Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Having the Same Attitude As Jesus

(Read Philippians 2:5-11)

A narcissist believes that he or she is the alpha and the omega, that life is all about him and the fulfillment of his desires. The narcissist seeks others to follow him, not because he has anything positive and valuable to contribute to society, but simply because he likes to be followed. While he believes that what he has to offer is of great value, it can in fact be of little value or even of great harm since it never contains love or awareness for his fellow man. Narcissists advance themselves at the expense of others.

Adolf Hitler, Charles Manson, Bernie Madoff are some names you might recognize because of their narcissistic pursuits. While each had a different area of focus—Hitler was a political leader; Manson a communal leader, and Madoff an economic leader- the commonality between them all is that they served themselves. They were instruments of their own desire. They called others to follow them to achieve their own purposes. The narcissist elevates the one over the many.

Jesus, on the other hand, was far from the narcissistic personality. Yes, he was a leader, but he lead on behalf of other. Jesus lead on behalf of God. He did not seek to accomplish his own purposes. He was not driven by his own will, but he lead others that the Father’s will might be accomplished through him. Certainly, Jesus did not seek to elevate himself over others, but he lowered himself for the benefit of others. Jesus was not an instrument of his own desire. Jesus was an instrument of God.

Today’s passage from Philippians says just that. That though Jesus was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited. He did not elevate himself to godly status, holding power over others (though he could have. I am reminded of the movie Bruce Almighty, in which Jim Carey plays a man who has been given the powers of God, and in a humorous way, he wields those powers as though he were the greatest thing, the coolest person, the Man, as though he were God). Instead, he emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in human likeness and being found in human form, he humbled himself to human status. And instead of being driven by his own desire, instead of pushing his own will and seeking to accomplish his own agenda, he became obedient, even to the point of death, death on a cross. Jesus emptied himself that he might be an instrument of God.

The Scripture says, “Let the same mind, the same attitude be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2: 5). And so, the question we must all ask ourselves is: are we instruments of our own desire or are we instruments of God?

If we are instruments of our own desire, like the narcissist, we will be more concerned for ourselves than others, putting me before you. We will want our own way instead of factoring in what others want. My happiness will be more important than your happiness. We will also find ourselves in a constant battle with life as we try to make things go our way instead of the way that God’s Spirit is moving.

If we are instruments of God however, we will find a balance between seeking our own happiness and seeking to make others happy. We will even find ourselves putting others first. And we will surrender to the Spirit’s lead in our lives. Instead of pushing to make things the way we want them to be, we will open up to the way things are going, trying to discern God’s presence in what is happening in our daily circumstance.

St Francis wrote a very well-known prayer for peace, and in it, he describes what it is like to be an instrument of God:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
Where there is hatred, let me sow love:
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not
So much seek to be consoled
As to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born
to eternal life.

Following St. Francis’ lead, we learn that to be an instrument of God is to give love, to pardon or forgive, to have faith instead of doubting, to hope instead of despairing. To be an instrument of God is to console our family and friends, and even strangers, and to try to understand them no matter what they do to us.

Probably, we are each instruments of our own desire and instruments of God, a combination of both to some extent. We all go in and out of being played by the hand of God and being played by ourselves. The hope is to become more Christ-like by God’s grace.

I picked the story of Jesus’ first miracle when he turned water into wine at the wedding in Cana because of the words that Jesus uttered in that passage. They are at the wedding and Mary says to Jesus, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” (John 2:3-4).

Think of how many times Jesus must have had to refrain from doing something or saying something because it was not the right time according to the plan that God had made for his life. Surely, before this first miracle, Jesus must have had the opportunity to heal someone who was sick or raise someone from the dead, but he didn’t simply because the hour to do so had not yet come.

That’s letting God use your life. That’ letting God rule your life. Not my will, but Thy will be done. Sometimes, when life isn’t going the way you want it to, perhaps you should just remember the words of Jesus and say to yourself, “My hour has not yet come.”

But the hour must have come for Jesus to reveal his glory because he goes ahead and does his first miracle. He has the servants fill the six stone water jars. Then, he has them pour some out and take it to the chief steward, who when he tastes the wine, cannot believe that the bridegroom had waited to serve the best wine until last.

The Holy Spirit must have whispered to Jesus, “Now is the time, my son. Go ahead.”

Remember how at our outdoor service we talked about the seasons of life, how there is a time for every purpose under heaven. Part of being an instrument of God is knowing what season of life you are in and going along with it, being an active participant in what God is doing in your life right now.

But in order to do that, we have to be emptied of ourselves so that we can be filled with God. That is what it means to have the same mind, the same attitude as Jesus.

Think of yourself like a small, wooden flute or any wind instrument really. It awaits the breath of one who can give it song, but it has to be open, willing and clear of any obstructions. When we empty ourselves of our agenda, desire, will, when we clear out space, then Spirit can flow through us and we can create music. Our lives then rest in the hands of God.

I got this idea from a poem, Instruments of God, by Joyce Rupp:

A small, wooden flute,
An empty, hollow reed,
Rests in her silent hand.

