Sunday, September 25, 2011
Philippians 2:1-13If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became 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 confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed-- not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence-- continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. (NIV) As time moves on, we see great new things in our culture, and we also grieve over the loss of other things.
One thing that is nice for parents today is that kids in the car have hand held computer games, and phones to keep them occupied on long trips. Many have DVD players in the cars so the kids can watch movies on long trips. Oh how I wish they had been around when my son was younger.
I wonder – do kids still yell out from the back seats, “Daddy, how many more miles?”
But with that great new thing, we also grieve over the loss of other things. When I was a child, we would tell stories in the car on long trips – and we would sing.
Today no one sings on long trips, but that was one of the highlights of family vacations in the 1950s and 60s. Singing in the car.
I still like to sing – much to my wife’s dismay.
Every morning while getting ready for work, I’ll break out in song. Do you ever do that?
Well, that is basically what is happening in our New Testament lesson.
Paul is breaking out in singing, singing the words of what is a familiar
hymn to that congregation in the city of Philippi.
Part of our Scripture lesson for today is actually a hymn that Paul is quoting.
Scholars know this part of the letter to the Phillippians is a hymn for several reasons. It has, in the Greek language, the meter and style of music.
Now, why would Paul do that. It is more than just a simple point he wants to make. Why quote a song?
Well, whenever you quote anything, music or otherwise, it conveys facts and information. They also convey something emotional.
In Texas, if you hear the phrase, "Remember the Alamo," that conjures up not only a historical remembrance, but an emotional one as well, as people remember the soldiers who fought at the Alamo.
Or take the phrase, "Read my lips, 'no new taxes,'" and what comes to mind is a recollection of a presidential candidate and broken promises. And perhaps the emotion that is evoked is that of cynicism.
And that is what Paul is doing. He is not just communicating some facts, or information. He is trying to convey something emotional.
He writes a letter to the church of Philippi, and in the middle of the letter, he begins to sing a familiar hymn.
Oh, it's not familiar to us. The tune has long been lost. But it would have been familiar to these Christians.
Let's imagine for example, a young man leaves home and goes into the Navy. He is far from home and is having a difficult time. He misses his home. He misses his family. He misses his friends. In a few days he will be going to sea and will be gone for a long time, and this magnifies the loneliness.
Day after day he waits for the mail, hoping for a letter from friends and family, but on most days, there is none.
Then one day, gets a letter. A real letter.
The letter is from his youth leader back in his home church.
"Dear Jimmy," the letter begins. "I know these are difficult times for you. I know you feel lonely and far from home. I want you to remember that I am praying for you, and so are all the other members of the youth group. As you begin your tour at sea, remember our prayers are with you.
Eternal Father, Strong to Save,
Whose arm has bound the restless wave,
Who bade the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep.
Oh hear us when we cry to thee,
For those in peril on the sea.
Now, what that does for Jimmy is that it transports him back into the worship service. It produces not just a picture, but feelings of being back in his home church, standing in his own pew. In his mind, she can hear the organ cranking out the notes. He can hear his great Aunt Lucille singing beside him. He hears the song. He's back in worship. No matter what Jimmy does for the rest of the day, he has that tune of the Navy Hymn stuck in his mind.
When Paul begins to sing a hymn in the middle of his letter, he is not just trying to convey information. He is transporting them to the worship service.
At this point in the letter of Paul to the Philippians, the apostle is addressing concerns he has about the conflicts and divisions that are taking place in the church of Philippi.
We're not sure what these conflicts and divisions were all about, and I'm not sure they matter. Because on one level or another, almost every church has them at times.
So Paul tells them, "Make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. ... Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:"
And then Paul beings to sing.
"Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became 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 confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
What Paul is doing is telling the Phillippians to treat each other as if they are always in the midst of worship.
That's good advice.
Imagine how differently we would treat each other if we always acted as if we were in the House of God.
I had an interesting experience in a church sanctuary some time back.
I had been asked by the Presbytery to visit a church that was in serious conflict. I was part of a team of several ministers who attended a congregational meeting. The meeting was very intense.
