Christ Must become Greater, I Must Become Less

In the Gospel of John, chapter 3, John the Baptist makes a stunning statement regarding Jesus, to the chagrin of his own disciples: “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30). This is the attitude that all Christ-followers have, but the question of how we let Jesus become greater and us less in our lives is not always easily answered. And as we do that, does it mean we will lose our own unique identities?

We need three things in order to live lives in which Christ will become greater, and we will become less: The first is humility. The second is obedience to Jesus. And the third is gratitude.

1. Humility

As someone else has said “Humility is not thinking less of ourselves, but thinking of ourselves less.”

Humility is seeing and appraising ourselves accurately – our worth, our abilities, our strengths and weaknesses, our moral, social, and spiritual states, our sins – as much as we can, to both see and have neither an inflated or deflated of the different aspects of our lives. This of course takes work, times of hard self-reflection, and often the help of trusted friends to help us see our blind spots.

For some, this can be a painful process; we are not as gifted as we thought we were, or as strong, or as upright. For others, it can be a difficult process for the opposite reason: we are more loved than we are comfortable with, more capable than we give ourselves credit for.

As the Apostle Paul says in Philippians 2:3, humility is also “valuing others above yourselves.” He doesn’t mean it in an objective sense, or in a comparative sense, but rather to think about the ways we can help, encourage, strengthen, or better others. Paul says this is what Jesus did when He gave up the riches of Heaven, the glory of divinity, and came to earth as a human, and died on the cross – Jesus did it out of His great love for us (Philippians 2:6-8). Ideally, as we follow Christ, we are all doing this for each other, so even though I am ‘valuing others as above myself,’ others are doing that for me. However, we know that in this broken world that won’t always be the case, and we will be hurt, but in that hurt we will be identifying with and connecting with Jesus in a deeper way than we could otherwise.

2. Obedience to Jesus

This is the call to all who would follow Jesus, to all who would find new life and forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God the Father. Obedience to Jesus is not optional: throughout Scripture we see a link between loving Jesus and obeying Him, as He loves and obeys His Father (see John 15:10). And the commands of Jesus overwhelmingly have to do with how we view, treat, and love others – even including our enemies. That’s why when Jesus is asked what the greatest command is, He doesn’t just give it, but connects it to another command, which He says is the second greatest: Love God with all your heart, strength, soul, and mind, and “the second is like it: ‘love your neighbour as yourself'” (Matthew 22:39).

By obeying Jesus, we come to look more and more like Him ourselves, doing the things He did but in our own contexts, our own workplaces and homes and churches and schools. It is “living as if Jesus were living His life through our own.”

 3. Gratitude

Gratitude is the magic ingredient of this recipe. If we value others as better than ourselves but don’t have gratitude, we will quickly become bitter and resentful towards them. If we are obedient to Jesus but don’t have gratitude we will become self-righteous and legalistic. Gratitude – especially for the salvation and work of Jesus in our lives – will prevent both of those from happening.

Gratitude may actually be the hardest of these three, however, as we tend to want to take credit for all the goodness in our lives, and for everything we have (both tangible and non-tangible). It can also be hard to have gratitude when things don’t go the way we want, or when life is a struggle (This has been the case for me in my life). We easily forget, or don’t see at all, the great amount of things to be grateful for. But when we have humility, seeing ourselves accurately, we will see that all of what we have is gift from God – the good things as from Him, and the evil as those things which God will work out for our good (Romans 8:28).

Paul tells us to “give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18),” and elsewhere tells us to present our requests to God, by prayer and petition, and with thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6).

What happens to our Identity?

But if Jesus becomes greater and we become less, does that mean we lose our identities and become robot-clones of Jesus?

No. Paul affirms this when he uses the imagery the Church being the body of Christ. He says each one of us is a part of it, and talks about how each part are not the same, and how each part need each other (1 Corinthians 12). This is the same chapter in which Paul talks about the different gifts the Holy Spirit gives to the Church: “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:4-7).

God created you with a unique set of strengths, weaknesses, personality traits, and temperament. And He gave you a unique set of spiritual gifts with which to build up the church and use for His Kingdom and glory.

Conclusion

When we are growing in the three qualities of humility, obedience, and gratitude, we will find that Jesus will become greater in our lives, both in our esteem and love for Him, and in the glory He receives through us. We’ll find that we actually become more ourselves as we become more like Christ; The part of our identity that is formed and molded by sinful brokenness will be healed.

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People are not our Enemies

This is a friendly reminder: People are not our real enemies.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12, emphasis added).

People will, however, appear to be our enemies. They will have different values and morals than us. They will exclude us, will be against us, will wish us evil, will work for our downfall or demotion, will demand our surrender. But Jesus told us how to respond to them:

But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you… Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:27-28, 35b-36).

 

 

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Worship is War

“Worship is War.” That’s the tagline I saw on an ad in my Twitter feed for a new TV show coming out, about the Greek, Norse, etc. gods living in modern day U.S.

When I saw it, my first thought was “how little do they know exactly how right they are.”

