the power of poetry and song (the Christ-kenosis/self-emptying hymn)

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!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:1-11

In Jeff Manion’s message to us this past weekend in the series “Choosing Joy Under Pressure,” through the book of Philippians, entitled “The Servant Mindset,” he touched on the power of song. Yes, most Bible scholars believe this was a hymn which Paul included in this letter. And that we do well to play that song again and again in our heads until it becomes the theme to which we live.

Notice that although it’s about Jesus, it is to be applied by us who are in Jesus in our individual lives, and in the context of the letter, especially in our relationships with each other. We are to take on ourselves the same humility and servant mindset that Jesus took on himself.

This doesn’t mean trying to perform great heroics. Of course what Jesus did in the eyes of the world was exactly the reverse of that. There was nothing more humbling than a cross, probably not much higher from ground level than one would stand, likely hung naked, and just outside the city where the populace could walk by, say anything they wanted to say, and spit in one’s face.

Jesus’s attitude was one of humility, service, and obedience. It ended up being great since he stooped to the greatest depths possible: God becoming human, and then subjecting himself as a man to the death of the cross, all out of love, as a servant. And for our salvation, but in this context specifically as the example we’re to follow. And therefore God raised Jesus to the highest heights, giving him the name above every name, so that all might bow the knee to him.

We do well to read both what precedes this poem, and what follows, the context, because this poem is followed by a “therefore” as well as the call to value others above ourselves.

But again, this needs to be the kind of song playing in our heads. Which acclimates us over time to grow in the depths of the life we’re to live in Jesus. Toward each other, and toward the world. In and through Jesus.

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sadness is good for the heart

A good name is better than fine perfume,
    and the day of death better than the day of birth.
It is better to go to a house of mourning
    than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of everyone;
    the living should take this to heart.
Frustration is better than laughter,
    because a sad face is good for the heart.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
    but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.
It is better to heed the rebuke of a wise person
    than to listen to the song of fools.
Like the crackling of thorns under the pot,
    so is the laughter of fools.
    This too is meaningless.

Ecclesiastes 7

Back to one of my personal favorite books of the Bible; it’s there for a reason, and not just for its ending. I like to think that Jesus could laugh with the best of them, but was more given to being with those who suffered, entering into their world and suffering empathetically with them, and relieving that suffering so that ultimately they could take up their cross and follow.

In the series at the church we’ve been attending, taking our grandchildren, and may become a part of, we’re in the midst of a new series on the book of Philippians called “Choosing Joy Under Pressure.” It seems to me that this deep joy thrives in the midst of pain and sadness, yes indeed- pressure. So that what the writer of Ecclesiastes might be getting at is how superficial people can be, so that their thoughts and lives do not at all rise to any level beyond the absurd.

Maybe this is in part why Jesus said the poor and poor in spirit are blessed, while the rich are not, at least not necessarily so, but open to woe and rebuke, and a cursed existence. I for one have lived with a lot of internal pain most all of my life. But I am also more and more realizing the joy of seeking to follow the Lord in the midst of it. Grace and peace from God accompanies all of our life in Jesus, including our pain.

In following Jesus, we are not living it up with partying and laughter, though that is a part of life as God created it to be, and can be a way to get to understand where people live, Jesus himself eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners. The very heart of God is what we look for, and that is a heart of love, giving everything for others, for the world, in and through Jesus. And to do that, we must enter into the depths of what it means to be human, both in the enjoyment and appreciation of life, and in the difficulties, even death, which accompanies all of that. In and through Jesus.

being biblically correct and Jesus correct on the same sex issue

Dear Church: I’m Gay from The Center for Faith on Vimeo.

Recently the Nashville Statement was an attempt to take a clear stand on same sex orientations and relations. Here is a helpful pastoral response from Scot McKnight.

I once studied this out to see if somehow biblically the church had missed the boat when it comes to same sex relations, as some claim. And even though I discovered that there is likely some misinterpretation, I don’t doubt that the traditional view based on scripture still stands. And that most likely, even though Jesus doesn’t seem to have explicitly addressed it (except perhaps to mention it in passing), his expression of porneia, translated “sexual immorality” was likely rooted in the prohibitions of Leviticus 18 which uses the same word in the LXX (Septuagint).

I have to admit that such documents as the Nashville Statement don’t much interest me. I hardly read it through (just this morning, barely) and I would not sign it, myself. Why? The video above can help explain that. We can’t make statements like that and begin to think it will solve the problem. I have been clear on this blog where I stand in regard to same sex relations. I also don’t think I’ve been engaged with people enough who struggle with this issue, or don’t see it as an issue at all except to others. That recently changed, and for my good.