The sad part of that meeting is that Presbytery had sent us into that church not only to try to resolve the conflict, but to fire the pastor.
The congregation was clearly polarized with half the members on one side of an issue, and the other half on the other side. Each side had collected a long list of grievances against one another and had built up resentment and bitterness and anger.
Well, we tried our best during the meeting, but I'm not sure we accomplished anything.
I was thankful when the meeting was over and was walking past the Lord's Table, on my way toward the closest exit, when one of the church members walked right up to me and blocked my path.
He had become angry because I had refused to take his side during the congregational meeting. He was one of the supporters of the pastor and he was angry that Presbytery had stepped in and terminated the pastor's job. This member not only expressed his anger verbally. He actually began to threaten me.
For a brief moment, I knew this man was going to assault me, physically, right there in the Sanctuary.
The thought went through my mind that I could try to defend myself.
But we were right there beside the Lord's Table, and the picture of a minister and an elder fist fighting in the Sanctuary was so offensive, I decided to follow Jesus' mandate to turn the other cheek.
Besides, I consoled myself, if I don't hit back, maybe he'll only hit me once and it'll be over with.
Just then, in an instant before the elder hit me, the very pastor whom I'd been responsible for firing a short time earlier, stepped between us and came to my rescue.
All he said was, "You are in the Lord's House. He is watching every move we take. He is listening to every word we say. He is aware of every thought we have."
With those words, my adversary stepped back and let me leave.
Paul tells the Philippians, "think about being in the worship service. Listen to the organ music. Imagine the feel of the pews as you sit. Hear the words of the songs the choirs sing.
"And once you imagine that you are in the House of God, experiencing worship, remember this...
"Make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus."
That's a tough order Paul gives the Philippians -- and us.
We have to be like-minded?
We have to have love for one another?
We can't do anything out of selfish ambition?
We have to consider others better than ourselves?
That's easy to do, in here.
We're not breaking out in fights, in here.
We're expressing love for one another, in here.
We're considering other peoples interests, in here.
But, out there in the world, it is different.
Look at the way we drive. We don't drive defensively. We drive offensively. We drive selfishly.
Look at the way we treat our neighbors. If they are in need, we ignore them. If they are different from us, we ridicule them.
We are driven by anger, selfish ambition and vain actions.
But Paul says we shouldn't do that.
We should treat each other the same as we treat each other in here, in worship.
I had two elders in my first pastorate who had some sort of a falling out. I was never sure what happened between them, but they absolutely detested each other. It was awkward because during session meetings, they would often ignore each other. When they didn't ignore each other, they were putting each other down and being very insulting and degrading.
Finally, one day they were both scheduled to work together in serving Communion to the congregation. This was quite by accident, because they usually refused to serve together, and the worship chairperson knew this and never, ever scheduled them together.
But one Sunday, by mistake, they were both scheduled to assist in the Communion service. They both came forward to help pass out the elements, without noticing each other until they were actually at the Table.
When I saw them both come forward, I became very anxious, because I really believed one or the other of them would actually walk out, and refuse to serve with the other.
But neither made a scene. Neither one walked out. They both picked up the plates and passed the bread. Then they both took the trays of wine and passed them around the congregation.
With much relief, the service went smoothly and when it was over, everyone went home.
Except for the elders. Because in that church, we had session meetings on Sundays after church. And it so happened this was the Sunday the session was meeting.
And a strange thing happened that Sunday. It was the best Session meeting we'd had in months. The two elders who hated one another, began to talk to one another, and work with one another.
They weren't about to hug one another, but it was a definite improvement.
As time went on, the relationship continued to slowly improve.
A few months later, the two of them came to the church office together and began to tell me about this idea they had been working on to start a new ministry. They wanted to organize a monthly outing for the youth of the church, and they wanted to be the ones to organize it.
Well, I couldn't contain myself any more. I asked what had happened to change their relationship.
"Well, preacher, it all started one Sunday when the two of us were scheduled to serve Communion together. It suddenly dawned on me that when we are both dead and gone, and sitting in heaven, God would probably make us sit together at every Communion Service. So we'd better start working things out."
