Monday, May 23, 2016

Monday Morning Rewind: Joy and Unity

For the last several weeks we have been looking together at Paul's letter to the Philippians--a letter written to a highly diverse congregation encouraging them to maintain unity in spite of their differences.  We we enter the final 2 weeks of this series, we begin to see specific examples in the church at Philippi.  In particular, Paul now begins to address a sharp dispute between two prominent women in the church--Euodia and Syntyche.

For the first three chapters of Philippians Paul has hammered the concept of unity--an inseparable bond between believers that finds its commonality in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  At this point in the letter, Paul reveals the reason this issue is so important at Philippi.  Two women are in a sharp dispute that threatens the very unity he knows the church needs to survive and accomplish its mission.  And in his interaction with these two ladies, we see what is required if we want to be a unified body.

Reconcile with Each Other.  At some point in the recent past, Euodia and Syntyche had served alongside Paul in ministry, and also alongside each other, but they now find themselves on opposite sides of an issue.  Though we aren't told what the particular issue is, the dispute itself helps us understand two things.

First, maintaining unity and reconciliation with each other are perpetual exercises until we see Jesus.  Because we are all sinners, we will for a lifetime encounter situations that require us to reconcile with each other over something.  Conflict will always exist on this side of eternity, so we must always be aware of it, and working through it together.

Second, the problem between Euodia and Syntyche isn't mentioned, because the problem itself isn't the issue.  The issue is that there are two sisters in Christ at odds with each other in a way that threatens the unity of the body of Christ at Philippi. So Paul says to them "agree in the Lord."

When conflict exists in the church, many times the issue isn't the issue.  The issue rather, is a broken relationship that God wants reconcilled

Embrace Each Other.  A word that is getting a lot of use in our day is the word "tolerance."  Admittedly, tolerance is a good thing, because it helps maintain a level of "peace" among civilizations.  But Paul is calling the church here to a much higher goal than mere "tolerance."  Tolerance is what I give to the TSA every time I get on an airplane so that I can maintain my Christian testimony in the airport, and not get arrested!  But Paul has something much more significant in mind when he describes the relationship we are supposed to have with our church family.  We know this primarily because what he says is filled with the theme of joy.

He tells us to "rejoice" and then immediately follows it up with a warning against anxiety.  All sorts of things cause anxiety in our lives--heavy traffic, financial difficulty, job loss, sickness, and a general unease about the future.  The world we live in provides us unlimited opportunities to be anxious, and Paul's larger point is that the church should be the one place where our anxiety level goes down, not up!

When that happens, the result isn't "tolerance" or detente, its a true "peace" that comes only from God that the world can't understand.  It's a peace that has been promised to His people, but we will never find it until we learn to embrace each other as the brothers and sisters we are.

See the Best in Each Other.  Dr. Ellinore Kinarthy says that the average person has more than 200 negative thoughts a day.  And every religious system in the world has some way of trying to help its adherents deal with the negative.  In most eastern religions, the answer is seen to be "meditation" that involves an emptying of the mind.  But here's the thing:  your mind is never a blank slate!  And since there is always something in there, Paul tell us to ensure that our minds are disciplined to think of truth, purity honor, justice, beauty, and compassion.  "Think on these things," he tells us, and then put them into practice in the church.

Simply put, its easy to see the worst in people--and its true, we are fallen and all of us have some really bad things happening in our hearts and lives.  But the larger point is powerful:  When you look at your brother or sister in Christ, before anything else we should see the image of God.

How will we know that has happened?  One powerful indicator will be when you can look at the person in our church who is least like you and see the work of God's grace in them.

We are the people of God, who have a clear mission from God.  And, we have a peace from God that world can't replicate that is available to us.  Let's joyfully "agree in the Lord" and move forward together!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Four Ways to Know if Your Church is Out of Touch

"We want to reach our community!"  In 24 years of ministry, I've never served or consulted with a single congregation that didn't say this.  But for too many churches, they just weren't getting it done.

For many years, church leaders have attended conferences, listened to church growth "experts," and copied strategies that were successful in other contexts in the hope that the result would be people coming to Christ and communities being impacted.  But too often, the most critical piece of the puzzle wasn't even considered.

