Friday, August 30, 2013

It's not just the attitude, it's the actions . . .


Philippians 2:12-13

"Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.  For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure."
Why, yes, I did just change the order of the words in the title.  Just as we can go through the motions of serving God and loving others without really feeling submissive to His will in our hearts, we can have all the right attitudes but never follow through with the right actions.  

The word that we are using to describe our mind for this chapter is the word submissive.  It's one of the most misused and misunderstood words in Christian circles today.  Especially when it is applied to wives.  I personally lost all fear and resentment toward this word years ago!  Submission can be defined as "surrendering to the authority of another."  It helps me to think of the chain of command in the military.  The lowly Private must surrender to the authority of the Sergeant.  It doesn't mean that he cannot have a personality or thoughts of his own.  It means that when the Sergeant comes around and gives orders, the Private is to put aside his personal agenda and obey the one in authority.  Remember Gomer Pyle?  That poor guy had the hardest time learning to submit to the authority of Sergeant Carter.  Now, the Sarge was a bit blustery and pushy for the sake of TV.  But he also had a commanding officer and when HE showed up the Sarge had to surrender his ideas and plans to the authority that was over him.

I have thoughts and plans and dreams and ideas and schemes and agendas.  But I also have learned to submit to the authority of my husband in our home.  When Pastor Mark decides that something needs to be a certain way, he is acting within his authority.  When he is submitting to the authority of His Heavenly Father, he is following the the command of His General.  It is actually quite freeing to think that someone else is responsible.  God designed it this way!  Now, each person must be squarely living in the right role for it all to work the way God designed, too.   When my heart is right with God and I surrender to the authority of my husband, and when he is right with God and surrendering to the authority of His Heavenly Father, it just makes things go so much smoother.  When Private First Class Gomer Pyle thought he had a better plan and sidestepped his orders there was always a mess.  When Sergeant Carter understood his orders and clearly communicated the orders to the Private and the Private surrendered to the authority, things went so much better.  And Gomer Pyle would be shocked and amazed at the end result!

The same is true in our lives.  Paul says that his beloved brethren have always obeyed.  He even gets quite specific and says "not in my presence only, but now much more in my absence."  When we raise our children and teach them how to behave themselves, we are giving them a set of rules or guidelines to govern their actions.  Pretty soon they can get it right and obey us when we are around.  It is harder for them to make the right choices when they are out of earshot or out of the line of vision.  More maturity and a deeper understanding of their parents' instructions eventually leads to them being able to obey the rules of their home even if mommy and daddy aren't standing right there watching them.  

The end of verse 12 uses the phrase "work out your own salvation."  It means to prove, to continue to prove or to develop.  When we are born again, we are like babies.  We have to learn to surrender and submit to the instructions of our Father just like an earthly child  has to learn to obey their parents.  The old saying is "the proof is in the pudding."  I can tell you that I am a Christian, but is there any proof in my life?  I can tell you I love Pastor Mark, but do my actions reflect that?  I can say I want to spread the gospel but what am I showing in my life that makes it such "good news"?  It is not enough to have the right heart attitude about things.  We must have actions to back up our words.  If my heart is not submissive to my husband, my actions when he is standing beside me and when he is absent will not be the same.  These Christians in Philippi were known for having the actions and lifestyle that backed up what they said they stood for when Paul was with them and when he was locked away in a dungeon and couldn't be there to watch over them.  They had the maturity to surrender to the ultimate plan.

BECAUSE . . . it is actually God's plan to begin with.  It is GOD Who works in us to have the right attitude and the right actions.  Both are necessary to fulfill His good pleasure.  I can talk about love love love all day long, but if my actions don't carry the same message, you won't be listening to me for very long.  Christ could wash the disciples feet and even surrender to death on the cross, but His heart had to be submitted to the Father and the Father's will before it had any meaning.

"Be careful how you behave . . . your life may be the only Bible some people read."  We must be submissive to God and those He puts in the line of authority in our lives.  We must obey at all times.   God wants more than just my good deeds.  He wants my heart attitude. God wants more than just my heart.  He wants my day to day actions.  If my mind is not submissive to the Father, I can be the very person who robs my own joy.

Song:  Oh, Be Careful Little Hands What You Do" 

Friday, August 16, 2013

It's not just the actions, it's the attitude


vs 1 - 2

"If there be therefor any consolation in Christ . . .
      if any fellowship of the Spirit . . .
            if any bowels and mercies . . .

