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THE GREAT EXCHANGE: power for humility

Series set-up:  The holidays and especially the days shortly after Christmas are filled with long lines of people exchanging gifts. The idea is that we get to take something back to the store and exchange it for cash or something of equal value. While it is not fun to have to stand in line it makes sense so we do it lest we be stuck with something that doesn’t work or that we don’t want.

In Advent we contemplate the profound mystery of the Incarnation. The eternal Creator God took on human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. It was the Greatest Exchange in history. God willingly laid aside His Sovereignty for three decades on this earth living as one of us. He was still God but took on the form of a human being.

For the next three weeks we will be encouraging you to “sing” a song with your life. It is called the Christ hymn and is found in Philippians 2:6-11. (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16)  This passage has become known as the Christ hymn but also as the kenosis from the Greek word ekenosen meaning, “He emptied.”  Another way to say it is “He gave up or exchanged His divine privileges.”

The call of God for every one of us is to make a great exchange. We are called to empty ourselves of our selfish and self-centered ways to center our lives on Jesus Christ. To do that we emulate our Savior as we prepare our hearts to worship and adore Him during this Christmas season. We remember His advent to earth and think of it as the Greatest Exchange in history. We will endeavor to make some changes of our own.

1. We exchange power for humility  (week one)
2. We exchange supremacy for servanthood (week two)
3. We exchange security for love  (week three)

Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ?
Any comfort from his love?
Any fellowship together in the Spirit?
Are your hearts tender and compassionate?

 2 Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. 

 3 Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. 4 Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. 

 5 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. 

 6 Though he was God.
      he did not think of equality with God
      as something to cling to.

 7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
      he took the humble position of a slave
      and was born as a human being.
   When he appeared in human form,

    8 he humbled himself in obedience to God
      and died a criminal’s death on a cross. 

 9 Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
      and gave him the name above all other names,

 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
      in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
      to the glory of God the Father.
  Philippians 2:1-11 NLT

Our Need:  

Christlikeness in all our relationships. The vertical relationship we enjoy with God can never be in right standing unless our horizontal relationships are also in right standing. How we treat each other is an expression of Christ’s life among us. 

Frederick Nietzsche (nee-chu), one of the founders of modern existentialism, analyzed human personality and provided an insight that I think is crucial for us to understand. He argued that the basic motivation behind all human behavior is the WILL TO POWER.

Nietzsche said that it's the craving and the desire to have power that motivates people in relationships, even within the context of family. I can understand what Nietzche was saying, because after all, who doesn't relish the thought of being powerful? Power is a drive in human nature!

There was a sociologist who saw the marriage of his parents disintegrate, followed by his own. As he tried to analyze from a sociological perspective why the marriages fell apart, he came to a very intriguing conclusion: "Marriages disintegrate," he said, "because people are more interested in playing "power" games than they are in playing "love" games. In any relationship, as power increases, love decreases."

I think he's on to something. Imagine a couple. She's desperately in love with him, but he doesn't love her. She is desperate to hold on to him, but he doesn't care whether she stays around or not. Who is in the position of power in that relationship?

The person who doesn't love is in the position of control. It is the "principle of least interest", because in any relationship the one who is least interested in maintaining the relationship is in the position of power. And that person can manipulate, and control, and dominate, because that person can call all the shots.

Have you seen couples like that--where she's anxious to keep the marriage together and he could care less, and therefore he can be boss? He can act like he feels like acting and do what he feels like doing, but she on the other hand, is desperate and fearful and doing everything she can to hold the relationship together.

Manipulative power and unconditional love are diametrically opposed. In any relationship, as love increases, power decreases; and likewise as power increases, love decreases.

That raises a very probing question during this Advent season: In my interpersonal relationships, am I playing power games or love games?

The Christian doesn't ask: Who's going to have the power?

The Christian doesn't ask: Who's going to be in control?

The Christian doesn't ask: Who's going to be the master?

The CHRISTIAN asks: Who is going to be the servant?

God’s Answer: 

The Incarnation is God’s ultimate “yes” to mankind and our needs.
Jesus came to model what we cannot do without His help and that is to love by humbling ourselves. He shows us a more excellent way. He did not give up His deity in the Incarnation but took on the form of a servant. Advent is not about subtraction but addition. 

 5 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. 

 6 Though he was God. he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.

 7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave
      and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form,

 8 he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
 

When you ask who's going to be the master, and who's going to have the power, and who's going to be in charge around here, you're asking the same question that James and John asked Jesus when they said: "Master, when you come into your kingdom, who's going to sit on your left hand, who's going to sit on the right?" In other words, who's going to have the power?