Too many churches are implementing "strategies" that have little to no connection to their community.  This is because too many churches are completely out of touch with their surrounding community.

How do you know if your church has lost touch?  Over the years, I've observed four primary indicators:

1. The members of the congregation aren't from the community.  Driving through a not-yet-gentrified area of Louisville Kentucky years ago, we saw prostitutes on the corner, witnessed people entering the local crack houses, and sensed the obvious presence of darkness.  But once we turned into the church parking lot, we saw a Lexus, parked next to a Mercedes, which was in turn parked next to a Cadillac.

Those who had been members of this church for decades claimed they wanted to reach this community.  But the community had drastically changed over the years, and the church members no longer lived there!  They understood nothing of the poverty and addiction that surrounded them, and had no personal desire to envelope themselves in the lives of "those people," but they fully expected the community to   come into a facility, structure, and approach to ministry that was totally foreign to them.  If no one from your church lives in the community, it may be time to relocate your church, and give the building back to believers who actually live there.

2. Church meetings don't include substantive discussion of the community.  It was a three hour business meeting that included a lot of very important issues: what should the worship service look like?  How should we structure ourselves?  And of course, "who is going to be in control?"  But for 180 minutes, this dying church said nothing about Jesus, or the community that surrounded them.

If you spend more time analyzing the church than you do serving the community your church was put there to serve, its a sure sign your church is completely out of touch.

3. There is no link between church ministries and the common concerns of your community.  The church was seriously considering spending $3 million on a brand new, state-of-the-art "family life center," complete with a full-sized gymnasium, free weights and nautilus equipment, and aerobics classes.  Problem was, no one had considered that there was already a $15 million facility just across the street that provided all those things already--and did so in a way the church would never be able to compete with.

Too often, churches start food pantries, ministries for single moms, recovery ministries, divorce care, financial counseling, and a thousand other things without so much as asking a single person from the community what the needs are.   A church that truly serves its community listens to its community, connects community needs with its own ministries, and those ministries with the Gospel.

4. Community Transformation isn't part of the vision.  When I teach church planting courses, one of the assignments always includes the students assembling an initial strategy plan for a new church that includes community analysis, vision, mission, and an overview of the first 18 months.  And I warn the students that if the vision stops with a picture of the church, they will have earned a failing grade!

Church is essential to the mission.  In fact, without the church, there is no true mission!  But though the church is necessary, it is not ultimate.  God's Kingdom is ultimate, and the result of any effective church that is aware of its surroundings is a community that reflects more of the Kingdom of God.  How will the community look different 10 years from now if your church is truly obedient to Jesus.  If you haven't answered that question, then whatever you have described isn't vision.  If you've never asked the question in the first place, your church may be completely out of touch.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Monday Morning Rewind: Defining the Target

There is an old Peanuts cartoon that shows Charlie Brown firing an arrow into the side of a barn with Lucy watching.  In the second frame, he walks over to the arrow, paints a target around it, and then says to Lucy "see? This way, I never miss!"

In too many churches, this is how "success" is judged.  With no clear objectives, they continue doing what they have always done, rightly celebrating any good things that come, but wrongly refusing to critique their trajectory or their accomplishments to ask the question "Are we headed in the right direction?  Are we aiming for the right goal?"

In the first part of Philippians 3, Paul shared how his past informs his present ministry--including his ministry to the church at Philippi.  As we close out chapter three, he begins to speak about where he is headed, and from his words come great encouragement to move forward together, and clear guidelines about how to move forward together.

The big idea is simple:  Its hard to divide from each other when we are focused on a common goal rather than merely focusing on ourselves.

Move in the Right Direction.  Verses 12-14 are a picture of forward movement, and the two steps toward effectively moving together well are clearly outlined here.

First, you have to know where you are starting from.  Every church needs a picture of its current status that is realistic.  Yes, one day we are headed to heaven together, and in heaven there won't be conflict, and the church will be pure and beautiful.  But right now we aren't in heaven.  We are on earth.  And on earth, sometimes the church can be an ugly woman!

