Sunday, April 3, 2011

In Church (....and still HAPPY)!

1If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.  3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.  4Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.  5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.  And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross. 9Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Philippians 2:1 - 11 (NRSV)

Talk about extremes!  The very best place to be is in a church that is unified and handling well the threats to unity.  The very worst place to be is in a church that is continually-filled with personal power struggles and bickering.  The unified church is a healthy, risk-taking place, where people care deeply, but are also caring.  In a splintered church factions center on personal preferences rather than mission and ministry.

Paul wrote to the Philippian believers, specifically requesting they be unified in their relationships and purpose.  Paul wrote to humans; he knew there would be threats to unity.  Common sense tells us that where there is good, evil will eventually show-up and there will be a conflict.  Throughout the last two thousand years churches have had only one real problem – disunity.

God tells us through the Paul’s pleading message that – to remain in God's will you must be unified.  Our question, naturally:  How in the world do you do that?  The answer to unity isn't easy, but it can be easily stated:  Be Christ-like!
We want to be a unified, loving church; and so, today we look at Paul’s description of what constitutes Christ-likeness in a church congregation.
1. Communion  (in Christ)
It is impossible to ACT LIKE Christ if you do not WALK WITH Christ!  This above all things could solve the problems of churches around the world in any age.  Believers who get away from a close walk with the Master cannot reproduce Christ-likeness by human effort.  Paul said that the encouragement (strength) the Philippian church had was from being united in Christ; it’s a gift of the Spirit.
Belonging to Christ and walking closely with Him daily will produce a natural "belongingness" with other believers, which will hold our sinful nature in check, and promote genuine Christian communion in the church.
The spiritual principle is that it is impossible to be in genuine fellowship with the Christ, when you are out of fellowship with anyone for whom Christ died.  Say it another way; when you’re in fellowship with each other it will only be because you’re humbling yourself before Christ, and being obedient.
2.  Compassion  (sharing in the Spirit)
Tenderness and compassion are the same word in Greek.  They are from the root word which in English is "spleen."  That little organ helps purify your blood.  It is located in the visceral area, and the ancient Greeks thought of it as the center or seat of emotion.  After all, when you get upset, the first place you're liable to feel bad is the mid-section.
Christian compassion is a matter of being vulnerable enough with each other and the needs of the world's lost people, so that we are moved viscerally to do something about those needs.  Our methods may conflict at times, but our goal will always keep us united.
In 1988 the USS Vincennes shot-down an Iranian airliner with 290 people aboard.  It was a mistake.  Public opinion polls showed most Americans were opposed to giving compensation to the families of the victims.  The cruel treatment of American hostages was still fresh in our minds.  But [then] President Reagan approved the compensation.  He was asked by reporters if such payment could send the wrong signal.  He said, I don't ever find compassion a bad precedent.  You cannot be Christ-like without compassion.  Jesus had compassion on sinners – if we would be like him, we must [at least] start with Christians.
3. Cooperation    (be of the same mind)
When I think of cooperation my mind always flashes to the scene where the old time film legends, Laurel and Hardy are attempting to move a piano.  They're in the middle of steep footbridge.  Oliver Hardy says to Stan Laurel, Stanley, put a little muscle to this thing or we'll never get it up these stairs.  Stanley gives a puzzled look and asks, UP?
It is critical for us to be on the same wavelength if we will be the kind of church Christ calls us to be.  We don’t all have to think or do everything exactly the same way…but we should all be pushing in the same direction.
4. Consideration    (regard others)
The word "humility" comes from two words, "dust" and "midriff."  You get the drift?  You can't call yourself humble unless you're willing to crawl through the dust ...for the least of these my brethren.
Paul says we should look to the interests of others.  He doesn't mean we ought to be nosy busybodies.  Rather that means we ought to see the needs of others and press forward with actions that will be meaningful in meeting those needs.
5. Cross-Bearing    (same mind…humble to the cross)
Paul reminds the church that the man who died on Calvary wasn't like any other man.  HE was God!  Paul says Jesus emptied himself.  The picture is one of sacrifice.  In the temple a sacrifice of an animal was made for sin.  The blood and water were poured on the altar – an emptying.
In heaven Jesus was in perfect fellowship as God the Son, with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit.  This might be a very inadequate analogy, but like a glass contains water and can be emptied, so God poured Himself into the form of a man and became our sacrifice.  W. E. Orchard said, It may take a crucified church to take a crucified Christ before the eyes of the world.
If a church is to be Christ-like (and therefore unified) it will be through cross-bearing.  Our comfortable seats in our air-conditioned auditoriums are not cross-bearing.  Paying our tithes is not cross-bearing.  Serving on committees, workdays and kitchens aren't cross-bearing.  Cross-bearing is dying for others.
Christian people are called by Christ to be living sacrifices.   That’s not a pretty thought; however we are reminded of what great Christian leaders have always agreed upon:  when Christ calls a person, He bids him, come and die!
When the church of Jesus Christ gets that right it leads to the exaltation of Jesus Christ, or as Paul writes, there is now not just cross-bearing, but…
Paul uses a play on the sound of words in verses 8 and 9.  The words "humbled" and "obedient" come from the same root; while "exalted" sounds just  like them.  There is a definite and proportionate relationship to humbling yourself in obedience and being exalted.  The principle is as follows:
YOU WILL BE LIFTED BY CHRIST IN HEAVEN                                                                  
TO THE SAME DEGREE                                                                                                                
YOU HAVE LIFTED HIM HERE ON lifting other people
Don't forget that the spiritual far outweighs the material or natural.  In the spiritual realm, things are always reversed from the way they were in the natural.  That which was high will be made low.  The first shall be last.  The rich, self-indulgent man went to Hades, the poor beggar Lazarus went to Heaven.  And ...whosoever will save his life shall lose it; and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.
Christ-likeness is the goal.  If friends, or a family, church, or even a nation would be unified, enjoying genuine fellowship, then Christ-likeness is what we seek.
A.J. Gordon wrote:
Two little saplings grew up side by side.  Through the action of the wind they crossed each other.  By and by each became wounded by the friction.  The sap began to mingle until one calm day they became attached.  Then the stronger began to absorb the weaker.  It became larger and larger, while the other withered and declined till it finally dropped away and disappeared.  And now there are two trunks at the bottom and only one farther up.  Death has taken away the one; life has triumphed in the other.
Consider the same beginning with a slightly different outcome:
Every time I come to this church I park in the spot that says “reserved for pastor”.  I get out of my car under an old oak tree that is just like that pair of saplings.  At some point, many years ago, there was friction that caused two close limbs to rub, “bleed” a little and then be joined.  But, instead of one absorbing the other, these tree limbs have managed to attach so that one limb helps the other.  The limb going straight up lifts the one going straight out.  The one needed help to stay connected to the trunk.  It was growing wild – would have broken off without some help.  Now the two branches and the main trunk form a triangle – the strongest configuration in nature.
If this church, or any church, can get to the point where we can love each other enough to forgive the “rubs” – the petty stuff that divides us – we will find we’re not only in church…and still happy…we’ll be a force that will change the world for the sake of Christ.
Father, we would have the mind of Christ Jesus; instead, too often we are more like James and John, sons of thunder.  Teach us to be in communion with You and with each other.  Without that holy communion, all else we do is maddeningly pointless.  We spin liturgical wheels and wind up deeper in our theological hole.  Save us from attitudes that cripple; help us to remember with humility the love you displayed as our sacrifice – and then, give us courage to pick up our crosses and follow. 
We pray in the Name of the Father, Because of the Son, Cooperating with the Spirit…Amen!

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