Living a Christ-Exalting Life

Has anyone here ever heard of Good Riddance Day?  As far as I know, it’s only celebrated in one city.  Starting in 2007, Good Riddance Day has been celebrated every year on December 28th in New York City in Times Square.  This will be the 17th year they have observed this unofficial holiday.

            Good Riddance Day was inspired by a Latin American tradition in which people celebrating New Year’s Day put artifacts or bad memories from the previous year into dolls and then set those dolls on fire.  But instead of having a huge bonfire in Times Square, they use shredding machines, dumpsters and sledgehammers.

            They encourage everyone to bring any unpleasant, embarrassing, or downright unwanted memories from the past year and then you can destroy it.  It could be an old letter from your ex, a medical bill that’s been paid off, or just something that happened that you want to write down and symbolically get rid of.

            And so, people will write down what they want to get rid of, and then they will throw those lists into shredders symbolizing the act of letting go of all their painful memories, bad experiences, foolish mistakes, bad relationships, dumb choices, and long-held grudges.  And if a shredder doesn’t provide enough emotional release, participants can use a sledgehammer.

            It’s not a bad idea.  There’s something appealing about the idea of “out with the old, in with the new.”  And I think there are times that we all need to say “good riddance” to the pain and the hurt of the past.  And we would especially do well to let go of our anger, to say goodbye to our bitterness, to get rid of any hard feelings we may have toward those who have hurt us over the past year.

            But if we’re going to go “out with the old, and in with the new”, we need to have something new to work on.  Which is why a lot of people like to make New Year’s resolutions, usually things like exercise more, lose weight, stop smoking, get out of debt, spend more time with the family.  Which are all great things to strive for.

            But very few people actually succeed at what they set out to do.  The failure rate for New Year’s resolutions is estimated to be somewhere around 80% with most people losing their resolve and motivation by the middle of February (U.S News and World Report).

            Now, I don’t know if you made any resolutions at the beginning of this year.  But, whether you did or you didn’t, we’re now hallway through the year, and it’s probably a good time to make some new resolutions.  And if you’re willing to do that, I’d like to give you one word this morning to use as your resolution for the rest of the year.

            But, before I get to that one word, I’d like for you to consider how much the Bible has to say about glorifying God, exalting God, magnifying God.

            For example, in I Corinthians 6, Paul says, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.  So glorify God in your body.”( I Corinthians 6:20).   In 2 Thessalonians 1, Paul prays that “the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you.” (2 Thessalonians 1:12).  In I Peter 4, Peter says, whatever you do, do it in a way “so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” (I Peter 4:11).

            In Psalm 34, the Psalmist says, “Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together!” (Psalm 34:3).  In Psalm 69, “I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving.” (Psalm 69:30)

            There are a lot of other passages I could quote, but I want to mention just two more.  In Luke chapter 1, Mary sings a song of praise to God.  It’s sometimes called The Magnificat, because it begins with her saying, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” (Luke 1:46)

            And then, in Philippians 1:20 (NKJV), Paul says, “according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.”  Paul uses exactly the same word that Mary used when she said “My soul magnifies the Lord.”

            But that’s a curious word because the word “magnify” means to make something bigger, and it’s impossible for us to make God any bigger than he already is.  So, what does it mean for us to magnify God or to magnify Christ?

            Let me answer that question by talking about three different magnification devices that I think all help to illustrate what it means to magnify Christ.

            The first is a telescope.  A telescope magnifies the stars, the moon and other distant objects.  Now, of course, stars are much bigger than a telescope is, but a telescope magnifies them by making things appear closer.  When the stars are magnified, they don’t seem to be billions of light years away.  When the moon is magnified, it doesn’t appear to be hundreds of thousands of miles away.  It looks like it’s so close that you could reach out and touch it.

            And I think that’s part of what Paul means when he said that his desire was to magnify Christ in his body.  He wanted to make Christ appear closer.  Because there are some people out there who think that God is very distant, very far away.  Some of you may remember Bette Midler’s song many years ago, “From a Distance”?  “God is watching us from a distance.”

            And I think there are some people who feel that way because they feel so very small.  I love the story that William Beebe used to tell about Teddy Roosevelt.  After an evening of talking to one another, the two of them would go out on the lawn and search the skies for a certain spot of light near the lower left-hand corner of the Great Square of Pegasus.  Then Roosevelt would say, “That is the Spiral Galaxy in Andromeda.  It is as large as our Milky Way.  It is one of a hundred million galaxies. It consists of one hundred billion suns, each one larger than our sun.”  Then Roosevelt would grin and say, “Now I think we are small enough!  Let’s go to bed.” 

            I think there are times when people look at the stars and feel so small.  Or they look around at 7.8 billion people on the face of this earth and they think, “There’s no way that God’s paying any attention to me.” 

            Maybe it’s because they feel so small, or maybe it’s because their problems feel so big.  They don’t feel like anyone cares.  They don’t feel like God cares.  God seems so far away.

            Our job is to magnify God.  Our job is to make God seem closer to them.  To help them to see that Jesus came to this earth to be with us and to show us how much God cares and how God wants to be close to them.

