“The humble person is not one who thinks meanly of himself; he simply does not think of himself at all.” ~Andrew Murray
We are disciples of Christ knowing that, when we sign up to imitate the Son of God, it’s going to cost us. His grace is free. His love and forgiveness is a gift mercifully given to all of humanity. But in order to accept that gift, we must humbly submit to his lordship and follow in his steps of sacrifice and service.
And that’s not easy. In fact, it’s quite costly.
According to the beautiful passage in Philippians 2, the One we imitate gave up everything that was rightfully his: deity, equality with God, eternal power, heavenly glory. He gave all that up in order to serve humans. Jesus’ outlook was shaped by unselfish concern for others. His attitude was one of deep humility. Jesus willingly traded heaven for earth, glory for shame, a royal scepter for a slave’s water bowl, life for death — “even death on a cross!” This is the true expression of his innermost character, the nature of our Father.
To fully imitate the Christ is to humbly consider others better than ourselves, to look to the interests of others. And that will mean willingly sacrificing our very lives, dying to ourselves to meet the needs of those around us. That sometimes means giving up our pew. Occasionally, it means giving up our preferences, It always means giving up our position.
What is it costing you to be an imitator of Christ?
How do I know the difference between my own voice and the voice of God? My heart, my mind, my conscience – I talk to myself a lot. And sometimes I lie. I get nudges and impulses everyday. And sometimes they’re wrong. How do I discern when it’s God speaking to me and when it’s just me?
One way is to know that God’s voice will always challenge your comfort zone.
The voice of the self always leans toward safety and security. That’s our default. The flesh always moves to do and say whatever it takes to protect the self. It’s natural for us – we don’t even think about it. So we assume the voice of God will tell us the same thing. We think God will say to us, “Be safe. Be careful. Protect yourself.”
But that’s not true. You’ve noticed that people in the Bible who hear the voice of God are generally called to move out of their comfort zones. They’re called by God to be risky. Our God never appeared to anybody in the Bible and said, “I am the Lord your God. I am calling you to stay put! Don’t change a thing! You’re good!” No. God’s people are called by God to take bold steps and make even dangerous moves for the Kingdom.
In Acts 21, Paul is on his way to Jerusalem when he and Luke stop in Caesarea to stay a few nights at Philip’s house. One of those nights, a prophet from God shows up and relays a message from the Holy Spirit: Paul is going to be captured in Jerusalem on account of his preaching and turned over to the authorities.
“When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem.” ~Acts 21:12
The people interpret the message from God as “Don’t go to Jerusalem.” Stay here. Be safe. Luke says, I was right there with ’em. We begged Paul not to go.
“Then Paul answered, ‘Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’ When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, ‘The Lord’s will be done.'” ~Acts 21:13-14
Why would we assume that when God warns you about danger, he’s telling you to avoid it? Paul says, look, I knew what I was doing when I surrendered my life to a Lord who carries a cross. Paul knew that following God’s voice is risky. It’s dangerous.
That is the voice of God pushing you to witness to a co-worker. That is God’s voice challenging you to trust him with your giving. It’s the voice of the Lord calling you to serve people who don’t look like you or talk like you. God’s voice will always challenge your comfort zone.
Think about it. If your great ambition in life is to have a nice house or two and a big bank account and to put off your funeral as long as possible, why do you need to hear from God? You don’t need God to do any of that. If you’re not on a divine quest, why would you need a divine guide?
Do you want to hear God’s plans for you, or do you just want God to endorse your plans?
If you will grow in your eagerness and your capacity to hear God, a whole new life will open up for you. A life of adventure. A full life behind the leading of God’s Spirit. An exciting relationship with the Creator of Heaven and Earth. The life you were meant by him to always live.
Hearing God happens in holy relationship. If you’re not in a close, personal, and dynamic relationship with God in Christ, you’re going to have trouble hearing his voice.
“The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep… the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.” ~John 10:2-4
This whole passage in John 10:1-18 is about relationship. The sheep recognize the shepherd’s voice because he owns them; they belong to him. He calls his own sheep by name. That’s a big part of it – this belonging. But it’s much more about relationship. Notice that Jesus doesn’t use his voice to lead all the sheep; he speaks to his own. Jesus knows his sheep. His sheep belong to him. He calls them by name. They’re always together and they’re listening and they hear his voice and they follow.
“I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep.” ~John 10:14-15
The sheep who hear the shepherd’s voice are in a close, tight relationship with the shepherd. And it’s not just mutual – it’s comprehensive! It’s total! Jesus and his followers have an intimate relationship, the same relationship, he says, that Jesus has with God the Father. That’s staggering! That’s mind-blowing! Jesus is willing to die for you not just out of obedience to God, but also because of the close relationship he has with you. And in this mutual relationship, this committed and devoted relationship with Jesus, is where we hear his voice.
