Because He stooped so low

Today’s passage is Philippians 2:9-11.

 9 Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
      and gave him the name above all other names,
 10 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.

Sometimes I like to read the Amplified version alongside the verse of the day because it helps to make some of the word meanings clearer since I don’t speak Greek. This is one of those instances where I think reading the Amplified text really brings out some of what this verse is saying.

9Therefore [because He stooped so low] God has highly exalted Him and has [a]freely bestowed on Him the name that is above every name,

    10That in (at) the name of Jesus every knee [b]should (must) bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

    11And every tongue [[c]frankly and openly] confess and acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Therefore [because He stooped so low] is the part that caught my eye this morning. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross amazes me.

If you read a few verses before in the Amplified version, the description of what Christ really did is even more amazing:

 6Who, although being essentially one with God and in the form of God [[b]possessing the fullness of the attributes which make God God], did not [c]think this equality with God was a thing to be eagerly grasped [d]or retained,

    7But stripped Himself [of all privileges and [e]rightful dignity], so as to assume the guise of a servant (slave), in that He became like men and was born a human being.

Jesus is God. He’s just as much God as though He had never been a man. I don’t understand how it’s possible, but that’s what the Bible says. So I believe it. 

Jesus didn’t have to die on the cross. He didn’t have to suffer humiliation and torture, but He chose to do it because that was the only way to save us. And it wasn’t just because He loved us so much. Granted, He did. But it wasn’t Jesus’s idea to die that way. It was God’s. God sent Him to the cross because it was part of God’s plan.

And Jesus, even though He was God Himself (I know this is confusing; don’t ask me to explain), had every right to push back. Jesus had every reason to refuse to go, and He would have been justified. But instead He chose to be humble and accepted God’s will no matter how much it was going to hurt.

How many of us are like that truly? How many of us are willing to do what God asks us no matter what it will cost us physically or emotionally? How many of us are that humble?

Most of us are too proud to even worship. Many are too proud to even pray to ask God for help. Most of us think we are so very very important and can’t be bothered with the uncomfortable parts of living a Christian life.

The Bible says here that God exalted Christ because He lowered Himself. God gave Him a name above all names because Jesus let Himself be dragged through the dirt. And when the end comes, everyone will recognize who He is, whether they believed in Him or not. Notice the Amplified Version says that “every knee (must) bow.” When Jesus is revealed in His true glory, people won’t have a choice; they’ll be on their knees whether they intended to be or not.

If we want God to work in our lives and accomplish incredible things, the first step to doing that is backing off and realizing that none of our talents come from us. God is the one who has given us everything we have.

That doesn’t mean groveling on the floor or having an unhealthy view of your self-worth. But it does mean being humble by recognizing that anything good in your life and anything useful in your repertoire of skills came from God and not from anything you’ve done. Maybe you’ve worked hard to develop those skills, but God gave you the strength to do so.

So be humble this morning and let God lift you up in whatever you’re doing today.

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Living in a shelter might be a good idea this year

People who live in Kansas are intimately familiar with storm shelters. Especially this year. We’ve had some crazy storms in the last month. So when I read the verse this morning, I thought first of tornado shelters, but then I thought of one of my favorite movies.

Have you ever seen Blast from the Past? I don’t like romances, but that’s an older romantic comedy . . . with Brendan Fraser . . . so it’s really funny and goofy and I actually enjoy it very much. It’s about this crazy inventor and his family who are terrified that someone is going to drop nuclear weapons on the U.S. back in the late-60s. I think. I can’t really remember the dates. So this guy builds a huge bomb shelter under his house. Well, one night a plane crashes on their house. The guy thinks it’s a nuke and drags his pregnant wife down into the shelter and sets the locks for 30 years. His wife has the baby, and the three of them live in the shelter for 30 years until the locks open and the son returns to the surface looking for a wife. It’s a great movie.

