Thursday, February 23, 2017

Two Mortal Enemies of the Church

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” – Philippians 2:3

It was a sermon I’ll never forget. Back in the mid ‘90s when I was doing my pastoral internship, my pastor handed me an audio tape of a sermon that a friend of his had preached a few years earlier. What was most noteworthy about the sermon was not the fact that it was unusually short (less than twenty minutes) or biblically sound. What was most striking about the sermon was the fact that the pastor was fired before he could finish it. Since the sermon was being recorded, the whole incident was caught on tape. An elder called out from the crowd, “Please leave the pulpit,” and proceeded to tell the congregation that the pastor would never again preach in their church. It was shocking to say the least.

What on earth happened? Was the pastor preaching heresy? No. Had he been caught in an immoral sin? No. Was he guilty of a dereliction of duty? Once again, no. Sadly, it was because the elder didn’t like what the pastor was teaching about the dangers of division in Christ’s Church. The pastor had correctly identified one of the congregation’s practices as “a beautiful tradition,” not as a non-negotiable gospel truth. The pastor’s words were humble. Unfortunately, the elder’s response was not. And as a result, the worship service didn’t end well.

Of Paul’s thirteen letters in the New Testament, nine were written to churches. And in all nine Paul emphasizes the importance of unity in Christ’s Church. Paul understood well that, according to Jesus, Christian unity is critical. In fact, just a few hours before he was arrested, beaten and crucified, Jesus prayed, “I pray also for those who will believe in me…that all of them may be one…. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that You sent me and have loved them even as You have loved me” (John 17:20-23).

When we consider Jesus’ prayer in John 17, we can’t help but conclude that disunity is one of the most destructive forces in the Church. To a watching world, disunity reflects poorly on Christians. But more tragically, it reflects poorly on Christ. After all, if a raucous group of believers claim to follow the Prince of Peace, unbelievers draw the conclusion that the Prince of Peace must not be all he’s cracked up to be. Disunity in the Church causes both Christ and the gospel message to lose credibility. So, with one voice, the New Testament writers urge Christ’s followers to be united under the banner of Christ.

Of course, it’s easier said than done. It’s one thing to nod our heads in agreement when God’s word says, “Be unified!” But it’s quite another to live it out. Thankfully, in Philippians 2:3, Paul highlights the key to Christian unity while at the same time identifying two mortal enemies of unity in the Church: selfish ambition and vain conceit.

Selfish ambition is an unrelenting pride that pushes its way to the front. Selfish ambition drives us to pursue personal desires and goals over Christ’s desires and goals. And it’s so destructive because selfishness is the root of all other sin. Think about it: It was selfishness (putting his own desires above God’s desires) that led to Lucifer to rebel against God and get kicked out of heaven. And selfish ambition was at the heart of the sin that severed Adam and Eve’s relationship with God. And today selfish ambition is destroying otherwise peaceful relationships between Christians in the Church. Without a doubt, selfish ambition is a mortal enemy of Christian unity.

And so too is vain conceit. Whereas selfish ambition leads us to pursue personal desires and goals over Christ’s desires and goals, vain conceit leads us to seek personal glory over God’s glory. At its heart is an over inflated self-image. A Christian with vain conceit thinks he is always right. And in his conceited mind he believes he is God’s gift to his congregation. He believes he is more valuable, more important and more intelligent than most other Christians. And that being the case, he is seriously deluded. Vain conceit is, by definition, self-deceptive. That’s why Paul writes in Galatians 6:3, “If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” Yes, vain conceit is self-deceptive. But worse still, it’s a very destructive force in Christ’s Church, spawning disunity where there should be unity.

In Philippians 2:3, Paul also identifies the key to Christian unity: humility. Paul writes, “In humility consider others better than yourselves.” Humility is the key to unity and harmony in any church. Instead of focusing on myself and pushing myself to the top, humility calls for me to focus on you and push you to the top. Instead of being full of vain conceit expecting you to bow your preferences to mine, humility calls for me to bow my preferences to yours. And instead of pridefully considering myself to be more important than you, I should humbly consider you as more important than me.

When a group of Christians is humble, it doesn’t matter how different their cultural backgrounds, personalities or experiences may be. God can unify them and use them in incredible ways as one body contending for the faith of the gospel. Had there been more humility in the room during the fired pastor’s sermon, I’m sure that the service would have had a much better ending. And if you and I are humbly serving each other and putting each others’ needs above our own, is there any doubt that our services will end much better as well?

