Down To Earth: A Humble Servant
Down To Earth
December 06, 2015
“A Humble Servant”
Questions to go Deeper
A HUMBLE SERVANT
December 5 & 6, 2015
Down to Earth: A Humble Servant
Pastor Mike Slaughter
Well, I welcome you my sisters and brothers on this beginning of the second week of Advent. Many of us probably were not raised with an understanding of what Advent is all about. For the early church, early Christians, Advent was always the beginning of the New Year for Christians. Advent is four weeks leading up to Christmas, so for Christians, technically, our new year is not January first; it’s the four weeks leading up to Christmas every year.
So, Advent is about anticipation. Yes, Christmas is when we do celebrate how God came in human form two thousand years ago, but it's really bigger than that. It's the risen Christ birthing something new in us today. So it's anticipation of God's next.
Last June, it was very clear to Carolyn and I when God said, "I want to do a new thing. Do you not perceive it? Do you not see what I am ready to do?" And, you know, we've announced that we are -- how do you say it? -- transitioning July first of 2017. We already know who our new pastor is. But -- and I appreciate -- some of you come up and, "Well, congratulations," but you use that bad word: retirement.
But I appreciate the sentiment that you offer, but last weekend, on Thanksgiving weekend, we went to my uncle's. He's eighty-five, my mom's brother, not doing that well, and to see my cousins in Augusta, Georgia. So we watched from our hotel room worship online on Sunday morning, and appreciated Pastor Rachel's message. And then we drove to the town we're part of Hayesville, North Carolina.
Well, Sunday night we stopped in the grocery store, and we weren't in the door one minute where I hear someone yell, "Pastor Slaughter! We talked about you in our Sunday school class today!"
"You did? What about?"
I said, "Hey, God's next for me is to really pursue what I'm doing--writing, coaching young pastors." That's really what God has--a next. And my question for you in these next three weeks is, what is your next? Some of you may be experiencing loss, you've gone through a divorce or the process of divorce, or you've lost a loved one, and it's hard for you to anticipate the future. But I have a good word for you: God's about ready to birth a new thing. Is that a good word? God is about ready to birth a new thing.
So will you open your Bibles to the book of Philippians? This is where we're hanging out in this Advent season: the second chapter of the book of Philippians, second chapter. One thing that's good to know is Paul writes this from prison in Rome. And Paul will never, at this point, see the light of day again. So he writes this epistle from prison. So you even understand more the power of his faith.
Pastor Rachel talked from the first four verses of the second chapter last week. I want to pick it up in verse five. "In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had.” Now, with God, everything is about our relationships. God is a god of relationships. How many times do we say it? I can't be in a right relationship with you if I'm not in a right relationship with God. And I can't be in a right relationship with God if I’m not in a right relationship with you.
I loved Pastor Rachel’s message last week. She said what she loves about Ginghamsburg is we’re really a church of all kinds of people. And we really are, it's amazing when I talk to some of you, I hear a really far-right perspective, and then in the same hallway, I'll talk to someone that is very progressive. So we're a congregation where we have liberal people, and very conservative people, and start talking to people. There are gay people here, there are straight people here, but what's so neat about that is what the Kingdom of God movement is all about. God is about tearing down the dividing walls that separate us. God is about restoring God's family. In the world, this is how the world does it--we always said, kind of, become part of groups who look like us, think like us, act like us and vote like us.
And it happens very early. A lot of times in elementary school, you get placed in a group of people who are like you, who think like you. But in the Kingdom of God, there's neither male nor female, Greek or Jew, slave or free person. It's this restoration of the family of God. So now look again at the fifth verse: “In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had.” The mind of Christ; the mind of Jesus. Paul tells us in another letter, in the letter of Corinthians, "Do you not know that you have the mind of Christ?” Now the Bible -- here's the order -- the Bible says this: repent, and believe the good news of the gospel. A lot of us are trying to -- we get that out of order. We're trying to believe the good news of the gospel; we can never live the good news of the gospel without repentance first.