In that movie, these three people lived in their bomb shelter. And it’s kind of funny to say, it made them a close family. The parents were completed invested in the son, and the son grew up adoring his parents. They loved each other. They were a little weird, but their family was strong. So you can imagine what happened when the son returned to the surface in the late 90s. The US wasn’t exactly the stronghold of family values anymore.

Obviously, something like that doesn’t happen in real life. I mean maybe people have tried living in a bomb shelter before. I don’t know. I haven’t researched it, so maybe I shouldn’t be saying it doesn’t happen. But generally speaking, people don’t live like that. If you take Blast from the Past literally . . . . maybe we should.

I thought about this when I read the verse this morning.

Psalm 91:1

1 Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
      will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

The family in the movie was a little off, yes. But they were loving and compassionate and considerate. The parents loved each other. The child respected the parents. The parents wanted the best for the child. They stuck together because they were everything to each other.

So . . . what is the shelther of the Most High? It’s beautiful language, but poetic metaphor doesn’t do very much for us practically speaking. And if God is telling me that I need to live in the shelter of the Most High, I want to know what it is.

Honestly, I don’t know. And I’m not a biblical scholar so I can’t decipher Hebrew or Aramaic. But I can share what I have discovered over my few years of life that I think is pretty close.

The shelter of the Most High isn’t a building or a cave underground, I don’t think. (Maybe it is. That would be funny.) But it’s a way of living life. It’s a perspective on life. It’s understanding that God is God, that He is sovereign, that He really does know what He’s doing, that He never makes mistakes, and that He always keeps His promises. It’s living your life with that knowledge being central to your every thought.

If you can live your life truly believing that, it changes everything. If you can live your life believing that, it doesn’t matter if you lose your job or your family or if you have to leave everything you’ve ever known or if you can’t ever seem to accomplish your dreams. If you can believe that God is God, that He is sovereign, that He really does know what He’s doing, that He never makes mistakes, and that He always keeps His promises, you understand that nothing ever happens by accident. You can wrap your head around the fact that even though things in your life seem to be going nuts, God still has a plan. And it’s a good plan too.

So when you can live in that knowledge, it becomes obvious how you can rest. You can take it easy. You don’t have to worry about your life or your food or your clothes or anything because God has your back. You can rest because God’s got you covered.

So am I advocating that you build a giant bomb shelter under your house and live there? In Kansas, it might not be a bad idea. That way you don’t have to run for shelter; you’re already there.

But no.

I think a lot of American Christians have forgotten–or never knew–what it’s like to live in God’s shelter. We’ve ventured out so far on our own we’ve either lost sight of it or we never knew it existed in the first place. And now that the storms are hitting us, we don’t have a safe place to take refuge. And that’s why we’re being blown around.

I bet all those people in Alabama and Missouri wish that they’d had a shelter to go to when the tornadoes hit them. Well, the storms of life are stronger, harsher and more frightening than any tornado. And we were never expected to weather them in our own strength.

If you’re tired and weary of all the wind this morning, go back to the shelter. It’s not being weak. It’s the smart thing to do.

Misconceptions

There’s an idea in the world that being a Christian is easy. I’m sure some well-meaning religious types came up with the concept, but the plain and simple truth is that the Christian life is difficult. But then, I suppose it depends on your perspective.

If, as a believer, you can’t grasp the fact that this world is temporary and that succeeding on Earth financially is a waste of time, this life will be difficult for you.

And I’m not talking about the other misconceptions about the Christian life . . . the ones where Christians can’t drink, can’t do drugs, can’t do this, can’t do that, can’t do the things that are bad for them, can’t choose to live their lives the way they want. Not true. There is nothing saying that a Christian can’t do anything. It’s more along the lines of should or shouldn’t. E.G. you can shoot yourself in the head, but you probably shouldn’t because it’s not good for your health.

No, what makes the Christian life truly difficult is the opposition we face. Once you sign on to be a follower of Christ, you immediately pick up an enemy who hates you more than anything. God created people in His image, and Satan hates everything to do with God. And since Satan can’t match God, he comes after us instead. Because the best way to hurt God is to damage our relationship with Him. And Satan has 10,000 years of practice doing just that.

