Friday, February 28, 2014

The two sides of everything

THE SECURE MIND -- or Worry Robs Joy

Philippians 4

"Therefore my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved."

What's the "therefore" there for?  It is often the wrapping up of a thought in previous verses.  Paul has just wrapped up a section of his letter talking about having a spiritual mind and keeping our focus on Heaven.  He has just been writing with many comparisons:  Paul had so many things to feel good and confident about yet he counted them as wasteful (vs 2-7), he had put off the righteousness he had earned through the Law and turned to righteousness through faith (vs 8-9), he knew that no matter how hard he tried or how much he grew spiritually he would never be everything that God wanted him to be (vs 10-), and he reminded the church that some who say they are followers of God are really focused on the wrong things (vs 17-19).  In verses 20-21 he gives a clear contrast about how we will be changed into the image of God when we are with Him.

So....because of all those things, he tells them to stand fast in the Lord.  The Lord God never ever changes.  We can count on Him being the same yesterday, today and forever.  In chapter 3, Paul is going back and forth showing the one side of things and then the other.  He wants to clearly show what is undesirable compared to what is spiritual.  Showing the opposite extremes is a very effective method of teaching.  It helps us figure out what must be separated out in order to have the spiritual mind we are desiring.  It helps us create a mental picture of what the negative side "looks like" and what the desirable side "looks like."  Now that he has made it crystal clear to us what a spiritual mind looks like, he is going to give us further instruction on how to become that.

Also notice that Paul refers to the church in Philippi two times in the same verse as "my dearly beloved."  This reinforces how well he knew this group of people.  He wasn't just randomly writing a lesson, but he was personally giving instruction in a manner that he knew these specific people would understand and relate to. Christian love is very unique!  And he says he longs for them.  That gives me the impression that he did not just miss them and think about them, but that his heart thought about them all the time and felt incomplete without them.  To say "longed for" gives the ideal of a very deep, aching desire.  He calls them his joy and his crown.  Think back to the beginning of this church.  Paul must have told everyone how this church was begun with a prison sentence (a horrible negative picture) but had become an entire church serving God (a wonderful spiritual picture).  Like the feeling a new mother gets when she is telling the story about how awful her labor was and then shows off her beautiful new baby.  It is a very deep emotion.  "His crown" refers to the church as his greatest accomplishment.  We know Paul did not have pride in a sinful way, but he has this one very clear example of how ugly and miserable things were and then a "look at them now" sort of illustration!

"Stand fast" is a military term.  Picture the old hand-to-hand combat of early times.  I imagine a  row of soldiers standing shoulder to shoulder with their armor all polished and their shield held tightly together in an impenetrable wall of defense.  They are strong.  They are ready.  They are united.  They are undefeatable!  Knowing that we are soldiers in the Lord's army should give us security!  It should give us confidence to move forward and fight with all our might because we KNOW we will be triumphant.  This is the difference between a little band of rag-tag farmers with pitchforks and hammers coming out to do battle compared to the well organized and well trained forces stepping up to the battle lines in their shining coats of armour and all of their various weapons at the ready to slaughter the enemy.  In my mental picture, the army KNOWS it is going to overcome the band of farmers and fights with reckless abandon and confidence.  The unprepared farmers are fighting with all their might but in desperation.

We are like that polished army.  They enemy knows we have many different kinds of weapons at our disposal. He comes at us from every different angle and yet, no matter what he tries, we just pull out another sword or another axe and drive right across the battlefield.

In the movies you see the little group of fighting farmers trying to muster up their courage and then move forward in a defensive position.  But the mighty army has all confidence in themselves and in their brothers, so they are able to stride forward in the attack and hack their way to victory.  While they both have the same goal in mind, the well-trained, well-equipped, well-organized army most likely to succeed!

Having our minds completely set in God will give us the confidence we need to face the battles of this world.  Sometimes it is just one vicious attack after another all day long from the Enemy.  Other days I get exhausted from straining to be ready for his sneaky attacks.  But either way, I can be confident that I will be standing with the Overcomer when it is over.  Fight non, my dear ones, fight on!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Keep the focus where it belongs

Philippians 3:16-21


"Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing.  Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.  (for many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ:  Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)  for our conversation is in Heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ:  Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able  even to subdue all things unto Himself." 

