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?

Friday, October 18, 2013

What have you got to lose?


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."

The Old English of the KJV sounds very formal to us.  Paul is beginning these verses (which are actually one long sentence) by making a contrast to the verses above.  We have looked at the descriptions of the human things that Paul had accomplished and could brag about.  In our casual English these verses set a tone of  "Oh, yeah?  Well if you think you're somebody special, let me just tell you who I AM!"  The contrast words that begin today's section could be interpreted "Yeah, well, whatever."  All of those great accomplishments really meant nothing to Paul.

Paul had listed all of the things he could glory in as a way of getting their attention.  It was sort of like him listing off a resume that validated his right to speak on this subject.  Here he gently turns their attention away from the razzle dazzle of his accomplishments and says "I count all of that as dung."

So, what is dung?  In the walls surrounding Jerusalem, there are gates that all have names based on what they were used for.  The Sheep Gate was near the section of town where the shepherds brought sheep into the city for sale or sacrifice.  The Eastern Gate faced the east and the rising sun.  It was all part of a system of organization.  The Dung Gate had its purpose too.  Outside of this gate was the landfill.  Imagine a city with no trash pickup, no garbage disposals in the sink, and no sewer.  If we had to collect all of our household's trash, garbage, and sewage for just one day think how that would stink!  There were no Pampers or Kotex products.  There was no refrigeration to keep food from spoiling if it was kept overnight and no garbage disposal to get rid of it before bedtime.  Most of the people who do not like camping would be shocked and overwhelmed if they were transported back to this time!

Not a single one of us would keep a dirty baby diaper around any longer than we had to.  There is no good use for it.  There is no value to it.  There is nothing enjoyable about it.  Especially a cloth diaper that the poo has been mashed into the fabric.  We're so proper in this day and age that even a  conversation about such things makes us squeamish and uncomfortable.  That is how Paul felt about his "great" accomplishments before his salvation.  Talking about them made him squeamish and uncomfortable.  He had no use for them and saw no value in them.

Paul counted all of his accomplishments as useless and vile compared to his new goal of knowing Christ.  He did not have the idea of just getting familiar with Christ in a casual friendship way.  He meant that he wanted to understand Christ and be a part of His glory.

Many people have speculated about Paul's marital situation.  Just as it is today, society expects people to be married and consider it a part of their success.  I do not claim to know the facts for sure, but if we consider for a moment that his Jewish heritage would value marriage and his Roman heritage would expect marriage, it seems logical that he was indeed married.  His wife would have been very respected in the social circles.  When we know of a man who has power and fame, we automatically wonder about his wife and she has "movie star" status.  But Paul never talks about a wife.  One thought on this topic is that Paul was indeed married, but when he became a Christian and embraced this new system of faith in Christ, that his wife left him.  Imagine her shame.  Imagine her anger.  She would have lost all of her social status as soon as word spread that he had converted.  There may have been pressures and threats for her to figure out what had happened to him.  There may have been accusations of guilt by association that she had converted also.  In my mind, I am afraid that if he were married that she would have felt betrayed and would have wasted no time whatsoever in getting as far away from Paul as possible.

And remember that he had military status.  He would have been at the top of his pay grade.  He maybe got bonuses for his brutality.  He was probably quite wealthy.  I suppose that the Roman government "froze his assets" when they heard he had converted.  He probably had an impressive home and collections of weapons or memorabilia.  What I understand of the Roman government, they probably went into his home and took back as many of this trophies of his conquests as they could because he was no longer worthy to keep them.  His citizenship in Rome gave him certain alienable rights, but I can't imagine anyone talking to him in public any more.  He was completely against the Christians one minute and completely against the government the next.  His friends wouldn't have wanted to be associated with even his name now.  The soldiers he had trained to persecute the Christians probably wanted to show him just how much they hated him for what they considered traitorous behavior.

Basically, everything that Paul had ever dreamed of and that he had worked so hard for all of his life, and everyone that he had chosen to have around him and worked to gain the respect and dedication of, had all been flushed down the toilet . . . where it belonged.

What things are precious to you?  What positions in life or statuses do you value?  What are the associations or titles that you use to identify yourself?  What if it were all stripped away in a day? What if it were all stripped away in the name of Christ?  Would that make it any easier to bear?

If you lost all of these things, would you lose your joy?  Job said "Though He slay me, yet will I serve Him."  The spiritual mind is focused on the right things.

Song:  "There Is Joy In Serving Jesus"

Friday, October 11, 2013

Who do you think you are?


