Every Christian is called to live like Jesus did – a daunting thought in many ways, but once which becomes possible as we dwell in Him. (John 15:1-7) When we look at Jesus, we see humility and obedience, and these are key qualities to be seen in our lives too.
Humility is a much misunderstood and under-rated virtue. So often, we equate humility with being trodden on, with being humiliated, with being walked over. We feel that if we are humble, we will miss out on so many things; the world today prizes assertiveness and ambition more than humility. Humility means we understand God is the master; we are His servants: ‘A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master,’ Jesus said. (Matt 10:24) Jesus demonstrated humility in not condemning those who sinned (see John 8:1-11), in washing his disciples’ feet, even though he was the teacher. (John 13:1-17) He did this not to earn His Father’s love or to win the approval of others, but because He was secure in His identity as God’s beloved Son. When we are not sure of God’s love for us, when we doubt His goodness and plans for us, when are not convinced that He is working for our good in every situation, then we tend to become more concerned about looking after our own interests than caring for others. It’s only when we are truly sure of who we are in Christ that we can afford to care for others, that we are not motivated by selfish ambition or vain conceit.
Selfish ambition refers to the kind of electioneering or party-political intrigues we associate with governments, where people jostle for position and don’t care who they trample on in their journey upwards towards power (a bit like Francis Underwood in ‘House of Cards’.) ‘Vain conceit’ carries with it the idea that we are proud of our own achievements and also merciless in finding out other people’s faults; we view our sins leniently and other people’s without mercy. Neither is needed if we are secure in our identity as Jesus was.
Obedience is also key to living like Jesus. He said, ‘the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.’ (John 5:19) As we learn to lay down our own agendas and plans, we can learn obedience as Jesus did (Heb 5:8). Just as Jesus was exalted because He was prepared to be humble and obedience, this principle applies to all His followers too: ‘For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’ (Matt 23:12)
This evening, we continued our journey through Philippians, looking at Phil 2:1-11. These very famous verses which show us Christ’s humility and exaltation are the model for how we should act in our relationships with others; Paul urges us to ‘have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.’ (Phil 2:5) As so often, Paul doesn’t just show us how to live; he shows us how Jesus lived and gives us not just abstract theory about discipleship but a living model. All of us learn best by copying what we see, as my younger granddaughter has demonstrated on walks by rivers – she too now spends her time picking up pebbles and throwing them into the water like her elder sister!
Jesus, although pre-existent as the Word of God, put on human flesh and did not count equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. (Phil 2:6) He lived out the servant life so that we could see how we should serve others (see John 13:1-17, Matt 20:26-28). In Him, we see the divine order: descent before ascent, suffering before glory. J. D. Walt says, ‘I like to draw this great reversal out in simple symbols. \/ > /\. Descent precedes Ascent. Humility precedes lifting. Death precedes resurrection. Love precedes glory. Or as I like to say, “Down is the new up!”’
This challenges our way of thinking, the world’s way of doing things, and introduces us to God’s topsy-turvy kingdom. Paul always connects belief to behaviour, theology to actions. Our relationships have to be without selfish ambition and vain conceit, motivated by humility and a genuine concern for and interest in others, valuing them above ourselves. This isn’t possible in our own strength, but since we have the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16) and God’s Spirit living within us (1 Cor 6:19), it becomes possible through the power of God!
Today in the UK it is Fathers’ Day. Mothers’ Day saw our first online church meetings (22nd March), and here we are, 14 weeks later, still meeting online. Fathers’ Day is the celebration of our earthly fathers, an ‘exclusive day for Dads’, but this is not always easy to celebrate, particularly if distances are involved or relationships with fathers are tense or if our father has died. But the good news is that today – and every day – is also Father’s Day – a day when we can celebrate our heavenly Father, an inclusive event for all of us, no matter who we are or where we are.
Stephen spoke this morning from Ps 23, one of the best-loved psalms in the Bible. There, God is described as a shepherd, who leads us and guides us and provides for us. He is the One who makes us lie down in green pastures, letting us rest, giving us His peace. He leads us beside still waters, calming us when we feel overwhelmed by live, enabling us to know both rest and peace. He refreshes our soul, giving us ‘zing’ for life rather like the sweet ‘Refreshers’ used to do!
God’s refreshment brings us completeness, wholeness and restoration. He leads us on right paths as our mentor and guide (rather like our SatNav for life!) We can walk in His paths for His name’s sake, and even though we may go through very difficult times (described as the ‘darkest valley’), He is always with us. We may think of the baby bird looking out from the nest and feeling afraid at being so high up; learning to fly must seem a very daunting task at first! But ultimately, reassured by its parents, it learns to fly, and we too can know the comfort and help of God in every situation.
God is with us no matter what our situations. Even when we are with enemies, God’s love is there to help us through. Our cup overflows, demonstrating the abundance of life found in God. We can be sure that this relationship lasts forever, not just for one day a year, and therefore we can be encouraged.