It awaits the breath
Of one who creates song
Through its open form.

My often-empty life
Rests in the hand of God;
Like the hollowed flute,
It yearns for the melody
Which only Breath/Spirit can give.

May God’s Spirit blow through your emptied self like breath blows through a flute, and just like the flute produces a melody, may God turn your life into a song.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Are You Open to God's Will For Your Life?

In 1998, Richard Stearns, a devout Christian, found himself with the dilemma of a lifetime. Would he remain the fat cat CEO of Lenox, the fine tableware company, or would he uproot his wife and five children, move across the country from Philadelphia to Seattle, and become the CEO of World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children, families, and their communities worldwide? World Vision might best be known for their sponsor a child program in which you pay X amount of dollars monthly so that a child can have food, clothing, medical care and an education.

Richard didn’t want to leave Lenox and the upscale life he had worked so hard to build, but time and again, the opportunity at World Vision presented itself in his life. First, an old, church friend and board member at World Vision called to ask him to consider the position. Comfortable and secure in the life he had at Lenox, Richard said “no.” Then, a co-worker at Lenox told him about the opportunity at World Vision because he thought Richard would be perfect for the job. Richard thought what a coincidence! This World Vision job came up again, but he once again ignored the opportunity. The third time it happened, the main recruiter for the CEO position of World Vision called Richard directly and asked him if he would be interested in the position. At this point, Richard began to wonder if there wasn’t something more to this whole situation. Perhaps this wasn’t just a job offer, but a calling from God. After much consideration, Richard agreed to meet with the recruiter for an informational dinner to learn just what World Vision was looking for in terms of a CEO.

As time went on and Richard’s awareness evolved, he seriously considered changing his and his family’s life, moving from CEO of Lenox to CEO of World Vision. He had heard about receiving callings from God through his life in the church, and so he asked himself: am I open to God’s will for my life? It started as a personal question for him, but in answering that question, it became a decision that would affect millions of people.

As a faithful Christian called by God and compelled by the Holy Spirit, and with the support of his wife and children, Richard said “yes” to World Vision and became its next CEO. Within months, he found himself in Rakai, Uganda, learning about the ministry and mission of World Vision by speaking with a thirteen year old boy whose name also happened to be Richard.

Richard Stearns describes Richard’s situation like this:

“Richard was trying to raise his two younger brothers by himself in this small shack with no running water, electricity or even beds to sleep in. There were no adults in their lives—no one to care for them, feed them, love them or teach them how to become men. There was no one to hug them either, or to tuck them in at night. Other than his siblings, Richard was alone, as no child should be.” (pg. 7).

To say this encounter with one of God’s least fortunate children broke Ricahrd’s heart is an understatement. It changed his heart and made him think about the role of the Christian faith in a deeper way than he ever had before.

You see, Richard is a part of an evangelical church where confessing Jesus as Lord and Savior is one of the main emphases of the religion. But his experience through World Vision led him to ponder confessing was really enough. Did believing in Jesus mean much if one wasn’t also actively seeking to live as Jesus instructed? Richard decided believing was one part of the truth, but without action, there was “a hole in the gospel.” A hole as in “a hollowed place in something solid.” His entire book, The Hole in the Gospel: What Does God Expect of Us? is about the absolute necessity of Christians actively working to heal and save the lost, broken and poor of this world. It is not simply enough to confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. It is not enough to say that we love God with all our hearts and our neighbors as ourselves. The only way the Gospel will be complete is when we put that love into action and go about helping as Jesus did.

In his book, Richard says that Jesus had a mission statement for his life, and if for his life, then also for ours. When Jesus walked into the synagogue in Nazareth and read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, Jesus was declaring his mission and God’s plan for this world. “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” When Jesus said those words, he was proclaiming that he was the one who had come to do those things, and as his disciples, we are to carry on his mission.

When all Christians are giving aid to the poor, when we’re working side by side to make people’s lives better, when we are loving and nurturing people we know and don’t know back to health that is when there will no longer be a hole in the gospel.

Are you open to God’s will for your life? When Richard Stearns asked himself that question, ultimately, it became a question about much more than his life. It was about how his life would affect his wife’s life, his children’s lives, Richard’s life in Uganda and hundreds of thousands of other people’s lives around the world as he committed himself to more than himself.

As each of us faithfully try to answer the question: Are you open to God’s will for your life? We too must realize that our answer doesn’t just affect ourselves, it’s not meant to. We must answer this question thinking of our lives in terms of every other life we encounter.

The call of your life has less to do with you than it does with the many lives you will have an impact on. This can be a difficult concept because we care how life affects us. “Whereas I think about my life in terms of how I am affected, God thinks of my life from the perspective of how much good I can do in other people’s lives.” God expects your one life to benefit many. Like Jesus gave his one life a ransom for many so that all might be saved and receive eternal life through him, so too is your life to be given to heal and love many. This can be very freeing and open you up from a closed, tight existence.

When we talk about God, we often name God, Comforter, Healer, Lover, Compassionate One…but the truth is, God often comes into our lives more like a burglar or a thief. God comes in and steals our ideas about the kind of life we should be living for ourselves and directs us outwards.