Jesus answered: "If you understood my kingdom, you wouldn't ask that question, because in my kingdom, those who would be first are voluntarily the last, and those who are the last are the first!" Those with the most power in my kingdom are the servants."

Servanthood has almost just become some kind of Christian buzzword that sells books and songs when in reality most of us want to know who is in charge instead of who is the greatest at serving others. 

That mindset dominates our society at large, it dominates our families, and more times than any of us want to admit it dominates in the church. Everybody is trying to figure out who's going to be in control.

We have not learned that question from Jesus Christ! The Apostle Paul said: 

"Though being in very nature God, he did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant . . ."
I'm a little afraid that we've heard that phrase so often, and talked about that concept so much, that its reality doesn't seem all that amazing to us. But what does it really mean when it says that: "Jesus did not consider equality with God something to cling to?” 

Does it mean that Jesus really wasn't God, and didn't really possess his power, and that he decided one day, just as the serpent tempted Adam in the Garden, that he wanted to be equal with God? NO! The preexistent Christ was already equal with God in both power and nature. John 1:1 tells us: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word WAS God … And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us."

Does it mean that Jesus saw his equality with God as something to be clutched and held on to, opening up the possibility of future advantage for himself and exploiting his status to selfish ends? NO!  Jesus was not into power games or trying to prove something. He was here to glorify His Heavenly Father with His life.
You see, we assume that "God-likeness" means having our own way, getting what we want, and being in control. But Jesus' coming tells us that "God-likeness," at it's most fundamental level is about "giving yourself away" and "pouring yourself out." That's the message of the Incarnation!

Our Response:
 
Relationships defined by manipulative power must be now defined by holy submission. 

Jesus Christ did what he did and came as he came and made the great exchange from supremacy to sacrifice, because that is exactly what God would do! In fact, you could truthfully say he did what he did because he WAS God. This passage is telling us that God, by his very nature, is characterized NOT by selfish hoarding, but by open-handed giving.

We have tended to define God by what he is "not": God is IMmortal, INvisible, INfinite. But what is God "like", positively?

Jesus' disciples were asking the same question when they came to him one day and said: "Lord, show us the Father." Do you remember what he said? He said: "If you have seen me you have seen the Father." Paul, in his majestic sermon to the Colossians said: "Christ is the image of the invisible God . . . For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him."

What is God like? God is Christ-like! What is Jesus like? Jesus is God-like!
The contrast between the Old and New Testaments is often highlighted by the two very different natures of God. 

For thousands of years, God demonstrated his power in time and history. He scattered the enemies of Israel. Over and over again we see the awesome magnificence of God's power! A power that far surpasses the majesty of earthly kings. 

And yet the God who could order empires around like pawns on a chessboard showed up wearing a different kind of glory . . . the glory of weakness. This God emerged as a baby who couldn't speak or eat solid food or control his bladder, who depended on a teenage girl for shelter, food, and love.

And the question is why? Why would he come in that way? It's because that's the way God is. And two thousand years ago we learned that amazing lesson when the all-powerful God decided that the time had come to express his love in infinite fashion. 

And in order to express his infinite love, the infinitely powerful God did the only thing he could do, because he understood that love increases as power decreases, and therefore the only way he could express infinite love was to set aside infinite power!
Can you even begin to grasp the awesome risk of that? It seems like such a fragile thread from which to hang the heavy hopes and dreams of humanity. And yet, if we don't understand that, we don't understand the Kingdom of God. 

5 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. 

 6 Though he was God. he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.

 7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave
      and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form,

 8 he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
 
And yet as obvious as that message is, even in the church, we often fail to catch up to the message of the Kingdom. As a matter of fact Jesus disciples were upset with him because he didn't act more "Messiah-like." And the people of God have been upset ever since! Everywhere you turn in the history of the church there is a power-play at work. And yet the truth has not changed, and history is clear, when the people of God use the tools of the world's kingdom, we become as ineffectual and oppressive, as any other power structure.

We can have all power at our disposal, even having armies at our command. But if we take that path, don't think for one moment that we can then come back and say: "In the name of Jesus, we love you."

Love is the most transforming power in time and history. And it is time for Christians in the midst of a power-crazed age to stand up and say NO MORE! We have come to declare the love of God, believing that the fabric of our world will be changed not through guns and tanks and planes, but through the infinite love of God.