Dane Davis is the Lead Pastor of First Christian Church in Victorville. For more information,
visit  and join us for worship Sundays at 10 am.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Celebrate the Silver Lining

“Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.” – Philippians 1:12

Because the British monarch didn’t approve of his maverick preaching style, the 17th-century evangelist John Bunyan was thrown in jail. But Bunyan’s preaching remained unfettered. He began to preach in the prison courtyard to an audience of dozens of prisoners and hundreds of local villagers who listened from outside the jail walls. Frustrated by his ever-growing popularity, Bunyan’s accusers placed him in an inner cell where no one could hear him preach. But there in that inner cell Bunyan wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress—the Christian classic that has pointed tens of millions of people to Christ.

Was there a silver lining within the dark cloud of John Bunyan’s imprisonment? Without a doubt …yes! And the same can be said of any Christian who is walking in loving obedience to Christ’s commands. Because God is always working for the good of Christ’s followers and for His glory, there is always a silver lining in the dark clouds of life. Regardless of whether the dark cloud is labeled cancer, bankruptcy, divorce or religious persecution—there is always a silver lining in our trials and suffering. And that’s one of the reasons why we can choose joy despite our circumstances.

By all appearances, when Paul wrote the Book of Philippians he was in a rotten situation. About two years earlier, while in Jerusalem, he had been falsely accused of a serious crime and arrested. Then he barely escaped an assassination attempt during a routine prison transport. On his way to face trial in Rome, he almost drowned in a brutal shipwreck. And as he wrote to the Philippians, he was enduring a two-year incarceration that involved being shackled night and day to a Roman soldier.

No one would have faulted Paul for being down in the dumps. No one could have blamed him had he felt discouraged, anxious, angry, bitter or all the above. After all, most of us would have experienced those negative feelings had we been in Paul’s shoes. Surprisingly, however, we discover in Philippians 1:12-19 that Paul was on Cloud Nine. He was absolutely thrilled that his trials and imprisonment had advanced the gospel. Within these verses he highlights three silver linings in the midst of his dark cloud of suffering.

Silver Lining #1: Being chained night and day to the Roman Caesar’s elite soldiers gave Paul multiple opportunities to share Jesus with those who otherwise wouldn’t have heard of him. It seems clear that many high-ranking soldiers and members of Caesar’s household became Christians because of Paul’s imprisonment. Therefore, from Paul’s perspective, he wasn’t chained to Roman soldiers. The Roman soldiers were chained to him. They were a captive audience to hear the life-changing message of Christ’s salvation.

But Paul also rejoiced because of Silver Lining #2: His incarceration emboldened many Christians to preach Christ fearlessly. These Christians must have thought to themselves, “Hey! If Paul can go to jail for Christ, certainly I can endure a little criticism for Christ. And if Paul can lead people to Christ while being shackled to a Roman soldier, certainly I should be able to lead people to Christ while being unshackled.” So, as a result of Paul’s imprisonment, many Christians were invigorated to share the gospel with hundreds—likely thousands—of different people. And this being the case, Paul writes in verse 18: “Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice.”

And Silver Lining #3 is called out in verse 19: Paul’s imprisonment paved the way for his deliverance. Whether Paul was referring to his impending release from prison or to his eternal deliverance in heaven, we can’t be certain. Perhaps he had both in mind. But one way or another, Paul’s suffering paved the way for him to be set free. The gospel of  peace had been lived out in plain view of Caesar’s soldiers. Every day Paul offered ample evidence that he posed no physical or political threat to the Caesar or the nation he led. And the transformative power of the gospel was in plain view for all to see.

There’s no doubt: While most of us would have been several months into our personal pity party, Paul was celebrating a much different kind of party. He was celebrating the awe-inspiring work of God in the midst of his troubles. He was acknowledging the truth that ran much deeper than his pain: “In all things God works for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). Paul was rejoicing in the fact that—as long as he remained faithful and obedient to Christ—God was seeing to it that He Himself was glorified through Paul’s life, through Paul’s suffering and through Paul’s death. Nothing was wasted. Everything in Paul’s life was good and useful when in the hands of the Master.

Which led Paul to exclaim his now-famous words in verse 21: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” From Paul’s silver-lining perspective, if God saw fit to keep him alive, he would continue living for Christ. Or if God saw fit to subject Paul to hardship and death, he would gladly bear the pain before leaving this life to be with Christ in heaven. Why? Because as Paul sees it, it’s all about Jesus and His glory. And right there is one of the precious secrets to lasting joy. Whether you live, suffer or die, do all for the glory of God.

