Hold Such Men In Esteem

Text: Philippians 2:10-30

So far in our Philippians series we have talked about relationships in the church in a general sense. We have looked at how we are called to relate to other members of the body. Today we will sharpen our focus a little and look at the topic of leadership. What exactly is a “leader” in the church? What is he made of, and how should he relate to the rest of the body? And finally, how should the body relate to him? In this section Paul is primarily talking about pastors, but lest you think I am being self-serving here, I want to point out that the principles which inform how we are to relate to our pastors also inform how we are to relate to our elders, whether the office of elder or elders in life, and these principles also teach us how to relate to anyone who has a sort of leadership role in the faith. Everyone in this room has leaders in their lives, and, in a different sense, everyone in this room will be leaders to others in the faith. So this message is for everyone. Continue reading

And the Culprit is… Libertarianism!

As a pastor and armchair-theologian, I get to live in two worlds. I hear the ordinary anxieties and complaints of people in the pews, and then I read the complicated books and articles on theory, whether theological, philosophical, or political. What is simply unmistakable is how at odds the two stories are.

The lay-narrative is the most common. It says that things were more or less happy in the 1950s and early 1960s, due to the long legacy of a traditional Christian worldview and culture, but then “liberalism” or “progressivism” hit the scene and we have lost both our morals and liberties ever since. On the other hand, the academic narrative says that we lost our morals at the same time as and precisely because of the new definition of liberty which emerged in the 17th century (though some folks try to pin the tail a bit earlier, on Scotus or Ockham). The current “crisis” we are experiencing is thus not a departure from a “good” America, but instead the logical outworking of the original project.

Both of these narratives are partly right and partly wrong, and they both suffer from the same sort of idealism. They are looking for big culprits or master ideas in the form of ideology. Some “worldview” is to blame here, and if we can just critique the wrong worldview and extol the right worldview we will be well on our way towards a solution. The problem is that worldview, used in this way, is inconsistent with reality. As I never tire of saying, “Ideas don’t have consequences. People with ideas do.” And those people often act upon a variety of more or less consistent motivations and impulses, some rational and some visceral. Pretending that this isn’t the case and that we can solve societal problems with ideas is the surest way to never find a solution to any particular problem. We can’t let worldview, whether religious or political, become a new opium for the people. Continue reading

Shining Stars and Crooked Grumblers

Text: Philippians 2:5-18

Last week the Apostle Paul took us to heaven, and I’m not quite ready to leave it. You see, this whole section of Philippians is tied together by that magnificent description of Jesus Christ’s person and work. There is a lesson for us in this. Christian morality is always first doxology. We cannot hope to obey God in Christ until we first see God in Christ and worship Him. And what we find, when we do this, is that our obedience, the obedience we offer to Christ in response, turns out to be not really ours at all. No, as we will see, Christians are only able to be shining stars amidst a crooked generation because “it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” And so today let us find God in us by finding Him in Christ.

The Mind of Christ Leads to Obedience

The mind of Christ which we are to have in us is the thing which leads us into obedience. Paul writes, “therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (vs. 12). The use of the word “therefore,” as we mentioned last week, connects this back to the preceding passage. We cannot hope to “obey” until we first have the mind which was in Christ Jesus. And that mind was ultimate humility, esteeming others better than ourselves as our witness to the cross. What’s also interesting about this verse, an often misunderstood verse, is that the obedience which Paul is asking for is the same thing as his instruction to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” These are not two commands, but the same command. Continue reading

The Mind of Christ

If I were to ask you how your Christology impacts your ecclesiology would you know what in the world I was talking about? Sometimes theological jargon can sound like a foreign language. I’m really just asking this: How does what you believe about Jesus affect what you believe about other people in the church? You see, this is exactly how Paul is teaching in this passage. He says that Jesus’ person and work ought to lead us to submit our interests and desires to the desires of others. He wants us to have “this mind” in us “which was in Christ Jesus.”

This passage is one of the most famous passages in all of Scripture as it describes the pre-existence of Jesus and His equality with God, His humiliation unto death for our salvation, and then His exaltation unto lordship and glory. But what is often missed is that this glorious piece of high theology is being used by Paul to achieve very practical purposes. Leading into those majestic verses 5-11 and then immediately following them is the same word, “therefore.” Since Jesus is Who He is and has done what He has done, therefore, we must do something. We must relate to one another in a posture of humility. Continue reading

To Live is Christ

Text: Philippians 1:12-30

What does it take to keep people together? This question lies behind a good marriage, but it is also the key to deep and lasting friendships, as well as business ventures, political alliances, and even healthy and successful churches. What causes some folks to stick together and other folks to split up and go their own way? Sometimes people try to answer this with the general notion of “compatibility.” Some personalities just “click,” they might say. Others appeal to shared values. The answer is actually both more specific and more basic. The key to sticking together is having a shared desire, a larger goal which everyone wants to realize. It’s having the same mission.