It’s just fascinating to me that Christians don’t talk about this. That they expect new believers to come into the fold without knowing that spiritual warfare is going on around them. Yeah, it’s freaky to think about, but let’s get real here, people. The Bible says that what we can’t see is what’s real. It’s the things we see that will pass away.

The verse this morning is Matthew 7:13-14.

13 “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell[a] is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. 14 But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.

There’s only one way to have a relationship with God and that is through Jesus Christ. It’s not your good deeds. It’s not the clothes you wear. It’s not the prayers you pray. It’s not the priests you confess to. Jesus is the only way. The road to heaven is narrow but it’s not exclusive, although that’s what many people will tell you. It’s a road anyone can travel if you’re willing to choose it.

But Christians in our culture have given the misconception to the rest of the world that the road to heaven is wide and that the path is easy. So when people come to Christ, they are startled and discouraged when they meet opposition. Christians give the world the idea that all you have to do is follow Christ and your life will be easy, and that’s a lie. Most of the time, when you decide to follow Christ, your life gets much harder.

But here’s the irony of it: you hardly notice.

If you can keep your perspective straight, you can remember that Satan is the one coming after you, and all he can do is pick on you. And he even has to have God’s permission for that, and if God is allowing him that kind of access, there has to be a reason for it. Because there’s a reason for everything God does and allows.

So if being a Christian is so difficult, why choose it?

Well, to me, I can see that God is always moving. And I believe that God is bigger than my life and the lives of everyone on Earth. And I believe He’s big enough to see how all the pieces fit together; shoot, He’s the one who desgined the puzzle. And I believe that even though He may allow some trouble to come into my life, if I keep holding on to Him, He’ll work everything out. That’s how I’ve lived my life since I was seven years old, and it’s worked out pretty well so far. There have been bumps, though. Canyons. Valleys. Dark places. But there have also been mountain peaks and beautiful sunrises.

And when you get right down to it, do you really want an easy answer? Do you really want everything to just be given to you? Do you really want some religion, something Man came up with, to dictate every step of your life? Wouldn’t you rather be free? Wouldn’t you rather experience life to the fullest? I know I would. And to me, anything worth having was never given to me. It was something I had to seek. Or in this case, it was something that sought me that I chose to accept.

Being a real Christian is difficult. Living a Christian life is even more difficult than just being a Christian. But if you want to have joy and peace during the brief life we live on this shattered, broken ball of dirt we call home for now, it’s the only way that will last.

Scapegoat

Have you ever gotten in trouble for something that you didn’t do? Or have you ever taken the blame for someone else’s mistake? I’ve been there before, and it’s not much fun. You feel cheated. Or, at least, that’s what I feel when things like that happen. But I also don’t have any good feelings for the people who should be punished. In fact, I usually get downright angry at them, mostly because I feel like they should step up and claim responsibility for their own stupid mistake so I don’t have to pay for it.

This is what I thought about when I read today’s verse.

2 Corinthians 5:21

21 For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin,[a] so that we could be made right with God through Christ.

Wow.

Just think about that for a moment.

First off, Jesus never sinned. Not once. Some people have a hard time beliving that. Heck, I have a hard time believing it sometimes too. But that’s what the Bible says, and so I believe it. I don’t understand it, but do you want a God you can understand? I don’t.

Jesus never sinned. He was tempted. But it’s not a sin to be tempted.

So, Jesus never sinned. He was perfect. He never did anything wrong. He always did the right thing. He loved people who didn’t deserve to be loved with no expectation of recompense. He healed the sick and brought the dead back to life and never asked for anything in return (other than faith). He was a friend to the friendless, hope to the hopeless, a light in the darkness. And the people turned on Him and killed Him.