Paul understand that this is true not only for the church, but for himself.  Similarly, we start by realizing and admitting that all of us are at a place of imperfection.  All of us are still and will always be growing.

But to grow, we have to know where we are headed.  Paul says to "forget what lies behind." which is another way of saying we need to deal with our past!  These words aren't some trite instruction to push to the back of our minds things that have not been reconciled.  They are words that command us to deal straightforwardly with each other so that we are able to truly leave things in the past.  Once we do this we can "strain forward to what lies ahead."  The imagery here is an athletic picture that would have reminded the Philippians of the Greek games.  Paul employs it to describe himself and the church using all energy, strength and focus to aim toward a particular mark, which he describes as the "upward call of God in Christ Jesus."  Again, we see clearly that our unifying theme is, and always will be the person and the work of Jesus.

We need to ask ourselves at every level, throughout every department, and in examining every ministry, "are people becoming more like Jesus?"  This is how we know whether we are moving in the right direction.

Stay On Course.  Ever been distracted?  Sometimes its something as innocent as walking into another room, then immediately forgetting why you walked in there.  But sometimes distractions can be serious.  Texting while driving can result in people dying, for example.  Even the most innocent distractions can be deadly.  This is why verses 15 and 16 are Paul's way of saying "guys, don't just set the right course and direction.  Be constantly checking yourself to ensure that you remain on course."

There are multiple ways that churches can be distracted.  We can descend into endless theological debates about non-essential issues that keep us from our mission.  We can fight over strategy and structure decisions.  We can also be so incredibly busy paddling the boat or riding the stationary bike that we never stop and ask the simple question; "are we still heading in the right direction?"

Verse 15 also reveals that the source of our direction is God Himself.  What He has given us to do is too important for us not to constantly ensure that we are on course.

Emulate the Right Example.  Paul understands that everything he has is by the grace of God, but as a trophy of that grace who has walked in obedience, he can also humbly contrast himself with those who presume to be leaders, but are ungodly.

We don't know exactly who these ungodly leaders are, but we do know from the closing verses of chapter three that they long to simply satisfy their own desires, and they are prideful people who "glory in their shame."  That sort of posture can manifest itself in many harmful ways.  It can take the form of immorality--a pastor or leader who can't keep his pants on or his hands out of the offering plate--or it can manifest itself in people who presume a veneer of godliness but are duplicitous.  These kinds of leaders don't mind being divisive, underhanded, or doing anything else necessary for their own gain.  They often lie, gossip, and jockey for power and position within the church.  All of these actions Paul classifies as shameful behavior, and he warns the Philippians, "don't follow people like this, or you will be distracted from your mission."

These are solemn words we have to take seriously in our own day, because the wrong leaders will move us in the wrong direction.  We serve a Savior who is coming back for us, and we serve His Kingdom, which we are all headed for.  Keeping our focus on that mission requires leadership who understand this--men and women we can emulate without losing our focus.  In the future, we want to raise up other godly men to be pastors and elders.  We want to raise up godly men and women to be deacons, small group leaders, and spiritual guides in our church.  That will require looking past divisive people, and examining the lives of potential leaders closely.  The "upward call of God in Christ Jesus" requires no less.

This is our target and our mission--the upward call of God in Christ Jesus!  Let's set our sights on it together, and push forward toward it with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, no matter what it costs.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Monday Morning Rewind: The Kissing Cousins of Division and Deception

"False teaching."  Its a term that evokes strong emotion--mostly the fearful kind.  The Scriptures frequently warn us about it.  But what exactly is "false teaching," and why is it such a threat?

Yesterday, we covered part 7 of a 10 part series moving through Philippians entitled "One Body."  Throughout this letter, Paul repeatedly commands unity from the church.  And as he opens Chapter Three, he makes a close connection between the lack of unity at Philippi and false teaching.  It is in this connection that we find the essence of what it means to be a false teacher.

