Archive for January, 2011

Philippians 4

 Philippians 4 is Paul’s farewell to the church at Philippi.  But as he goes, he encourages them to “stand firm thus in the Lord….agree in the Lord”.  He challenges them to not be tossed by the waves that will come at them and try to move them from their walk with Christ.  He also challenges them to learn to agree.  The key to both – three simple words – “in the Lord”.  We won’t accomplish either on our own steam.  We can’t withstand the attacks of the enemy nor can we live in agreement with those in our patch.  But with Jesus at work in us – and we know that because Paul reminds them that their “names are in the book of life” – we can do both in the Lord!  Is your name in the book of life?  Don’t wonder – make sure!

Paul then gives us a very practical command to follow – “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice”.  Short verse – begins and ends with the same direction – we are to rejoice in the Lord.  We are to celebrate Jesus.  Do you take time to rejoice?  Or do you let the world weigh you down and keep your joy covered up.  He comes right along and reminds us why we struggle to rejoice: “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God”.  Ok – admit it – you worry about stuff.  And often it is worry about things you have no control over and can’t possibly change.  So why do we worry when it is out of our control?  Because we lack faith.  We fail to trust God.  Paul gives us the secret here – prayer, supplication, thanksgiving – ask God.  Quit carrying the burden and turn it over to Him.  Cast your burden – He can not only handle it – He is ready and wants it.

What Paul promises next is amazing: “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”.  Have you experienced peace, God’s peace?  There is nothing like it.  When we are able to allow God to be God and let Him handle the rocks in our lives – turn over our burdens and concerns to Him – He can give us peace.  He can provide peace for us when we face major life crisis – or when we are dealing with little nagging things.  We don’t have to understand how or why – we just have to trust Him.  Paul tells us a bit later in the chapter that “my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus”.  God is able – more than able – to meet whatever need we have and hand over to Him.  It is not a resource problem.  It is a trust and faith issue on our part.  Don’t keep wallowing in your worry – find His peace through trust and faith!

Finally Paul tells us that what we think matters – the things we allow to fill our hearts and minds is really important.  He begins this last guidance this way: “Finally, brothers” – he is giving us the secret to God’s peace.  Listen to what he tells us to “think about these things”:

–       “whatever is true

–       whatever is honorable

–       whatever is just

–       whatever is pure

–       whatever is lovely

–       whatever is commendable

–       if there is any excellence

–       if there is anything worthy of praise

We need to focus on godly thoughts – ponder positive things – be considering what is near to God’s heart.  But it is more than just right thinking: “what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you”.  We need to think right, but more important – we need to live right.  Obedience is part two of the equation.  We get the right mindset and then we walk faithfully in obedience.  That is how we experience peace.  Paul goes on to tell us he has learned to be content in every situation, but most of all he knows for sure “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me”.  That same God is our God today.  We too can do all things if we are walking in His power and in His strength.  Too often though we try and do it on our own steam.  We want to do it our way.  We spend our time focusing on negative and earthly thoughts – not God and His ways.  What an encouraging wrap to the folks at Philippi.  It was also addressed to you and me as Christ Followers.  Do you have God’s peace?  Are you walking in His power and rejoicing as you go?  He is the same yesterday, today and forever.  It is up to us to walk with him!

Philippians 3

Philippians 3 has Paul’s discussion about the power of Jesus in his life.  But he begins by warning the church to “look out” – three times he uses those words and warns the church to avoid people or things that can cause us to stumble.  Are you looking out and avoiding things that can lead you to sin or away from Jesus?  We certainly need to be alert and aware.  Paul is focused on one thing and one thing alone – Jesus Christ.

Check out how he describes his relationship with Jesus: “whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ….I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”  Paul has made Jesus the center of his life – his only focus.  And the goes on to tell us that he wants to “know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death”.  Paul understands that the power of Christ came with a price – death on the cross – and that he wants to share in those sufferings with Him.  Sounds pretty good doesn’t it?  But the reality is that becoming like Him means we give us our own rights and become humble and selfless – willing to become nothing.