That was Paul's point entirely.
We need to treat each other OUT THERE, the same way we treat each other IN HERE, IN WORSHIP.
It is a tough order.
We'd rather live out our lives out there, as if God is in here, and not out there.
As if God doesn't see us.
But he does.
When you are rude, hateful, or disrespectful of someone out there -- would you act that way if the two of you were standing next to the Lord's Table?
When you are selfish and vain and self centered out there -- would you be that way when you are standing at the Lord's Table?
It's easy to behave yourselves as godly people while you're in the Lord's House.
We need to carry that attitude out there, into the world.
As Paul said, "Make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus."
Copyright Maynard Pittendreigh, 2011
All Rights Reserved
Posted by Maynard at 11:22 AM
Sunday, September 18, 2011
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light "day," and the darkness he called "night." And there was evening, and there was morning-- the first day.
And God said, "Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water." So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. And it was so. God called the expanse "sky." And there was evening, and there was morning-- the second day.
And God said, "Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear." And it was so. God called the dry ground "land," and the gathered waters he called "seas." And God saw that it was good. Then God said, "Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds." And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning-- the third day.
And God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth." And it was so. God made two great lights-- the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning-- the fourth day.
And God said, "Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky." So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, "Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth." And there was evening, and there was morning-- the fifth day.
And God said, "Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind." And it was so. God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
4 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created. When the LORD God made the earth and the heavens--
5 and no shrub of the field had yet appeared on the earth and no plant of the field had yet sprung up, for the LORD God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no man to work the ground,
6 but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground--
7 the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
Most of you probably don’t know this, but I am an avid amateur astronomer. I don’t just enjoy it. I’m really, really into it. I’m very serious about this hobby. I own a few telescopes. Each one has a different purpose. One is for looking at the sun safely. Another is for taking photographs of distant objects in space. I’m part of a group of other astronomers that own and operate a small observatory in Africa. That way I don’t have to wait until it gets dark here, as soon as the sun goes down in Africa, I can get on the Internet and move the telescope by remote control and take all sorts of pictures of all sorts of galaxies, and planets.
Ask my wife and she will tell you, I spend ALMOST too much time and money on astronomy.
But it so relaxing. I find it very therapeutic.
And I find that it is a very spiritual exercise.
One of the highlights of my life came about 15 years ago when I was able to work with NASA on a team of volunteer astronomers in a study that allowed us to use the Hubble Space Telescope. The study was all about observing OH emissions from 5 asteroids. I have no clue what that means – I just did what the project director told me to do and I enjoyed every minute of it.
We’ve all seen those wonderful images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.
Most of us don’t understand the science involved with Hubble. We probably couldn’t name a single scientific discovery or contribution made by this very expensive project – and yet so many people have demanded of congress that money be spent to keep Hubble operational.
In one simple word – beauty.
We love to look at those photographs and see the beauty of God’s creation.
I think that is why I enjoy astronomy. It keeps me in touch with the artistic flair that God has with the universe He has created.
We read in Psalm 19, verse 1, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”
I think that is one of the reasons why I love the opening passages of the book of Genesis. It is here that we find this wonderfully poetic description of God creating the universe.
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
“In the beginning…” What a great place to begin the first chapter of the first book of the Bible. “In the beginning, God created.”
In fact, we come to not just one creation account, but two. And they are two very different accounts.
I have friends who are not Christian, and who do not believe in God. They like to point out that Genesis is proof that the Bible is full of errors and mistakes and contradictions, therefore, so they say, God does not exist.
Well, you can’t deny that there are two very different stories of how God made the universe in the first book of the Bible.
In chapter 1 you have this beautifully poetic account of God creating the universe.
God created light, and it was good.
God created plants, and it was good.
And then the last thing to be created is humanity, and it was good.
Then in chapter 2, verse 4, instead of moving to tell us what happened after creation, the writer starts all over again by telling us how God created the universe. This is what chapter 2 says, “This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created. When the LORD God made the earth and the heavens--and no shrub of the field had yet appeared on the earth and no plant of the field had yet sprung up … the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”
Chapter 1 is poetic.