All of the major religions of the world--including a few perverted, dysfunctional forms of Christianity--use a system of  "walls" to define their faith.  In other words, if you want to be faithful to a religion, you must stay inside the "boundaries" of belief and action that have been prescribed by that religion.  But that isn't what it means to be Christian.  Following Jesus truly and purely is, at its essence, "joy in the Lord."  That's how Paul describes it anyway.  In short, if I'm tethered to Jesus, that's all that matters.  I don't need "walls" or "boundaries" because I am tied to Him, and so long as I respect and find all my joy in that relationship, it will keep me from crossing inappropriate, sinful boundaries.

But false teachers aren't satisfied with that.  Their desire is to build walls and boundaries, and insert those boundaries between Christ and His followers.  The end result is that faith then stops becoming about a relationship with Jesus, and becomes about the boundaries.  This is precisely what was happening at Philippi through a group known as the "Judaizers."  These men taught that to truly follow Christ one had to submit to the Mosaic requirement of circumcision.  Paul's response to this was strong and clear, and he associates false teaching with the division happening in Philippi for five reasons.

It Creates a False Faith.  Paul teaches us here that true believers "put no confidence in the flesh."  The false teaching at Philippi had some convinced that something needed to be added to their faith in Christ in order for them to become "real Christians."  But the truth of the Gospel is that faith alone in Christ is all you need.  There is nothing you can do with your body, your works, your efforts, your vote, your relevance or your experience that can make God love you more than He already does.  Christ is enough.

It Creates a False Confidence.  As we look at verses 4 and 5 we are starting to get into a bit of Paul's own personal testimony.  Truly, if good works, religious rites, ethnic identity or Scripture memorization contributes in any way to salvation, Paul wouldn't have needed Jesus.

No one hates addiction more than the former addict.  No one hates sexual sin more than the person who has lost his or her marriage because of it.  And no one hates religion more than the person who has been delivered from its enslavement.  Here, Paul is telling the Philippians and us "I hate what the Judaizers are teaching, I hate this false faith, because I used to be a follower of it!"

Nothing destroys unity in a church like false confidence in something other than Jesus.  Such arrogance inevitably creates two groups of people in the church.  The first group are actually foolish enough to think they are keeping the law all by themselves.  They become arrogant, proud and judgmental.  The second group feel defeated because they are honest enough with themselves to admit that they will never meet the standard.  In churches with this false teaching, the first group ascend into positions of leadership, and they lord over and spiritually abuse the second group.  Its a truly sick thing to observe, which is why Paul hates it.

And by the way, God hates it too!

It Creates a Dangerous Zeal.  Paul was so sure of himself and his own righteousness that he felt obligated to hunt down, detain and kill those who disagreed with him.  Today, we have a term for that kind of activity.  We call it terrorism.  Prior to his conversion, Paul would have made an excellent candidate for ISIS.

That's what flesh-based faith does.  It takes secondary issues and makes them primary.  It creates a false zeal that harms others.  But it also does something far worse.  It damns the false teachers themselves.

It Creates a False Person.  The last verses of this section describe the powerful story of Paul's conversion.  Up until He meets Jesus on the road to Damascus, his entire identity has been lost in his religious system!  But Jesus sets him free on his way to Syria, and in that moment, everything Paul though he knew was re-engineered around the person and work of Jesus Christ.

But prior to that moment, Paul was like a lot of religious people today.  Religious people can do a lot of damage to others, but the greatest damage they can do is to themselves.  And too many people in the church today are so lost in their own religious systems, preferences, practices and ancillary beliefs, they don't even know who they are anymore!

It Keeps you from the real thing.  Paul had to lose everything in order to "know Him in the power of His resurrection."  And the ultimate reward for that is the "resurrection of the dead" he mentions in verse 11.  He is referencing that final day when the spiritually dead and spiritually alive are forever separated.  On that day, if you are putting your confidence in barriers, walls, rules, regulations, or other works of the flesh, you will not be resurrected.

These are serious implications, and they should prompt each of us to ask two questions:

1. What is keeping you separated from your church family?  Do you need to repent of self-righteousness that has caused division in the body?
2. What is keeping you from Christ?  What are you unwilling to lay down to seize Him as the ultimate prize?  That is a more serious question, because if you get this one wrong, your religion will send you to hell.