Worship is powerful. Not in itself, and not because of who we are, but because of who God is. When we worship we admit that on our own we are weak, we are powerless to change much in this world, and we are dependent on Him.

Worship doesn’t make God more powerful, as some video games and shows/movies portray other gods – He is already omnipotent, perfect, omniscient, omnipresent; what could we possibly add to Him? And worship isn’t like putting a coin in a vending machine – it doesn’t “activate” God or obligate Him to do something for us; but when we worship rightly (with humility, and in Spirit and truth) we put ourselves in a place where we will see God working in and through and around us.

An interesting, literal, example of worship as war is found in 2 Chronicles 20:1-30.  I wonder if we would see this happening in similar ways, if we were to march through our neighbourhoods and streets worshiping, similar to prayer walks?

When we worship, we proclaim who God is – and that’s a powerful reminder to us, and to the spiritual forces of darkness around us. Because scripture is clear our enemy is never people, it’s Satan, and the world, and our sinful natures (Eph. 6:12). When people appear to be our enemies, we can be sure it’s one of those three things behind them.

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).

By our worship we submit to God, draw near to Him, and simultaneously we resist the devil (James 4:7-8).

Of course, worship doesn’t just occur on Sunday mornings at a church service.

Worship happens when we pray prayers of thanksgiving. It happens when we pray prayers of supplication (because He is God and we are not).

Worship happens when we sacrifice our time, resources, or talents for Him, in service to others (thereby living out the command to love God with all our heart/soul/strength and love our neighbour as ourselves).

Worship happens when we say “Not my will, but Yours be done” even when we don’t feel like it, see the logic behind it, or have to go it alone.

If prayer is necessary like the air we breathe, and the Bible necessary like the food we eat, then worship is like the water we drink – it blesses God but it also refreshes our soul.

Worship orients our hearts away from this world and the things of it, to the only One who truly matters, and to His agenda and work on the earth, and that must royally tick off the (temporary) rulers of this world.

Worship is war.

Make time to worship Jesus daily. You’ll see the difference it makes.

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7 Signs to See When Our Serving is Sanctified

In my last post, I looked at 12 ways we actually be serving sinfully. This time I want to look at seven ways we can know when our serving is God-glorifying (I used “sanctified” in the title to keep it alliterative, but that might be a bit of a stretch).

Ephesians 2:10 – “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.


All Christians are called to serve, for the good of each other and for glory of God. And when we serve, God uses it to both form us more and more into His likeness (the sanctifying part of service), and to draw others to Him (see Matthew 5:16).

Here are seven signs that indicate we are doing the works that Christ has prepared for us:

1. We are energized by it.

2. We are fulfilled by it.

3. We have joy because of it.

4. We can see the good coming from it.

5. We are drawn closer to Jesus through it.

6. Our family is supportive of it.

7. When it’s part of a balanced life, including ample rest.

Having said all that, it doesn’t mean we won’t ever get frustrated, or tired, or daunted by our serving, but those feelings won’t be the norm. And in the end, even when our serving is God-glorying we still need to be depending on His strength to be doing it.

As you serve, may you know the goodness and love of Christ more and more through it!

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12 Ways to Know When Our Serving is Sinful

One of my favourite passages from Paul is Ephesians 2:10 – “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

As humans, we were created to serve one another in love, and as followers of Christ we are new creations in Christ, and both commissioned and gifted to serve.  However, sometimes our serving can be sinful. The following are 12 ways we can tell:

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1. When we’re doing it for purely selfish motives (although we can’t ever be completely unselfish in our motives).

2. When we become irritable or frustrated when our plans are interrupted or changed.

3. When we haven’t left enough of a margin in our schedule to allow for unexpected interruptions (often God is working in these interruptions if we have eyes to see it).

4. When we complain (or boast) about being so busy that our family life suffers.

5. When our family life suffers, even when we don’t complain or boast about it.

6. When our health suffers, from stress or not getting enough sleep because of it.

7. When we take on jobs or projects not because we genuinely want to or feel God leading us to (or our boss tells us to!), but because no one else will do it or we think no one else is as qualified.

8. When we take on jobs or projects but feel resentful about it or like a martyr doing it.

9. When we take on jobs or projects because we think God will be more pleased by us or will love us more if we do.

10. When we take on jobs or projects because we want to impress or please people.

11. When we’ve bought into the lie that we need to be always doing or producing (or consuming!) to be considered valuable or worthy of love or acceptance.

12. Finally, when we’re doing it in our own strength instead of in God’s strength. “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water” (Jer. 2:13).

Sometimes we make ourselves overly busy because we don’t want to face deeper issues in our lives, and busyness, like other forms of distraction, postpone us from having to deal with them. Or sometimes it’s because we don’t want face God Himself – being alone with Him with nothing else to get in the way.

But God never intended that we extend ourselves so much that it becomes detrimental to our emotional, spiritual, or physical health. And He has gifted us for some jobs, but not all of them.

