Friday, November 22, 2013

What are you looking at!


Philippians 3:13-15  "Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended; but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind,m and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.  Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this to you."

Paul did not consider himself to have arrived at spiritual perfection.  He had his battles with the flesh and his memories of his past to remind him that he was not yet glorified.  BUT . . . he did not let these things control his intentions.  He had to make the choice to turn off the past and center himself in the mission he knew God had given him for the present keeping the future reward ever in his view.  When he said "I press toward the mark . . ." he obviously was not just sitting around waiting for Heaven to come.  He was diligently working, doing what the Lord had instructed him to do.

Paul had to make the effort to shift his focus away from the past and concentrate his energy in a new and opposite direction.  We all have things in our past that can feel like sinking sand or entangling vines holding us back and keeping us stuck.  Regrets.  Guilt.  Hurt.  Fear.  If I start thinking about the failures in my past, I can become quite discouraged quite quickly.  Looking back with this mindset is like falling down the Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole.  It takes me to a whole different world where nothing is as it seems and I can get lost wandering around in circles feeling so confused.  I have to make a serious effort to stop that kind of thinking as soon as I recognize it is happening!  Sometimes it takes great effort over and over to really get my mind back on track with the things it should be thinking about.

I have a goal just like Paul.  I intentionally want to live working to be worthy of the high calling of God.  We all have this calling.  I was a child of Satan and now I have been redeemed by the King of Kings and am His princess daughter!  I do not want to live with any of the old characteristics.  I do not want to be entangled and held back by the past.

Paul then states that all of us that are perfect should have this lifestyle.  Unsaved people are not going to be interested in pleasing King Jesus.  Brand new Christians may not have a complete understanding of God's freeing power.  Young people are not always able to look down the road very far or understand what they can accomplish for God.  But those of us that are "perfect" or mature need to be "thus minded."  We need to all have this goal in common, the goal of leaving the past behind us and pressing forward.

The Christian life is not a passive existence.  We are not supposed to just float along on the river of life and see what happens and react to each new circumstance as it comes along.  We are to be very PROactive!  It takes work to shift our focus away from the past.  It involves effort to "press" toward the prize.  It takes intention to realize where we are supposed to be headed and actually head there.  The Christian life is a life of action!

Take, for example, spreading the gospel.  Little children don't quite have the language skills to engage an adult in a conversation to share the gospel with them.  But even a little six year-old boy can hand out tracts to people he sees in the grocery store.  The child may not be mature in his mental growth or physical growth, but he is mature enough in his spiritual mind to take action at a level appropriate for his physical age.  A person without work or transportation may not get out of the house much, but they can pray for the visitation and 365 Club programs.  An invalid may not encounter anyone but the people who care for them, but they can be an encouragement with their words and show the joy of the Lord despite illness.   Every. Single. One. of us can have a vital part in the ministry of spreading the gospel.

Keep your mind on the spiritual perspective of every little thing that comes to you today.  When you encounter the grumpy sales clerk, choose words that let her know YOU have joy in your heart no matter what is happening.  When you get stuck in traffic, take the time to say a prayer for those in the church that you know are hurting.

And if you don't have your mind working this way, ask God to change you and show you what you can do.  That's what verse 15 is saying.  Ask God to help you shift your mind to the spiritual focus and the "things of this earth will grow strangely dim."  If you are looking at Christ and are focused on Him you will no longer see the things around you that discourage and hold you back! You will have the joy of the Lord as your strength!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Forget about it . . .


Philippians 3:12-14

"Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.  Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."

Paul makes it very clear in verse 12 that he does not consider himself to have "arrived."  He had not conquered all of his weaknesses or shortcomings.  He still had struggles and came up short of what he wanted to do for Christ.  The "great and mighty" Paul knew in his heart that he was nothing special in his own right.

The word perfect means mature.  We look at a piece of fruit and call it "perfect" to eat.  Of course it still has flaws but we mean that it is ripe and ready to be eaten.  We can be perfect in Christ even with our faults and failures.  Paul was converted as an adult who had studied the Law and was very well educated.  He had the book knowledge already down pat.  Once he understood his need of salvation and accepted Christ as his personal Savior, he had a huge head start.  God took him aside and worked in his heart based on the knowledge he already had in his head.  I was saved at age four.  I had to grow mentally and emotionally before I could appreciate some of the truths of Scripture.  I had to learn to read!  Paul already had passages memorized.

But Paul had his focus on a goal.  He "followed after" meaning he pursued something.  He was working on his spiritual development.  He was trying to become just as much like Christ as he possibly could so that he could be as much like Christ as possible.  It's a bit of circular reasoning trying to be more like Christ because Christ is wanting to change you.  There is a goal, but we will never reach it.

The Apostle Paul had so much going his way, but he also had a memory.  He had witnessed and participated in some very awful things in his persecution of the church.  The memories of what we have done before salvation are not wiped away.  Emotions and intentions are not easily forgotten.  Our memory can see or smell or hear something completely innocent but make a connection to something from our past and pull up all kinds of memories that we thought we gone forever.  Paul, like us, had no control over what his memory did to him.  I imagine that he relived certain scenes in his mind over and over again.  Smell is the strongest memory trigger of our senses.  You cannot control what you smell and you cannot control what memories those smells pull out of the dark corners of your mind.

Paul could be paralyzed by guilt.  The people who recognized him and became afraid of him probably had heard some things about him.  He remembered so many more things that he had done.  The Christians had probably heard embellished accounts of his reputation.  Paul knew every detail of what he had done and said and thought.  These memories could shackle him and hold him back in so many different ways.  But he had to put them aside.  It is not easy to brush away the memory of something we regret.  It takes great discipline and a deep rooted conviction that things are not as they used to be.

