Tag Archives: Jesus

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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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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Haiku Prayers

Jesus my true King,

Strike down these gods within me,

Glorious freedom.

Holy Spirit come,

Flood Your Church with new power,

Revive us again.

You the rightful head,

We have decapitated,

Forgive us O Lord.

Plans most practical,

Wisdom gleamed from business world,

Speak Your voice instead!

We busy ourselves,

Distracted by life’s good things,

Remind us what’s best.

This last one is not explicitly a prayer, but what my vision (and prayer for) is for enCompass church, turned into a haiku if I could. Doesn’t quite work:

Passionately pray,

Know, obey, reach out, welcome,

enCompass vision

To be a church that passionately prays (Col. 4:2), knows and obeys the Bible (Rom. 6:17), reaches out into the community with evangelism (Matt. 28:18-20) and good works (Jer. 29:5-7; Eph. 2:10), and welcomes all people well (Rom. 15:7).

or

Passionately prays, knows and obeys, reaches out, and welcomes well.

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On the Cusp of the Promised Land

Twelve leaders of the people went in to spy out the land before going in to take it.

spies_02

Ten of those leaders said “no,” it can’t be done. There’s giants there. The enemy is too big. It’s too much work. It’s more comfortable here. It’ll cost too much. Take too much sacrifice.

Two of the leaders said “yes.” God has promised to be with us and to give it to us.

The people listened to the ten, and as a result they all remained in the desert, wandering, for 40 years.

This is the story we read in Numbers 13-14. For leaders of the church – pastors, elders, board members, deacons – this is a serious story. Because we have that decision to make too: to say “yes” to what God is doing and wants to do, or to say “no.” The naysayers’ arguments will always be logical, practical, and appeal to our sense of security. Change is hard work. Change is unknown.

But the stakes are high. The cost of listening to the naysayers is remaining in the desert. With the Promised Land within reach. And more than that, with the Promised Land given and, well, promised, by God. Along with His promise to never leave us or forsake us (Is. 41:10). Along with Jesus’ promise that in fact, we would do greater works than He did while on earth, with faith and obedience (John 14:12).

Saying “yes” doesn’t mean it will be easy, of course. We still have to fight. We still have to work. It will require change and sacrifice – not just as a church or a leadership team, but as individuals too.

But saying yes will be worth it.

Saying yes is how we will see our churches on fire for Jesus, passionately living for Him. Passionately telling others about Him.

The question before each of us is: how will you answer?

 

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Witness as Evangelism: Recap & Reading Recommendations*

Last Sunday at enCompass Church in Winnipeg, I preached on evangelism in terms of witnessing (seeing and hearing) what God was doing in a person’s life or situation, and then speaking about that (or witnessing to that) to them, like a detective discovers evidence and presents it to their clients.

While many Scripture passages talk about evangelism this way, Peter and Paul’s response to the Pharisees trying to get them to stop preaching impacted me a lot: “As for us, we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).

detective

Along with a detective, I used the image of a sniper, waiting patiently to speak to those God directs us to in the ways He shows us, instead of using a ‘shotgun’ approach like random evangelism with abstract (yet true) facts about our separation from God and need for a saviour. And I used the image of a tour guide – we don’t just tell people where to go or see, but we join them (or have them join us) on the journey closer and closer to Jesus.

There will always be a need to explicitly speak the Gospel to people (Rom. 10:13-15), but a more effective way of initially bringing people to Jesus in our current culture is to show them (witness to) what Christ is already doing in and around their lives, and to tell of our own experiences of answered prayer and His activity in our lives.

Philip and his encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40) was a perfect example of these three illustrations: he listened to the orders of the Holy Spirit, he observed that the Ethiopian was reading from the prophet Isaiah and responded by acting on that, and then journeyed with him and explained the Gospel to him using Isaiah as his starting point.

eunuchicon

For those interested, I would like to suggest four books that I found helpful for my sermon, or that I’ve found helpful in the past regarding evangelism:

  1. Speaking of Jesus: The Art of Not-Evangelism, by Carl Medearis
  2. Prodigal Christianity: 10 Signposts into the Missional Frontier, by David E. Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw
  3. Reimagining Evangelism: Inviting Friends on a Spiritual Journey, by Rick Richardson
  4. Transforming Conversion: Rethinking the Language and Contours of Christian Initiation, by Gordon T. Smith

What books or other resources have you found helpful as you think and practice witnessing Jesus and witnessing to Him?