Paul reminds us to do this “one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead….I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus”.  Are you straining forward to get to God’s plan for your life?  Paul tells us to forget the past – and focus on where we are going.  Way too much time is spent wallowing in the past.  That doesn’t mean we ignore it or pretend it didn’t happen.  It doesn’t mean we don’t evaluate and learn from it.  But we can’t get to where we are going by focusing too much on the past.  We need to find people like Paul and do what he instructs “join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us”.  We need to find examples to follow, and we need to be an example to others to lead.  Sometimes we forget this part of our responsibility as a Christ Follower – others are to follow us.  That is what disciplemaking is all about – leading others to maturity in Christ as they follow our example.  Are you doing that – living life as an example that will lead others to the cross?  Do you have an example to follow that gets you closer to Jesus?  That is our call and God’s command for our lives.

Philippians 2

Philippians 2 has Paul starting with focusing the church on unity.  He says “so if there is….”

–       “any encouragement in Christ

–       any comfort from love

–       any participation in the Spirit

–       any affection and sympathy

Pretty broad categories and with the word any it would take a very unique place for there not to be any of these things.  What does Paul want to be the outcome if these things exist?  “Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being of one accord and of one mind”.  He wants unity in the body of Christ.  Now there is quite a different idea, eh?  He wants us to act as one…..

He goes on to give us a hint as to how that can work.  “…in humility count others more significant than yourselves…..look not only to (your) own interests….but also the interests of others”.  We can work toward unity when we get our mind and focus off of self and on to others.  That is how we gain humility and begin to become like Jesus.  Paul says as we do this our mind will be “yours in Jesus Christ….He humbled Himself…..obedient to the point of death”.  Jesus took humility and obedience to a whole different level.  He was humble and obedient to death.  That is some serious humility and obedience. 

But Jesus’ humility doesn’t mean He gets no respect.  In fact Paul promises this about Jesus: “at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow…..and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord”.  That is a promise I am excited to see happen.  Jesus recognized for who He is – the Savior and Lord of all.  Jesus will be glorified and praised.  It should flow from us as Christ Followers now, but every person that is alive will honor Him when that day comes.  Until then Paul tells us to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” – we are to find out what God intends to do through us and join Him in that pursuit.  As we do we are to “do all things without grumbling or questioning….that you may be blameless and innocent….you shine as lights in the world”.  We are to live as an example of how to get along with God. This gets a little sticky doesn’t it – without grumbling or complaining – that will require a change for many of us.  But the reason we need to get over that and get on to praise – because we are the light of the world.  We have a mission to fulfill.  God expects us to be blameless and innocent and praising and glorifying Him.  That is our assigned responsibility.  Are you living that way?  Humbly serving and sharing and praising Him?  That is our call!

Philippians 1

Philippians 1 is the letter from Paul and Timothy to the church at Philippi.  They are writing to the believers there and begin by mentioning two of the groups in leadership in the early church – “overseers and deacons”.  Other places call them elders and deacons – but these are the two groups that provided direction and service for the early body.   The overseers fulfilled a spiritual leadership role – guiding the foundation of the church and providing spiritual oversight and control.  The deacons served the physical needs of the body and the ministry – meeting tangible needs and serving people to make sure the work of the ministry was fulfilled.  Two important roles that seem necessary in the functional church.

Paul goes on to remind the church of their “partnership in the gospel”.  We are not alone in sharing the gospel.  We are part of God’s family and we are His servant.  Sometimes we feel like we are out on a limb doing it on our own.  That is not how it really is.  In fact, Paul reminds us that “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ”.  God makes things happen – not us.  We are the vessel – He is the one who makes it happen.  Do you cling to that promise – that God will bring to fruition that which He has began to do in us and through us.  What a powerful promise to claim.

Paul then talks about his prayers for this body – a great example of what we might pray for those in our circle.  He asks that:

–       “love may abound

–       Knowledge

–       Discernment

–       Approve what is excellent

–       Be pure and blameless

–       Filled with the fruit of righteousness

–       Giving glory and praise to God

What a powerful set of things to pray for – Paul and Timothy are praying this way for the church.  We need to be doing the same.  We need to lift each other up and place the well-being of the body at the throne of grace.

Then Paul writes one of the most powerful realities in all of scripture: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain”.  Wow – those are powerful words.  Have you considered that for your life?  Do you feel that way – that living is good but spending eternity with Jesus is far better?  Hard to get the old arms around isn’t it?  But it is true – we are far better with Jesus than living our life here on earth.  But Paul gives our role in life a strong requirement – “let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ…..standing firm in the Spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel and not frightened by your opponents”.  We need to live a life worthy of the Lord – one that stands firm and is not swayed by any who oppose the message of Jesus.  Are you worthy?  Do you stand firm?  That is God’s call for our life.  To be His messenger faithful to walk in His ways without regard to what others may think or how they may respond or react.  Be worthy of Christ!