Now, repent, the Greek word is metanoeo. And it literally means, "to change your mind." See, the good news of the gospel will not be manifested through my life as long as I hang on to Mike Slaughter's stinking thinking, right? So, the Spirit of Jesus has to invade me. So now I think, I perceive, I see the world, I see people, through the mind and attitude of Christ. Which means it's not based -- I see people as see Jesus sees them. It's not based on a common politic, nationality, ethnicity or theology.
Now, look at whom Jesus invited to his table. The people Jesus ate with always ticked off religiously correct people. Remember the story when he talked about the great banquet? He said, "Go out to the highways and byways and bring in the broken, the lame, the poor, the crippled, the prostitutes,” and always, always, it was the people of the city, the religious people objected to. As a matter of fact, he elevated to hero status folks that didn't have right theological or biblical beliefs--like Samaritans. The ten lepers that Jesus healed, only one returned to thank him, who was a Samaritan. Samaritans had bad theology! They didn't believe in the Old Testament that you and I believe in, yet Jesus said to that Samaritan, "Your faith has” -- the Greek word is sózó -- “saved you." Now that -- what? Jesus, he doesn't have the right doctrine! But his faith has saved him.
Another story is the Good Samaritan. Remember the story of the Good Samaritan? Who was the one who demonstrated the will of God? It was the one who had bad theology. It wasn't the priest; it wasn't the Levite. Jesus never said, "This is my command: you shall have right political and religious beliefs." Jesus said, "This is my command: believe in me." And if we believe in Jesus, he said, you will love other people as I have loved you. By this all people will know you are my disciples.” We'll love other people exactly as God loves us.
Hey, I've got news for you folks: God does not love you because you're good. God loves you because God is good. God does not love you because you're right. God loves you because God is right. Now, folks, I'm going to say something, and some of you are going to say, "Is that biblical?" It's word. Love is greater than knowledge. Now, I'm going to say -- here it comes -- it's word. Love is greater than faith. Some of you are going to say, "That pastor is a heretic." No. Read First Corinthians 13. Man, a profound symbol; there's just thirteen verses. Listen to this: "If I speak in human or angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” I'll tell you what's lacking in the church of Jesus in the world. I'll tell you why Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world. Guess what. Guess what we're not doing. Guess what we lack. We've got plenty of theology; we got plenty of doctrine, but what do we lack? We lack love.
Listen to this: "If I have the gift of prophecy, and can fathom all mysteries and knowledge -- if I have faith that can move mountains” -- that’s pretty strong faith -- “but do not have love, I am nothing.” So, folks, you see we got that out of order. You can't believe or demonstrate the good news of the gospel without repentance; repentance is a change of mind. A change of mind is a change of attitude. Change of attitude is a change of heart. Change of heart is a change of behavior.
Now, the next three weeks, what we're going to focus on are three characteristics of Jesus' love that is birthed in our life and manifested through our life in greater ways as we mature in the Spirit. And here's the three that we see here in Jesus. The first is humility, the second is sacrificial service, and the third is obedience. We're going to look at humility this morning.
Look at the sixth verse. You out there, church? "Jesus, who being in the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his advantage.” That word, nature, we have an English word that comes from the Greek word: morph. morphoó is the Greek word; it means "the same essence." In other words, Jesus is exactly the same essence, one and the same as God. This is -- we look at Jesus -- this is who God is. This is what God values. This is how God acts. Now, the reason that people rejected Jesus as Messiah, this wasn't the Messiah that the world expected. So when you look through the religions of the world, and you think about what would an all-powerful God look like, we look at examples of power in our culture.
Go back to the ancient Egyptians, 3,000 BC--what do the gods look like? Let's look at power; let's look at wealth. Let's look at control. So the pharaohs were elevated to deity. You look at the great Roman Empire. I mean, the Caesars had so much power and wealth and armies, they conquered the known world, so the Caesars were elevated to deity. Even today in Japan, the emperor is considered divine.