Look at what happened to Paul. He had an idea about the sort of life he wanted to live. He was a Pharisee who persecuted this radical new group who followed Jesus, and he thought he was doing God’s will. That is until Jesus came to him and he went blind. God often blindsides us with what we are to do in life and the people we are to serve.

Think of how your life has NOT turned out like you expected it to. That seems to be one of the marks of God calling you to live out a certain path. That the path you finally found yourself on was not one you dreamed of, imagined or first chose for yourself. First, it was chosen for you by God. Then, eventually, possibly after years of resistance and struggle, you said “yes” to God’s plan.

If we are open to God’s will for our lives then we have to answer the call to fill the hole in the gospel. That means finding a way to serve those who are physically thirsty, hungry, lost, sick, imprisoned, no matter where they live, near or far. It also means finding a way to serve those who are spiritually thirsty, hungry, lost, sick, imprisoned, which pertains quite profoundly to us and the people who we live with and love. As the Scripture in Matthew today says, what we do or don’t do for the least among us, we do to Christ himself.

Are you open to God’s will for your life? I hope many of you are saying “yes” even as you think of how scary and challenging this might be. That is what the Church is for. This is where the Church is relevant. Our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. No longer is this primarily about getting people to make some sort of confession; it’s about action and interaction among people. Actions speak louder than words, and together, bonded in Christ, we can accomplish this mission to transform the world.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Get Ready: God’s Spirit is Moving

(Read Ecclesiastes 3:1-9)

We are in a season of change, on the cusp between summer and fall. Just Wednesday I went to the US Open tennis tournament with my friend, Lisa. When I woke up in the morning, it was sunny and hot so I put on my white sundress, which was the perfect thing to wear all day long. But then, we decided to stay for the night session as well. And oh my goodness, I was freezing! The wind picked up; the temperature dropped twenty degrees. We went from August weather to October weather in just a few hours.

And I was not prepared. Not in my flip flops and white sundress.

The change between summer and fall is one of the most dramatic changes when it comes to our daily affairs because of the school calendar. In summer, we take off, and in September, we start back up again. Even the church calendar runs somewhat parallel to the school calendar.

This means that the way we spend our days is going to be changing. Kids go back to school. Teachers go back to work. Church events start up again. We’re all affected in some way.

Much like the calendar year has seasons, the spiritual life has seasons as well. In Ecclesiastes, we hear about all different sorts of seasons that we will go through, and each season is affirmed in its own right. There is a time when we will be born, and a time when we will die. A time when we are to plant seeds, and a time when we are to uproot dead flowers and vegetable plants.

Of this whole list, the two that really struck me when I was reading them were “a time to search and a time to give up” and “a time to keep and a time to throw away.” Have you every looked for something and looked for something, but you can’t find it so you give up the search? Then, like two weeks later, it just magically appears in front of your eyes. “There is a time to search and a time to give up.” And knowing what time is what is wisdom! Otherwise, we can drive ourselves crazy, bang our heads against the wall, walk in circles all because we are just out of sink with our timing.

Also, there is a time to keep and a time to throw away. Or in other words, a time to collect and a time to purge. I think many of us are good at colleting, but not so good at purging. Yet, you know how good it feels when at the right time, you clean out your stuff and start fresh.

In each of our lives right now, God’s Spirit is moving us from a time of something to a time of something else. What exactly for you, I cannot say, but that’s why I wanted us to take a little time this morning to slow down and be reflective. So that each of us can get a better sense of the rhythm that we are in.

Unlike me at the US Open, we don’t want to be totally unprepared for what is coming our way, and we don’t want to miss what God is doing in our lives. You will feel much more comfortable and at ease no matter what season you are in if you are able to go along with its rhythm.

So, I’m going to throw some possible seasons out there and listen if any catch your ear. If one word even rings true, ponder that. It might be the Spirit whispering to you, telling you something.

Is it a time to be silent or a time to speak?
Is it a time to get out there or a time to draw inward?
Is it a time to lead or a time to follow?
Is it a time to take control or a time to surrender?
Is it a time to be active or a time to rest?
Is it a time to give or a time to receive?

As you get in touch with your rhythm, honor it. Let yourself be where you’re at, and tell others where you are at so that they can honor you as well.

Psalm 46 is all about how God is in control. “God is our refuge and strength, an every-present help in trouble. Therefore,” it says, “we will not fear…” And then it goes into some rich imagery of the world changing and in chaos. “Though the earth gives way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters foam and the mountains quake with their surging.”

Though your life is changing, and it may feel in chaos, do not fear for God is in control of the seasons of your life. And remember, there is a time for every season that we go through. Where you are at is right for you according to God who has planned your days and who is guiding you through this blessed transition and into a more full, rich and deep existence.

From summer to fall
From weeping to laughing
From scattered to gathered.

God’s Spirit is moving in your life. Be still and know that God is in control. Be calm, open and patient as your season changes. Who knows exactly what God is doing, but know this, God is doing something beautiful in your life.