            When Paul spoke to the people of Athens in Acts 17, people surrounded by hundreds, maybe even thousands of different idols, he said that our God is different.  “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man …. he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 

            “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth…that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us.” (Acts 17:24-27).

            As Christians, we need to magnify God and to help people around us understand that God is “not far from each one of us.”

            The second device that I think helps us to understand what it means to magnify God or to magnify Christ, is the microscope.

            A microscope magnifies things by making things appear larger or bigger.  You can see things through a microscope that you can’t see with your naked eye.  You can look at blood cells and germs.  If you want to see something really cool, take a crisp, new $5 bill and look at the back of it under a microscope.  Just above the pillars on the Lincoln Memorial, you can read the names of some of the states.  You’ll never see that with your naked eye, but a microscope makes things bigger.

            And that’s another part of what it means for us to magnify Christ.  Now, we can’t make Jesus any bigger than he is — after all, he’s God.  But to some people, Jesus is just a small part of their lives.  There are many things that seem so much bigger to them.

            Sports is bigger.

            School is bigger.

            Work is bigger.

            Clubs are bigger.

            Family is bigger.

            Jesus is only a small, small part of people’s thinking.  Our job is to magnify Christ, to make Christ appear bigger to them. 

            Sometimes football coaches will tell their players, “I want you to go to sleep at night thinking football.  I want you to wake up in the morning thinking football.   I want you to eat football, sleep football, walk football, talk football.  I want football to always be on your mind this season.”

            God wants us to do the same thing with Jesus.  He wants us to eat Jesus, sleep Jesus, walk Jesus, talk Jesus.  He wants us to lay down with Jesus and wake up with Jesus.  He wants Jesus to always be on our minds.

            And when we live with that sort of attitude, we help make Jesus bigger in the minds of others.  We help others to see just how important Jesus really is.

            The third device that I think helps us to understand what it means to magnify God or to magnify Christ, are eyeglasses.

            Eyeglasses are needed to help make things clearer.  I can see without these glasses, I just can’t see clearly.  Everything is fuzzy.

            And there are people living all around us who need help clearing things up.  They have questions about God, questions about Jesus, questions about life.

            We magnify Christ by making him clearer to others.  We make him clearer by the things that we say.  But we also make him clearer by how we live from day by day.  When people want to know what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ, they can look at our lives and see.

            And so, we need to live in a way that we leave a clear example of Christ.  We need to magnify Jesus.

            But, exactly how do we go about magnifying Christ?  How do we glorify God?  I read something by John Piper once that make me cringe because it sounded so wrong.  But, then, he explained what he meant by it, and I found that I had to agree.  Piper said that, in order to glorify God, we need to be Christian hedonists.  Now, that didn’t make any sense to me.  Because Christians and hedonists are two very different things.

            A hedonist has the philosophy, “The most important thing in life is for me to be happy.  So, if getting a new car will make me happy, I’m going to get a new car.  If going on a vacation to Hawaii will make me happy, I’m going to take a trip to Hawaii.  If having an affair with my neighbor’s wife will make me happy, then I’ll have an affair with my neighbor’s wife.  If stealing something that belongs to you makes me happy, then I’ll steal it.  Being happy is all that matters.  And I’m going to do whatever it takes to make me happy.  Which doesn’t sound very Christian.

            But Piper says that once we realize that the thing that can truly bring us the most joy in our lives is not some thing, but God himself, then we will be consumed with the idea of getting closer to God because that is the one thing that will bring us the greatest joy.  As someone has said, “The highest pleasure is found not merely in his gifts, but in God himself.”

            And so, we find in the Bible such passages as:

            “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4)

            “Delight yourself in the Lord…” (Psalm 37:4)

            “Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice…” (Psalm 32:11)

            And my favorite – “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.” (Psalm 90:14)

            You see, God doesn’t just want us to love him.  He wants us to rejoice in him.  Be glad in him.  Delight in him.  Enjoy him.  In fact, this pleasure that God wants us to pursue in him is the absolute greatest pleasure there is in life.

            David said in Psalm 16, “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11)

            John Piper often says to people, “If you can provide me with a joy that is fuller than completely full and longer than forever, I will stop being a Christian and follow your way.”  Which is his way of saying, “Not only can you not offer me anything better than Christ provides, you can’t even conceive of anything better.  You can’t get a joy that is fuller than full.  You can’t get a joy that is longer than eternal.  It’s inconceivable.”

            God created us to enjoy the fullest and longest joy. In his presence is fullness of joy, at his right hand are pleasures for evermore. And that’s why Jesus died.  To make that possible for us.  Because mankind used to have that kind of a close relationship with God, but we lost it through sin — by preferring other things to God.

            But when Jesus died on the cross, he gave us the opportunity to be forgiven, but he gave us so much more than that.  Now, that’s often what we concentrate on.  And, in fact, sometimes that’s all we want to talk about.  Have you been forgiven of your sins?  Jesus died so that you could be forgiven.  You need to be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins.