Ephesians 6

Ephesians 6 begins with some more direction on how God designed the family.  He tells young ones “children, obey your parents in the Lord for this is right….honor your father and mother…..that it will go well with you”.  Kids are to live obediently with their parents.  Not just sometimes – but obedience means all the time.  So how does that work?  It starts when we model obedience to the Father and make that clear to our kids.  We often get exactly what we give God – partial obedience.  I remember my kids going through the phase of watching the speedometer and asking me how come I was speeding.  Of course I explained it away – the speed limit is guidance – not something we have to obey completely.  Then I wondered why I got the same from my kids.  We get what we sow my friends.  It starts with us modeling the truth.

The next thing Paul reminds fathers of is “do not provoke your children to anger”.  I was guilty of this one – and still am at times.  As dad’s we should not provoke our kids – we should again model obedience because scripture tells us to “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord”.  How come we fail on that – because we first of all don’t know what the instruction is – we haven’t studied the Word enough – and then we fail to discipline consistently and correctly – we leave it to our wives to do so much of the correction.  We have big responsibility placed on us as fathers.  Don’t neglect what Paul writes here.

He goes on to tell slaves to “obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling”.  That obey word sure shows up a lot doesn’t it.  Slaves can be interpreted pretty broadly.  Many would say that employees fall into that bucket today.  There needs to be respect and obedience to the desire of the boss.  All these relationships – starting with husbands and wives – then children and parents – then slaves and masters – all these relationships are so important in living out our faith.  We can’t truly walk as Christ Followers if we don’t live right in these relationships. 

Paul then gives us teaching on how to deal with the enemy.  “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might”.  Remember that our battle is  not won by our own ability but that of the Lord.  He tells us to “put on the whole armor of God….that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil”.  We have a suit of preparation that allows us to deal with the enemy.  But we have to put it on – we have to use it – and then realize that the battle is about schemes – not brute force but often about deception and lies.  We have to be ready.  We aren’t facing an army like you might think of it – this enemy consists of “rulers….authorities….cosmic powers….spiritual forces of evil”.  It is a battle of spiritual magnitude and we won’t win it if we go it alone.

Paul ends the chapter giving us our fighting orders.  He tells us that since God is in control, has already won the victory, and will lead us to overcome – we need to “take up the whole armor of God”.  What does that entail – Paul lists the pieces here:

–       “belt of truth

–       breastplate of righteousness

–       shoes for your feet….the readiness given by the gospel of peace

–       shield of faith

–       helmet of salvation

–       sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God

We have been equipped by the Father to win.  Our job is to “end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints……opening my mouth boldly”.  God will handle the details of winning.  We need to put on the armor and then be ready to do battle.  Are you?  Do you recognize the enemy?

Ephesians 5

Ephesians 5 is jam packed with truth that matters.  Paul begins by telling us how we should live – “be imitators of God….beloved children….walk in love…..as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us”.  We are to become like God.  That is what an imitator does.  He becomes like the object of his imitation.  And for us as Christ Followers – that object we are to imitate is God Himself.  It isn’t our pastor, or some TV evangelist, or some other great figure in the history of the church.  As a believer we are to imitate God.  How are you doing with that?  When people see you do they see God?  That is what true imitation will yield – they won’t be able to tell the difference.  There is no doubt that none of us have it quite down that well, but that has to be our goal.

Paul then gives us a list of things that we need to avoid doing – in fact he says it strongly – he who does these things “has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God”.  Does that mean that our salvation is lost if we fall to these temptations?  I don’t think that is what Paul is saying.  I do believe he is telling us that these things are not godly actions and if we are truly Christ Followers we will not participate in them.  This is serious stuff.  So what made the list?

–       “sexual immorality

–       Impurity

–       Covetousness

–       Filthiness

–       Foolish talk

–       Crude joking

Not the worst sins you can think of – are they?  In fact many of them we just blow by as no big deal – even in the church.  Basically sin is sin and has no place in the life of a Christ Follower.  Paul goes on to say “do not associate with them” who do these things.  In other words, don’t hang out with sinners.  They will pull you in the wrong direction.  Scripture tells us over and over just how important it is that we live lives of obedience.  It really is clear that life matters.  In fact, Paul’s words here say exactly that:  “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil”.  I love this verse – it reminds us of the very important value of time.  We have to choose wisely how to use our time.  It matters!