*cross-posted from here.

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Discipleship in the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price

The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it (Matthew 13:45-46).

China 2011-95-S

The merchant sold all he had for the pearl of great value because he was able to recognize its value and beauty. Once he possessed it, however, he was functionally poor (in the sense he couldn’t buy food, clothes, pay rent, etc).

This parable is not about using God to become wealthy, but it’s about the worth of the Kingdom of God – the worth of ‘possessing’ Jesus.

In the parable, the merchant sees its worth. Now, in order for him to become a merchant, and to be able to recognize the worth of the pearl, he had to be taught. He had to apprentice under someone (probably his father, in that culture).

This is where we see the importance of discipleship in the Christian life. Teaching, but also modelling and apprenticing others in the ways and teachings of Jesus, “teaching them to obey everything [He] commanded…” (Matt. 28:20).

The challenge for all Christians is to see the beauty and glory of Jesus so much that we devote our lives to Him, “selling all that we have,” and “taking up our cross daily and following Him.” And the job of mature Christians is to help others  in the church to see Jesus properly (that is, to see His beauty, glory, and inestimable worth). This is especially true for church leaders – elders, deacons, teachers, worship and small group leaders, and of course, even the pastors.

pearl_quality

Having said that, we can only train others as far as we ourselves have gone. If I’ve only studied to learn about the size, colour, and shape of pearls, then that will be all I can teach and show. I won’t be able to teach about the lustre, surface quality, or nacre quality of them.

The other aspect of this is that being able to see Jesus’ true worth is a gift and grace from God. So maybe it’s not so much teaching and modelling to others how to see Jesus, but to see Him better, or, to see Him more accurately.

And so the challenge for me then is to know Jesus intimately and recognize His presence, work, glory, and beauty in and around me and in and around the life of those around me, in order to point them to Jesus to be able to recognize Him better themselves.

And as we see the glory of Jesus, we are changed more and more to be like Him (2 Cor. 3:18).

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Praying Continuously

Pray without ceasing” the Apostle Paul exhorts us in 1 Thessalonians 5:17.

pray without ceasing

Upon reading this, our first thoughts are questions: Is that even possible? How could I do anything else if I was to obey this? I can’t even pray 30 minutes (or maybe even 5) in one sitting, so how could I possibly pray ‘without ceasing’?

Several saints have attempted to solve how to do this throughout history. The unknown Russian pilgrim, in “The Way ofway-of-a-pilgrim a Pilgrim,” goes on a quest to discover the secret of doing this, and he’s taught to pray the Jesus Prayer by the holy men he finds along the way. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” He’s taught that he needs to continually repeat this with every breath until he can do it mentally, in the background of his mind as it were, and then he’d be obeying the apostle’s command.

The me498641dieval monk Brother Lawrence sought to obey this command by continually, consciously seek God’s assistance in every task; he worked in the monastery’s kitchen and as I recall he would ask God for help with even the most mundane of tasks. He would ask God to help him flip over a pancake in the pan, and then after he had done so would thank God for His help. Brother Lawrence sought to keep God always close to his mind, and worship, thanksgiving, or prayers for help were often on his mind. His letters and a short biography are collected in the work called “The Practice of the Presence of God.”

Frank Laubach, a much more modern Christian inspired by Brother Lawrence, sought to learn to pray wiFrank-Laubach-stamp-264x300thout ceasing. He was a missionary to the Philippines, and devised what he called “The_Game_with_Minutes” Not so much a game as it was a challenge, he sought to see how many minutes out of each hour how many times he could remember God once per minute (that is, at least one second out of every 60 seconds). While not easy, with intentionality and practice he found it was possible, and in fact everything else in his life became easy because of this striving to keep God at the center of his life, minute-by-minute surrendered to Him.