Are you over-committed at church or at work or in the community? You might actually be displeasing God, and it’s worth not taking this consideration too lightly. Spend some time alone and in silence, and before God see if any of reasons describe you.

Did I miss any reasons? What would you say are the reasons when serving is pleasing to God?

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Reading the Psalms

This past weekend, we had a workshop at my church on different ways to read the Bible and how to lead a Bible study, and one of the handouts was a reading plan for the Psalms, taken from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.

The Psalms were both the prayer book and hymnal of Judaism and for the Church up until relatively recently. They are words from people to God, and words to people about God. They help us to worship honestly – in both the good times, and those times when we feel like God has abandoned us (Jesus Himself prayed from Psalm 22:1 on the cross).

Reading the Psalms daily is a great way to keep ourselves in the presence of God throughout the whole day, and as I’ve been doing it over the last month I’ve noticed how my mind wanders back to God in thankfulness or prayer or just offering up my heart in love to Him throughout the day.

bcp-1962-psalm-reading-single-page

This chart looks complicated, but it’s actually not really. You look at the top and find which month we’re in, which determines which column to read from. Then, it’s as simple as finding the day of the month along the left-hand side of the column. There’s both morning and evening readings, they’re pretty short, and it’s perfect for keeping in a Bible at your bedside table (I printed mine at 75%, cropped the blank paper and title off, and it fits nicely inside my Bible). The nice thing about this reading chart is I don’t worry about it if I missed a reading, I just pick up with the current one and I know it’ll eventually come around again as I keep it up.

Give it a try for a month or two, and I convinced you’ll find it a life-transforming experience.

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A Family Devotion for Christmas Morning

Since Christmas is falling on a Sunday this year, many people will be staying home from church to open presents and spend time together as a family. I wrote this devotional for those from my church who are traveling or staying home. If you’ll be staying home this year I hope that you’ll use it on Christmas morning and be blessed by it as you worship the Lord!

Hiroshi Tabata (Japanese), "The Nativity," 1998. Source: http://issuu.com/acaaimagemagadmin/docs/96/5?e=5322867/5047821; http://issuu.com/acaaimagemagadmin/docs/97/12?e=5322867/5047825

Hiroshi Tabata, “The Nativity,” 1998.

This devotion can be done any time during Christmas Day; however, it should be done when you don’t need to rush, or there isn’t too much distraction from excitement of what may happen later in the day. I’ve written it assuming a family and friend setting, but those unfortunately alone for Christmas are also encouraged to use it.

1. Begin with an opening prayer. Take some time thanking God for sending His son. Ask Him to give you spiritual eyes to see the gloriousness of that first Christmas morning centuries ago, just like the shepherd got to see it with their own eyes.

2. Have someone read, or take turns reading, Luke 2:1-14.
Optional: Read Luke 1:26-38 and then Luke 2:1-14.

Why is the birth of Jesus “good news for all people”? It’s good to remind ourselves of this. Why do you think God sent the angel to appear to shepherds, and what do you think this says about God? Are there any other Bible passages it makes you think of?

3. Sing together “Joy to the World”
Whether your family is musical or not, there’s something beautiful about worshiping the Lord as a family. If you don’t want to sing A cappella but can’t play instruments, a good traditional instrumental track to sing along to can be found here. As you sing, remember that you are proclaiming good news and truth; this is not just a Christmas carol, but is worship!

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the world, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

4. Read the rest of the story, Luke 2:15-20. Take some time imagining the scene the shepherds found when they found Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus as He lay in the manger. Try to smell the smells and hear the noises that might have been in the air. If you have children, ask them what else might have been there. Try to imagine seeing Jesus, and to feel the wonder and excitement that those shepherds felt when they found Him just as the angels told them they would.

5. Have someone read, or take turns reading, Matthew 2:1-11. Jesus would have been between 1-3 years old at this time. If you have children, explain what the three gifts were – frankincense and myrrh are very expensive perfume oils and could be used in worship, to put on wounds, or to sell to provide for the family. Ask your children: “what gift would you give to the infant Jesus?”

6. Ask each person what gift they can give Jesus now. Allow for time to think about it; perhaps Jesus is putting something on their heart – making a “wish list” for Himself! If someone can’t come up with anything, give them suggestions to help spur their creativity and ideas; It could be things such as doing a spiritual discipline, or by serving in the church or community, or by regularly giving money to a missionary or charitable organization, etc. For young children, it may be a chore they can do or a lonely peer at school, church, or daycare they can befriend, etc.

7. Close in prayer. Each person should spend some time praying out loud by thanking God the Father for the gift of Jesus, for the gift that Jesus gives us by giving us His life and the Holy Spirit in exchange for our sins, for the gifts they received (or will receive) today, along with other things; and by offering Jesus the gift they said they can give Him and asking for His help in giving it well.
Then, when everyone is done, finish by praying this prayer together*:

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace:
by Your zeal may you establish your throne with justice and righteousness
and bring about endless peace on the earth. Amen!

*taken from Living the Christian Year, by Bobby Gross

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