{then} Fulfill ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.

The Bible is full of if/then statements.  God lets us know exactly what the conditions of certain situations will be.  IF you want this . . . THEN you must do that.  IF you do this . . . THEN you can count on this outcome.

Paul has been instructing us to keep our eyes off of the circumstances around us because that can rob our joy.  Now he moves on to say "if there is any support found in Christ . . . "  IF I take my eyes off of my circumstances and keep them on Christ, THEN I have Him supporting me and I will be strengthened.  IF my circumstances are hard but I keep my eyes on Christ, THEN I will have the comfort of His love.  IF there is any fellowship or communication between my heart and the Holy Spirit Who is God living in me, THEN I am never standing alone.  IF there is any affection and sympathy available to soothe me, THEN I will not be cast down.

There is so much healing and comfort available to us through the Holy Spirit.  He is God and He lives in me.  The description of God the Father is often that He is a holy judge that guides us to do right and punishes when we do wrong.  The description of Christ is often that He was the embodiment of God Who gave us something tangible to see and touch and help us see God's personal love to us.  The Holy Spirit is the part of God that lives deep in our hearts and comforts those deep hurts and loneliness that no one else can soothe.  If we need to feel support and affection and healing, we must turn to Him Who is so close to us that He is within us.

Then Paul says that IF we seek all these positive things to buoy us up THEN we will complete his joy.  Sitting in prison, waiting for a probable death sentence, Paul says that the one thing that could "top off" his joy is for this church to depend on Christ for their support and affection.  He further explains that to have this kind of joy we must all have the same love, have the same ambition, and be working for the same goal.  The gospel cannot be effectively shared by Christians who are fighting amongst themselves or striving for personal attention or reward.

Verses 3 and 4 develop this a little further.  "Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory . . . "  If we are competing for the approval of man in our service or constantly trying to outdo someone else, we are not going to have the joy of those who have their eyes on Christ.  "Let each esteem others better than themselves."  There were obviously some very petty quarrels going on in this church.  When we focus on ourselves and what we think should be happening, we obviously shift our focus away from the gospel.  Humans cannot truly focus on more than one thing at a time.  Things can be going on all around us that we are aware of, but we can only focus on one thing.  If I were to focus on who got the most or the biggest hugs from others as we come together, I am NOT focused on the gospel or on ministering to my fellow Christians.  But if I set aside my petty personal "feelings" I will be far more concerned about those around me and I will be able to minister to them more effectively and much more genuinely.

So far this has been an conversational letter from Paul to his dear friends.  He is speaking from his heart and having a talk with them.  Verses 5-11 have a very different style.  Paul here encapsulates the humanity/deity of Christ.  Think about Christ the Son of God standing at the throne of Heaven.  He is holy and regal.  The angels adore and worship Him.  They are not horsing around when they are in His presence, so to speak.  They are reverent and willing to do anything He might ask of them.  He is "high and lifted up."

But then think of him as a human who had dusty smelly feet and needed a bath.  Think of him needing to blow His nose because of the dusty roads.  Think of Him getting down on His hands and knees with a bowl of water and some rags to wash the dirty smelly feet of His disciples . . . all of whom had their own faults and failures.  The job of washing the feet of guests was the job of the lowest servant in the household.  Not the fine butler who stood nearby and waited on the table making mealtime effortless.  Not the housemaid who polished the fine vessels of the home which brought compliments from guests.  Not the cook who could impress everyone with their hard work and produce succulent dishes that sustained weary bodies or exotic dainties that impressed the eyes and the palette.  No, the job of washing the dusty stinky feet of everyone else in the house and any guest who came to the home was reserved for the lowest of the servants.  As people entered the home they would be talking and visiting.  They would take off their sandals at the door.  They would sit down and this servant was expected to come in and wash their feet without calling attention to themselves, without joining in on any conversation going on, without making faces or turning up their nose.  They were to do their job in such a way that they were not even noticed and it was just taken for granted that the job was done.