The close connection between division and false teaching should scare us all enough to know the truth, and let it drive us together in unity, as we all continue to pursue Jesus.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Monday Morning Rewind: The Qualities of a Unifying Leader

I am in no way recommending the movie Horrible Bosses, but there is a reason that films like that are both popular, and spawn a sequel.  Its because everyone who has worked for any significant length of time knows what its like to be under the authority of bad leadership.  Bad leadership can take the form of incompetence, narcissism, authoritarianism, or some combination of all three.

Being subjected to a "horrible boss" is exhausting, depressing, and mind-numbing.  But the worst kind of leader is the divisive leader--the manager, team leader, or even pastor or small group leader whose modus operandi is to lead through division.  For the past several weeks, we have been studying Paul's letter to Philippians, and focusing on the theme of unity.  We've learned some hard but valuable lessons along the way regarding what it takes for a church to achieve the kind of unity Paul speaks of--the kind Jesus prayed for in John 17.

But as Chapter 2 comes to a close, Paul gives us a glimpse of a different kind of leader--a leader who unifies.  And through his praise of Timothy and Epaphroditus, we see four clear characteristics of the kind of leaders every church needs to seek and submit to if they truly want unity.

1. Selflessness.  Paul gives his highest commendation when he says "there is no one like Timothy."  This compliment is particularly noteworthy when compared with others Paul doesn't name, but describes as "those who seek their own interests."  Epaphroditus likewise, in spite of what was apparently a serious illness, continued to think primarily about his church family back in Philippi, ad pushed through in order to complete the task given him by the church  When the church seeks leaders, it should seek those who are always thinking of others.

2. Faithfulness. Paul described Timothy as having "proven worth."  In other words, Timothy had a track record of faithfulness!  The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, and Paul knows this, so he says of both these men "I trust them, and you can trust them too because they have already proven themselves through their actions."  The best leaders are those with a track record of faithfulness that says "I will always be there for my church family."

3. Teachability.  The relationship between Paul and Timothy was very much like a "father-son" relationship.  And it is apparent from what we read here that Timothy continued to learn much from Paul.  Though he was a mature pastoral leader himself, Timothy remained a life-long learner, and was always willing to submit to godly authority.  Unteachable people make horrible leaders because they want to be in authority without being under it.  All of us need accountability and humility that keeps us from assuming "I know this.  I have it figured out.  I don't need anyone telling me what to do."  Those who bring unity to a church by heir leadership are teachable.

4. Kingdom-focused. Of Epaphroditus in particular Paul says he did what he did "for the work of Christ."  This is what keeps a real leader going.  Can't you imagine that somewhere along that 1600 mile, round-trip journey, Epaphroditus wondered to himself, "is this really worth it?  Good grief!  I'm just carrying supplies, and I almost died from it!"  I imagine quite a few followers of Jesus sometimes feel the same way when they are charged with doing something that seems mundane.  But think about this: Paul is sending this man back to the church with the letter we are now studying 2000 years later!  Had Epaphroditus not completed this "mundane" journey, you and I might have had 65 rather than 66 books in our Bibles.

My point?  When you serve Jesus, however you are serving Jesus, it is of immense importance and there is nothing mundane about it--even if it seems that way!

Serving in KidMIN might seem mundane and meaningless, until you recognize that you are raising up the next generation of men and women who will take the reigns of leadership in less than 20 years--and one of them might even be our next pastor!  If you serve in the parking lot--especially in this unusually cold weather we've been having--you might wonder if its worth it.  But if you have read the statistics, you know people are more likely to return to the church because of what they experience in the  first 10 minutes after leaving their car than they are because of the worship, or the preaching.

Absolutely nothing done in the name of Jesus is meaningless.

Those who realize this and model selflessness, faithfulness, teachability, and a Kingdom focus are the sort we should all be looking for when selecting those who will help lead us into a unified future.  Education is a great asset.  Experience is also beneficial.  But either of those divorced from the measurable characteristics Scripture describes only leads to arrogance and self-centerdness in a leader.  You can educate the ignorant, and give the novice experience.  But you can't fix bad character.  So as we move forward together, we will be examining that aspect much more closely, and in light of the examples we have here in two godly men from the first century.