Ps 46:1-2 tells us ‘God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear.’ When we fear, it’s because we’ve lost sight of who God is. He is our fortress. (Ps 46:7, 11) He is mighty. (Zeph 3:17) He is strong. (Ps 62:2, 11)
Martin Luther wrote a hymn based on this psalm entitled ‘Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott’ (‘A Mighty Fortress Is Our God‘). It’s a hymn which proclaims who God is among the trials and darknesses of life. Our power may not be able to accomplish anything (as verse 2 says), but the ‘right Man’ fights for us, Jesus Christ, the Lord of hosts. The prince of this world ultimately cannot touch us (verse 3), because He is judged: ‘ein Wörtlein kann ihn fällen’, ‘one little word can fell him’!
There is defiance in this hymn, the kind of holy defiance which refuses to bow down to the devil and be cowed by him. This kind of defiance is seen in many of Rend Collective’s anthems:
‘Let our praises remind all the darkness
Of how great and how mighty our God is,
For the battle belongs to the Lord, and no one else.
We are standing in holy defiance;
We’re declaring aloud in the silence
That the battle belongs to the Lord and no one else, no one else.’ (‘Marching On’, Rend Collective)
“Defiant against the darkness
I will declare Your goodness
In the highs, in the lows,
In the winter of my soul.
Defiant until the breakthrough,
Trusting the mountain will move,
In the highs, in the lows,
You will never let me go.’ (‘Defiant’, Rend Collective)
‘We will not bow down to sin or to shame.
We are defiant in Your name.’ (‘More Than Conquerors’, Rend Collective)
Gareth Gilkeson comments that there is a difference between denial and defiance. ‘Denial is pretending everything’s fine, and we’re being false. God doesn’t want us to be false with Him. He wants us to be real.’ But when we stand on God’s word when life is tough and choose to believe Him rather than our physical eyes, when we declare over despair that God is our hope, we enter into a holy defiance which can change not only us but the circumstances we face.
Fear has to flee when God is present. When we see God as He is – that mighty fortress, that all-conquering hero, the Alpah and Omega who has triumphed over death and the grave – we are set free from fear and can find joy in the unlikeliest of places.
Many people feel the need for protection, and nowhere do we see this more plainly than in our homes. There is a saying, ‘An Englishman’s home is his castle’, and castles were not only seen as magnificent abodes fit for royalty, they were seen as impregnable fortresses, able to withstand the battering rams of the enemy. A castle had fortified towers; any who hid within were safe and secure. This imagery was often used to describe God as a mighty fortress, a tower of refuge (Ps 46:7, 11; Prov 18:10).
In our modern homes, our security devices look very different: five lever mortice deadlocks, bolts, fences, gates, burglar alarms, CCTV cameras. But their purpose is the same: to keep enemies at bay and to keep us safe.
Life is, undoubtedly, hazardous. Risks abound, and we like to retreat to our homes to feel safe from the storms of life. We ‘hunker down‘; we pull up the drawbridge, so to speak, and retreat to safety.
Yet the home is probably one of the most hazardous places there is! RoSPA tell us ‘nearly half of fatal accidents takes place in the home, with millions more people ending up in A&E after being seriously hurt in their house, garden or driveway.’ Fires (whether caused by smoking, cooking, drying clothes over or near the fire or electrical faults, for example), tripping and falling, garden accidents and so on account for many a trip to hospital.
Even worse, for some people, the relationships in the home can lead to emotional or physical harm; during lockdown, it has been reported that the strain of living in such close proximity has to led to a 49% increase in calls to a national domestic abuse helpline. (Source: BBC News)
How, then, can we ensure our safety without becoming paranoid? Risk will always be a fact of life: how can we live in security and peace when faced with so many ‘dangers, toils and snares’, as John Newton put it?
The Bible offers us the double security of being hidden with Christ in God. (Col 3:3)
Jesus made it plain that the life of a disciple will have troubles, but also said, ‘I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, no one will snatch them out of my hand.’ (John 10:28) He went on, ‘My Father, who has given them to me, is greather than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.’ (John 10:29)
The Christian life is not flimsy, fragile or frail. It is robust, able to withstand every storm of life (including pandemics!) We have the double security of being in Christ and in the Father. That’s better than even the best security system!
Roadworks at Cathill Roundabout along the A635/ A6195 started in February 2020 and are scheduled to last ten months at least. These road improvements were designed to increase the size of this roundabout (along with the Broomhill Roundabout and Wath Road Roundabout) as part of the Dearne Valley Economic Growth Corridor schemes, aiming to reduce existing traffic congestion along these roads and to ensure the road network has the capacity to accommodate any future traffic growth that could arise from the development of BMBC’s local plan allocated employment site ES10 situated off the A635 at Goldthorpe.
Each day as we travel along this route, we see diggers and workmen industriously widening the roads and roundabout. It’s clearly a huge project, made all the more difficult by the need to keep the roads open as much as possible while work is ongoing.
Isaiah 40:4 takes the imagery of major road construction, saying, ‘every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground will become level, the rugged places a plain.’