Philippians 3:3-7  "For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.  Though I might also have confidence in the flesh.  If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more:  Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee;  Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.  But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ."

Paul just warned us about the Judaisers who were making faith something of works.  They were weakening the value of Christ's death, burial, and resurrection by claiming it was not enough and needed to include certain works.  Verse 3 lists three things that Paul specified were the "new" marks of dedication to God.  Circumcision had been an outward evidence of an inward spiritual change.  The changes in worship that needed to come about (no more sacrificing, no more following the Law, living by grace) were the New Testament equivalent of circumcision.  Paul continues to teach and reassure these Christians that the ceremonies they had been observing were no longer required to demonstrate their faith.

"We are the circumcision which . . . "  1. worship God in the spirit (no more rituals or ceremonies but faith in the heart) 2. rejoice in Christ Jesus recognize Christ as the Messiah and give Him the rightful honor that is due Him) 3. have no confidence in the flesh (do not depend on the Law to validate our faith).  There are movements today such as Messianic Judaism that still hold to many of the detailed rituals and laws of the Old Testament as part of their worship.  This verse clearly states that these practices are no longer essential and actually have been replaced.

The Dispensation of the Law was a time period where the people followed the letter of the Law as a demonstration of their faith in the coming Messiah and His work on Calvary.  Their actions and habits set them apart from the rest of the world and clearly marked them as peculiar.  Today our actions and habits set us apart from the rest of the world and clearly mark us as peculiar.

Paul goes on to remind them of just exactly who he is to be making such claims.  He states that if ANYONE has any right to claim confidence in the flesh, he does and here are his supporting statements:

Circumcised the eighth day              His parents had followed tradition ever since his birth
Of the stock of Israel                        He establishes his Jewish heritage not just culture
Of the tribe of Benjamin                   It is essential to Jews that they be able to prove their
                                                        lineage and identify which tribe they descend from
An Hebrew of the Hebrews               A Jew that could speak Hebrew AND Aramaic
Touching the Law                             A Pharisee  (pious sect that prided themselves on holding
                                                        every single part of the Law)
Concerning zeal                               Persecuting the church  (traditional Jews did not want to
                                                        accept the "new" form of worship and were judged for how
                                                        they stood up against it)
Touching the righteousness 
which is in the Law                          Blameless  (He knew the Law so well He didn't make                                                                   mistakes against it)

Of all people in the world at his time, Paul was someone who could brag on his accomplishments and his "Jewish-ness."  His whole life, from the time he was born, was focused on the Law, he knew the in's and out's of it, and he kept it.  BUT . . .

All of these credentials, which he had worked his entire life to earn, and that set him apart as a Jew to be revered and honored, he counted as empty and lost.  His past life as Saul where he persecuted the church was valued by how zealously he had worked to squash this "new" religion.  He went overboard to prove his dedication.  He was the equivalent of "working his way up the ladder" and was an over-achiever.  He didn't just do things rightly, he did things perfectly!  And all of that training and work and passion got him nowhere in the eyes of God.

I am a pastor's wife.  I have been saved 42 years.  I can go on and on, but just this much starts to make me sick and uncomfortable.  Who do I think I am?  I am nobody!  The only One Who makes me worthy to be in God's presence is Jesus Christ my Savior.  And we need to get a better grasp on that fact and be humbled by it.  "There is none righteous, no not one!"  Except through Christ.  Keeping the Law so perfectly and with such vigor did nothing to help Paul be accepted in the eyes of God.  It doesn't matter how many Bible verses I can quote, how perfectly my skirts are lengthened, how many casseroles I have made, how many specials I have sung, or diapers I have changed in the church nursery!  I have nothing to brag about . . . except what Christ did on Calvary.

Are you like Jews of Paul's day judging your spiritual worth by the number of things you do?  Or are you trusting in Christ and salvation through faith?

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Law is not Faith

Philippians 3 - - The Spiritual Mind  or  Things Can Rob Joy

Phil 3:2-7   "Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision.  For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh."

In these verses, Paul's warnings to the Philippian church are about some very interesting things that can rob joy and he uses some interesting words.  Paul, who was a Jew, warns these Christians to beware of dogs.  The Jews of his day referred to Gentiles as dogs in the most derogatory way.  Think of Hitler referring to the Jews as dogs also.  Paul has MY attention, but who exactly is Paul warning about here?