“The one who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” ~John 8:47
If you have a hearing problem, it might be that you have a relationship problem.
My dear friend Valerie Gooch was asked to preach Sunday at Messiah’s House Church in Amarillo and, by God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit who lives inside her, she knocked it out of the park.
Valerie is the founder and Executive Director of The Panhandle Adult Rebuilding Center, or PARC. It was her God-ordained vision to convert the old Route 66 strip club on 6th Street in Amarillo into a day center for those experiencing homelessness. And it is thriving today as a unique Christ-centered sanctuary of love and grace where lives are being changed. Valerie was one of my biggest encouragers during our ten years at the Central Church in Amarillo – we were blessed to partner together in ministry in that downtown space and I was blessed by her pep talks and prayers for me. I still am. She encourages me a couple of times a week by her PARC email updates and with a text every few months when I seem to need it most.
You can watch her sermon here. It begins at the 56-minute mark.
The story about smelling marijuana made me laugh.
Valerie’s illustration about the eyeball and how wonderfully made we all are in the image of God and how we have to look for that in others, even when, especially when, it’s not always easy to see – I’m stealing that.
God doesn’t call us to fix people, he calls us to love people – I’m stealing that, too.
And the story about Reggie made me cry.
God bless Valerie and Royce and every person who walks through the doors at The PARC.
One of the main things that makes our God THE GOD is that he talks. It’s one of the biggest things that distinguishes our God from all the other gods – he speaks. God has a voice and he uses it. We don’t always think about that. When we’re asked to articulate God’s uniqueness, we’ll point to his holiness, his righteousness, his power, his love in coming to us in Jesus. The fact that God speaks isn’t usually the first thing that comes to mind. But our God is a talking God. And that’s different.
God said. God said. How many times in the Bible, over and over again? God said. We shouldn’t take that for granted.
Throughout Scripture, the prophets ridiculed those who worshiped anyone or anything but the Lord. “You make those idols out of wood and stone! That’s not God! That’s not real!”
How do you know?
“Because the wood and the stone don’t speak. Our God speaks!”
1 Corinthians 12 refers to “speechless idols.” If your god isn’t talking to you, he isn’t really a God.
In the other world religions, you’ll notice the gods don’t speak. You don’t hear testimonies about how their gods interact with them personally. The God of the Bible talks. He talks all the time. To us.
“Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.'” ~Isaiah 30:21
A lot of us are trying to have a relationship with God in a monologue. You’re doing all the talking! In fact, some of us have said and taught – a lot of us have been taught! – that after the Bible was finished, when the Scriptures were finally all written, collected, and compiled, God stopped talking. Everything God wants us to know and do is in the Bible. It’s done. So for two-thousand years, God has been giving his children the silent treatment.
Some of us say, “Well, I’ve never heard God speak, so my experience must be normal.” And that drives us to call people who talk to God pray-ers and people who hear God talk weirdos. There’s one problem with that: it’s not God’s nature to be silent. It’s not his essence. It’s not personal and it’s not biblical if God’s not talking.
So, the Stars lose game one, they lose home ice advantage, and they lose Joe Pavelski. I’m calling a huge bounce back win tonight. Minnesota has accomplished their goal by winning one in Dallas, they’ll be feeling a bit more accomplished, and the Stars will be playing with much more desperation. Dallas is the more talented team and that will show tonight, by two or three goals. I’m calling it 4-1 or 5-2, something like that.
I’m intrigued this week by these words of Peter. But I don’t think I’m going to have the time to include my thoughts in this Sunday’s sermon. I might not be able to make it fit. So I’m giving them to you now with grace and peace.
“Make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” ~1 Peter 1:5-8
The older ones among us, the ones who’ve been disciples of Jesus the longest, we’re the ones who should be giving more and serving more. Those of us who were baptized 20, 30, 40, or 50 or more years ago are the ones who should be sacrificing and volunteering more and dying more for others. The older we are, the longer we’ve been on the journey, the more like Christ we should be.
It’s the oldest among us who display more self-control. Our older brothers and sisters show more kindness and love. The ones who’ve been disciples longer are the ones who are “more good.” More persevering. More like our God than those who are younger.
More like God?
Yeah, Peter says, “in increasing measure.”
That means it’s the older among us who are more forgiving, more patient, more gracious and compassionate, more sacrificing and giving, more tolerant of the shortcomings of others. Adding those Christ-like qualities in increasing quantities every day keeps us from getting stale. It prevents us from getting into a rut and not being any good to God’s Kingdom.
“I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have.” ~1 Peter 1:12
We older Christians can be prone to crankiness and sour attitudes. We can sometimes be bossy and demanding and impatient. We can occasionally come across to others as unkind or unloving.
It’s just that we have much less of an excuse than the younger ones.