Jesus Christ, the holy Prince of Heaven, not only came to earth and was limited by a body of flesh and blood, but He also went to the farthest extreme of humbleness and service that there was in His day.  He had these disciples with Him for His entire ministry.  He knew them inside and out as a human and as God.  He had heard their grumbling out loud and in their hearts.  He had settled arguments among them about who would be sitting on His right hand in Heaven.  He knew that one of them would betray Him and the others would desert Him during the hours His earthly heart would need them most.  And yet He washed their stinky smelly feet.  What love.  What peace.  Even Christ Himself did not let the petty actions of those around Him shift His focus away from God's plan.  How do you think those guys felt as they sat and realized that Christ was going to make His way around the whole room and wash each of their feet instead of having the servant do it.  We can read the phrase "Jesus washed their feet" in about one second. But slow down and let your imagination really see how long this would take.  It took time and love and humility.

What is God speaking to your heart about right now?  Is there someone you are jealous of?  Is there someone you are silently competing with?  Are you comparing and trying to measure things that are of no real importance?  You will not have joy if you are focused on the people around you.  We must have a submissive heart that will do whatever God tells us to do, even if no one ever notices or cares.  There is joy in serving Jesus!

SONG:  There is Joy In Serving Jesus

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Distractor is not my Destroyer


Verses 19 - 30

Paul is in prison in Rome for preaching the gospel.  The two possible outcomes of his trial are his execution or his release.  We have seen that he is not focused on the immediate circumstances of his physical situation, nor is he fretting over those who have wrong motives.

When he was persecuting the church, Saul had one mission in his life.  His reputation was known far and wide and every Christian feared him.  When he converted, he wanted to make such a statement about his changed life that he even changed his name.  The contrast between his old life and his new life is about as drastic as I can imagine.  He must have been one of those very intense personalities and the people around him were either for him or against him.

There were plenty of people from his old life who were now against him.  So much so that some were willing to "preach" the gospel just to keep things stirred up and with the hopes of making it harder on him.  The government had arrested him for the impact he was having and they would surely be trying to squelch anyone else who was preaching the same gospel.  But Paul did not try to dissect their motives or concentrate on the great betrayal this was to his life purpose.  He focused on the gospel instead of the circumstances and found that "peace that passes all understanding."

Now Paul makes a shift in his writing to show us what is on his mind as he faces these two possible outcomes of his trial.  "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain."  These words are not written out of despair but out of JOY!  If he is released from prison he will be able to go on and give glory to his Savior.  If he is killed  he will be able to join his Savior.  Either way he will be happy.

Paul, being human, did not know which of the two he would choose.  When he says in verse 22 "I wot not" it means "I do not know" what I would choose.  His life had that singular focus of Christ and he did not have a preference of how that purpose should be fulfilled.  He had not planned out his whole life and made dreams.  He lived each day as it came to him and was NOT trying to accomplish a certain "script" that he had manufactured in his own mind.

I imagine Paul's dilemma felt alot to him like we feel when we think of being with our Savior in Heaven or being with our families and loved ones here.  Especially as a mother I have a hard time envisioning how life could possibly go on if I were not here!  But I know that God would take care of my family and because He is the focus of their lives also, He would be glorified.  I sometimes create the reality in my heart that my kids just couldn't go on without me or that my husband would just flounder without me by his side.  But with Christ as their focus, they would not be destroyed by the circumstance of losing my influence in their lives.

Verses 25 and 26 say "...I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy and faith; That your rejoicing may be be MORE ABUNDANT in Jesus Christ for my by my coming to your again."  Paul sums up this little discussion by saying that he is confident that he will not be executed by will remain on earth in order to encourage and strengthen his fellow believers.

In verse 27 the word "conversation" is not limited to talking.  It actually refers to a person's very lifestyle and behavior.  You know the old saying "Your talk talks and your walk talks, but your walk talks louder than your talk talks"?  Paul was encouraging these believers to put actions to their words.  "...that ye stand fast in ONE spirit, with ONE mind striving together for the furtherance of the gospel."  He is telling them and us to stick to the one purpose that we all have in common - - the gospel.  He is instructing them to keep the main thing the main thing.

Verse 28 is full of Heavenly perspective.  "And in nothing terrified by your adversaries..."  Paul was the expert on what the Roman government could and would do to Christians.  And he does not qualify this statement but leaves it open to apply to every single person.  He does not say "don't be terrified if you are having your business destroyed in the name of Christ" or "don't be terrified if you are being arrested and sent to prison."  In fact he implies that everyone will have some kind of  adversity from their enemies.  And, of all things, he tells these Christians not to let it bother them.  The enemy sends difficulties to discourage us and get our attention on the wrong thing....our circumstances.  Tough circumstances are actually allowed to be sent to us so that we have an opportunity to glorify God!  Adversity looks like a negative to the world, but to the Christian it is a positive!