What are we really saying? Are we saying that all power is destined for evil purposes? Not at all. But I am trying to say that any time we do not understand the limits of our power, we are destined to abuse our power!

You say: 

"There are certain things that will never change without power and you're naive for believing that." If that is true then the most naive being in the universe is God himself, because that is not the path he chose.

He could have come leading an army, forcing the world to bend their knee. And yet he didn't. Do you know why? Because God's purpose was not to defeat people, it was to transform them. Power can drive people into submission, but only love and humility can transform them! And that is the way of the Kingdom of God! 

My friends, our God is able to accomplish more in our weakness than we can in our power! That's what Advent teaches us! What makes us most like Christ is not our ability to control, but our willingness to humble ourselves by loving those that are unlovable.  

There is a lot of anger in our area. It just sort of brews beneath the surface but when you look for it you can see it clearly. There is a lot of hate directed at our school systems without the benefit of truly seeking to understand the nature of the issues that we face in America. (Parents are the biggest obstacle to education by non-involvement in the kids’ lives and learning) Just recently I watched the debate unfold over cameras and lights that were installed to slow us down, actually save lives and oh by the way enforce the law. There was even grace built into the system. Not one of us in this room got a ticket unless we were going 11 miles over the speed limit. There was an anger that was hateful that drove the movement to remove the cameras. People lost their jobs because of it. People were threatened because of it. Personal businesses were targeted. 

I sat in a restaurant a couple of years ago on the east end of this city about a block from our Real Life church and listened as people spewed their distrust of certain city officials when really they knew nothing about the facts. It was just fun and easy to call people idiots and be hateful instead of loving and full of humility. 

The idea is that if we are going to call ourselves Christfollowers then we must truly follow Christ.  

I want you to take a moment or two for reflection and think about your relationships with those who have wronged you in some way this year. Retaliation would seem to be the way to go. It is surely the only way to prove to people how wrong they are and how right you are, correct? 

Not so much if you are an authentic follower of Jesus Christ. 

I call you today to put on humility. I call us today to embrace the pain that other inflict through their misunderstanding and anger and love them like Jesus would love them. To love someone that loves us back takes no effort but to love those who have not and do not show us love will take the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ living inside of you. 

The message of the Kingdom is clear: "Whoever chooses to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will find it."

"Whoever will exalt himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted."

And, "Whoever humbles himself as this little child will be the greatest in the kingdom of God."

The selfish test:  

1. If the last time you said “I love you” and really meant it, you were looking in a mirror you might have a problem with self. 2. If your most memorable vacation only required one airline ticket you might have a problem with self. 3. If you always know more than the people you hire to do a job you might have a problem with self. 4. If you have come to the conclusion that nobody really knows how to do anything without your advice you might have a problem with self. 5. If you have already come to the conclusion that this sermon applies to everyone in the room except you; you might have a problem with self. 6. And for all of you who have somehow been able to handle each of these questions without seeing fault in yourself at all I have one more qualifier: If you were born after man’s fall in the garden but before the second coming of Christ then chances are you might have a problem with self and humility.

I’ve shared this story one other time but it bears repeating: 

The African Bishop, Desmond Tutu, was once asked why he became an Anglican rather than joining some other denomination. He replied that in the days of apartheid, when a black person and a white person met while walking on a footpath, the black person was expected to step into the gutter to allow the white person to pass and nod their head as a gesture of respect. "One day" Tutu says, "when I was just a little boy, my mother and I were walking down the street when a tall white man, dressed in a black suit, came toward us. Before my mother and I could step off the sidewalk, as was expected of us, this man stepped off the sidewalk and, as my mother and I passed, tipped his hat in a gesture of respect to her! I was more than surprised at what had happened and I asked my mother, ‘Why did that white man do that?’ My mother explained, ‘He’s an Anglican priest. He’s a man of God, that’s why he did it.’ When she told me that he was an Anglican priest I decided there and then that I wanted to be an Anglican priest too. And what is more, I wanted to be a man of God."

Prayer:
Introduction of hymn:
Benediction:

 

In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand

In Christ alone, who took on flesh
Fullness of God in helpless babe
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones He came to save
‘Til on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live

There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave He rose again
And as He stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me
For I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ

No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny
No power of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand
‘til He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand

The idea and parts of this message came from a sermon developed and preached by David Busic entitled The Preposterous Exchange.



2009/11/29