So if this letter were being written today to Covenant rather than Philippi, would you get a mention?  If so, what would be said about you?  Would you be described as faithful?  Or would you be numbered among those who seek their own interests?

What do you want to be said about you?

Monday, April 25, 2016

Monday Morning Rewind: Shining Brightly Together

Perhaps your sense of humor is too refined to appreciate "light bulb" jokes.  But I love them!

For example, how many Gorillas does it take to change a light bulb?  Only one, but you better have a truck load of light bulbs!

How many Oregonians (I'm all the way over here on the east coast, so I can talk about them) does it take to change a light bulb?  Nine.  One to change the bulb, and eight to protest the nuclear energy plant that powers it!

Sorry, I can't help myself.

But Paul does prompt a question we should ask when he says in Philippians 2:15 that we should "shine as lights in the world."  How many of us will it take to get that done?  Well, if you are part of a church family, it will take ALL of you to do it the way your Lord and mine wants it done!

We we continue in our "One Body" series at Covenant, we find in Philippians 2:12-18, three postures--actions that are essential for every church to shine brightly in a dark world:

1. Obedience.  Ever cuss around a preacher, and then try to apologize?  As a preacher, I find those experiences to be hilarious, chiefly because I'm a little unsure of why they are so apologetic since they don't ultimately answer to me.  That's the same spirit in which Paul writes verses 12 and 13.  Essentially, he says "behave yourselves whether I am present or not, because the One you answer to is always present!"  We do that, first of all, by seeing the promise we are given here--that God is ALREADY at work inside each one of us.  In other words, we can put on the mind of Christ, we can avoid selfish ambition, act in humility, and put others before ourselves.  And we can "work that out" because God has already "worked it in!"  And obedience is when we work out in our lives the very things God has already worked into our souls through the person and work of Jesus.

When we obey in these ways, in the context of our church family, we help each other grow toward Jesus  In fact, the only way to truly "work out" what God has "worked in" is, according to Paul, doing it within the community of faith that is the church.

2. Holiness.  It is unfortunate that there is so much confusion in our day regarding what holiness is.  Too many people hear this word and think of all sorts of unpleasant things--cold showers, hard beds, no sex, no laughter, little rest, and a generally miserable existence.  C.S. Lewis commented a generation ago; "How little people know who think that holiness is dull.  When one meets the real thing, it is irresistible.  If even 10% of the world's population had it, would not the whole world be converted and happy before the year's end?"

What was his point?  That we have defined holiness in such a way that its the last thing on earth anybody wants to be!  Thankfully, we get some help from Paul, who uses a different but very similar word--"blameless."  And when he applies this concept to the church corporately, the lesson we learn is that truly holy and blameless people work through their problems much differently than the world does.

Think about how our world tries to solve its problems:  Presidential "debates," Jerry Springer-style drama, polarization, biased media, and the non-stop grasping for power and prestige over others.  Paul's message to the church at Philippi, and to us, is that we are supposed to be better than that.  But are we?  Perhaps the first step in becoming what Paul envisions is to admit that we are far more like the world than we want to admit--and the primary evidence for this is that we try to solve problems and navigate conflict in EXACTLY the same way they do.  But people who seek unity, put on the mind of Christ, and put others before themselves are those who give the strongest evidence that they are truly holy.

3. Joy. Think joy and holiness don't belong in the same message--let alone the same sentence?  Then perhaps you need to re-define what both mean, because they go hand in hand.

We talked a lot yesterday about the Jewish ceremonial background of Paul's comments in verses 17 and 18, but what he is basically saying is "If I am sacrificed--poured out completely for your sake--and the result is that you are unified together in your service to Jesus, I will rejoice in that!"  Another way of putting it is this: "What you are doing in Philippi as one body is more important than what I do from a jail cell 800 miles away."

That is also true for any church.  A truly unified body is so powerful that even if their spiritual father is removed from the equation they continue to shine as a bright light in a dark world.

So what if something terrible happened to me?  What if through death, or chronic illness, or something else beyond my control I am removed from the picture as your lead pastor?  Hear my heart when I say this; the greatest joy I could have would be for Covenant to be so strong, so unified, full of both holiness and joy to the extent that my absence wouldn't matter.  If our church family can find the joy Paul talks about here, we won't just "be fine."  We will thrive, regardless of what transpires.