Now, there’s no point in discussing who killed Jesus because we all did. It might have been the religious leaders at the time who convinced the people into turning against Him. It might have been the Romans who nailed Him to the cross. But no one could kill Jesus unless He let them. Jesus went willingly for a reason, and that reason was to make a way for us to have a relationship with God through His death. So if you want to point fingers at who killed Jesus, look in the mirror.

Jesus, who had never done anything wrong, was punished for me.

I love people, but I don’t know if I love anyone enough to let them do to me what Jesus let happen to Him. Beyond the physyical pain. Beyond the public humiliation. God turned Jesus into Sin itself and poured out His wrath on Him. On those hours on the cross, Jesus paid for every sin I would ever commit, along with all the sins of the entire world. He suffered the punishment for the entire population of Earth for all time.

I can’t even imagine it. I can’t begin to describe what it must have been like. Because I’ve never been punished for my sins. I’ve suffered consequences from them, but that’s not the same as being punished for them. It’s something I’ve never experienced, and I never will, thanks to Jesus.

It boggles my mind that He would do something like that for me.

And I complain when I get a lecture for someone else’s mistake? It doesn’t even compare. How can I grumble and feel angry toward someone who’s wronged me on such a minor level when Jesus could take the blame for everything I’ve ever done wrong and feel nothing but love for me?

He never hated us. Do you realize that? Even as He was suffering, even as He died, He never felt anger toward us. He loved us.

I don’t understand that kind of love. Even when I’m willingly taking the punishment for people who deserve it, I can’t help but feel slighted. Or I feel like they should appreciate me more than before. Or I think that I’m such a good friend and they’re lucky to have me. Or I think that I’m such a good Christian. But Jesus didn’t do that. All He wanted was to keep us safe, to make a way for us to be free. There was no desire for exultation or elevation when He died on the cross. He was here on a rescue mission.

So is it wrong to expect people to respect us? No. There are some common courtesies people should uphold. And is it wrong to call someone out when they’ve done something wrong? Well, no. Right is right; wrong is wrong. And is it wrong for us to be blamed for other peoples’ mistakes? Of course. When you’re doing your best to live the way you should and you have to take responsibility for others, it’s certainly not right. . . . . but the world is broken. And if accepting the blame for someone else will bring peace between people, don’t you think it might be worth it? Granted, it varies with every situation. But it has to start somewhere.

This is something I’m working on. I always try to love people, but people are a lot easier to love when they behave. When they do the right thing. When they make the right choice. But Jesus loved me before I made right choices. And He still loves me now, even though I make wrong choices all the time. So that’s what I need to do.

We say we want to live like Christ, but do we really understand what that means? To love people the way Jesus did is to love them even while you’re being punished for them.

Faith is only the beginning

How many people think living the Christian life is easy? How many Christians operate under the delusion that once they’ve given their lives to Christ, everything will work out and be easy and perfect and they’ll never have to struggle with anything again?

I think the Christian community we live in now, in 21st Century America, has communicated that accepting Christ is the hard part and living life with Him (and for Him) is easy.

In a certain light, that’s true. Living for Christ is easy in that it’s easy to know what decisions you need to make; He has told us quite clearly in the Bible what we’re supposed to do and what we’re not supposed to do. What’s difficult is actually doing it. What’s difficult is waking up every morning and reminding yourself that you have chosen to live for God and that your life needs to reflect that. What’s difficult is staying positive and continuing to believe that God is going to work everything out when you are in the middle of a storm that never seems to end.

So many Christians I have spoken to get the idea that once they accept Christ all their troubles will be over, and that’s not true. Living the Christian life is hard. Doing the right thing is hard.

When we decide to believe in Christ, when we choose to place our faith in Christ, we become a new person, yes. But the old person we used to be is still rattling around inside of us. And the world outside us doesn’t change either. Our faith is all that has changed.

Faith is another thing I think a lot of Christians get confused about. I think people believe that once they decided to trust Christ that everyone gets this magical ability to simply believe everything God says without question. Again. Not true.

