The imagery of Philippians 3:12 reveals a God who wraps us up in his love and thus calls us to fully grasp the immensity of this reality. Paul’s leadership was based on his identity as one seized by the love of God. The problem that many people face is that they more readily grasp the negative labels and harmful words inflicted upon them more than they do the love of God.
Here in his letter to the church in Philippi, Paul has just stressed how much he has given up in order to attain the matchless beauty of Christ (3:8-11). But he doesn’t want to mislead his readers into thinking he has attained perfection, so he emphasizes that even he, the Apostle Paul, has much room to grow… The best of leaders know that learning is a lifelong process, never assuming that they have arrived.
At Christmas, we are right to focus on Jesus Christ and the wonder of his birth. We rightly bow before him in worship, like the Magi. Yet, in doing so, we are not just looking back to the past. We are also anticipating the future advent of Christ, when he will be revealed in all of his power and glory. Then, we will join with all creatures in bowing before him and proclaiming that he is Lord.
We heed the summons of Christmas not only by giving gifts, participating in holiday worship services, and wishing others a “Merry Christmas.” We live the truth of Christmas also by choosing to embody the humility and self-sacrifice of Jesus. Even as he did not use his authority for personal advantage, we are called to give up our rights in service to others.
If someone were to ask you where to find the Christmas story in the Bible, you’d rightly point to the gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus as found in Matthew and Luke… Yet there are other passages in the New Testament that tell the story of Christmas from different perspectives. One of these passages appears in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, in the second chapter.
This past summer, my church blessed me with a sabbatical, which allowed me to rest, study, and prepare to lead my church with renewed energy and purpose… One of the books I committed to reading during my sabbatical was Dave Evans and Bill Burnett’s Designing Your Life, which challenged me to reflect on my workview and lifeview.
Being a disciple of Christ is a lot like learning to build a walkway except, instead of YouTube, we’ve got the Bible, the Holy Spirit, and people who have more experience to teach us everything we ever wanted to know. In the beginning, we don’t know anything. But then, as we spend more and more time studying and then practicing what we’ve learned, something actually begins to take shape.
As we celebrate this Advent Season, reminded again of Jesus’ coming into the world, I want to reflect on the distinctive vision and driving force behind God’s incarnation in Jesus Christ. What was the mindset that Jesus brought to his work in the world? And, what might that say to us about our work as leaders?
I once heard a theologian say that, “Fearful, negative, hateful thoughts are like Velcro®.” If we’re not careful, they will stick to us. The same theologian went on to say this:
“Positive, grateful, loving thoughts are like Teflon®. They just slide off, unless you savor them, consciously, for at least fifteen seconds.”
The internal and psychological stress of leading, exploring, learning and keeping an organization “on mission” is demanding. The fear of failure weighs heavy. We who started so eagerly to lead something significant for God into uncharted territory start to pine for security and stability. We long to be seen as the “expert” and experience the deference that people in our society offer to those of us who have “made it.”