Judaizers taught that it was essential to be circumcised as a part of salvation.  They were clinging to the ritualism of Judaism instead of making the shift to salvation and grace. Salvation plus anything is not pure salvation any more.  If you have a glass of milk and you pour in some water, you no longer have milk or water!  Paul was very serious about his warnings.  He did not want the Philippian church to be swayed into diluting salvation by re-adding parts of the Old Testament Law to the finished work of atonement by Christ on the cross.  He called these fellow Jews "dogs" because they were causing division and changing salvation.  When he calls these Judaizers part of the "concision" he is actually calling them "mutilators."  What they were teaching no longer has any bearing  on our faith.  They were giving people false confidence in their works.

We must remember who Paul was as we examine this teaching of leaving the Law and following grace.  Do not forget that he was a living legend in his time.  He was educated to the highest level available in Jewish Law.  He had devoted his life to enforcing the traditions of Judaism.  He was an amazing authority on what the Law said and how it was lived and he was an enforcer of that Law.

When Christ died on the cross and rose again the "church" was established and God's instructions were to stop the sacrifices and rituals that had been put in place for the Children of Israel.  Christ had taught the apostles how they would live by a new perspective of faith.  The saints of the Old Testament had been watching for Messiah to come, which is forward-facing.  The Children of Israel had been given the Law to follow when they left Egypt and needed structure and rules to govern themselves.  The Law brings a curse.  The believer is delivered from that curse through Christ, Who was made a curse for us.  The crucifixion brought Him under the curse of the Law as explained in Deuteronomy 21:23 "He that is hanged (on a tree) is accursed of God."  When Christ paid the highest penalty possible in His death, He became the complete sacrifice.  A lamb or bullock offered in sacrifice was a symbol of the person who had committed sin.  When an actual, sinless human died in our place for our sin there is no higher fulfillment of the Law!  His resurrection proved His power over death and testified to His deity.

Once the Law had been fulfilled like that, it no longer had any power or authority.  Galatians 3:22-29 explains "But the Scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.  but before faith came, we were kept under the Law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed.  Wherefore the Law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.  But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.  For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.  For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female, for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.  And if ye be Christ's then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise."

It is impossible for any of us to keep every single part of the Law.  Galatians 3:10-11 says "For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.  But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident for, The just shall live by faith."

It was hard for the Jews to accept this new backward-facing faith of trusting in the crucifixion and resurrection which were events of the past now.  And Paul understood the appeal of hanging onto the traditions and rules that allowed these early Christians to measure their obedience.  But of anyone, he was the one and only person whose resume, shall we say, qualified him to explain the restraints of the Law and the liberty of faith and grace.  

His warning is relevant to today.  We often find a measure of satisfaction in checking off our mental list of  "Christian" things to do.  We consider ourselves right with God if we are doing this and this and this.  There are commandments that we are to follow but what makes us right with God is our relationship with Him.  I am not happily married to my husband because I live in the same house and have children together or because I claim his name.  I am a happily married wife because I love my husband and I make choices to honor and please him.  We do things together that we both enjoy and we have the same purpose of serving our Lord.  It's not a list of things I do, but a relationship that I choose and nurture.  My faith is a choice that I make.  I chose long ago to forsake trying to behave according to the Law, and to instead live a life that is in Christ and trusting His sacrificial death to pay for my sins. Trying to live my life by a physical standard will rob me of the joy of a real relationship with God.


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"

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"

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Drama can rob your joy...

The Book of JOY is a letter written by the Apostle Paul while he was in prison awaiting trial for preaching the gospel.  One possible outcome of this trial could be his being sentenced to death.  He opens the letter with loving words about the church at Philippi and how he is thankful for them every single time he thinks of them.

Philippians 1     ***The Single Mind*** or ***Circumstances Rob Joy***

Philippians 1:9-11 "And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God."

Judgment = discernment.  Discernment is the ability to see things for what they are. Do you remember the old saying "She can't see the forest for the trees"?  Some people can only see the drama around them.  Others can see through the drama and realize what the real issues are. Discernment is the opposite of drama!  Discernment is a mark of maturity; drama is a mark of childishness.  A child can be mislead much more easily than an adult simply because of maturity.

Paul wanted the Philippians to be able to discern the things that are excellent.  He wanted them, and us, to be able to tell the difference between the important things and the distractions.  He didn't want them to get sidetracked with things that really didn't matter.  It was more important to him WHY he was in prison than the fact THAT he was in  prison.  Instead of focusing on the horrible situation he was in, he wanted to redirect their attention to spreading the gospel of Christ.