In the verses just before our passage today, Paul was making it clear that he is still chasing after or desperately seeking spiritual perfection and maturity.  No matter how much people praised him and built him up, he kept his focus on becoming more and more like Christ.  He did not stop and rest in his spiritual development, but kept learning, kept seeking God's guidance, kept bringing others along beside him.  As much as he could have bragged about his "accomplishments" and prestige before his salvation, he could have been focused on how much he had given up and how much he had changed and how spiritual he was now.  He had spent three years ALONE with God being taught by the very Master of the whole plan!  And yet, he always recognized the others with him and in the churches who were mature and who were following Christ correctly.  He shared the "spotlight."

And verse 15 is so very important.  He puts the theme of this whole chapter into that verse by saying, "let all of us that are mature keep this common focus as our goal; and if you have a different goal, God Himself will show you that this is the right way to think."

Verse 16 says, "whereto we have already attained..."  This is not contradicting the verses that come before it.  Remember that attained is referring to the level of maturity that has been reached by the people he is writing to.  Some of them were deacons, teachers, and pastors who had grown by instruction.  Some of them were tent makers, merchants, and women who had grown by receiving instruction at church from hearing the Word of God preached and taught.  They were all the same to him when he referred to their spiritual maturity.  It didn't matter HOW they had learned and grown but it mattered THAT they had learned and grown.  Each one of us has come from a different place and traveled a different path, but if we have the same goal (being more and more and more like Christ) then we are all the same.  We must understand that we all have much more to learn and so much more to accomplish for God!  We will have unity in this way only.

Verse 17 encourages the church to mark the people that are examples of this like-mindedness and follow them.  First of all, that means we have to understand where we are headed and what the spiritual mind looks like.  Then we are to notice those who are living this way.  We are clearly being told here to judge and evaluate others with the intention of qualifying them.  We have all had that special someone come across our paths who we could clearly recognize was following God with a pure heart and have wanted to be like them.  Following someone's example is not the same as "worshiping" them.  We need to look for examples.

There are false teachers and fake leaders out there.  It saddens me to tell you this just like it saddened Paul to remind the church of this.  There are people who just serve themselves.  They are driven by "their belly" or the benefits they can get.  Sometimes pastor's (and their wives) can get off focus and think they need to have the very nicest house and cars and clothes "because they are leading God's children and should set the example."  There are those "whose glory is their shame" meaning they brag and tell about how awful they were without ever shifting the focus to how God has changed them.  Have you ever heard someone who just told over and over what a rotten, vile sinner they were and got people's attention by shocking them with descriptions of their "old life."  I've heard of evangelists who were attached to the mob and had killed people and went to prison where they found the Lord.  If all they focus on is how terrible a sinner they were and do not talk about the new creature they have become, they are just getting famous for things they should be ashamed of.  Some Christians have a gruesome tale about where God saved them from, but the story should never focus on that.  It should focus on the change the Savior has brought them.  They mind, or are focused on, earthly things not the spiritual things.

In verse 20 the word "conversation" really means citizenship.  "This world is not my home / I'm just a-passinng through . . . and I can't feel at home / in this world anymore."  Have you ever met someone who was not born in the US but has come here to live?  Usually their dress is different, their speech is different, the terms and words they use are different, and the way they look at everything is different from those of us who have grown up American.  As Christians we should be different from the world because this is not our natural home.  We don't need to draw extra attention because we are so weird that no one wants to be near us, but we should be unique.  There is a limit to how low of a neckline I will wear and the ladies I work with at the dress shop learned that right away.  I would try on a dress, and sure, it was very flattering, but the neckline was too low for me and I would refuse to buy it.  At first this confused them, but now they understand it is my personal rule because I am a Christian and I just will not make exceptions.  Our lifestyle should be different.  We don't have to be "old fashioned fuddey-duddies" but we should be different.  Dressing modestly does not have to mean it cannot be fashionable or up-to-date.  Having a popular hairstyle is not wrong.  Living very nicely in a beautiful home and having an expensive car are not sins.  But there should still be "something" about us that is just different enough for the world to notice.

Verse 21 talks about the greatest reward for having this spiritual mind.  Christ Jesus will change our vile old bodies and make us like His glorious body.  He will take away our diseases, our hurts, our weaknesses, our imperfections and make us just like Him!  And He is the One who is able to do it!  He has proven He is able by subduing all things to Himself.  Would you like to step outside and stop the wind today?  He could do that.  He is the only One who can make us whole, so we must keep our mind on Him and His plan in order to keep the things of this world from robbing our joy.