Chapter 2 is a narrative, and a bit bland when compared with chapter 1.
In chapter 1 God creates animals, and then people.
In chapter 2 God creates a single person, and then animals.
In chapter 1, humanity is the last thing God creates, as if to highlight the concept that humanity is the crowning glory of God’s creation.
In chapter 2, humanity is the first thing God creates after making the land of the earth, as if to highlight the concept that humanity is the priority of God’s creation.
Now, people who say the Bible is full of contradictions love to point to these two creation accounts and say, “Ah ha, you see, the Bible is full of mistakes.”
No. We are not talking about one creation account on page 1 and the other way over on page 859. These two accounts are jammed up together. Side by side. The writer put these two different accounts side by side on purpose. There is a reason.
I believe the purpose of putting these two different creation accounts side by side in such an obvious way is to demonstrate to us that the Book of Genesis is not a science text book. The purpose of these two creation accounts is not to give us a chronology or to tell us how God created the universe.
As Galileo liked to say, quoting his own pastor, “The Bible was written to show us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.”
One of the greatest scientists alive today is Stephen Hawking. You may not recognize the name, but you would recognize him if you saw him, and you probably have seen him many times on television. He suffers from what we commonly refer to as Lou Gerrig’s disease. He can not speak, unless he has the assistance of his computer devices.
Years ago he came out with a nice little book, “A Brief History of Time.” In it he spoke of an ultimate discovery of a theory that would explain the universe and creation, and said that when we have that sort of understanding it would be so wonderful, for we would be looking into the mind of God.
This past week, however, portions of his new book have been published. He is now saying that there is no reason to believe that God created the universe, because the laws of gravity and physics make it possible for the universe to create itself.
Additionally, as Professor John Lennox has responded: “But how did gravity exist in the first place? Who put it there? And what was the creative force behind its birth?”
The problem is that whenever we try to explain how God does anything, we get into trouble.
We run the risk of becoming very arrogant. Eventually we end up looking foolish.
In the book of Job, everyone is trying to put God in a box and everyone is trying to simplify God. When God speaks in Job, he says, “Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off creation’s dimensions? Surely you know!” (Job 38:4-5). There is sarcasm in God’s voice as he addresses our arrogance at trying to fully comprehend God’s creative work.
In Isaiah, chapter 40 verse 13, the Old Testament prophet has been talking about God’s creative power, and after talking about the mysteries of the universe that God has made he ends with this wonderful line, “Who has understood the mind of the LORD?”
So let’s not get bogged down in trying to explain how God made the universe or try to put God in a simple box of understanding. Let’s look at Genesis and see what we can really learn and apply to lives.
Lesson number one – forgetting the HOW, let’s think of the WHO.
Who created the universe?
Look and see what chapters one and two in Genesis have in common – that is more important than to see what differences they have with one another.
And the most obvious commonality relates to who created the universe – and the answer is God.
In chapter 1 verse 1, we read, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
In chapter 2 verse 4, we read, “God made the heavens and the earth.”
But we need to hear that truth today. We need to hear and believe that God made the universe –because we live in a time when some believe that the universe was an accident. And if the universe was made by accident, that means there is no purpose.
There no hope.
There is no God.
But Genesis, in both chapters one and two, and throughout the rest of Scripture, there is this lesson to be learned – God created the universe.
And that brings us to lesson number two – and that is WHY. Why did God create the universe?
Think about that.
Why did God bother?
It must have been a lot of trouble to go to for God to create the universe.
God knows, we have caused Him a lot of trouble since he created us.
So why bother?
God created – for His own pleasure.
Like an artist standing before a blank canvas - Or holding a lump of clay before shaping and molding it. God created the universe as art, for his own good pleasure.
In Genesis 1, verse 25, it says, “God made the wild animals … all the creatures that move along the ground … And God saw that it was good.”
If you have ever been to the zoo, you can see the wide variety of creatures God has created. Some of these creatures look downright – well, they look like mistakes.