Verses 10 and 11 also talk about being sincere and without offense and having the fruits of righteousness.  When you think of a drama queen exaggerating and being the victim and straining to outdo everyone around her . . . or him . . . you do not think of words like pure or blameless.  I certainly do not think of the word righteousness.  Being a drama queen is about being selfish and focused on how YOUR situation impacts YOU.  Being a drama queen is about steering everyone's attention back around to you.  Being pure and blameless and righteous is about keeping the focus on the most important Person.

If we can keep our mind singly on the gospel of Christ, even the worst of circumstances will not be able to rob our joy!

Song:  Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

Friday, July 19, 2013

Philippians . . . the book of JOY!

Philippians is an epistle written by the Apostle Paul.  It is often called the Book of Joy.  As we begin this study it is important to understand a little about the church it was written to and about Paul's connection with that church.

What?  An epistle is a letter. Travel took much longer in the time this book was written.  There were no phones to pick up and make a quick call to check in with someone.  There was no email that instantly sends your words to another person.  Paul wrote this letter and then had to find someone who was going toward Philippi and ask them to deliver it.  People didn't waste time with frivolity in letters; they had a very definite purpose.

When?  The Apostle Paul wrote this letter roughly 50 AD so about 50 years after the Lord had ascended back to Heaven.  The traditional Jewish worship system was being replaced by the new "church".

Why?  The church was also being persecuted.  Remember that Paul used to be named Saul and was dedicated to destroying this new system before he was converted.  It would have been hard to be bold when there was always a threat to the followers of Christ.

How?  How did Paul care so much for this church?  When he came to Philippi a few years before he had cast out a demon from a slave girl who was telling the future and making money for her master.  When Paul destroyed the man's income, the man was very angry and this all resulted in Paul and his companion Silas being thrown into jail.  Remember that story?


Philippians 1:1-6 is Paul's greeting to this church.

vs 3 "I thank my God upon every remembrance of you."  These people were dear to his heart.  Of all people the Apostle Paul probably understood the threats and persecution they were facing. What circumstance in your life is completely out of your control?  If you get focused on that situation, can it overwhelm you and discourage you?  Paul knew what would distract this church and he prayed for them all the time because of it.

vs 6 "Being confident of this very thing, that HE which hath begun a good work in you WILL perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:"  Paul was reminding these people to keep their eyes on the Lord Jesus Christ.  God had started something in each and every life and He was not about to drop the ball.  Our overwhelming situations sometimes make us feel like God has saved us and been with us, but then we sometimes feel like He has forgotten us or not taken notice of us lately.

vs 7 "Even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart..."  Paul knew who he was talking to.  He knew that they remembered the miracle of the earthquake and the salvation of the jailer.  He knew that they had been established in their faith even before that!  He also knew that it was very possible to be distracted by the circumstances around them whenever the miracles weren't happening.  The normalcy and predictability of life can make us feel like we are coasting.

This church in Philippi had bishops and deacons and faithful believers.  Paul knew their hearts so well because he had visited them before and ended up depending on them to help care for him while he was in prison.  There was a kinship with each of these believers.  He prayed for them because he knew them so well, and he was happy to do it.  They had fellowship in the gospel because they had a common work to accomplish and they had labored together in their city before.
The Apostle Paul was reassuring these ordinary folks during the ordinary days when they were facing terrible persecution to keep their eyes focused on God!  He could say to them "I thank my God for you because I KNOW He is going to complete what he started in you."  In the days of drudgery and pain and loneliness we need to keep our eyes off of our circumstances and have a single-minded heart.  F - Fixing  O - Our  C - Course  U - Until  S - Straight.......get your focus where it needs to be.  If you get distracted, fix the situation so you can keep your joy!

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Rocks, The Island and The Spiderweb

The Lord had me thinking about the word independent this week.  I am a self-proclaimed word geek so of course I started thinking about the parts of the word. The two basic parts are the root word dependent and the prefix in-.

Dependent:   shows a relationship or link that will fall if any part is moved or removed

Independent:   not affiliated or associated with a larger entity

But there is another word in the dependent family, and that is interdependent.

Interdependent:   is a relationship in which each member is mutually dependent on the others. Participants may be morally reliant on and responsible to each other. An interdependent relationship can arise between two or more cooperative autonomous participants (e.g. a co-op).  (definitions found in Wikipedia)

Independent means not depending upon an outside entity.  Our church is an independent church. We exist apart from any other church.  We govern ourselves, we choose our own pastor, we appoint our own teachers, and we select our own schedule and ministries.

