Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Seat of Honor

Ukelewe Island, Lake Victoria, Tanzania

Church of the Holy Trinity,  Nansio Parish
September 22, 2013

Dear brothers and sisters, I have not come with the answers for the problems in your life.  I have come with my family to live in Tanzania for six months.  We are learning much about your country and your culture.  We are learning that America is not a better country; Tanzania is not a better country.  Each country has good and evil; both have their successes and their failures.  We are learning what it means to live in an African country, but we still have not had your experiences.  How can I truly understand? I am challenged to know how to speak into your life.

What can I offer you?  I look within myself, and I see my faults and sins.  I am not here because I am good.  Jesus said:  God is the only one who is good.  If I have something good to offer – it is of God.  In the book of James we read that every good gift comes down to us from God our Father.  We can learn from each other; this is a gift from God.  I can receive and learn something good from you:  from your culture, your experiences, and your wisdom.  I have also come here today to offer you something to think about; so that together we can be strengthened.

Yet, how can I speak into your life in a meaningful way?  I can see how you live; your lifestyle and standard of living.  I can join with you for a little while in your life here, and then I must go back to America with my family.  Each country has its own unique challenges and problems.  America is not the Promised Land.  It has great problems, and we struggle there also.  Are we able to fully understand one another and the challenges each of us faces daily?  There is the good that is present with each of us; that which is a gift from God.  There are also the difficulties that are present.  These difficulties may look different from country to country, but they are still present.

Actually, Christians have a difficult life wherever they are in this world.  Our life is a life of struggle.  Not a struggle against “flesh and blood” – but a spiritual struggle.  It is a struggle against spiritual powers, worldliness, and ourselves.  Of these three categories:  “Self” is the hardest to overcome.  The other forces are from outside of us, while the Self is from within.  It is who we are.  We get so distracted by our words, actions, sins, and good deeds; not considering that the true battle is with our Self.  It is that part of us that wants to be King; that wants to be in control.  It wants to control us and others.  It is selfish, self-centered, and proud.

We read today in Luke 14:7-11 the illustration of taking the Seat of Honor.  Such a simple action, but it illustrates for us the condition of our soul.  I have said that I cannot truly understand your daily struggles and problems, and I do not have the answers you need for them.  But I can know the nature of your heart.  Why?  Because I know the nature of my own heart.  It is the same as all people.  Our hearts are sinful and deceptive. We like to think that we are good people, yet pride hides in our hearts.  Self still wants to be king – to be seated in the Seat of Honor.

I have come to bring the Word of God to you, yet pride hides in my heart.  (I am hoping you are impressed with my preaching!)  This pride must be revealed and burnt out of me, as with fire.  My heart must be cleansed of this desire for the Seat of Honor.  How will this happen?  One way is through the struggles, challenges, and problems we face in our daily lives.  They are bigger than we are, and we know not how to meet them.  Through them we come face to face with our true self, and we are shocked at what we find.  So, we either look away and keep pretending that we are okay, or we go to the Lord in humility to confess who we are.

Our problems and struggles force us to turn to the Lord:  to seek His mercy, His grace, and His strength.  They lead us to confess, “I am not good enough, I am not wise enough, I am not strong enough to overcome this tyrant called Self.  I cannot survive without you, Lord.”  Every day I need to know that “man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God”.  I cannot live by my own strength or cleverness.  I need to say along with Simon Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”

The Seat of Honor – how often we want it! – In so many ways.  “Not me” you may say, but are you sure?  Let us look at the nature of this temptation.  It is the desire to be noticed.  It is the desire to be important.  It is the desire to please people.  It is the desire to have others think well of you.  It is the desire to be liked by people.  We may not be heading for the seat of honor at special dinner, but there is still that concern for what people think of us, what they will say about us; a concern for our reputation.  We have expectations of how we are to be treated by others – and then we get offended if we think someone has treated us wrongly.  And, why do we get nervous when we are doing something that is being noticed by other people?

Most of us are controlled by feelings of insecurity.  We have this Self within us, motivated by Pride, wanting to be seen as important or good.  But we are anxious and insecure, because we are not sure of the truth; not sure if other people agree with us about our goodness.  This insecurity guides our social behavior and causes us to seek to fit with the expected norms of our culture.  We forget that as Christians, we are not of this world.  Why should we think that we must be the same as the culture around us?  We are called to be different – to NOT seek the Seat of Honor – to overcome this desire to be noticed, important, liked, and well thought of by others.  We are to promote Christ rather than ourselves.