But how do you get that? Now, that’s the really tricky question. It isn’t enough to take the desires we already have and then go look for others who happen to have the same ones and pair up with them. No, for Christians, we have to critically examine our desires and submit them to the mind of Christ. In fact, it’s even more extreme than this. We have to give up our own desires completely. We have to surrender them to Jesus, along with our whole life, and we have to find our new life in Him, seeing His life in us and in those around us.

This all brings us to our sermon text today. The Apostle Paul says that “to live is Christ.” And he means just that—his life is for a purpose, the purpose of being like Christ and having Christ live in him. In fact, his life is not his own. It is Christ’s. This conviction is what drives his entire ministry, his sense of mission, and his philosophy for life in the church. It allows him to be content in the face of pressure, persecution, and suffering, and it gives him confidence to take pious risks, to rush into dangerous situations for the sake of the gospel. He knows that to die is gain, and so whatever life he lives must be the life of Christ. And so this is true for us as well today. Jesus calls all men unto Himself. He calls you to give up your life and follow Him. And for those of you who have placed your trust in Him, this means that your life is not your own. Your life is now Christ’s life. Continue reading

The Communion of the Saints as Practical Ecclesiology

This week we are beginning a study of Paul’s epistle to the Philippians. This series will cover each passage in the book in a continuous exegetical manner. In other words, we are going to walk through the whole book, verse by verse, and try to see what Paul had to say to the 1st century church at Philippi. Along the way we will learn some historical material, we will be able to better understand what the early church looked like, and, in all things, we will be pointed to Christ. The major themes of Philippians are friendship, church unity, like-mindedness, and charitable giving, but all of these themes boil down to the one: “Have this mind in you which was in Christ Jesus.”

Today’s text introduces us to one of the foundational ideas of the letter and indeed of the Christian life. Paul tells the Philippians that they share in the fellowship of the gospel and are partakers with one another in grace. This fellowship also appears in the fact that Paul remembers the believers and this causes him to pray for them and to share in their lives even from abroad. Each of these expressions are aspects of one thing, the communion of the saints. This doctrine is very practical, and it applies to all believers everywhere, especially those in the same congregation. The communion of the saints means that we are partners in one another’s lives.  Continue reading

The Sacrifices of God

Sermon Text: Psalm 51:15-17

O Lord, open my lips,
And my mouth shall show forth Your praise.
For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it;
You do not delight in burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
A broken and a contrite heart—
These, O God, You will not despise.

Psalm 51 is King David’s famous prayer of repentance after Nathan the prophet convicted him of his sin with Bathsheba. The psalm is an important penitential prayer, but it also provides a very important observation about the true understanding of the old covenant worship. David clearly states that the true worship of God and the true sacrifices are not the external forms and offerings of bulls and goats, but rather the sacrifice of praise coming from the human heart. “Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom” (vs. 6). “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (vs. 10). “For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart—These, O God, You will not despise” (vs. 16-17).

Those last lines about brokenness are what I wish to discuss with you now. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit and a contrite heart. This is how we must come to God. As strange as it may sound, we have to learn how to be broken and contrite. We must cultivate a sense of brokenness in order to worship God in the only way that He finds acceptable, with true sacrifices. Continue reading

Where You Goin’ With That Gun In Your Hand?

This morning I preached for the Pro-Life MS sidewalk counselors in front of the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, or as the folks who work there call themselves “The Last Abortion Clinic.” I have done this a few times in my life, and while I know that street preaching and sidewalk counseling and protesting is not everyone’s style, I believe that this is something that I need to do from time to time. I think it is important. It is important for me to make a sort of witness, but I think what is even more important (for me at least) is for me to know what the reality of the abortion crisis is like. Obviously, the sidewalks outside the JWHO are only a small part of this reality, and they are extreme, to be sure, but they are still real. Real people go in and out of that clinic, and real decisions are made about real lives. It is important to know what the people are like who engage in pro-life activities, and it is important to know what the pro-abortion advocates are like. This morning had a particularly harrowing effect upon me.