Friday, February 14, 2014


Happy Valentine's Day!  The day of roses, chocolate, cards, candlelight dinners and LOVE.  If you know me at all, you know that my husband and I have been married 27 years and are very much in love. I have friends who don't have sweethearts and pretty much dread this day.  Every single one of us has a very special Sweetheart, though, and I'd like to focus on Him today.

I Corinthians 13 is called the Love Chapter.  Song of Solomon is very descriptive about a bridegroom and his bride on their wedding night.  The historical books of the Old Testament are full of accounts that tell of romance, love, and marriage. The prophetic books and many of the illustrations used in the New Testament present Christ as a bridegroom and the church as His bride anxiously awaiting their wedding day.  As Christians, or "little Christs," we look to His example of loving the sinner but hating the sin as we interact with the wold in our day-to-day lives.  We're going to look at the traditional Love Chapter today, but let's not focus on who we are loving or even the romantic relationships we have.  Let's just examine the Scripture and let it speak to our hearts about how we are loving others in every relationship we have.  Let's look at the chapter and I will share some of my thoughts on how to apply these verses to our hearts.

I Corinthians 13

          "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity,                                 I am become as a sounding brass of a tinkling cymbal."  

Even if I am able to impress you with the eloquent words I can speak or the spiritual sound of my talk, if I do not have love in my heart I will sound like a non-stop, clanging dinner bell or a continuous little Teacher Bell......both of which have a purpose but will begin to get on your nerves and drive you crazy with their emptiness.

          "And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and 
            all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I can remove mountains,
            and have not charity, I am nothing."  

Even if I have great discernment and can teach others and help them understand things, and though I have so much faith that others think I can surely perform miracles, but have not charity what good does any of that do me.  I am empty.

          "And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my
            body to be burned and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing."   

No matter how much I sacrifice and serve others, no matter if I work myself to death for others, if I do not have real charity, it does me absolutely no good and I am not going to be rewarded.

Charity . . .   

--suffereth long                      will suffer for a long time without complaining
--and is kind                           do we treat the ones we love with the same kindness we                                                              give to strangers?
--envieth not                          is not concerned with what others have now or get
--vaunteth not itself                 does not put itself ahead of others, cocky
--is not puffed up                    is not proud or vain

--doth not behave itself unseemly      is not drawing attention to itself, rude
--seeketh not her own              is not seeking benefit for self, selfish
--is not easily provoked            is not easily angered
--thinketh no evil                     does not jump to negative conclusions

--rejoiceth not in iniquity          is not happy to see others fail or sin
--rejoiceth in the truth              is happy and content with the facts

--beareth all things                   does not consider itself a martyr
--believeth all things                 does not create drama
--hopeth all things                    looks for the "sunny side"
--endureth all things                 takes things as they come for as long as needed

--charity never faileth               never gives up

          "Whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they
             shall cease, whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away."

When I look at this short list I see the things of man being temporary.  Prophecies can mean teachings, tongues can mean languages, knowledge can mean knowledge.  So as time goes by, or even just as we get older, we start to see the discoveries of man being surpassed.  We see languages disappear and the use of a "universal language" so communication is easier.  We see people forgetting what they what they know, whether by age related conditions or by choice.

            "For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.  But when that which is
              perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away."

We only know as much as our human brains can handle at a time.  Once we get used to some new technology THEN something new is developed and becomes available.  We can understand only so much about the Bible, about other people, about anything;  but when Christ comes back for us we will have full knowledge.  There will be complete understanding of all the "why's" and of all the things God has been trying to teach us.

             "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I 
                thought as a child; but when I became a man I put away childish

Children "think" they are so smart.  But children talk like children, and perceive things as a child, and go about things in a childish way.  But when someone starts to mature or has a more intelligent grasp on things, they leave the old things behind and reach forward to better themselves.

               "For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face: now 
                 I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known."

We do not have all the facts here on earth; the whole picture is not clear to us.  But when we are with God we have a full understanding and others will have a full understanding of me!

                "And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the 
                  greatest of these is charity."

In this life we have our faith in God, we can always hope for tomorrow, and we will always find love.  But the very greatest thing of all is LOVE!  Love conquers all!  If you really love someone you spiritual faith will not always help you act right toward them.  You can always be looking off to tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. But the greatest thing about love is that it is the greatest thing. It can endure and stand the tests and will prove itself over and over again!