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Spiritual Growth: What It Is, How It Happens, and Why It Matters: Philippians 2:1-11

February 11, 2018


This morning we marched boldly into the rich second chapter of Philippians, where Paul challenges us to move away from a casual understanding of spirituality and urges us to strive for a God-honoring, Christ –promoting, sharply focused, gospel-declaring culture of growth. Philippians 2: 1-11 urges us to participate more in the Body of Christ, described in the Greek language as Koinonia. Whatever you are doing, Paul intimates, do more. Paul urged the Philippians to make his joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one spirit, all infused with genuine humility (verses 1-4). (Ed suggested using the English Standard Version for this passage as a method of gaining new understanding.)

If you miss everything else, don’t miss this: Being connected to one another is a really big deal, and one of the most important keys to successful relationships- connection- is humility.

CS Lewis said, “To even get near [humility], even for a moment, is like a drink of cold water to a man in a desert.”

Ed painted the backdrop for Paul’s explanation of the profound humility of Jesus by touching on 3 titanic concepts:

  1. The mystery of the Trinity.
  2. The nature of Jesus- fully God, yet fully man (think of the story of Jesus calming the storm, and the disciples being terrified, asking: What sort of man is this?”)
  3. The ultimate glorification of Jesus. We understand that there will one day come a time when everyone and everything will worship Jesus Christ.

The passage goes on from here to explain how Jesus, this Jesus who was part of the Trinity, fully God and fully Man, did not consider for a moment that equality with God was possible, and humbled Himself even to death on the cross. Humility could be perhaps explained as the complete absence of the rights of the self. (How would you define humility based on this passage?)

After giving us an overview of these verses, Ed took a step aside from scripture and described an illustration from the world of business. Author Jim Collins wrote a book called “Good to Great.” His research team searched for specific patterns in companies that had sky-rocketed in the market and asked, “What conditions were present that could have caused this incredible success?” Collins’ research went on to identify 7 features which these companies had in common:

  1. They put the right people in the right places.
  2. They confronted facts, even when those facts were brutally honest.
  3. They employed the hedgehog concept. In other words, find your one big thing and become very, very good at it. (In his famous essay, “The Hedgehog and the Fox, Isaiah Berlin divided the world into hedgehogs and foxes based upon an ancient Greek parable: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”)
  4. They practiced a culture of discipline.
  5. These companies used technology accelerators.
  6. They incorporated the Flywheel Concept: There is no quick fix; rather, these great companies relentlessly pushed a big wheel up a hill until they pushed it over the top.
  7. And then there’s Level 5 Leadership: This is the point we need to focus on for our discussion today. A level 5 leader “builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical combination of personal humility and professional will.” Example: Kimberly Clark, led by Darwin Smith. His humility was such that hardly anyone knew who he was, yet everyone has heard of the great health-care products giant that is Kimberly Clark.

Collins’ conclusion about level 5 leadership is strikingly similar to Paul’s explanation of Christ’s humility in Philippians Chapter 2. Collins said that level 5 leadership is counter-intuitive—even counter-cultural! And yet this combination of humility and will makes for a universal combination which results in great leadership.

Based on this idea of level 5 leadership, Ed challenges us to think about 6 principles to employ in order to move toward greater personal humility and purpose.

  1. Speak less. Ed’s twist: Answer fewer questions.
  2. Mind your own business. Don’t try to manage others; rather, manage yourself.
  3. Listen to your critics.
  4. Bless those who insult you, slight you, forget you and dislike you.
  5. Own your strengths, and let them speak for themselves.
  6. Accept your limits.

For a group exercise, we discussed which one of these points did we feel we needed to work on and why? (My answer? I definitely need to work on accepting my limits. But probably all of them need to be addressed. It was a motivating discussion.)

Let’s end on another C.S. Lewis quote:

“If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realize that one is proud. And it is a biggish step, too. At least, nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.”

Veteran's Day Sunday

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November 12, 2017

Veteran’s Day Service

Many of our veterans participated in the service today, giving announcements, leading prayers, and recounting their individual stories. James Toczko recognized everyone present who had served in any branch of the U.S. Military. He also recognized the families of servicemen, calling them an integral but little-recognized branch of the service. (I have to admit, I liked that, being the daughter of a Navy vet.) There was even a 92 year old WWII veteran in the congregation. It was heart-warming to honor these very special people.

After Pastor Alex York interviewed two of our own beloved Gateway veterans, Tim Walker and Dennis Fisher, we watched a video about the experience of Lt. Colonel Brian Birdwell, a high school buddy of Pastor Alex and his wife, Jill.

Currently serving as a Texas state Senator, Colonel Birdwell was in the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. He was burned so badly from the crash of a hijacked jet into the heart of the Pentagon that he was not expected to survive. On top of his grave injuries, all Med-Evac helicopters were grounded that day along with all air traffic across the country, slowing down emergency treatment he desperately needed.

Brian Birdwell said the hardest thing he had to do that day, after the Hospital Chaplain helped him to understand that he was dying and led him in a final prayer, was to say goodbye to his young son. Later, when he had miraculously recovered, he saw that impossibly difficult moment as a glimpse into what it must have been like for the Father to say goodbye to His Son, Jesus, when Jesus was sent to Earth to die on the cross. “I earned my Purple Heart stepping out of the men’s rest room in the Pentagon on 9-11,” Colonel Birdwell said. “Jesus Christ earned His Purple Heart by stepping out of the perfection of heaven.”

After the video, Pastor Ed said that we recognize our military on Veteran’s Day because they represent the right way to serve our country. He went on to explain: God is not a Republican, nor is He a Democrat. God is not an American. So how should we, as Christians, as Christ-followers, view America?

Psalm 137: 1-4 is a lament by the Israelites during the time around 597 B.C. when they were taken as captives to Babylon. They had to live in a foreign land far from their beloved home and it was breaking their hearts. In Jeremiah 29:4-14, Jeremiah’s word from God to the exiles is recorded. Here, God commands the Israelites to settle down, plant gardens, marry and have children. He urges them to pursue peace and prosperity in the land to which they had been transplanted. He promises them they will someday be returned to their true home.

We as Christians are like these exiles. This is not our true home. We live in a culture that is sometimes hostile to our faith and worship. This culture is not our own.

We sometimes lose sight of this truth in our comfortable northern Virginia setting. Twenty years ago, Pastor Ed surveyed the residents of this area. Knocking on doors, he asked questions. What he learned was that people around here generally like their lives; they just want something a little better. But for the most part, they are comfortable. We are also comfortable—perhaps too comfortable for exiles!

So how should we view America? We need to remember we live in the “in-between” times. We are between the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry and the end of the Earth. In Jeremiah the word of the Lord remains true today. We need to work for the peace and prosperity of our country, pray for all those in our sphere of influence and for our leaders, and look forward to one day returning to our true home.

We celebrate the veterans and military service people among us because they are fulfilling this charge. They seek peace and prosperity on behalf of all of us. America is a free country, perhaps freer than any other country on this Earth now and throughout history. This is largely due to the service and sacrifice of our military. Their sacrifices represent the right way to serve a culture.

Let us re-dedicate ourselves to being fully alive in serving today’s culture. And let’s honor our veterans who are a shining example of such service. We serve our country to bring as much goodness and glory to those around us until the time when we are called to our true home.


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