Paul does go on to tell us how we ought then to live.  “Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,  submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ”.  He calls out four things here that we need to do as we are filled with the Spirit:

  1. Address one another with God’s wisdom
  2. Sing and glorify God with all your heart
  3. Give thanks always and for everything
  4. Submit to one another

It all starts with being filled with the Spirit.  We need to allow God to control our lives – He has sent the Holy Spirit to live in us and through us as part of His gift of grace when Christ went to the cross.  When we are filled with the spirit – great things happen in our life.  Mostly we lose self and focus on God and others.  Two of those things relate to God – two relate to others – none focus on self.

Paul concludes by once again giving God’s order and plan for the family.  Some strong words about what we are to do in our role as husband and wife.  Here are his very direct words: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord……Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…..let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband”.  It really is a pretty simple formula on paper.  Men – we need to love our wives like Jesus loved us – willing to sacrifice self and all for her.  There is no room for selfishness in that command.  We give it all to love her.  Wives – you need to submit completely to your husbands as if you were submitting to the Lord.  It is God’s plan.  It doesn’t sound fair, or equal or right for many – but it is absolutely God’s plan.  Submission means you respect and fall under the authority of – not that you are a doormat that is of lesser value – but as one who is protected by the authority of a loving husband.  If we could get these simple commands right – our society and marriage would look so very different.  The divorce rate would be drastically reduced.  There is little doubt that failing to follow God’s plan isn’t working – so maybe – just maybe – we should go back to doing it His way – the way He created it to work.  It happens one couple at a time.  Men – are you loving your wife like Jesus loved us?  Wives – are you respecting and submitting to your husband as unto the Lord?  That is how we begin to win the battle with the enemy regarding marriage – one home at a time.  Let’s be the ones that start the wave!

Ephesians 4

 Ephesians 4 begins with Paul telling us how to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called”.  Do you ever think about that?  What it means to be worthy of being a Christ Follower?  Sometimes I think we forget that it is a privilege, not a right, to follow Jesus.  It is a gift God has given us through grace – not something we have earned or deserve.  Do you consider it that way?  Paul gives some characteristics about what it means to be worthy of that call:

–       “Humility

–       Gentleness

–       Patience

–       Bearing with one another in love

–       Eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit

Does that sound like you, or your church body?  Unfortunately I’m afraid it doesn’t really sound all that much like a lot of Christ Followers I know, including me some days. 

Paul goes on to camp on the unity topic.  “There is one body and one Spirit……..one Lord, one faith, one baptism…..one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all”.  Did he say it clearly enough.  There is NO division in Christ or His church body.  None, nada, just unity.  So how are we supposed to actually get along?  “Grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift”.  Once again it is not about us.  God gives us grace – each of us have a measure of it – and that is how we can live in unity. 

Paul goes on to tell us what the job of church leadership is – primarily that of pastors and teachers.  Pay attention here – we get this wrong so often: “to equip the saints for the work of ministry…..for building up the body of Christ…..until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God,,,,,,to mature manhood,,,,,,to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,,,,,,so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes”.  Pastors are not to DO the work of the ministry – they are to train you and me to do it.  We think that since they are paid employees it is their job.  Not so according to scripture.  They are to teach you and me to do it and to grow up and become full of Jesus.  They are the equippers, not the doers.  They are the ones who are to prepare us to minister and do the ministry.  So many of us get this wrong.  We want to  be spectators and watch our ministers do the work.  That is not God’s plan.

What God does want to do is grow us up.  Paul gives us the secret to that in this chapter.  Here is the formula we are to follow: “to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness”.  We have to put off our old self and put on the new.  It means we stop doing the sinful things in our life and replace them with godly habits and actions.  You can’t just stop doing something without replacing it with something else.  This means we must be intentional – we must really focus on replacing the bad stuff in our life with godly stuff.  It has to happen if we are to really become what God desires.  He calls out falsehood, lying, stealing, corrupt talking, bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor and slander.  We need to stop those things and replace them with kindness, tender hearts, forgiveness and godly behaviors.  That is what God has called us to as Christ Followers.  That is how we achieve worthiness to be His.  It is intentional and hard work.  But God has called us to that life!

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