Dane Davis is the Lead Pastor of First Christian Church in Victorville. For more information,
visit  and join us for worship Sunday at 10 am.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Yes, You Can Have Joy

“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel.” – Philippians 1:3-5

We have more entertainment at our fingertips than any prior generation, but—by all appearances—unhappiness and depression are at an all-time high. A recent study released late last year revealed this sobering statistic: 12% of Americans—that’s almost 1 out of every 8 adults—have taken antidepressants during the past year. We are spending over ¼ billion dollars on antidepressants every year. Yet suicide claims more American lives than car accidents. Let’s face it: for millions of us happiness and joy are nowhere in sight.

We desperately need a joy remedy, and the Book of Philippians is just what the doctor ordered. The elusive secret to joy is spelled out for all to see in Paul’s little four-chapter “Thank You” letter to the Christians in the town of Philippi. God preserved it in His Word for all of us who wrestle daily with discouragement and unhappiness. Within this letter, Paul reveals the secret to having joy, peace and contentment in every circumstance—even when the doctor says, “It’s cancer”; even when our marriage is falling apart; even when we get laid off or fired. Yes, it is possible to experience joy, peace and contentment in the midst of suffering, and Philippians teaches us how.

In order to understand how to experience lasting joy, we must first understand the difference between happiness and joy. Let’s start with happiness, which can be defined this way: “Happiness is a temporary pleasant feeling that is usually grounded in pleasant happenings.” When you think of the word “happiness,” it’s helpful to remember the word “happenings.” You see, happiness usually works this way: If the happenings in and around my life are positive, I’ll likely be happy. But if the happenings in and around my life are negative, I’ll likely be unhappy. Our happiness comes and goes because the annoyances, problems and hurdles in this life come and go. So, when it comes to happiness, keep these two things in mind: #1: Happiness is temporary. #2: Happiness is highly dependent upon our happenings.

But that’s not the case with joy. “Joy is the settled conviction that God is sovereign. Therefore, He controls the events of life for His followers’ good and His glory. Joy is grounded in our unchanging God and never in our changing circumstances.” Take a moment to allow this definition of joy to sink in. Joy is a settled conviction grounded in our unchanging, great and awesome God. Joy is a settled conviction grounded in the absolute confidence that—despite how bad our circumstances appear to be, no matter how ugly they look, no matter how dire they seem, no matter how painful they feel—God is at work for my good, and God will somehow be glorified. Therefore, I will choose joy.

When it comes to happiness, circumstances are everything. But when it comes to joy, circumstances are irrelevant. Joy is never grounded in changing situations but in the unchanging truth of God’s character and His promises. Therefore, joy need not be temporary. And joy need not be handicapped by life’s fleeting troubles. It boils down to this: Happiness is grounded in momentary stuff, but joy is grounded in our eternal, unchanging God.

Once we come to grips with the reality that true, lasting joy is grounded in God and not in our circumstances, Paul is able to open our eyes to certain joy killers that battle against our joy, peace and contentment. For example, in verse 5 of chapter 1 he reveals that his dynamic ministry partnership with other Christians brings him great joy. In other words, had Paul chosen to isolate himself from other Christians, he would have been stripped of the joy that came through Christian fellowship. The same holds true for you and me. Is it any wonder that Christians who say, “I follow Jesus, but church isn’t for me” tend to have very little joy in their Christianity? God created us for dynamic fellowship with each other, so when we isolate ourselves from other Christians, our joy tanks tend to run dry. Isolation is a joy-killer.

And in verses 9-11 of chapter 1, Paul reveals yet another joy-killer: stagnancy. In these verses, Paul speaks of our love growing in knowledge and depth of insight. He speaks of us growing in discernment and righteousness. And all of this growth is contingent upon our studying God’s Word. Long story short: If our Bibles are gathering dust, our Christian walks will stagnate and our joy will dwindle. You see, like isolation, stagnancy is a joy killer. We must be daily reading God’s Word and growing in our understanding of God’s Word. The living and active Word of God inoculates us against the joy-killer of stagnancy, but it’s an inoculation that must be received daily.

Paul has much more to teach us about the road to abiding joy, but I’ll save those insights for other articles to follow. In the meantime, let’s all begin walking the path of joy by embracing the settled conviction that God is at work for our good and His glory. And with that in mind, let’s prioritize fellowship and reading His Word. If we’re serious about choosing joy, we will do just that.   