God had taken Paul out to the wilderness after his conversion.  I imagine that it took a while for Paul's human heart to accept the whole realm of forgiveness that Christ offered him.  It probably took some very intense conversations with God when Paul would start to be overtaken by remorse.  The things that I regret in the deep corners of my heart have a much greater impact on my actions than the things that others know about and keep bringing up to me.  God had to equip Paul with the tools and the skills to forgive the past in himself so that he could have a testimony going forward.

Paul's past had been shaped around the Law.  He had to shift his thinking away from that and focus on his relationship with Christ.  He had to forget the things he had done.  He had to forget the things he had been committed to.  He had to give up his loyalties.  He had to allow Christ to forgive him and he had to forgive himself.  He had to shift his focus to the spiritual things of God in order to lose the influence of his past.  Having a spiritual mind allowed him to have power over the things (memories, emotions, etc.) of the past that could hold him back from full service.

He did not look back.  We can't get to the end of the book if we keep re-reading the chapters we've already been through.  No doubt people flaunted his reputation at him to weaken him.  No doubt he had flaws that others took great pleasure in pointing out to him.  But he kept pressing toward his goal.  His motivation was to be worthy of what Christ had done for him.  Would he ever be worthy?  No, of course not.  But the pursuit of it was the exercise of faith that conquered his past.

There is a high calling for each of us in God through Christ Jesus.  We must daily evaluate if we are pressing forward or slipping backward.  It is a high goal to be "like Christ" but the important part is the true pursuit.  Don't let your memory of what is past dictate how much you will be like Christ today!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Whatever It Takes


Philippians 3:8-11   "Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord:  for whom I have suffered the loss of  all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness, which is through the faith of Christ the righteousness which is of God by faith:  That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death;  If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead."

Sometimes it is hard to relate to the people of the Bible because we don't know much about their day to day lives.  We spent some time in the last lesson pondering some of the things that Paul may have lost for the sake of Christ.  We don't know what kind of house or bank account he had . . . but it is safe to presume he lost whatever he had.  We don't know many details about his parents or if he had a wife . . . but we talked about some relationships he might have lost.  We can relate to these issues in our lives.  The bottom line is that Paul really did lose everything.  But . . . Christ did not leave him empty!

In verse 8 Paul says "Yea doubtless" which could be restated in our language as "Yes, but don't get the wrong idea!"  He did not pine for those things he had lost.  He had given them up willingly.  He knew there was something far more precious to be won.

John 17:3 "And this is life eternal, that they  might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou has sent."  As Christ was facing the cross He talked with His Father and acknowledged that the cross was necessary for us to know the only true God.  And He was willing to submit to that horrible death because He knew the real purpose of it was to show the world the only true God.  Paul did not value the things he had lost when he compared them to the "excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus (his) Lord."  As worthless as he knew his possessions and relationships were (and remember he called them dung), he valued the knowledge of Christ as excellent.  We have all had losses or trials in our lives that seemed meaningless.  But we have also had losses and trials that had some sort of outcome that we felt made the situation "worth it."

Paul describes the lifestyle he had led before as the righteousness which is of the law and called it "his."  It was dependent on what he did or did not do.  He determined how righteous his life was.  Now he wanted the righteousness that came from faith in Christ.  No more religion but the ultimate relationship.

"That I may know Him and the POWER of His resurrection . . ."  Jesus Christ is part of the Trinity.  He did not have to rely on God the Father to raise Him from the dead.  He actually had that power within Himself.  His God-ness had unlimited power when His man-ness was dead.  Talk about some super power!

And Paul wanted to know the "fellowship" of His sufferings.  Fellowship is having things in common.  What Christ suffered physically is beyond our comprehension.  The movie "The Passion" was one man's attempt to portray some of what that crucifixion was like.  While I know that Hollywood could never capture the full scope of Christ's physical suffering, that movie gave me a mental picture that was much clearer than my imagination would allow me to create on my own.  I've heard pastors and evangelists try to describe the sheer agony of that day.  I have a very vivid imagination.  But I had nothing in my life to compare it to, so my mental picture was always very bland.  Paul knew what crucifixion was.  He had undoubtedly witnessed a few of them.  And he wanted to have the relationship with Christ that comes from having that suffering in common.  He wanted to be "conformable unto His death."  Whether Paul was saying he was willing to suffer everything that Christ did or if he was saying he wanted to have a heart that was willing to love and care for sinners enough to die for them, he wanted to be conformed to Christ's death.  Conformed has the idea of changing something from what it is into a copy of something else.

"If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead."  Whatever it takes.  Whatever it takes to be able to pass through death into new life.  Whatever it takes.

The challenge from these verses can be found in the song "Whatever It Takes" by Lanny Wolfe. 

Whatever It Takes 

There's a voice calling me, from an old rugged tree 
And He whispers draw closer to me 
Leave this world far behind, 
There are new heights to climb 
And a new place in Me you will find 

And whatever it takes, to draw closer to You Lord 
That's what I'd be wiling to do 
And whatever it takes, to be more like you 
That's what I'd be willing to do 

Take my houses and lands, 
Take my dreams and my plans. 
I place my who life in Your hands. 
And if you call me someday, 
To a land far away, 
Lord, I'll go and Your will obey. 

And whatever it takes to draw closer to You, Lord, 
That's what I'll be willing to do. 
And whatever it takes for my will to break, 
That's what I'll be willing to do.

Take the dearest things to me, if that's how it must be 
To draw closer to Thee 
Let the disappointments come, lonely days without the sun 
If through sorrow more like You I'll become.

I'll trade sunshine for rain, comfort for pain,
That's what I'd be willing to do
For whatever it takes to be more like you,
That's what I'd be willing to do.

 Is there ANYTHING that you will not give up to be more like Christ?