            But I don’t believe that forgiveness is the ultimate goal of the gospel.  Forgiveness is always a means to something greater.  Let me give you an example.  Suppose you sin against your spouse, and you hurt her with your words.  And things between you are not very good at all.  Because of what you have done, you need to find forgiveness.  But forgiveness is not the end goal.  You need forgiveness because you want that relationship with her restored.  You want to be able to  enjoy her presence without that wall that stands between you because of what you said.

            The same thing is true with God.  If we are truly born again, and our sins are forgiven, forgiveness is not the goal.  God is our goal — his smiling presence without that wall that stands between us because of what we did.  The goal of the gospel is not to be forgiven.  The goal of the gospel is to be in the presence of God. 

            And once we understand that, when what we want more than anything else in this world is to find joy by being in the presence of God, that will shape everything we do.  When we find our greatest joy in having God in our lives, then our lives will naturally glorify God, exalt God, magnify God.

            Notice again what Paul said in Philippians 1, “It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.  For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:20-21)

            Paul says that Christ will be honored or exalted in his body, no matter what happens in the future.  And, in verse 21, he tells how that’s possible.  “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”  Or, as the New Living Translation puts it, “For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better.”    

            Paul says, “It really doesn’t matter whether I live or die, because either way I get something good.  If I live, I get to continue to serve Christ with you.  And if I die, I get to be with Christ.  Death is actually better because I get closer to Christ.  Because while I have a great relationship with Christ here in this life, it doesn’t begin to compare with what I will see and  experience when I die. When I die, I will be with Christ in a whole new way, and that will be far, far better.

            Paul says, “All I want is to be close to God.”  That’s what brought him joy.  And so, John Piper said, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” 

            Notice what Paul did when he prayed for the Thessalonians “that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you…” (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12).  In other words, Paul says, “I am praying that exalting Christ will be the goal in everything you do.”  He says I want you to “resolve” to do certain things and then I want you to “work” to do them, “so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified.”

            At the beginning of this lesson, I said that I was going to give you one word for your mid-year resolution.  And that one word is “Christ-exalting”.  

            Whenever we pray, we could say something like, “Lord, please help me to exalt Christ today.” Or,  “Father, help me to show others how great Christ is.”  Or, “Father, help me to glorify your Son today. Give me a heart to magnify him.”  And all of those would be wonderful prayers.  There’s certainly nothing wrong with praying any of those things.

            But, I want you to see this as one word, not two words.  It’s not a verb and a noun, “exalting Christ”.  Rather, it is an adjective, “Christ-exalting”.  And while that may not seem to be an important distinction, I think it is.  Because once you change it from a verb to an adjective, it allows you to modify hundreds of things that you do rather than simply being one of those things. 

            I want you to notice what happens when we take this activity, “Lord, please help me to exalt Christ today,” and turn it into an adjective like “Christ-exalting”?  When you do that, now you have to provide something for the adjective to modify.  Because adjectives dangle without having something to describe.

            Let me explain what I mean by that.  Suppose you make a resolution list looks something like this:  “Lord, please help me be patient and kind and gentle and faithful and honest and pure and self-denying and loving and generous.”

            And then, suppose you add to that list: “And help me to exalt Christ.”  Now, if you did that, that would be good. Very good.  But it makes exalting Christ one more thing in addition to all those other things on the list.

            But something significant happens when, instead of listing “exalt Christ” as a separate item, you use it as an adjective to modify the rest.  Lord help me show Christ-exalting patience, and Christ-exalting kindness, and Christ-exalting gentleness, and Christ-exalting faithfulness, and so on.

            This small grammatical change makes us more aware of the all-important fact that the exalting of Christ should be a part of everything we do — not just as a separate item, but in the midst of all of it.  There is no part of life, no matter how seemingly insignificant in which exalting Christ is not important.  As Paul put it in I Corinthians 10:31, “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

            And when we treat “Christ-exalting” as an adjective, it reminds us that glorifying Christ is not just one action in addition all the other things we do, but it is the constant goal of all our actions and thoughts and feelings.

            And one more thing that it will do, is to help prevent us from praying the way unbelievers pray.  Now, you may think that unbelievers don’t really pray.  But they do. 

            And they ask God for hundreds of things that you and I ask for — daily bread, protection, health, joy, a good marriage, children who make good decisions, a good job, the breaking of bad habits, forgiveness for mistakes made.  Unbelievers want all of these things. And they pray for these things.  You don’t need the transforming work of the Holy Spirit to want any of these things.

            So, what’s the difference between our prayer for these things, and theirs?  One of the key differences is that our deepest desire, the one thing that is more important than anything else, is that Christ be exalted.  You love Christ.  You hold him in the highest regard.  And you realize that Christ is not your butler.  And prayers are not your bell-ringing for him to bring you what you want.  He is what you want.  And you want him exalted, honored, and glorified in everything you do.

            If you listen to people as they pray, you will find out what’s most important to them.  If you will learn to make “Christ-exalting” an adjective that modifies everything you pray for, it will show what’s most important to you.  And it will set your prayers apart from the prayers of unbelievers.

            May the rest of this year be for all of you a time that is filled with Christ-exalting joy, Christ-exalting love, and Christ-exalting service.

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