Now, here's the problem when we look at worldly models of power, wealth and control. What it's done in the church is for centuries made the church bedfellows with kings, queens, dictators and repressive regimes. Most of the church got behind Hitler in Germany. It's how ISIS perceives God: of power and destruction. And what happens is, we begin to see God as a God who fights on our side, who favors us over other people, who preserves our ways of living, and supports our nationalistic interests. So Jesus was not the Messiah that people expected. They were looking for a political savior—powerful, king-deliverer.
Now, look at verse seven. Are you ready to move to verse seven? "Rather He made Himself nothing.” That's a weak translation. In the Greek, it's "He emptied Himself." "Rather, he emptied himself by taking the very nature of a servant being made in human likeness." Now, Jesus emptied Himself of all of the powers and privileges of divinity." In other words, he had no advantage over us.
Now, if we ever understand this in the church, this is powerful. You and I can do exactly what Jesus did with total dependence upon the Father. See, Jesus never did anything in his own power. He said, "I never do anything, except the Father does it through me." That’s total dependence upon God… total dependence upon God.
So, Jesus, no advantage over us, enters into the brokenness we create. And look at how we mess up life. Look at -- I mean, we're sitting here; all of us have failed in major ways. God doesn't condemn us; he comes into the painful situations we created to redeem us out of those situations. And he enters into painful situations we don't create. Now here's why Jesus was rejected: Jesus revealed God as a God of downward mobility. Hang on to that. So when God showed up, he didn't show up like a little prince in a palace in England. They keep showing the little prince's picture. He shows up in a working-class family as a minority people who are oppressed. Born in a cave. Now, we look, right now, what is so visible is the refugee crisis. Especially based on what's happening, the genocide in Syria. So how does God -- we say this every Christmas -- God enters into the most painful situations we find ourselves in, and he comes, two years he spends as a refugee in Africa because of the genocide that King Herod has committed against male babies two years and under in age.
Now, keep looking at verse seven, where it says he emptied himself, taking the form. You see, my Bible says "servant"; that's a weak word; it's doulos, which means slave. “Taking the form of a slave.” So not only did he come as a human being, but a particular kind of humanity; God assumes the lowest position in the Roman world, a slave!
I had to read this my senior year of high school. How many of you read Lewis Carroll's The Looking Glass? Alice steps into a mirror in the living room to find that everything is backwards. Folks, that's like the Kingdom of God: the first will be last and the last will be first. To be blessed, you have to bless others; to be forgiven, you have to forgive others. To not be judged, you must not judge others.
Folks, what is going on? Why are we so bad at this as Christians? I mean, it’s word! I mean, the word is clear: “do not judge lest you be judged.” What are we doing? We go, "We're not judging; we're just discerning."
It is an upside-down kingdom. You have to lose your life to find it; you have to give away to receive. Folks, I think this is why Pope Francis is so appealing right now--all kinds of people love this guy. Bill Maher, who's an angry atheist -- I watch him every Friday night at ten o'clock just to see where the other side is coming from. Angry atheist. So I'm watching him last month, and he goes, "Man, can you believe this Pope, man, he's doing all kinds of great things?” It's amazing. He said, “I know, this guy is so good, he's got to be a secret atheist." What has happened when atheists see goodness and they think it can't possibly be Christianity? What has happened, sisters and brothers?
You know why he's so appealing? He's the antithesis of what we've seen popes to be. He refuses to live in an ornate palace. He lives in a guesthouse. He's frequently seen eating lunch, eating dinners, with the poor. He visits prisons so he can wash the feet of prisoners. I tell you what; this dude's going to make me Catholic!
I don't know how many of you have read C.S. Lewis's book Mere Christianity. Have any of you read that? And if you have, I'd recommend reading it again. I was reading the eighth chapter again the other day. The eighth chapter is called "The Great Sin" and here's what he said. He said, "The essential vice, the utmost evil is pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all of that are mere fleabites in comparison. It is through pride that the devil becomes the devil. Pride leads to every other vice. It is the complete anti-God state of mind." And the first time we read of pride in the Bible is the third chapter of Genesis, when the Serpent tempts Eve, and he says, "You know what? You can be just like God. You can handle this on your own."