Conversely, we can have the best communicator in the pulpit, the most talented musicians on stage, the slickest programs, the most well-run system, and the most wealthy donors in the world, but if we don't learn to take joy and delight in each other, we will never get where Jesus intends us to go.

Are we really that different?  Because we should be.  That is who God calls us to be.  And to the degree that we embody these postures, to that same degree the world looks at us and says "there worship the children of God!"

Monday, April 18, 2016

Monday Morning Rewind: A People Just Like Jesus

Goals are easy to set, but often much harder to reach.  Think for example about weight loss (yeah I know.  I could have picked a less convicting one, right?  But its pretty relevant I think)  Its easy to look at a particular physique in a magazine, cut it out, paste it on your bathroom mirror, and say "I want to look like that guy/gal!"  But getting there is hard and annoying work!  You have to sacrifice your favorite foods (which for me is ice cream.  I just can't stay away from it!), exercise, and go through those awkward phases on your way from A to B that leave you between belt loops and wardrobes.

The path is MUCH harder than the destination!

For the past several weeks, we have been moving verse by verse through Paul's letter to Philippians, and we have seen a beautiful picture drawn for us--the picture of a church that moves, thinks, and acts as ONE body!  And with that picture now posted metaphorically in our minds, Paul begins describing in depth what its going to take for us to get there.  In this too, the path is much harder than the dream, but the destination is worth it, and the three sequential steps we see in Philippians 2 lay that path out clearly for us.

1. Seek Solidarity by Seeking Unity.  The Gospel is unstoppable.  We have already seen that.  But we can be stopped from sharing in its advance if we don't seek unity.  Paul says to the church; "I will be filled with joy when I see solidarity among you.  And you will achieve that when you are of "one mind."  That's the goal!  Again, its not easy when we have so many varied and strong opinions, perceptions, ways of processing information and handling conflict, but here we are promised that if we want solidarity, the unity we need to have it can be ours!

2. Seek Unity by Seeking Humility.  Let's face it.  Humility is a hard thing to practice.  For one thing, we live in a culture that rewards pride.  But on the other hand, the church as a whole often misunderstands what it means to be humble.  Fortunately, Paul gives us an accurate definition of both pride AND humility.  Pride is when we are focused on ourselves.  Humility is when we are focused on others.

The old saying is true:  Humility isn't thinking less of yourself.  But it is thinking of yourself less.  I can say this from experience: In my 24 years of ministry, nearly every time I've seen relational breakdown in the church its been due to the exchange of godly humility for selfish ambition--"looking out for number one!"  But there is no solidarity without unity, and there is no unity without humility.  The great news is that we have a model for precisely this kind of posture in the person of Jesus!

3. Seek Humility by Seeking Christ.  Verses 5-11 are, I believe, not only the most powerful in the entire letter.  They represent the best of Paul's writing!  These seven verses are so rich with meaning we simply didn't have time to plumb their depths yesterday.  But we did have time to cover the "big idea," which is that the humility we need to "start the engine" toward unity as one body is found in how Jesus humbled Himself.  We are told here that Jesus "emptied Himself" for us all, suffered for the sake of His bride, and in doing so modeled the very kind of humility we need to assume.  True humility as members of the church means we are willing to give of ourselves for the sake of others, and suffer for, and with the other members of the body.

For Jesus, assuming that humility was repaid with His victory over sin and death, and the promise that one day, every knee will bow--every tongue will confess that He is Lord to the glory of God.

Don't confuse humility with weakness!  Jesus' humility will one day result in His triumph over all.  And our Christ-like humility toward each other will likewise produce a unity and solidarity that will be unstoppable!

Someone once told me that to lose weight "you have to be convinced that skinny feels better than chocolate tastes!"  Well, to be the unified church God has called us to be, we have to come to the conclusion that unity feels better the selfishness.  And why shouldn't it?  After all, when we move, think, and act as ONE BODY, we are no less than a people just like Jesus!