As I was leading the morning liturgy, a service that included the singing of psalms and hymns, the reading of scripture, a confession of our sins, a homily, and praying for the clinic and world, the escorts (that is what the security guards and supporters of the JWHO call themselves) began to play the radio loudly. I understand why they do this. It’s within their rights and has its own sort of logic, but the song they played cut me to the heart. It was “Hey Joe.” Continue reading

The Light of God

Text: John 1:1-18

Christmas is a story of enlightenment. This concept presupposes a situation of darkness, a need for new light. The secular world is familiar with this idea, but its take on the story tends to be all about education. Much like Prometheus bringing down fire from the gods, they say that human race is slowly being elevated through the accumulation of knowledge. The darkness was ignorance, and the light is progress. There are some parallels with this and the Christian gospel, but on the basic level Christianity is something very different. It tells a story of an original light— righteousness and communion with God— which was lost through man’s sin, the misuse of his will. This original light is brought back, not by man or some intermediary between God and man, but by God himself, through the person of His divine Son, Jesus. We find out that Jesus’ light is not a new light at all, but rather the old light, the original light of God which made all things. And it is because Jesus is the light of creation that he can also be the light of recreation, which is what He has come to do. Salvation means that Jesus came to make us new.

Jesus is God Come into the World

John’s prologue is clear that Jesus is God. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.” Continue reading

The Friendly Beasts- A Brief History of a Delightful Carol

beastsI have to admit that the first time I ever heard “The Friendly Beasts” was on Sufjan Stevens’s Songs for Christmas. I assumed that he was simply having fun with a children’s song. Still, the song was a great hit, and it has become a sort of classic fixture since then. But to my surprise, “The Friendly Beasts” dates back at least to the 12th century and has a rich history. It reflects an odd but intriguing liturgical practice, the details of which can be found here and here. Equally as impressive and unexpected is the fact that the famous composers Richard Redhead and Ralph Vaughan Williams had a hand in the creation of the modern tune.

The tune name gives us the best clue to this carol’s history. Orientis Partibus reflects the original first line which said, “From the East the donkey came.” The original chorus was then, “Hail, Sir Donkey, Hail!” This strange custom reflects the medieval Feast of the Ass, a mostly French celebration where the donkey who carried the Holy Family to Egypt was praised. From here, the tradition developed further, with the donkey taking on a first-person speech. As this carol moved into England, it was changed more radically, the lyrics were re-written, and the focus was moved to the Nativity rather than the flight into Egypt. The current version of the song has each of the animals singing a verse about their contribution to Jesus’ birth scene.

Here are the recreated original lyrics:

From the East the donkey came,
Stout and strong as twenty men;
Ears like wings and eyes like flame,
Striding into Bethlehem.
Hail! Sir Ass, oh hail!

Faster than the deer he leapt,
With his burden on his back;
Though all other creatures slept,
Still the ass kept on his track.
Hail! Sir Ass, oh hail!

Still he draws his heavy load,
Fed on barley and rough hay;
Pulling on along the road –
Donkey, pull our sins away!
Hail! Sir Ass, oh hail!

Wrap him now in cloth of gold;
All rejoice who see him pass;
Mirth inhabit young and old
On this feast day of the ass.
Hail! Sir Ass, oh hail!

And here are the modern ones:

1. Jesus our brother, kind and good
Was humbly born in a stable rude
And the friendly beasts around Him stood,
Jesus our brother, kind and good.

2. “I,” said the donkey, shaggy and brown,
“I carried His mother up hill and down;
I carried her safely to Bethlehem town.”
“I,” said the donkey, shaggy and brown.

3. “I,” said the cow all white and red
“I gave Him my manger for His bed;
I gave him my hay to pillow his head.”
“I,” said the cow all white and red.

4. “I,” said the sheep with curly horn,
“I gave Him my wool for His blanket warm;
He wore my coat on Christmas morn.”
“I,” said the sheep with curly horn.

5. “I,” said the dove from the rafters high,
“I cooed Him to sleep so He would not cry;
We cooed him to sleep, my mate and I.”
“I,” said the dove from the rafters high.

6. Thus every beast by some good spell,
In the stable dark was glad to tell
Of the gift he gave Immanuel,
The gift he gave Immanuel.

7. “I,” was glad to tell
Of the gift he gave Immanuel,
The gift he gave Immanuel.
Jesus our brother, kind and good.