But, we find ourselves desiring to be liked by people; to find approval in their eyes.  This means we are basing our self-worth, our security, in what others think about us.  We are not sure that we have value, or that we are good enough, but we would like for this to be true.  We do not want to look within our hearts to find what is there:  the truth about ourselves.  And so we look away – to what others think or say of us.  We are hoping they will approve of us, applaud us, and like us.  We use this as the measuring rod of our value as a person; as an indication that we are a good person.

To say that there is no one good except God alone does not mean that we are worthless and totally evil.  We do find something good in people, but we cannot claim to be the originator of it.  God Himself is Good and is the Author of all that is good in this world.  I cannot claim to be the author of that which is good within me; it originates from God.  It is His gift to me.  But we find that there is something more.  He has offered to us His righteousness, His nature, through His Son Jesus Christ.  He has offered to change the nature of our Self into the nature of His Son Jesus Christ.  But we have to offer the Seat of Honor to Him.  We defeat this false king called Self when we humble ourselves and acknowledge that we are not good enough, we are not worthy enough, to be in the Seat of Honor. Only Christ is worthy.  And so we look for the Lowest Seat instead.

When we take the Lowest Seat, something good happens.  We now have Peace within ourselves.  Our security is no longer based on what people think of us, but is based on our relationship to Christ.  I no longer have a need to look important or to be liked by people.  Our self-worth is not based on our performance; it is found in God’s acceptance of our humility and repentance.  It is found in accepting God’s offer to cloth us in His righteousness.  Why should I desire to remain clothed with my own rags of self-righteousness, when Christ has offered me His robe of righteousness?

I am in Christ and He is in me.  Christ is revealed to my neighbors through me.  I want Him to be my King, seated in the Seat of Honor.  I want Him to be noticed, not myself.  My security is in Him, not in my abilities.  Philippians 2:5 tells us that we are to have the same mind as Christ, that is, the same attitude.  What did He do?  He humbled himself:  emptied himself to become our servant, and was obedient to His Father – even to death upon the Cross.  Because of this, we are told that God has highly exalted Jesus, and given Him a Name that is above every name. Someday everyone will fall on their knees before Him.  The Father has given His Son the Seat of Honor.

I have mentioned God’s offer to clothe us in His righteousness, to make our nature to be like His Son Jesus.  We receive this through by traveling the same path as Jesus did, through humility and obedience, even to the death of Self on the Cross.  This is something Christians like to talk about, but how do you do it practically?  It is done by choosing the Lowest Seat.  It is done by no longer struggling to be noticed, important, or liked by other people. It is done by acknowledging all that is good within us is from God, and He is the One to be honored.  We no longer need or desire the attention or praises of men.  To the truly humble man, the Seat of Honor is a burden rather than a pleasure.

What else do we find in the Scriptures?  The promise that Jesus will share His glory with us!  Imagine that!  The King of Kings, the Lord of the universe, declares we are in Him and He is in us; that we are seated with Him in the heavenly realm and we shall share in His glory!  Notice Luke 14:10 again.  What happens when we humble our Self to seek the lowest seat, and allow Jesus Christ to take the Seat of Honor in our lives?  God will raise us up to a higher place.  1 Peter 5:6 tells us to “humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time”.  We are promoted; we are invited to be seated with Christ.  As Christ is honored in our lives, He is gracious and willing to share that honor with us!  He wants us to be with Him.  Oh, what a marvelous, merciful God we serve!

“If Christ lives in you, the Spirit is life for you because you have been put right with God, even though your bodies are going to die because of sin.  If the Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from death, lives in you, then he who raised Christ from death will also give life to your mortal bodies by the presence of His Spirit in you.  Since we are his children, we will possess the blessings he keeps for his people, and we will also possess with Christ what God has kept for Him; for if we share Christ’s suffering, we will also share his glory.”  Romans 8:10-11; 17

“God’s plan is to make known his secret to his people, this rich and glorious secret which he has for all peoples.  And the secret is that Christ is in you, which means that you will share in the glory of God.  You have been raised to life with Christ, so set your hearts on the things that are in heaven, where Christ sits on his throne at the right hand of God.  Keep your minds fixed on things there, not on things here on earth.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  Your real life is Christ and when he appears, then you too will appear with him and share his glory!”  Colossians 1:27; 3:1-4

Who is in the Seat of Honor in your life?  Self or Christ?  There can only be one King; for you cannot have two masters.  I ask you to consider this carefully, because there will come a day when “every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”.  Let us encourage one another to choose the Lowest Seat, and to yield the highest Seat of Honor to the One who is truly worthy to be seated there.  In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen.

May the peace of Christ be with you,
Brother Nathan

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