conflict that comes with these beautiful relationships. While it can err on the side oversimplifying a few issues, this is a book that offers great insight and important wisdom in regards to how we as pastors and faith leaders should move forward in the frightening, yet beautiful world of conflict.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.
Would I recommend it to others? Yes.

How Social Media Feeds Our Narcissism (By Jayson Bradley)

Today, I’m excited to share a guest post by Jayson Bradley, a pastor, father and writer who is quickly becoming one of my favorite reads. Wise, witty and thought provoking, I highly encourage you to spend some time over at his place (jaysonbradley.com). You will not be disappointed. I promise.

*****

narcissus

Renown for his beauty, Narcissus was vain and prideful. A child of the river god, Cephissus and a nymph named Liriope, he arrogantly scorned those who were drawn to him.

One spurned lover called on the goddess Nemesis for retribution and she led Narcissus to a pool where he became entranced with the beauty of his own reflection. Unable to pull himself away from his image in the water, he died beside the pool.

Is social media the pool of Narcissus?

As with most mythology, Narcissus suffers appropriately for his self-involvement. What’s ironic about this story is how life-giving like water would be used to ensnare him in his own weakness. Due to pathological self-absorption, Narcissus’ life was taken by something intended to give him refreshment and sustenance.

Less than fifteen years ago, the thought that we’d have such simple, accessible tools to connect us across continents, help us stay close to our loved ones, and foster community was too good to be true.

The rise of websites like Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram offered us an unheard of opportunity to be intimately involved in each other’s lives in ways we could never have imagined—and, like Narcissus, we obsessively use them to gaze at our own reflections.

Ferris Bueller, you’re my hero

It used to be that our mailboxes were stuffed every December with Christmas letters from friends and family, each one highlighting the major accomplishments and crowning achievements from the year. Now we’re inundated every moment with carefully worded, strategically packaged updates about lives that none of us are truly living.

  • We share stories about our children that slyly put our incredible parenting on display.
  • We post our Foursquare check-ins from the gym.
  • We plagiarize the sentiments and jokes of others to make ourselves funny and interesting.
  • We take hundreds of selfies for every heavily filtered one we share.
  • We craft updates highlighting every charitable act we do.

It isn’t just that we want mislead others; we, like Narcissus, are enamored with the glittering image of who we imagine ourselves to be.

This incredible tool, with the potential to connect us all, is turning us into a culture of Ferris Buellers breaking the fourth wall to converse with our imaginary audience—who, incidentally, turns out to be ourselves.

Playing to the imaginary audience

In 1967, David Elkind coined the term “the imaginary audience” to reflect how children tend to believe that they’re under constant observation by peers, family, and strangers—but this childhood stage is now becoming a perpetual condition.

We all live with this perpetual idea that we’re the stars of our own serial. Part drama and part comedy, we imagine our lives being watched by others complete with a laugh track and the perfect theme song.

Social media gives us the tools to craft a fable about ourselves that’s loosely based on actual events—and it allows us the opportunity to be both the stars and spectators of this remarkable tale.

Twenty-first century hypocrisy

When we use the term hypocrisy, we tend to think it means intentional duplicity. In our minds, it’s that guy who holds people to a standard he doesn’t keep.

But when Jesus used the term hypokrisis, it literally meant one who acts on stage. It was a person who put on a mask to perform for others. That’s why he talked about people who practice their righteousness in order to be seen by others.

A hypocrite carefully tailors an image that portrays themselves differently than they actually are. The worst part is the hypocrite is usually the first person to believes the false image is real.

Through social media, it’s easier than ever to create and spread a legendary version of ourselves, but because no one can truly build a relationship with an imaginary character, we pour our energy into fiction.

Life in an age of narcissism

Narcissism is diagnosed by certain behavioral tendencies, among them: a fantastical and exaggerated view of one’s own strengths, an elevated views of one’s opinions, and a cultivating of superficial relationships.

The intrinsic danger of social media is in the way it rewards narcissism. You can post ten selfies a day and, even though most of your friends think you’re ridiculously self-obsessed, you’ll get the inevitable positive reinforcement in comments about how attractive or buff you are.

Social media overcompensates us for self-aggrandizing behavior.

I often wonder how future generations will judge us as they comb through zettabytes of social media content. How will they sum up humanity in this era?

We need to be diligent about using social media’s incredible tools to connect to others, to build deep and valuable relationships, and to create open and transparent dialog. I’m afraid anything less ultimately devalues and poisons us.

*****

jayson bradleyBio: Jayson is a God-botherer, writer, sinner, audiophile, and Washington state’s worst pastor. He blogs at jaysondbradley.com. Find him on Twitter and Facebook.