Conversation with God

While praying requires times of structure and devoted attention (Matt. 6:9-13), and corporate prayer is extremely important (Acts 1:14), we can learn to keep God at the forefront of our thoughts if we continually engage Him in conversation. God loves us, and He cares intimately about every aspect of our lives, even the most mundane parts of it; so we can talk to Him about every part of our lives. He delights to hear us, just as a parent delights to hear their infant babble or their adult children talk to them. More than that, as lovers long to be with each other and talk with each other and learn about each other, so God longs for us to be with Him, to talk with Him, and to learn about Him.Prayer without CeasingI think what gets at the heart of praying without ceasing is learning to live in complete and utter dependence on God for every moment of our lives. It includes rejoicing (1 Thess. 5:16) and giving thanks for His help and presence and gifts and love (1 Thess. 5:17), but a life that’s surrendered to God and obedient to His will is what’s most pleasing to God. And being a continual state of prayer – conscious talking with Him, and subconscious awareness of His presence, helps us to be dependent on Him.

While it is difficult, I’m training myself to pray like this. So for example, when showering I talk to Him about my day or about the burdens on my heart. While driving I try to remember to talk to Him about the people I see driving or walking around me. When I meet with people I’m praying for God to show me what He’s doing in their lives as we chat together. And I find myself needing to constantly remind myself to do it, to pray, and to open my heart in love to God’s presence. And since I’m still working at it, there’s no need to get down on myself when I forget. I just remind myself, and go back to God in my thoughts and heart. And He is patient and will wait when I forget.

Almost a constant refrain of my conscious prayer is a cry for wisdom – “God, I need your wisdom.” Often it’s not even for a specific situation, but just in general. And while I’m far from good at praying continually yet, I get short tastes of the presence of God when I do, and I get glimpses of how He guides me, and I get snippets of wisdom that is beyond my ability (or even my realization, until after the fact), so it’s a worthwhile pursuit. Many – but far too few – Christians have already known this.

What keeps us from praying?

  1. Time – we lead such busy lives.

While true to an extent, this is often an excuse more than anything, since we always have some time – whether in the shower, or while driving, or instead of watching TV or surfing the net or reading a book. The fact of the matter is, we don’t prioritize it, or intentionally make time for it; and if we don’t make time, time slips away.

  1. Unbelief – we don’t really believe prayer makes a difference.

This is the true reason we don’t make time for prayer. If we believed in its efficacy, we would prioritize it. Maybe we’ve prayed and haven’t seen those prayers answered (at least, in the way we wanted them to be). Maybe we don’t experience God’s presence and so we functionally live as if He doesn’t exist. Or maybe we’ve gone through tragedy, or been hurt (even by the church), and we didn’t see God do anything in those situations so why would He now?

Our prayer shouldn’t be dependent on our experience of God or our experience of His answering our prayers or not, rather it should be motivated by love for Him and founded in the security of His love for us. When we understand, I mean really get deep down, how He loves us then we’ll trust in Him despite what does or doesn’t happen to us, and we will be one of the more free than people can understand.

  1. Fear – we’re afraid of surrendering our wills to God, and afraid of Him actually showing up!

The sin that entered Adam and Eve’s hearts afflicts us still – the desire for control, and to be the masters of our own fates. To give that up without guarantee of safety or comfort is scary. But surrendering our lives to God is the best decision we can make; not having experienced that though, or seen many people who have, it’s hard for us to believe. So we pray little or not at all in hopes of clinging to the little power we actually have. But surrendering to God brings a freedom from fear, because surrendering to God allows us to know His great love for us, and ‘perfect love drives out fear’ (1 John 4:18).

The Challenge

So, will you join me in making prayer a priority in your life? Will you seek to engage God in constant, conversational prayer in surrender to His will? It sounds impossible, but it isn’t. It sounds difficult, and it is – but it’s more than worth it.

Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will concerning you.

 

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