Have you ever really paid attention to a hippo? Those things just don’t look right.
Or sloths? They don’t do anything. You walk up to the sloth exhibit and the sloth just lays there. Why would God create a creature so lazy?
God did it because it was fun.
And it made him happy.
In the book of Job, God talks about his creation, and he is reminding Job that people don’t understand God or how created the universe. And in one place God talks about the ostrich.
If you stop and think about the ostrich you have to admit, this is not a pretty bird. It’s a bit ugly. It looks awkward. It looks silly. And it is not very bright. It’s a bird, but it can’t fly.
And in Job, chapter 39, God admits he created an ugly and stupid bird, pointing out that the ostrich “lays her eggs on the ground … where people can step on the eggs and crush them.”
But then God says, “but when the ostrich spreads her feathers to run, she laughs at the horse.”
An ostrich runs 40 miles per hour – which is fast enough to get a speeding ticket in some places.
God created the universe out of pure joy and pleasure.
Lesson number three to be learned from Genesis is that humanity has an important place in creation.
Now that is an important fact to understand – we have a place in creation.
When I look through my telescope and I look at galaxies and planets and things like that. It is easy to understand this universe is huge. We are pretty insignificant.
Even David in the Old Testament when he would be taking care of his sheep at night and he would look at the night sky, he was amazed at what he saw without a telescope. Back in the Old Testament times, before street lights and night lights, you could actually see stars in the sky without a telescope.
And David wrote in Psalm 8, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is humanity that you are mindful of us?”
Now in the Psalms, David comes to the conclusion that humanity is an important part of creation. And we see this reflected in Genesis.
In chapter 1, God says, "Let us make humanity in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth."
Now, what does that mean “rule over all the earth?”
Well, for many people, it means we can do whatever want to do.
We pollute the air, the sea, the water, the land.
We use the resources of the world without thinking of the impact.
The political leaders of Haiti allowed, and even directed irresponsible tree farming for many years. Hills and mountains were laid bare. The result is that much of the good soil has eroded. The farming is hard. When it rains, there are mudslides that kill entire families.
Ruling over the earth doesn’t mean we can do whatever we want to do and not think about the ramifications of it.
When I was a teenager, my parents had to go out of town for a night. One night. I convinced Mom and Dad that they could trust me and that they could leave me alone.
I don’t know what my Dad was thinking, but he agreed.
And the last thing he said as he drove off was, “You are in charge of the house.”
He came back to find the house a mess.
You don’t really need to know all the details of all he found in the house.
When the professional cleaners came to the house the next day, my Mom finally asked me, “why did you do this to the house?”
And all I could come up with in reply was to say, “Because Dad said I was in charge of the house.”
God put us in charge of the earth. But that doesn’t mean we are not accountable to God for how we treat this earth.
In chapter 2 of Genesis, we get a feeling of what that really means. In verse 15 when God is talking about us ruling over the planet, he uses this phrase “to take care of it.”
Many times in the Bible we see that God expected us to rule his world by taking care of it.
In Psalm 65, we read, “Care for the land and water it; enrich it abundantly.”
But in Jeremiah, people don’t take care of the land. In Jeremiah 2:7 it says, “I brought you to a garden land where you could eat lush fruit. But you barged in and polluted my land, trashed and defiled my dear land.” (version: The Message)
Later in Jeremiah’s Old Testament book in chapter 12, the prophet is complaining to God and asking why the condition of the land does not improve so that a famine stops. Jeremiah prays, “How long will the land lie parched and the grass in every field be withered?”
And God answers and talks about how people have abused and polluted the land. God talks about how there has been too much competition between the shepherds and the owners of vineyards and they’ve abused the land and not taken care of it and now the land is a wasteland, and then God says this: “the whole land will be laid waste because there is no one who cares (for the land).”
It is so easy not to care.
We use chemicals and don’t think about the consequences.
We over use cars and complain there is too much pollution and smog, but we don’t do anything.
We don’t even recycle that much.
We really just don’t care that much.
God put us in charge of this world. But we forget that being in charge means we also take care of it.
Posted by Maynard at 8:31 PM