These are real people whom God loves. And their cases are as varied and complex as each of them are. We can’t stereotype such people, neither can we put them in the same box with the idea that one size fits all. Each one is on their own spiritual journey, hopefully with others like you and I, all of us in great need always of God’s grace, and of ongoing change in our lives.

The video (20:39) is well worth the watch. That is what is needed today. And if you’ve been tuned into the Nashville Statement, I would encourage you to read Scot’s response to it.

learning the greater lesson

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.

Mark 12

There actually is no more basic fundamental lesson than to learn to trust God.

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Hebrews 11

But it doesn’t stop there, as Jesus’s words about the first and greatest commandment, and the second like it, indicate. It’s all actually a part of the same package. We can’t enter into the greater so to speak, except through faith, through trusting in God. Sometimes, though, we can become so preoccupied over our own issues and concerns, that we can lose sight of the bigger picture, and the overall goal to which we should be headed. Paul’s words point us toward that:

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

Philippians 3

What I’m wanting to get at in this post is both the command to love, which is relational, and the importance of simply getting to know God. Paul’s words about that are interesting.

So in my struggle at times to trust, it should be with the goal of loving and knowing God in and through Jesus. And loving my neighbor as myself. Maybe that’s why at times we struggle, because we lose sight of that, and are self-centered (James 4:3). Faith is the entry way, which essentially is a trust in God at rock bottom. And being in good, growing relationships with God and others is the goal, in and through Jesus.

no half heart, all of it

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord….

Colossians 3

It’s interesting, the context of this verse, which we often don’t consider, but it’s referring to slaves in their work for their masters. Read the whole (click link), and while some may think it’s a Biblical okay for slavery, it seems to me that in it are the seeds of freedom even in this world from that, and not just the world to come. The text suggests that they should think of themselves working for the Lord rather than their masters.

That seems to suggest to me that no matter what work we may have, of course barring anything forbidden by scripture, that we too should do our very best as to the Lord, putting our entire heart into it. And when we do, it’s for us a part of obedience to the first and great commandment, while not forgetting the second like it:

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22

So we give our hearts completely to the Lord, and to nothing else. And in doing so, we also love our neighbor as we love ourselves. So that work is not a means in itself, or something for our own glory, but for the glory of God, and for the good of others.

This is the only way to live, with a full heart, all of it. Never halfhearted in anything. Always giving everything our all in everything, yes, including rest, and always with love for others. All of this in and through Jesus.

no true faith apart from love

notFor in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Galatians 5

It’s interesting  and actually downright scary when one sees in scripture the examples of those who are devoted to the word, to scripture, but who actually don’t know God. They’re maybe given to knowing the words of the text, but lack the light, and release of the Spirit. They are trying to do what’s right, but they’re not loving well, or maybe not at all. Examples like that can be found strewn throughout scripture. Jesus’s critique of the Pharisees and scribes, who were the Bible scholars of that day, comes to mind.

Too often I’ve found myself too much in that company, or way of living. Knowing includes knowing the text of scripture, but the point of that is to know God, and others. Relationships come to the fore, of course, the first and greatest commandment, and the second like it: Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.

The light comes on when we are about our Father’s business, when we really love others out of our love for God. And that being true in all that we do in our work and life. And with an emphasis on helping the poor, and those in need, which would include the oppressed and helpless. If we want to find God’s heart, then that’s where we’ll find it: in a faith which is given to good works in love.

Hopefully this won’t seem trite, but we could ask ourselves what one good work we can do today, and practice those kinds of things daily. It really doesn’t have to be much, little things matter, and can make a big difference.

What is essential is that our faith is active and worked out in love. An important part of our life in God in this world, and actually in the life to come, in and through Jesus.

God is love

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.

1 John 4

I suppose and hope that if there’s one note I would like to end my life on, and hopefully begin to live out much better, it would be the reality of God’s love in Jesus from the God who is love. This special incarnate, atoning love would mark every step of my way, not by myself, but with others. And it would mark our witness to the world. Of loving each other and loving everyone, even including our enemies.

It is the way of the cross. Not without struggle. But a faith and love which overcomes everything, along with the hope which accompanies that. An inseparable triad in scripture, the greatest of the three being love (1 Corinthians 13).

God is love, period. Everything else comes out of that love. And it’s the love we find in scripture, demonstrated in the cross. For us, and then even through us in Jesus. And for the world. In no other terms than in and through the gospel. But a gospel in Jesus which ends up as big as all of life. As we await the completion and climax of this reality, when Jesus returns. All of this from the God who is love, in and through Jesus.