I remember when I first came to Ginghamsburg. We were in that little tiny chapel down the road, and the first sixth months -- I was twenty-seven -- the first six months, we grew from ninety to fifty-eight. And Bill and Donna, you'll appreciate this -- last night, Susan Eiler and Nancy Cook and a bunch of folks were sitting right back here who were here before I came. And so I said, "What was wrong with me that we went from ninety to fifty-eight," and Becky yelled out, "We'll tell you after worship!"
Well, then, God began to do an amazing thing, and people began to come and lives began to be changed, and next thing we know in this little tiny country church we were having like four hundred people. And all the sudden there are traffic jams, and the county's having to send -- you remember, there was traffic jams on 25A? And the county had to send two sheriffs every week down there to direct traffic in Ginghamsburg. And I remember, my grandfather -- he died in 1996 -- but he was so instrumental in my conversion, in me coming to Jesus. He had been an alcoholic, and then through a Baptist minister in the 1940s, met Jesus and never drank again.
So I remember -- he came from the South, had an eighth-grade education, a man of great faith. And I remember saying to him, "Granddad, you can't believe what God is doing in this church; I mean, He's moving, people's lives are changing, and there's traffic jams." And I remember him looking at me -- Sunday afternoon, he was looking at me, I must be thirty years old -- and he said to me, "Michael" -- he called me Michael -- "Michael, I want you to remember this, 'Pride goes before destruction.'" Pride goes before destruction.
You know, there's an excellent account of Usiah in Second Chronicles, twenty-sixth chapter. Uzziah became king at age sixteen. When did you become king? When your daddy died. He became king at age sixteen. But he was a believer, and he was smart enough to put himself under the mentorship of Zachariah. So the Word says this, "So as long as he sought the Lord" -- get that, not when he thought, "Well, most days I can handle this by myself." "As long as he sought the Lord,” God gave him success. So as a result, it's amazing when you read through there, how God blessed him: he grew in wealth, and he grew in political influence. Now, here's always the danger, sisters and brothers: that when we come into that place of prosperity, when we come into the place of God's promise, that we become comfortable and we lose our hunger. We lose our hunger for the Word of God. We lose our hunger for the Word of God.
Moses warned Israel. Deuteronomy, the eighth chapter, before Israel went into the land of promise, he said this: “Remember the Lord, lest you forget, for it is the Lord who gives you the ability to produce fruitfulness." Well, when we forget, Uzziah, who was so blessed by God, Uzziah forgot and we read his fame spread far and wide but after Uzziah became powerful, his pride, his pride led to his downfall.
All the pastors, we work on our messages together each week. There's same text, but they're different, because each of our communities are different. But this week -- we share our messages on Friday with each other -- and Pastor John was looking at verse six. Look at verse six with me again: "Who being in the very nature of God did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage." And, so, Pastor John really hooked on that word, "advantage." So I'm going to quote him; he's using this in his sermon today, this quote. He said, "Don't take advantage of your position, but position your advantage." That's good. He said, "Don't take advantage of your position, but position your advantage.
So I've been pondering this for the last couple of days. How do I position my advantage? Well, my one advantage is that I'm American. Now, that does not mean that God favors me over a Syrian. But right now, the Syrians don't have my advantage. How do I position my advantage? So, all fall, I've been working with churches across the country to focus on this "Christmas is not your birthday" of how we can come alongside this refugee crisis. And twenty percent of our Christmas miracle offering is going to go to support Christians in Lebanon. They're Syrian Christians who have resettled there. The Christians are never going to be able to go back to Syria, because of persecution. So they've settled there. So we're supporting the infrastructure of their needs as they resettle in Beirut, Lebanon, ’cause Lebanon is most receptive to receive the Christians.