Dane Davis is the Lead Pastor of First Christian Church in Victorville. For more information,
visit  and join us for worship Sundays at 10 am.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

From the Pit to the Palace

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” – Genesis 50:20

Years ago a story was shared in Reader’s Digest about a man who woke up one morning and discovered a pool of water in the center of his waterbed. Hoping to more easily locate the hole, he dragged the mattress out to his yard, attached a hose, and filled it completely. Unfortunately, the added weight made the mattress slide down a hill and into a bush that punctured it beyond repair. In frustration the man scrapped the water bed frame and purchased a new traditional mattress. Unfortunately, the next morning he awakened to discover a pool of water in the center of his new bed. You see, the upstairs bathroom had a leaky drain.

Have you ever had a leaky drain kind of day? Joseph did—every day for about 13 years. In Genesis 37, we are introduced to Jacob’s favorite son, Joseph. Not only had he been born to Jacob later in life, he was one of only two sons born to the love of Jacob’s life: Rachel. Unfortunately for Joseph, he wore his father’s favoritism on his sleeve…literally. Jacob gave his son a one-of-a-kind colorful robe that not-so-subtly screamed, “Favorite son! Favorite son! Favorite son!” As a result, Joseph’s ten brothers were jealous of him and hated him.

In anger, they tossed Joseph into a pit and then sold him as a slave to some traders heading for Egypt. And on the heels of that unconscionable act of treachery, Joseph spent the next 13 years of his life as a slave and prisoner in Pyramid Central. Sadly, those thirteen years ushered in two other doses of treachery that added insult to injury.

For starters, after having worked his way up to chief of staff in his master’s home, his master’s wife slandered his good name by accusing him of attempted rape. Piping mad, Joseph’s master threw him into the king’s dungeon, where Joseph would experience a third act of treachery. After several years in prison, one of Joseph’s friends betrayed him by failing to do for Joseph what he had promised to do: mention his plight to the king and petition for his release.

For 13 years Joseph suffered the agony of rejection, betrayal, slander and broken promises. All hope for Joseph would have been lost had it not been for one not-so-small reality: “The LORD was with Joseph and he prospered.” In a matter of moments, Joseph was promoted to the second highest position in Egypt. By God’s mercy and grace Joseph ascended from the pit to the palace. And within that position he was used by God to save thousands of people—including his own brothers—from starvation during a seven-year famine. The story of Joseph in Genesis 37-50 is an inspirational rags-to-riches story. And honestly, Joseph would have never made it to the palace had it not been for the pit.

This leaves us with a marvelous lesson from God’s Word: Oftentimes, God uses those who have suffered to rescue others who are suffering. It’s no coincidence that God used a man who had suffered for 13 long years to rescue a nation that would suffer for 7 years. It’s no coincidence that God used Jesus—a man of sorrows, acquainted with suffering—to deliver us from our own sin-cursed suffering. And it won’t be a coincidence when God places individuals in your path who are suffering in some of the same ways you have suffered.

If you’ve suffered through the horror of physical abuse, God will likely call on you to help others who have suffered in the same way. If you’ve suffered through an addiction to drugs or alcohol, God will likely use you to help others who are struggling with addiction. If you’ve suffered through betrayal and divorce, God will likely use you to minister to other betrayed spouses. And if you’re a cancer survivor, guess who God will likely call you to strengthen and encourage?

The fact that you’re a survivor, having persevered through your suffering, you have a wonderful gift: instant credibility. Your story is believable and relatable to those who are suffering in the same way that you yourself have suffered. Yes, that is an incredible gift from God, and you dare not waste it. The Lord wants you to use your post-pit credibility to encourage and pray for those who are suffering and point them to the only One in the universe who can promote them from the pit to the palace: Jesus Christ. Don’t miss your golden, God-given opportunity as a pit survivor to lead others to the hope and salvation that only Christ can bring.

Friend, at some time or another, each of us has been treated badly. Through no fault of our own, some of us have suffered abuse, been hit by a drunk driver or have been falsely accused of a crime we didn’t commit. Motivated by hatred and jealousy, certain people conspire to toss us into a pit and keep us there. But that’s not the end of the story. Our great God is able to use our deepest, darkest pit to help shape us into powerful instruments of peace, strength and healing in His hands. God does some of His most important character-shaping while we’re in the pit. But when our season in the pit has reached its end, God can promote us to the palace. He did for it for Joseph. Perhaps He will do the same for you.   

Dane Davis is the Lead Pastor of First Christian Church in Victorville. For more information,
visit  and join us for worship Sunday at 10 am.