Having faith doesn’t mean you don’t question. Having faith means you believe even if you have questions.

Faith is a gift that God gives us, yes. And when we accept Christ, God gives us the faith to believe Him, but that doesn’t mean that our faith is automatically big enough to handle the truly difficult struggles of our lives. No. It needs to grow.

Have you ever met anyone with incredible faith? Someone who God could allow anything — absolutely anything — to come into their lives and they wouldn’t bat an eyelash? I have met many people like this, but I can tell you that they weren’t “born” with that kind of faith. They had to develop it. Their faith was small when they started, but they put God to the test, and He never let them down. And when their faith was tested, they hung on to it and when the trial was over, they came out stronger for it.

The passage today is a long one, and I went ahead and included the beginning verses, too, just for context. 2 Peter 1:3-8 says this:

 3 By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. 4 And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.

5 In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone.

 8 The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 2 Peter says that when we came to faith in Christ, God gave us everything we would need to live a godly life. And not only that, He gave us a way to escape a life of darkness and sadness caused by the world.

But how?

I think it’s interesting how lazy a lot of Christians are (myself included). Maybe it’s the influence of modern-day America. I don’t know. Or maybe it’s a knee-jerk reaction to legalism. That could be.

Let me be very clear so I don’t miscommunicate this. There are nothing we can do that will save us. Works don’t make us right with God. Only belief in Christ allows us to have a relationship with God.

That being said, faith is just the beginning of that relationship. If you don’t work at your faith — if you don’t take steps to help it grow — it will stay small and ineffective and your life as a Christian will not be what God intended it to be.

You must have faith. But according to this verse, to live a godly life, you need to supplement your faith with a few things. And this list is in an order for a reason. If you think about it, you have to have each one in order before you can attain the next one.

Once you have faith, you need to have moral excellence. You need to be aware of what is right and what is wrong, and when you are given the chance to do wrong, you need to choose to do what is right, even if it’s difficult.

Once you have moral excellence, learn. Gain knowledge. About anything and everything that will help you live a godly life, that will help you be effective in ministry. If you can understand morality, you will be able to know what is right and what is wrong and will be able to see what knowledge is beneficial and what isn’t.

Once you have knowledge, you must have self-control. You can’t just walk around spouting off all the facts that you’ve learned. You could confuse other people. You can’t walk around telling people how to live. That’s not your place. So you need to learn to control yourself.

And when you’ve learned to control yourself (the most difficult person to control, and–really–the only person you can control), learn how to endure patiently. It doesn’t matter if it’s people or situtations. God allows them into your life for a reason, and you can learn something from them.

After that, learn godliness. Learn what it means to be truly like God. Know His characteristics and do what you can to incorporate them into your life. Obviously, there are some aspects of God that we can’t ever be like (omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, etc.) but there are qualities that we can share. His creativity (not that we can create anything, but we can come up with new ideas). His love. His joy.

The next step is brotherly affection. Learn to love your fellow Christians. This is hard because oftentimes Christians are the hardest people in the world to love. But if another person believes in Christ, that person is our brother or our sister, and God has commanded that we love each other.

And after you learn how to love fellow Christians, show love to everyone. Love the people around you who aren’t Christians. Love the people around you who think they’re Christians. Love the people who hate you. Love everyone.

Do you see what this is? It’s a process.

When you first come to know Christ, your faith makes you whole. Yes. That’s done. It’s immediate. Have faith in Christ and be saved from your sins.

But the life you live after you decide to have faith is a step-by-step, day-by-day process that will take the rest of your life on Earth. It’s not something that happens overnight, and it’s not easy. And there are good days and there are bad days, but the more you grow in your faith, the more effective you will be as a Christian. The more you live like this, the more useful you will be to God.

Faith is a choice. Living it is a series of choices. But as 2 Peter already said, we already have everything we need to live like this. We just have to look for it. And if we ever get turned around, we have the Bible as our roadmap.