Within our church we are all interdependent because we are all accountable to each other.  Anything that happens to one part affects the other parts.  When one of us is hurting, we all feel it.  When one of us is missing, we all notice.  When one of us is removed, we all sense the gap.

Galations 6:2  "Bear ye one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ."  We come together to study God's Word, to praise Him, and to encourage one another.  When we share with others about a situation that we are praying about and ask others to pray with us, we are leaning on them to help us and letting them know how they can minister to us.  We are to be open with each other about struggles and pains and we are to come together and support each other.

Mark 12:29-31 "And Jesus answered him (one of the scribes), 'The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength; this is the first commandment.  And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.  There is none other commandment greater than these.' "  Sometimes we apply this love to our spouse or to strangers.  We must not forget to apply it to ourselves within the church!

If we are dependent on someone it is like a tower of rocks.  If any one slips or falls down, the others will automatically fall.  If we are independent we separate ourselves from everyone else and try to be an island is the very big sea of life.  If we are interdependent we are connected like a spiderweb.  If one section falls it may put more pressure on another section but it does not automatically tear the whole web apart.  The stronger relationship is the interdependent one!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

How to NOT be in bondage

Bondage is being under the control of something . . . or someone.  People with addictions often use this terminology the most in our modern culture.  Think about not liking where you are but not having the strength or power to overcome the situation.  Bondage is the opposite of freedom.

If someone refuses to accept a FACT, we consider them to be ridiculous and proud.  They put themselves in bondage to the limited facts that they will accept and cannot grow beyond that point.

If someone in our military refuses to accept the authority of their superior we consider them to be wrong and deserving of punishment.  This is not a situation that advances their career.

If a king had rule over a country but one of his subjects refused to follow the laws the king put into place, that person could be put into bondage . . . and we would say "he brought it on himself."

--God is in control   Genesis 1:1  "In the beginning God created the Heavens and the earth."
--God does not want any of us to be in bondage   II Peter 3:9  "The LORD is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance."
--God will lead us to victory
--God will lead us to victory IF we choose to follow Him   "The first step toward freedom is choosing to let our Lord be the Leader of our life."  ("My Prince Will Come" by Sheri Rose Shepherd).
--If we refuse to follow Him we put ourselves into bondage 
--He is a worthy Leader and we have no reason not to submit to Him and trust Him    Deuteronomy 31:8  "And the LORD, He it is that doth go before thee, HE WILL NOT FAIL THEE, neither forsake thee; fear not neither be dismayed.

We can follow the One Who is worthy to be followed and have true freedom or we can be defeated and in bondage because we insist on doing things our own way.  Freedom or is a choice that I make for myself.

Monday, April 15, 2013

for Boston

Today someone placed several bombs around Boston. At least two of them were detonated during the Boston Marathon. The last report that we listened to said there were two people killed (I believe one was a young child) and over a hundred people injured.

The news is filled with stories from different witnesses and victims.  Social media is so full of comments that those who don't comment almost seem insensitive. Once again our nation's collective heart is breaking.

I am sad. I am angry. I am anxious. I am relieved that no one I know or am related to was anywhere near this madness.  And I almost feel guilty about feeling relieved when so many have been so injured and frightened.

And then I try to think how God must feel watching this all unfold. How His heart must rage at the injury caused to innocent people. How His heart must weep for anyone killed who had not accepted Him as Savior.

"If just once / I could see / This world / The way You see / I just know / I'd serve You / More faithfully."

Monday, April 1, 2013

God doesn't waste hurts

I have a new friend whom I will call Annie in this post.  She and her husband marked a very special anniversary today.....the one year anniversary of his stroke.  (Yes, his friends thought he was pulling an April Fool's Day prank one year ago.)  And just like my husband, her husband is very much a miracle.

Annie and I talk on the phone now and then, mostly about strokes.  We compare medical facts, describe our families, cry, laugh, and pray on the phone.  She says it does her good to talk to someone who has gone through it already.  I say it does me good to have someone else to encourage.  Hence, the title of this post!

God does not waste hurts.  God allowed our family to go through a really tough time when my husband had his stroke.  But that time was not wasted.  Those times when our hearts hurt so badly were not for no reason.  All those prayers we prayed were not in vain!  Every member of our family can give you a list of things that God taught them or made them aware of during the recovery time.  There have been some people saved, some people encouraged, some people educated.  When you are in the depths of a trial remind yourself that God doesn't waste hurts!  "To everything there is a season."  You may not be able to see His plan now or ever, but there is one and He does not allow you to hurt for no good reason.