A simple recipe for victory: forget yourself

Self esteem shop. humility. Philippians 2:3Do you have low self-esteem?

We have an entire industry devoted to helping us raise our self-esteem. After all, everyone wants to get ahead. And who can get ahead without good self-esteem?

Anyone who wants to get ahead God’s way.

God has a way of giving very simple instructions that demand we act exactly the opposite of what our society and our human nature expect.

Philippians 2:3 is a very simple verse, easy to memorize and hard to live up to:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves (NIV).

Does the thought of considering others better make your blood start to seethe?… Read the rest

Taking God’s promises and commandments personally

Bible opened to John 3:16 -- God's promisesYou’ve read a lot about claiming promises in the Bible. But then you look at many of them and find that God made them to specific individuals for specific purposes.

Are those promises really for you? What can you do with them?

Somehow we don’t have the same curiosity about commandments in the Bible, but at least some of them raise the same questions.

In Joshua 1:6-9, God gave commandments and promises to Joshua. Joshua had long known that he would succeed Moses as Israel’s leader and take them into the Promised Land. Now, Moses had died. It was time for him to step in.… Read the rest

The peril of pride in privilege or pampering: Ephraim and Manasseh

Jacob Blessing Ephraim and Manasseh (detail) / Benjamin West, 1766-68

Jacob Blessing Ephraim and Manasseh (detail) / Benjamin West, 1766-68

Perhaps nothing so starkly displays the fall more starkly than comparing the first verse in Genesis (which begins, “in the beginning”) and the last (which ends, “in a coffin in Egypt.) Unfortunately, the story gets worse from there.

Until his death, Joseph was Egypt’s prime minister and held nearly unlimited power. Lord Acton’s saying, “power tends to corrupt and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely” is only partly correct.

Power reveals and intensifies the level of corruption already present. Strong faith in God reduces that level substantially. If sons of godly people show themselves corrupt, it’s because they did not inherit faith.… Read the rest

Jesus’ humility, Satan’s pride: whom do we follow?

Jesus' humility

Ecce Homo (Behold! The Man) / Antonio Ciseri, 1871. “The humble king they named a fraud, and sacrificed the Lamb of God.”

God is all-powerful, but when he chose to use his power to become a man, he also chose not to use power like other men. It is Satan who turns power into something coercive and egocentric.

It would be nice if we could say that Christians understand the situation and exercise power as Jesus did. Unfortunately, we can truthfully say no more than that some do, and they successfully imitate Christ maybe only some of the time.

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How Gideon failed at success

Gideon and the angel

The Angel Puts Fire on the Altar of Gideon / James Tissot

Everyone wants to succeed at what they try. The alternative is failure.

Successful people know failure. They have learned from it, worked out problems, and tried again until they succeed. That’s the way the world works.

Unfortunately, the world also has pitfalls that can ultimately destroy the successful if they’re not vigilant. The Bible has many examples. Let’s look at Gideon.

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Raising Ebenezer

Ebenezer“Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” has been a favorite American hymn for about 200 years. The second verse notoriously starts, “Here I raise mine Ebenezer.” I say notoriously, because it has been generations since large numbers of church goers have understood the meaning of “Ebenezer.” It’s a stone of remembrance, set up by the judge and prophet Samuel on an occasion well worth remembering.

Humiliating loss

When Samuel was a child, two worthless priests under judgment from God decided to take the ark of the covenant into battle with the Philistines. Since they had no relationship with God and no regard for him, they must have regarded the ark as some kind of magic box that would turn the tide of battle.… Read the rest

The man born blind: discuss or heal?

In John 8, Jesus had a heated discussion about his ministry and credentials with Jewish leaders in the temple. He left, noticed a man born blind, and healed him. It was the Sabbath, so the leaders who were offended at him before became more offended and took out their frustration on the formerly blind man. Jesus’ disciples also saw the blind man, but they took it as a springboard for a theological discussion about sin (John 9:1-7). Has the church to this day understood what Jesus said and did?

Who sinned?

Christ heals the Man born blind

Healing of the Blind Man / by Duccio di Buoninsegna (1308-11)

A blind man sat near the entrance to the temple.… Read the rest

Mary and the sneakiness of God

Mystical Nativity : Botticelli

The Mystical Nativity / Sandro Botticelli, ca. 1500

There is nothing subtle about how the world operates. We measure power by size. Each industry has one or two dominant and large corporations.

The most powerful nations have some combination of the largest economies, international trade, military power, and diplomatic reach. Politicians vie to amass the most money so they can parlay their fundraising in to the most votes.

God doesn’t work that way.

Just look at how he prepared Mary for her role in God’s sneaky counterrevolution against the devil.

Satan appeared to win a great victory in Eden by corrupting the man and the woman God had made.… Read the rest

A hymn to the attitude of Christ Jesus

The following passage, Philippians 2:5-11 (NIV) may be a portion of a hymn sung in the Philippian church. Of course, it matters less whether anyone ever sang it than whether anyone lives up to it. It tells us Christ Jesus’ attitude–not as the risen Lord of glory, but the humble rabbi who walked the earth teaching the unreached. He expects his followers to have the same attitude.

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. 

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Why Christians should not be critical

There is no excuse for Christians to be critical of one another. Jesus’ only prayer for the entire church is that we would be unified. Perhaps that’s why the church is divided into so many denomination and so many congregations are divided into cliques. As soon as we recognize that we have gotten into habits inspired by the devil, why, we just have to break them and develop new ones in their place.

In Romans 12:1-2, Paul instructs not to be conformed to the world but to become a living sacrifice. In one way or another, every word from their to the end of the book describes or defines what a living sacrifice acts and looks like.… Read the rest