Friday, September 13, 2013

I will tell you again . . . and again . . . and again

Philippians Chapter 3 - - THE SPIRITUAL MIND  or  THINGS ROB OUR JOY

"Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord.  To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe."

As we move into chapter 3 of Paul's letter, he gives them some basic reminders.  We all need basic reminders from time to time.  The first reminder Paul gives his fellow Christians is to "rejoice in the Lord."  This world we live in is not so very different from the world Paul lived in when we are referring to the basics of life.  People are just people . . . no matter when or where they live.  Strip away the technology of today, set aside the modern conveniences and just compare apples to apples.  People are the same.  We all have the natural tendency to focus on ourselves.  We look at every situation from the perspective of "how does this affect ME?"  We are the center of our own little universe.  Remember Lucifer the Angel of Light?  He was all about his own agenda.  When you sit back and really think about it, the people you know who are the most self-centered or self-focused are NOT the happiest people you know.  They are always offended, always suspicious of the intentions of others, and most often just not happy.

Now think about the people you know who are the happiest or the most content.  They are the people who are dedicated to serving others!  The mom who is working to train her children is much happier than the mom who is always reacting to the bad behavior of her children.  The volunteer who serves others but receives no paycheck is far happier than the person who is paid a very high wage but hates their job.  When our focus is on the Lord Jesus Christ and we are doing things with His kingdom in mind, we will always be much more at peace and have much more genuine joy.

Because Paul's focus was on helping these Christians grow in the Lord, he did not even mind going over the same lessons again and again if that is what they needed.  I remember when my kids were little and I was working and tired and stressed out with their natural behavior.  I would become so frustrated and so impatient when I had to keep telling one of them to do the same thing again and again.  "Sit down in the shopping cart.  I said, 'Sit down.' I'm not telling you again.  Sit down in the shopping cart.  You better listen to me!"  Yes, there was the concern for their safety, but when they didn't listen and obey me I became focused on the reactions of others around me.  Were they judging me?  Did they think I was a bad parent?  Later on when I learned some better behaviors about training my children, I didn't lose my patience with them or my temper nearly so often.  When I changed my focus to training their hearts I didn't mind telling them the same thing over and over until they mastered it.  Paul is doing the same thing here.  He is reminding them of some things he knows they know, but he is patient about it.

Rejoice in the Lord.  Look at things from a new perspective!  That person who cut me off in traffic . . . didn't just inconvenience me because I had to touch the brakes a little.  Perhaps they are having a really rough day and just weren't paying attention.  That person at the store who is pitching a blustery fit . . .  just maybe they are scared and hurting and their behavior is their attempt to control at least one little situation in their day.  When I stop filtering everything through the filter of "how does this affect me" and turn my thoughts around to "what does Christ think of this situation" MY reactions will be utterly and completely the opposite of what they were before!

There was a science focused TV show that our son loved to watch.  One of the hosts of the show often said, "I reject your reality and substitute my own."  Try that today in your own life.  Take a deep breath and stop reacting to how people treat you.  Look at them and their actions through the filter of "Jesus loves that person."  It's pretty hard to be aggravated with someone when you realize their behavior is caused by self focused sin.  It is far easier to be patient with someone when you remind yourself that Christ died on the cross for that crouchy bugger.  Did you get a flat tire?  Rejoice! Perhaps God wants you to cross paths with a certain person at the garage.  Did someone give you a dirty look?  Rejoice!  You have an opportunity to witness to them through your reactions!  Is your spouse or your child jumping on your very last nerve?  Rejoice!  God is trusting you to respond in a manner that points them back to God.

Paul didn't mind going back to the simple lessons and teaching them again, because his focus wasn't "Why can't they just learn what I've taught them a thousand times?"  But his focus was "They are trying and I have another opportunity to guide them."

When I  am looking at everything through a spiritual filter instead of a selfish filter, I can rejoice in anything.  "Great peace have they that love Thy law, and nothing shall offend them"  Psalm 119:165

Friday, September 6, 2013

Jesus -- Others -- and You


Phil 2:19  "But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timotheus shortly unto you, that I also may be of good comfort when I know your state."

We all know what a fast-paced world we live in.  We have drive-thru everything including wedding chapels and funeral homes.  Instant coffee, instant gravy, instant mashed potatoes. I can even send you a text message faster than I can call you!  But during Paul's lifetime, it might have taken weeks or months for a letter to arrive.  He had no instant messaging to keep track of his friends in Philippi.  Just like us, he wondered and worried about those who were dear to his heart.  Remember, Paul knew exactly how rough the Roman government could be on Christians.  He wanted an account of how they were doing from someone who understood the perspective that mattered most to him.  Timotheus, or Timothy, was the only person who could do this for him.  Verse 20 mentions that there is no other person who will "naturally care for your state."  Timothy obviously had a love for the Philippian people just like Paul.

