Hungry for Greatness

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Someone once told me that what they wanted most in life was to be seen and acknowledged for who they were. We can describe that desire as a hunger for greatness or, at least, a desire to be necessary. We all want someone to see who we are and what we have to offer. That hunger for greatness can be appropriate, such as our longing for someone to recognize the uniqueness of how God has made us (Psalm 139:13-14) and also the unique talents and abilities God has placed within our lives (Romans 12:4-8).

However, there are times when our hunger for greatness expands beyond what is appropriate. John Milton, in Paradise Lost, describes Satan’s great sin as “Monarchal pride,” signaled by his belief that it is “better to reign in Hell, than to serve in Heaven.” The way of Jesus the Messiah is unlike this. He taught differently – “I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27) – and He lived differently – “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).

The same sort of pride seen in Satan can infuse our human longings for great- ness. This is why Paul the Apostle wrote to the church in Rome: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment” (Romans 12:3). Jesus Himself reminds us that we live in a world where hungers are often turned upside down. But in His Kingdom up is down and down is up: “For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest” (Luke 9:48).

James the Apostle comments on this theme: “Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’ Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you” (James 4:6-8). Throughout this week in the devotional, we will explore what it means to have an appropriate hunger for greatness that does not expand into pride.

RESPOND THIS WEEK:
Each week’s practice will feature some aspect of the process Paul describes for us in Ephesians 4:22-24, where we are to TAKE OFF something from our lives that has become corrupted or distracting and PUT ON in its place something God wants us to do.

Take Off:Take note this week of the ways that you tend to seek attention or turn conversations with others back toward yourself. How many times do you interject or interrupt others with stories of how what they are sharing relates to you? When you dress in the morning, how much of what you wear is intentionally chosen so that you will be noticed? Use the space below to take note of your experience this week.

Put On: Find ways each day this week to celebrate and build up someone else in your life. Write them a note, throw them a party, brag about them on Facebook, etc. At the end of each day, thank God for specific people and how they have blessed you that day.

[This a devotional I wrote with Jim Caler as part of the Eastbrook Church Lenten devotional, “Hungry for God.”]

St Augustine on the Nature of the Two Cities, the Earthly and the Heavenly

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In The City of God, St. Augustine offers a wide-ranging exploration of the two cities, the heavenly city and the earthly city. This is not merely the difference between heaven and earth, or the church and the wider world, but something more. As I read this the other day, what caught my attention most, perhaps because of the preaching I am doing in “Hungry for God,” is the first phrase of this excerpt: “two cities have been formed by two loves.” The development of these counter realities cascades not merely from different thinking, but different loving.

Accordingly, two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self.  The former, in a word, glories in itself, the latter in the Lord.  For the one seeks glory from men; but the greatest glory of the other is God, the witness of conscience.  The one lifts up its head in its own glory; the other says to its God, “Thou art my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.” In the one, the princes and the nations it subdues are ruled by the love of ruling; in the other, the princes and the subjects serve one another in love, the latter obeying, while the former take thought for all.  The one delights in its own strength, represented in the persons of its rulers; the other says to its God, “I will love Thee, O Lord, my strength.”  And therefore the wise men of the one city, living according to man, have sought for profit to their own bodies or souls, or both, and those who have known God “glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened; professing themselves to be wise,”—that is, glorying in their own wisdom, and being possessed by pride,—“they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things.”  For they were either leaders or followers of the people in adoring images, “and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever.”  But in the other city there is no human wisdom, but only godliness, which offers due worship to the true God, and looks for its reward in the society of the saints, of holy angels as well as holy men, “that God may be all in all.”

From St. AugustineThe City of God, Book XIV, Chapter 28.

The Hunger for Love [Hungry for God]

St. Augustine of Hippo famously wrote near the beginning of Confessions: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”

This past weekend at Eastbrook Church, we began a series that explores how our hungers lead us to God to find true rest for our souls. The series, “Hungry for God,” parallels the season of Lent, and has a companion daily devotional that you can access here.

This weekend I explored the hunger for love by walking through the story found in John 4 of Jesus’ conversation with a woman at Jacob’s well in Samaria.

You can view the message video and sermon outline below. You can follow the entire series at our web-site, through the Eastbrook app, or through our audio podcast.

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Hungry for Love

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All of us want to experience love. Sometimes this hunger for love looks like a longing for friendship. Sometimes our longing for love surfaces in the desire for intimacy. At other times, this hunger for love is as basic as the desire to belong somewhere with someone. Near the beginning of Genesis, in the account of God’s creation of human beings, we are told that this basic longing for love is seen in the connection between Adam and Eve: “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). 

Elsewhere in Scripture we see that the hunger for love and connection is directly related to the fact that we have a built-in hunger for God. The Psalmist expresses this longing powerfully: 

“You, God, are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you,
my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land
where there is no water.” (Psalm 63:1)

In the New Testament, Paul the Apostle echoes this longing for love in a prayer for early Christians about the significance of God’s love in our lives and growth with Christ. “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:17-19).

Our theme for this week is the hunger for love. Throughout this week’s devotional, we will explore how hunger for love relates to human love and divine love. 