And here is a second advantage I have. I shared this two weeks ago. When I go to my faucet at home, it never crosses my mind, "Is this water safe?" Seventy percent of the world lives in places where water is not clean or safe. Now, you -- here's how we positioned our advantage -- you have built twenty-two water yards. Here's one of the water yards you've built in Sudan, where water was unsafe. Where people were drinking out of water holes in the ground. You've finished twenty-two of these. It supports -- there's another one that you've finished -- you're supplying about a hundred thousand folks, and their livestock, with safe water. This year we've also found out from our people working there that in South Sudan there's still severe water needs for safe water. So twenty-five -- Pastor Rachel, do you remember? -- twenty-five or thirty percent of our Christmas Miracle Offering this year is going to be focused in Sudan again, building safe water. That's called positioning our advantage.
Here's another advantage I have: I am saved by the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus has changed my life. You can't believe where I would be today. You cannot believe where I would be today. Carolyn and I the other night were watching a movie -- I recommend it, we watch it every Christmas now. It's called This Christmas. Any of you ever see the movie? You have? It's a great movie. It has an excellent soundtrack!
So, I forget, one of the songs, James Brown, somebody does one of the songs. You know, those great movies where they bring all of these songs in from the past? So I said, "Carolyn, did you ever see James Brown in concert?" [She] said, "No I never did." I said, "Yeah, my junior year in high school, John Miken and I drove downtown Cincinnati on a Sunday night and saw him in concert."
Carolyn and I were raised very differently, and she crossed her arms and looked at me and said, "I can't believe how your parents just let you run all over the place!" She goes, "That's probably why you finished your junior year with four F's and a D minus." And she was quiet for a minute, and -- you remember, she knew me in my BC days, but re-met me in my AD days, right? And she didn't even recognize me. I was preaching in church. I was eighteen years old preaching in church, and she said my appearance changed, and her arms were crossed and she said, "You know, your life is a story of amazing grace." It is.
Now, folks, who does not need that same liberating power of the Lord Jesus in their life? There are marriages right now just aching and hurting. Let me tell you, our marriage is a story of amazing grace. There are empty seats in this room, sisters and brothers. How do we position our advantage when we know Jesus Christ sets people free to live into the purpose for which they're created?
Well, folks, I want to tell you something: this Christmas, this Advent, God wants to birth a new thing in your life. But we all first must undergo an ego transformation. It is not about who is right or who is wrong. It's letting God tear down the dividing walls that stand between us, and it's allowing the living Jesus to come into our lives anew to love other people as God loves us. I want to say it again: God does not love you because you're good. God does not love you because you're right. God loves you because God is good. God loves you because God is right.
When we come to this table -- and this is so hard for many of us to understand, 'cause we know how we've screwed up, and how could God love us? -- God's love is free, and God's love is unconditional. And when you come to this table today -- you've said, "Well, I've denied Jesus." Well I want to tell you, Peter denied Jesus three times. Did you know that? He denied Jesus three times. I've done that more than three. I've done it more. First thing Jesus said when He resurrected from the grave, He said to the women, "Go tell my disciples, and Peter, I want to have a picnic lunch with them."
So you may be a Jesus-denier, but you can be included at this table. You may be here today high on drugs, and you can be included [at] this table, because God's love is unconditional, it's free, and He wants to set you free to be the person that God created you to be.
Will you bow your head in prayer before we come to the table? Lord Jesus, it's beyond our imagination how your love has penetrated our lives in ways we're not even aware. And Lord, today we come; we come to the table of abundance that you have laid before us, remembering where our health and prosperity come from. And we come receiving freely your unconditional love. Be that, through us, to others. In your name, Jesus, we pray, Amen.
I don't know if you realize, but when I teach, I look at all of your faces, and you tend to sit in the same seats. And what I feel is just God's free and unconditional love for you. And I know that is hard for us, so many times to receive, 'cause we see our screw-ups. You can't go too low to the place that God will not come to reach you. I truly -- Presbyterian and Catholics believe this, from a certain Scripture, where it says, before Jesus ascended, He descended. And, so, much of the church believes that in those three days before Resurrection, is that Christ descended into Hell to lead out the captives. There is no place that you can go that Jesus won't go to bring you out. Go living in the free, unconditional love of God.
God bless you. The Lord willing, I'll be back to teach next week.
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