Verse 21 "For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's."  People in leadership can be insincere and go through the motions of taking care of someone without really caring for that person.  It is sad when you can feel that fakeness or emptiness of someone's actions.  Paul could see that some who said they were serving Christ were just going through the motions with the intention of earning brownie points, so to speak.  Or sometimes people in charge just don't take the time to really get to know the person they are serving. Paul knew that others could go check on this precious church and they might ask "how are you doing?" and they might say "do you need anything" and those people would probably do a very good job of giving a report.  But he wanted Timothy to go because he knew Timothy's heart and he knew Timothy would really look into people's eyes and take time to listen to them and Timothy would be able to come back and tell Paul how each individual was growing or struggling or praising God or pleading in prayer.

Verse 22 "But ye know the proof of him, that, as a son with the father, he hath served with me in the gospel."  Timothy had grown up with a sound Christian influence from his mother Lois and his grandmother Eunice.  He had sat under Paul's teaching and served with Paul.  The apostle Paul was not someone who strolled into a town, smiling and shaking hands just to deliver an eloquent speech and be on his way to the next place.  He came to a town and stayed for a long time.  He was in the trenches with people, getting to know them, praying with them, sitting with them in hard times, rejoicing with them and crying with them.  This is the setting of Timothy's training.  He was a spiritual son to Paul.  It is a sweet picture to stop and think of the apostle Paul taking time with Timothy when they were alone to explain how to teach and how to minister to specific people.  The "great and mighty" Paul was also a tender man who was sincerely concerned about people's hearts.

People who are not really genuine in their service to others can rob our joy.  No one likes to be asked "how are you doing?" only to start answering and then realize that the one who asked is distracted and not really listening.  That is such a hollow and disappointing feeling.  We must remember not to be the person who robs someone else's joy because we aren't really paying attention.

Verse 23 "Him therefore I hope to send presently, so soon as I shall see how it will go with me."  Paul intended to send Timothy to the church soon.  But he wanted Timothy with him when he found out how his trial would end.  Maybe that was for his own comfort or maybe it was for Timothy's sake.  But Paul definitely had plans that Timothy would be with this church soon.  And in verse 24 he says "But I trust in the Lord that I also myself shall come shortly."  He cared about these dear folks and wanted to be with them himself.  He also had confidence enough in the Lord to make plans beyond his current circumstances if the Lord willed!

Verses 25-26 introduce us to Epaphroditus.  He was a brother in Christ who had accompanied Paul and laboured with him.  Notice that when Paul talks about Epaphroditus he describes him as a fellow soldier.  They were not just visiting people to shake hands and smile.  The picture of a soldier for me is quite clear.  Epaphroditus had given up everything back home in Philippi and was sacrificially working for the gospel.  He wasn't just along with Paul to see the show, he was right in there working and serving and ministering to Paul's wants.

Verses 26-27 "For he longed after you all, and was full of heaviness, because that ye had heard that he had been sick.  for indeed he was sick nigh unto death: but God had mercy on him; and not on him only, but on me also, lest I should have sorrow up upon sorrow."  Epaphroditus had quite literally worked himself almost to death.  He had put the needs of Paul and others ahead of his own basic needs even.  And he felt bad that the church back home had heard about his illness and been worried about him.  He didn't want the attention on him especially for being sick.  And Paul emphasizes that Epaphroditus really really was sick and nearly died.  Paul felt that God had mercy and spared Epaphroditus and that he, Paul, had benefited from this also.  Paul surely loved and mentored Epaphroditus as they worked so hard together.  Those who served so faithfully with Paul were his family.  It would have been such sorrow for Paul if Epaphroditus had died that Paul wasn't sure he could deal with his imprisonment and that sorrow as well from a human standpoint.  As a church we are a family also and should be able to picture this emotion from the apostle.

Verses 28-30 "I sent him therefore the more carefully, that, when ye see him again, ye may rejoice, and that I may be the less sorrowful.  Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness; and hold such in reputation:  Because for the work of Christ he was nigh unto death, not regarding his life, to supply your lack of service toward me."  Paul sent Epaphroditus home with this letter.  He told the people in Philippi to remember how sick Epaphroditus was and how he had nearly worked himself to death.  For the work of the gospel he had set aside caring about himself.  He had sacrificially served Paul on behalf of the church at Philippi.  The whole church couldn't go with Paul.  There were others in their town who needed to see the church thriving and others needed to be there to do the work of the gospel in a church already established.  The day to day living of our lives is vital to the spread of the gospel too!  The mom who is raising little ones, the young people who are being rooted and grounded in the gospel, the older ones who are faithful examples to their families and anyone watching are ALL vital to the work of the ministry.  Every one of us has a place to fill in our church and its ministry of the gospel.  If one part of your body is getting sickly it affects the whole.  If a part is amputated there is a long recovery and adjustment period.  We must all be certain that we know our part and fulfill our part faithfully or we are certainly affecting the health of the whole body.  People can rob our joy with their actions, intentions, and words.  We must be certain that we are not the people robbing someone else's joy.

Song:  "Jesus and Others and You"