RESPOND THIS WEEK:
Each week’s practice will feature some aspect of the process Paul describes for us in Ephesians 4:22-24, where we are to TAKE OFF something from our lives that has become corrupted or distracting and PUT ON in its place something God wants us to do.

Take Off: This week’s practice starts with taking the time to identify some of the false loves in our lives we try to find our self-worth through. You can begin by simply listing the relationships you turn to in order to find love, value, and acceptance in your life. Have any of these become unhealthy in some way? Are any of these causing you to compromise who you are and/or your values in order to be accepted or loved? Are any of these contractual (as long as you do this for me, I’ll love you) or codependent (they are enabling or encouraging poor choices in your life)? Pray for God’s wisdom in how to respond to what you have identified.

Put On: Take a step this week to enter into meaningful Christian community, whether through an existing relationship with a Christian, a small group of some type through church, or some other means. A meaningful Christian community is one where you can know (and are known by) other Christians, where you can pray for and encourage one another and where together you can interact with the Truth of God (through a study, discussion, etc.). If you need ideas for how to find community like this, please contact the Eastbrook Church office. Use the space below to take note of your experience this week.

[This a devotional I wrote with Jim Caler as part of the Eastbrook Church Lenten devotional, “Hungry for God.”]

Finding Love: Mary

advent-mary.jpg[This is the devotional I wrote for the fourth week of Eastbrook Church‘s Advent 2018 devotional. Join in with the daily journey through Advent here.]

“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed.” (Luke 1:46-48)

“Love is blind.” At least, that is how the saying goes. The phrase means that when love is in play, a person is prone to overlook, or just plain fail to see, the problems within the person being loved. There is some truth to that, but the kind of love we all deeply desire is a love that truthfully sees everything about us and still loves us. Love that is blind – that turns away from reality – is false love, while love that sees – that leans into reality – is real love.

John 3:16 is such a well-known Scripture passage because it describes God’s love as real love. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16-17). In the midst of a world stuck in the cycle of death, Jesus the Son of God comes to bring liberating life. Even as the world could potentially be condemned because of evil and injustice, God takes a different route by sending Jesus to save the world. Jesus Himself echoes this later when He says, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). We see in Jesus the Messiah that God’s love is an eyes-open love, leaning into the reality of our world and our lives. Jesus shows us just how far God will go to hold us in His loving embrace.

When the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, announcing God’s plan to bring the Messiah to birth through her, Mary was astounded. Her question, “How will this be?”, was both a question about the manner of the Messianic birth since she was a virgin and simultaneously a question about the possibility that something like this could occur in human history. When Gabriel emphasized God’s decisive plan to intervene through Jesus as Messiah, such knowledge eventually leads Mary to erupt with praise: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation” (Luke 1:46-47, 50).

That little word ‘mercy’ is an echo of the Hebrew word hesed, which refers to God’s uniquely steady and faithful love. Mary grasps, and shares with us today, that God sees what is really there in the world and still chooses to love humanity from generation to generation throughout the earth. Mary becomes a picture not only of humble obedience to God’s call, but also boisterous praise of God’s love. As we draw close to Christmas Day, let us join Mary’s wondrous call to praise our God whose love is not blind, but rather eyes-open about us and our world. Let us draw near with anticipation to experience once again   the tenderly tenacious love of God found in Jesus the Messiah.

Reflect:

  • What difference does it make to you that God loves you—no matter what, just as you are?
  • Who in your life needs to hear that God loves them…absolutely and completely? How and when will you tell them?

A Prayer for the fourth Sunday of Advent (from the Revised Common Lectionary):

O God of Elizabeth and Mary,
you visited your servants with news of the world’s redemption
in the coming of the Savior.
Make our hearts leap with joy,
and fill our mouths with songs of praise,
that we may announce glad tidings of peace,
and welcome the Christ in our midst. Amen.

Join in with the daily Advent devotional here.

The Church: A Multi-Ethnic, Kingdom-Oriented Community

Church Vision Series GFX_16x9 Title.pngThis past weekend at Eastbrook Church, I continued a two-part reflection on the nature of the church. My working title for this series is “The Multi-Everything Church,” which is an outworking of our vision to become a Revelation 7:9-10 type of church with attention to some other aspects beyond multi-ethnicity.

Following last weekend’s message on the church as an intergenerational family, this weekend I looked at two more important aspects of the church, first as a multi-ethnic community and second as a kingdom-oriented community.

You can view the message video and sermon outline below. You can follow the entire series at our web-site, through the Eastbrook app, or through our audio podcast.

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The Church: An Intergenerational Family

Church Vision Series GFX_16x9 Title.pngThis past weekend at Eastbrook Church, I began a two-part reflection on the nature of the church. My working title for this series is “The Multi-Everything Church,” which is an outworking of our vision to become a Revelation 7:9-10 type of church with attention to some other aspects beyond multi-ethnicity. This weekend’s message looks at the image of the church as an intergenerational family, where we are all equally children of God by simple faith, yet also embracing the entire church, young and old, as having a place of belonging and value. I spent a bit of time talking about the problems with the frameworks of generational thinking, calling us to a deeper grasp of Jesus’ prayer for unity and call to love.

You can view the message video and sermon outline below. You can follow the entire series at our web-site, through the Eastbrook app, or through our audio podcast.

Read More »