"Heavenly logic" (so to speak) says that if Christ suffered such betrayal and physical destruction for us, it should be obvious that we as His followers will also suffer.  If I like or dislike a certain person, it follows that I will either like or dislike their close friends just by association.  Christ is more than just a friend to me; He is my Savior and I have made it clear that I am associated with Him.  Those who are against Him will automatically be against me.  The enemy is actively fighting against Christ, so he will actively be attacking me.  But these attacks are just part of the circumstances of my life and if I focus on them I will be robbed of the joy my Savior bestows.  And "greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world."  The giver of my joy is greater than the distractor of my joy!

"The enemy is fighting, fighting, fighting . . . but the Savior is faithful, faithful, faithful!"

Song:  "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus"

Friday, August 2, 2013

The circumstances are NOT the main thing

Philippians 1:12-20


This section of chapter one begins with what I consider to be the key verse to this chapter.  "But I would ye should understand brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel." 

Paul was addressing his personal circumstances, terrible as they were.  Remember that he was the great and dreaded Saul before his conversion. Any agent of the Roman government knew exactly who Saul was and knew exactly how much he had done to persecute these Christians.  I have always had the sense that he was like a living legend worse than any pirate or henchman.  He had had the single focus of obliterating these Christians.  When he met Christ and converted, he had so much to live down from the human standpoint.  For this same man to now be in prison for preaching the very gospel he had worked so hard to destroy was BIG news in that day!

Verse 13 tells us that everyone in the palace was talking about Paul being in the prison and what he had done to get there.  And it isn't too much of a stretch to say that everyone everywhere was talking about this and trying to understand it.  The arrest, the beating, the imprisonment with its deplorable conditions, were all things that Paul could have been despairing about.  But he had the single focus of deflecting the attention from himself to Christ.  He said every single part of this was worth it because if people were talking about it, they were actually talking about the gospel.

He goes on in this passage to describe how some people began preaching with more boldness.  But then he also describes that some people began preaching with envy and strife.  Some of them actually preached hoping to make it worse on Paul.  I have often struggled to understand this part of the chapter. I couldn't imagine someone preaching the gospel out of strife.  But I think I can picture it this way . . .

My husband preaches the Word of God and does not back down from giving a clear presentation of salvation or from addressing sin.  There are some TV preachers who talk about being a follower of Christ but who never talk about repentance.  It is easy to see that people would come to know the Savior in the setting of hearing the straight talk of the Bible.  But there really are people who have gotten saved while listening to a TV preacher.  Most of these "tel-evangelists" have the reputation (deserved or not) that they are in it for the money and the prestige.  They are criticized for having a soft and flowery view of the Christian life.  But at least some of them are presenting enough of the Word of God that the Holy Spirit of God can speak to hearts and people can come to a conversion.

Isaiah 55:10-11  "For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from Heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater:  So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth:  it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing wherto I sent it."

How do we apply this lesson to our lives today and to the idea of having a single mind?  James 3:16 says that "...where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work."  The single mind of God is the gospel.  It has nothing to do with the instruments chosen to deliver it.

Our church has recently had two different men come and sing for us.  One has a very polished style and sings with gusto!  The other is a cowboy singer with a simpler style and a more mellow delivery.  Both of these men sing to the glory of God.  As the audience we can compare these two styles and prefer one over the other even to the point of criticism.  And then we will become aggressive or judgmental in our conversations.  Perhaps it will even get to the point of being defensive of our favorite style.  But the heart that has the single focus of spreading the gospel will be able to "keep the main thing the main thing."  We absolutely should decide if the message is clear in each case, but aside from that we must not be distracted by the differences of the the presentation.

One piano player is not not better than another piano player in God's eyes if they are both playing for His glory.  One teacher is not guiding his students better than another because of the tie he wears or the color of his Bible.  One singer is not more spiritual because of he has training and another singer is not less spiritual because he does not have training.  We must keep our hearts from competing and we must not be caught up with the details of the "package."  Our focus should be the gospel of Christ and then all these other circumstantial things will not draw us into contention.  "Keep the main thing the main thing" and you will see the beauty of the Lord in all things!

SONG: "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus"