Saturday, April 21, 2018
Phil. 4:15 You Philippians indeed know that in the early days of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you alone. 16 For even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me help for my needs more than once. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the profit that accumulates to your account. 18 I have been paid in full and have more than enough; I am fully satisfied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. 19 And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.
Just as Paul finishes telling the Philippians that he has learned to be content in every and any state in which he finds himself, he then thanks them for their generous support. Other churches were not helping him, but they were. He wanted to make it clear that he wasn’t soliciting money from them, but through their generosity they had become partners in his work. He graciously accepted the gifts because he knew that this would be helpful to the faith of the believers in Philippi. By generously partnering with Paul, the Philippian church learned dependence upon God to supply their needs as well. It created a network of interdependence within the community of faith and this made them all stronger. The result — God was glorified.
I have been chairing district assemblies for the last two weeks. Many people dislike the part where we talk about money! Who wants to talk about money when things may be tight? I don’t think that Paul really wanted to talk about money but he understood a very important principle was in play. Generosity and support of others results in great commission partnerships that become transformative to the giver and the receiver. If that is the case, then maybe talking about money isn’t such a bad thing!
When we fail to teach our children to be generous tithers and givers, they lose out on what it means to become partners of something much larger than themselves. Instead we teach them to be concerned about their own good and welfare, and to place this above the needs of others. Just imagine this on a larger scale. When we refuse to encourage a church to be a part of something larger than themselves they miss out on transformational partnership. Instead of seeing giving to others as a “tax,” it should be seen as a joyful partnership in which we get to see the other succeed. When we give to global mission enterprises we get to partner with believers on the other side of the globe who are ministering to those whom we cannot reach. Yet, we do reach them and they become a part of our mission, because we have generously supported the work.
Even when we pay into things like pension and education funds, we become a part of something so much larger than ourselves. None of us would be able to support thousands of pastors in retirement — and yet, we can! Individually none of us could build a Christian university — and yet, we can! This is the joy of entering into partnerships with a joyful and generous heart. God takes our little amount and transforms it into something much larger than ourselves.
Sometimes people are generous toward me and it makes me uncomfortable. I certainly don’t feel worthy of their kindness and generosity, but I also realize that if I do not receive the gift, I rob them of the joy of giving. You see, it is all a partnership and one in which God wants to help all of us develop a heart of giving and receiving, sharing and partnering, so more can be accomplished than we could ever imagine!
Lord, thank you for the opportunities you provide to be generous. Amen.
Wednesday, April 18, 2018
Phil. 4:8 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
I love the way in which Paul brings together his thoughts regarding fear, anxiety, and dealing with daily struggles. He gives us advice on the self-discipline of positive thoughts. We are to take the time to think about things that are honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise. I think he’s saying — make a list, and think about these things!
Sometimes the word of God becomes incredibly practical. In a world of social media and 24/7 news cycles, it seems that we live in the midst of a feeding frenzy for bad news. It’s as if we choose to dwell in the cesspool of negativity and we are all getting sucked down into the muck. If we are to live above this and have victorious Christian lives, then we must not allow the negativity to rule our lives. Instead, we need to adopt these practices brought to us by the Apostle Paul.
What if we began to make a list every day of the honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent and praise worthy things that we experience? I think our lives would begin to change. Here are some practical suggestions I’d like to make:
- If you use social media, try posting at least one positive message a day. It could be praising someone, or about an encounter, or just a good word.
- If you are engaged in a discussion on social media that could be negative, try to bring about a different perspective in the conversation.
- If people are talking about someone and they are laying on the negativity — bring up the positives about the individual. Serve as a counter-balance to the conversation.
- Compliment the people that serve you — whether in a restaurant, on the telephone with customer service, or someone at the cash register.
- Tell your spouse good things; how much you love and appreciate them. Thank them for the ordinary activities they do to make your life easier.
- Tell your pastor what you liked about church last Sunday. Often our pastors only hear the criticisms and it’s very hard on them.
You could probably help add to the list! I encourage us to take this very practical advice from Paul and make it one of the disciplines in our lives and see if our attitude about everything just might change.
Lord, I thank and praise you today for the wonderful husband I have that gives so much of himself to help me. Thank you for beautiful daughters, inside and out, who love and serve you. I’m grateful for two sons-in-law who are precious gifts to our family. Thank you for the joy of two granddaughters who light up the room by their presence. May this be a joyful day in service to you, Lord. Amen.
Tuesday, April 17, 2018
Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Paul had been in enough situations in life that he would have understood the temptation to worry. At the same time he had learned much about the faithfulness of God. This was a man who learned to pray continually, in every single circumstance of life, always giving the situation back to God.
The result of Paul’s prayers was that he learned about the peace of God. This peace would wash over him, even when he couldn’t explain what it was that was happening in his life. He knew that by praying and spending time in God’s presence, the hearts and minds of believers would be guarded. Only in this way could peace reign in the most difficult of circumstances.
It seems that most followers of Jesus Christ would say that prayer must be a priority. At the same time, while we say this with our words, I’m not so sure that we practice it with our lives. Real time in prayer takes self-discipline and a commitment to spending time with the Lord. Paul had learned that prayer was a regular and on-going practice in his life. It had become a part of who he was and he was in continual conversation with the Lord. In the same way prayer is to become a part of our lives. It takes time and self-discipline so that we can develop this kind of a relationship with our holy God.
Anxiety is pervasive in society and Christians are not immune. The promise from God is that we can live in the peace of Christ, even when in the midst of difficulties. After the resurrection Jesus appeared to his followers and declared, “Peace be with you.” This was his promise, even when he knew that they would all be facing challenging times and many difficulties. The peace of God was a promise that would bind the hearts and minds of those who were willing to daily soak in God’s holy presence.
There will be plenty of situations in life that will cause worry and anxiety. We are challenged to live into a life of prayer, committing ourselves to getting to know Christ on an ever-increasing level. It’s then that the Prince of Peace becomes a greater reality, enveloping us in God’s holy love and presence. Prayer becomes the antidote for anxiety, for it unleashes the peace of Christ.
Lord, please lead me onward in my walk with you. Please hep name to dwell in that place of your holy peace. Amen.
Saturday, April 14, 2018
Phil. 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
Paul was in prison and yet, he was rejoicing in the Lord, and encouraging others to do the same.
I find it far too easy to get grumpy about first-world problems. It’s irritating when electronics don’t work the way they’re supposed to! We don’t like it when a flight is delayed, or when one of our favorite foods is no longer available at the local drive-through! Wow — how terrible is all of that? (dripping with sarcasm) It’s just not that bad, and yet, I think we live in a society that may encourage us to gripe and complain. We all believe that we ought to have things our way, and if not, somehow we have been terribly slighted.
Paul had given up every benefit for the sake of others. He was willing to live under house arrest — paying for his own “jail” — so that he could minister to others. He referred to the fact that he was in chains — and yet, he rejoiced.
Something happens in our lives when we choose to be positive. Instead of focusing on the negatives, when we intentionally embrace the good in our lives, our entire outlook changes. It means that we can be in difficult circumstances and yet, we can rejoice in the Lord.
Just think, when our electronics don’t work, we may have the opportunity to meet or speak with someone who needs to hear a cheery voice. Maybe a flight delay opens up the door for conversation with the seat mate, who just may have needed to be encouraged. And that favorite food, maybe it wasn’t all that healthy after all — and we rejoice because we are no longer tempted to eat it! We can take the things that frustrate it, and make every moment an opportunity to rejoice in the Lord!
Maybe Paul knew that would not always be easy so he had to say it again. Let’s try and be positive, finding a way to rejoice and praise the Lord for our lives. We are probably better off than we ever imagined.
Lord, I rejoice in you today and give you the praise. Thank you for allowing me the privilege of being your child and serving you. Amen.
Thursday, April 12, 2018
Phil. 4:2 I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.
Evidently there were two wonderful women in the church in Philippi who were not in agreement with one another. They seemed to have differing opinions about something and it may have been tearing up the church. Paul asks them to please “be of the same mind in the Lord.” In other words, find unity in what you really believe, and leave the rest alone.
If the women couldn’t come to the same mind on their own, he pleaded with others to help them. They were good women, who had worked hard together with Paul. Good women, who needed to come to a place of reconciliation.
Disagreement or discord among believers is terribly destructive to the kingdom. I believe that this is the place where the enemy tries to work the hardest. Our feelings do get hurt and often we begin to dig in and refuse to budge because we are “in the right.” Sometimes that matter of being in the right is simple a matter of perspective. Suddenly you can have two people on opposite sides of the spectrum declaring that they are right! Now, if there is no discussion or willingness to compromise, a stalemate occurs.
We all know what happens next. They each begin to gather around themselves those who will agree with their opinion. Or, even if they don’t agree, they are almost pushed into the opinion from a perspective of “loyalty.” Friendships begin to be questions and the rift among a congregation of believers can become huge. What began as a small disagreement from two individuals with differing perspectives tears apart an entire community of believers and the congregation loses its effectiveness. Euodia and Syntyche are blinded to the effects of their decisions because they are both so determined to be “right.”
There is a need for reconciliation and now it’s time for others to intervene. This kind of a divide cannot continue for its destructive forces will render the witness of the entire church useless. The process of reconciliation must be bathed in much prayer, on the part of those hoping to intervene, and on the part of Euodia and Syntyche. Only when all parties humble themselves before the Lord will they begin to see the situation through the eyes of others. Jesus was willing to humble himself for our sakes, becoming human, living, dying and resurrected, all for us. What are we willing to do for others? Jesus didn’t demand his own rights, but humbly submitted them for people who were completely unworthy. When I demand my own rights at the risk of creating havoc within the community of faith, I am no longer responding like Jesus.
The reality is that people will never do everything right. Opportunities for hurt feelings will abound, but never let those feelings destroy what God wants to do in the community of faith. If the individuals involved cannot come to common ground, then may others intercede to help bring about one mind, reconciliation, in Christ.
Lord, please help me to have the mind of Christ. May there be peace among your people — the church. Amen.
Monday, April 9, 2018
Phil. 3:17 Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. 18 For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. 19 Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. 21 He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.
Considering the fact that there was no New Testament at the time and that Paul’s letters were the nearest thing toward a Christian scripture, it’s no wonder that he felt that he had to be a role model for these believers. The people of Philippi were encouraged to look around and find those who could serve as examples for the way in which they were to live.
In contrast, there were people who served as examples to avoid. These were the ones who were living as enemies to the cross. Sadly, the way in which they lived broke Paul’s heart because he wanted them to experience something much better. Unfortunately they were drawn to the things of the world and to satisfying the desires of the flesh. All of this overwhelmed them and their lives and became far more important than knowing Christ.
The gentle reminder was to remember that our citizenship is now in heaven. Christ, the Messiah, will take the pain that we may now be suffering in the flesh and transform it by his power and for his glory.
Paul realized that his life was a living testament to the work of Jesus Christ in his life. He knew that many other people were counting on him and he took it all very seriously. Therefore, he submitted his life to the authority of Christ every single day and kept pressing on toward the goal.
While we do have the entire Bible at our disposal, I don’t think that its presence rules out the need for spiritual role models for our lives. I’ve heard a number of people say that pastors and religious leaders are “simply human” and don’t need to be held to a higher standard, and yet, I can’t imagine Paul having thought that way. He realized that what he did in life had an impact on the lives of others. What religious leaders do in their daily and private lives has a direct impact on the spiritual lives of others who are watching! No matter how hard one might try to excuse the life of a minister as “ordinary” there are far too many people who are watching and hoping that there will be those who model the way.
Spiritual role models are necessary and they don’t have to just be spiritual leaders in vocational ministry. Probably the greatest spiritual role models throughout history have been mothers. Children have their eyes on their parents, watching their every move and wondering what that means for their lives. My mother was my spiritual role model. From her I learned to have devotions and to pray, and to reach out and love neighbors. She cared for the woman next door who was dying. My mother made food for the new neighbors who moved in next door. After another family lost their child, it was my mother who was there ministering to them and their needs. We didn’t talk about the things that she did — I just watched it all with eyes wide open!
Yesterday morning I was holding my granddaughter at church and something was mentioned about baptism. The previous Sunday (Easter), her father had been baptized. He had given his life to Christ as a little child, but he had a deathly fear of going under the water and so had avoided baptism. My daughter and so-in-law have chosen to have their children baptized as infants and every night before they go to bed, they bless the girls and ask them if they will live into their baptism. A couple of months ago Mackenzie, two and a half years of age, asked her dad, “Do you live into your baptism?” He decided then that he needed to be baptized! So, yesterday morning Mackenzie began telling me about her daddy’s baptism in great detail. “He wore white and held his nose like this (and she grabs her nose and wrist).” “Mommy helped him and he came out of the water.” I was amazed at all that she remembered from the previous week. Little eyes, watching and studying every move are looking for role models.
Just because we are getting older doesn’t mean that we don’t need role models. I’m constantly glancing the horizon for those who are role models and leading the way for all of us. I want to follow after them, as they follow after Christ. Then, there’s the wonderful moment when you find someone similar to yourself to follow and that provides additional energy.
We must all serve as role models, and find models to be followed. I believe that it’s part of God’s plan for the community of faith. Maybe this is why intergenerational worship is such a great need in the life of the church. We really do need each other — and every generation — and every gender — and every race — because somewhere there, we will continue to press on toward Christ, at the encouragement of others.
Lord, thank you for the amazing men and women whom you’ve placed into my life to become role models for me. Please help me to be a good model as well. Amen.
Sunday, April 8, 2018
Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but 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 heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you. Only let us hold fast to what we have attained.
Paul would have been an old man now and have walked with Jesus through the seasons of his life. He could have relaxed and said, “I’ve made it!,” but he didn’t. Instead, he was declaring that he was still on the journey and had not yet reached the goal, or come to completion. He always knew that there would be more and that he wouldn’t be complete until he was united with Christ. Therefore, he always kept Christ before him, and continually pressed on to become more and more like him.
He referred to the believers in Philippi as “beloved.” Fellow sojourners become beloved partners in the journey to know Christ. Even in his own pain and suffering he continued to be concerned with the welfare of others. He reminded them that he was not concerned with what had happened in the past, he would just lean into the direction of Christ.
Finally he expresses concern that those who are mature must pray to be of the same mind. There needs to be unity in the church, and if there is an disunity it needs to be brought before the Lord and allow Christ to reveal his will. Never give up on the journey, but hang on, and lean in until the very end.
Wherever we may find ourselves on this spiritual journey, we are encouraged to never give up. Sometimes it will feel like an uphill climb, or as if the wind is blowing hard against us, but we are encouraged to keep pressing on, leaning into the troubles and continually pressing on toward Jesus Christ.
We have all had disappointments in life, and at times we’ve probably been quite discouraged. If we allow ourselves to live there, or to allow those times to consume who we are, we will lose sight of the goal. Jesus is the goal and he is continually drawing us toward him. Turning our backs and looking at what we’ve had to leave behind will make us lose focus. It’s what the enemy would want us to do. Paul knew what he was talking about, he had experienced much in life.
No matter the pressures, even when they seem overwhelming, we hold onto Jesus. He is our rock and will not allow us to fall. Hold firm to the fact that Jesus loves us and wants the best for us. You may feel as if you’re drowning right now, but Jesus has you. Lean into him and allow him to pull you through.
Remember, in the midst of the struggle, you are not alone. The mature members of the community are right there with you, shoulder to shoulder, helping you make it through. Together we can make it and the power of the Holy Spirit can help us lean into Jesus. And then we just keep on leaning, and pushing, and driving and eventually we will experience the same joy that Paul has — when we see Jesus face to face. Don’t give up!
Lord, may the Holy Spirit be the gentle thumb in my back that keeps me leaning into you! Amen.
Saturday, April 7, 2018
Philippians 3:10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
The passionate cry of the Apostle Paul is heard here. All the desires of his life have become focused on knowing Jesus Christ. This knowledge has to come about by faith, because we must accept the good news brought to us from that first Easter Sunday — that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead. We are invited to know this resurrection power when, by faith, we are crucified with him. We submit to the authority of Jesus and the kingdom in our lives, and in that way, we are raised to new life, that which is lived in and for the eternal. We become dead to the things below.
The beauty of this passage is that it gives us a picture of baptism. Baptism is the outward sign of the inward work of grace in our lives. When we submit to this most ancient of church sacraments we are participating with Christ. This participation is “knowing” Christ in a way which is more than simply head knowledge. Instead, this is an intimacy in which we are united together with Christ — He in his incarnation, death and resurrection — all of which brings us new life. Just as he united with humanity in the incarnation, we are united with God when we, through faith, acknowledge Christ as our Messiah. It is then that we die to self, going under the water of baptism, and are raised up out of the water, into new life, or resurrection.
When we intentionally unite ourselves to Christ, we become willing to sharing in his sufferings. He suffered for us; we must be willing to sufferer for the sake of others. Public baptism may even bring with it suffering and shame because there are those who will mock us for participating in this sacrament. Yet, our public witness and the grace bestowed upon us in the sacrament are powerful. God’s prevenient, or “preventing” grace experienced in baptism goes with us throughout life, powerfully drawing us into the life of the resurrected Christ.
Paul is expressing the power found in the life transformed through faith and baptism. The result is a participation in the life of Christ which is focused on the kingdom. Everything is done in relation to the new life lived for the sake of Christ. Resurrection power is experienced in the here and now in this newness of life, and resurrection from the dead begins as we are raised up out of the baptismal waters. This is the passionate cry of Paul which he hopes to convey not only to the Philippians, but to all who will read this Epistle and for centuries thereafter, including you and me.
Lord, please help me to live into my baptism day in and day out, for your glory. Amen.
Friday, April 6, 2018
Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh! For it is we who are the circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and boast in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh—
Evidently one of the greatest dangers to the church in Philippi was their dependence upon the flesh, or upon human powers or abilities. They were constantly surrounded by those who would propagate unusual teachings, but all of these being based in the flesh. There were those who suggested that sexual immorality was a good thing, and those who engaged in evil, along with others who practiced physical mutilation for religious or traditional purposes. This included those who may want to insist that Christians needed to be circumcised. Paul would have nothing of it.
All of the false teachers were encouraging the believers to be a particular way “in the flesh.” Paul argued that the believers were already circumcised, but this in their hearts. It had been done as a spiritual act of worship. Confidence for the believer is never to be in the flesh, but it is the Spirit of God who draws into genuine worship. There is nothing to boast about, but Christ alone.
I have been to many life-long learning sessions. I began my life as a nurse and there is always continuing education to be had, and now, as a minister, there is a realization that we must never stop learning. We are to become better along the way, but there is a caution here as well. All of our learning; all of our upbringing; all of experiences — they are all wonderful, but they are nothing in comparison to knowing Christ. The danger that we face is becoming dependent upon ourselves and our skills and abilities.
One of the great self-help tools of the last few years has been “Strengths Finders.” Now, I’ll be honest, this has been an outstanding tool and it has helped me in many ways to learn more about myself and others with whom I work. At the same time, I feel that I must be cautious about having this knowledge. Because it focuses on developing the areas where we are strong, it makes me wonder about scriptures such as, “When I am weak, he is strong.” In other words, what about my dependence upon God? It’s often in my weakest moments that I learn more about trust and my complete need for God in my life. Then there’s, “Lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths.”
So, what do I do with my Strengths’ Finders? We have all those strengths listed below our names on our e-mail! I think we should use them as guides, but never signs of the flesh upon which we become dependent. Our confidence must come for our relationship with God. We believe in the transformational power of God’s Holy Spirit in our lives, who takes our weaknesses and empowers them so we can be more than we would have ever imagined. That’s what Paul’s talking about. No boasting in the flesh, or your strengths, or your finances, or your pedigree — learn to trust in Jesus alone!
Lord, pleased help me to trust in you every single day. Please help me to keep the distractions at a minimum so that I can hear your voice and follow your leading. Amen.
Thursday, April 5, 2018
Phil. 2:25 Still, I think it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus—my brother and co-worker and fellow soldier, your messenger and minister to my need; 26 for he has been longing for all of you, and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. 27 He was indeed so ill that he nearly died. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, so that I would not have one sorrow after another. 28 I am the more eager to send him, therefore, in order that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. 29 Welcome him then in the Lord with all joy, and honor such people, 30 because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for those services that you could not give me.
Epaphroditus had been sent by the church in Philippi to go and minister to Paul. To be sent was to be a “messenger,” or in Greek, an “apostol.” This was a special ministry that Epaphroditus had fulfilled, being sent by the church in Philippi to minister to the needs of Paul, while he was in prison in Rome.
He worked faithfully with Paul in a partnership for the gospel. The words of collegiality are spoken; “my brother,” “co-worker,” and “fellow soldier.” The one who had been sent was faithful in fulfilling his responsibilities and showed great love and affection for Paul, suffering and coming close to death on behalf of the work of Christ. We have no details as to what he encountered, but we know that he embraced being sent and laboring together with the great Apostle.
While Epaphroditus had been sent to Paul, it was now time to for him to return home. Paul didn’t want the church to misunderstand sending him back. Just has he had been an apostle to Paul, now Epaphroditus would be an apostle to the Philippian church. After nearly dying, Paul is sending him back home. Timothy is unable to come at this time, and the fact that Paul is sending Epaphroditus shows how much this one who was sent to him has learned and will now be able to bring back to the Philippians. Paul wants him to be warmly welcomed, not just as the one whom they had sent, but now, as the one whom Paul is sending to them. It will make Paul’s joy complete if they will welcome Epaphroditus back home, not as the one who left, but as one who has been sent out to share the good news and be faithful in the midst of tribulation. Epaphroditus was sent out to the Apostle, but would return home on behalf of the Apostle. Epaphroditus himself has become the living message, carrier of the good news, the sent one.
Needs abound, whether in our local community, our state, or even across the ocean. There will always be a need for some to respond to the call to be sent. It seems that our society is increasingly averse to moving or traveling too far. In a day and age when transportation provides great ease, I am amazed at how many college students couldn’t fathom being more than an hour from home. Many individuals choose to find new jobs rather than being moved across the country. Maybe it’s the digital age, but it seems that we want to put down roots and stay in the place where we have been planted. At the same time, we need to people who will be open to the call. There are those who need to be sent outside their comfort zone and minister in the name of Jesus Christ.
Who will go? Who is going to answer the call? God is still in the business of calling people to follow him to the very ends of the earth. We are in need of a few more individuals like Epaphroditus who was willing to give up the comforts of home to go and minister to Paul. The result was the he was personally transformed and then, able to be used by God to be sent again — back to his home.
There are seasons in life and there may be a time when we are sent elsewhere, and then we may be sent back home. That’s not a guarantee, nor is it a promise. Instead, it’s an openness to be sent, wherever God may need you.
Who will go into the world and make a radical difference? Epaphroditus was willing to do whatever was necessary to serve Paul and the church. We need a few more these days who will answer that call and be willing to leave all behind for the sake of the gospel. Who will go?
Lord, may I always be willing to go where you send me. I, too, want to be one of those who is sent, and obedient. Amen.
Wednesday, April 4, 2018
Phil. 2:19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I may be cheered by news of you. 20 I have no one like him who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. 21 All of them are seeking their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But Timothy’s worth you know, how like a son with a father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. 23 I hope therefore to send him as soon as I see how things go with me; 24 and I trust in the Lord that I will also come soon.
Paul had invested much time and energy into the life of Timothy. It is apparent that Paul now had complete trust in Timothy and that he would faithfully fulfill his duties. He was confident that he could send Timothy in his place because he knew that Timothy’s passion and concern would reflect his own. There would be no self-interest in all of this, but simply a genuine desire to glorify Jesus Christ.
Taking the time to invest in the lives of others is vitally important. Every now and then God will place a Timothy into your life. He was a young man that was worth the investment. Paul could see his potential that simply needed some nurture and care. There were times that Timothy was timid and afraid, and that he needed encouragement. He was young in his ministry assignment and there were those who didn’t always like the ways in which he did things. Timothy probably had trouble speaking up for himself and yet, there were always those letters from Paul. He encouraged Timothy to keep pressing on, never to be distracted and to remain faithful for the mission of Jesus Christ.
Intentionality in discipleship and mentorship is vital if we are to have a future. There will always be young people like Timothy with great potential, but sometimes what is needed is encouragement to be unlocked, or unleashed. As followers of Jesus Christ we should always be looking for opportunities to raise up the next generation of leaders. There is no need to be intimidated by them, for our greatest joy will come from watching them grow and develop far beyond our capabilities. Paul knew what Timothy’s weaknesses were, but he never exploited them, instead he found ways to strengthen them for the benefit of the kingdom.
It becomes pretty obvious that Timothy was willing to be mentored. His spirit of humility comes through in his actions. He has learned from Paul what it means to truly follow Jesus Christ. He doesn’t seem to try and take the place of Paul, or do this work or ministry for selfish gain. The motivations of the heart need to be checked when one is seeking a mentor. The motivation should always be for the sake of the kingdom, not to receive personal fame. Genuine love for God and love for others needs to flow out of the recesses of one’s heart.
When this faithful mentorship becomes a two-way street, it is possible to hand off the baton to the next generation. This is faithful cultivation of sustainability within the kingdom of God. We all have a responsibility to act in this way, respecting and encouraging others to be faithful and successful in the work that God has called us all to do. Suddenly there is genuine love for God and service that rises above all other motivations and the Lord is glorified.
We find great joy in the work of others when we realize it is all for the sake of God’s kingdom.
Lord, open my eyes to be discipled and to be a discipler for your glory. Amen.
Tuesday, April 3, 2018
Philippians 2:16 It is by your holding fast to the word of life that I can boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 17 But even if I am being poured out as a libation over the sacrifice and the offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you— 18 and in the same way you also must be glad and rejoice with me.
The Christian life is not a sprint, but a marathon. Paul knew this only too well, and he felt the need to encourage the church in Philippi. There was a great need to hold fast to the word, to Christ, who is the light of the world. They were to shine like stars, and this could only be possible if they reflected the light of Christ. In reflecting the light, the Philippian believers would offer the word, as life to a world in need.
Paul’s life was an example of personal sacrifice for the sake of others. Holding fast to Christ, he was now willing to be poured out, over the sacrifice, for others. He did not consider himself worthy enough to be considered the sacrifice, for this was Christ, but he was poured out as a liquid, over the sacrifice. In the midst of this he found great joy, for these followers of Christ, they were his joy.
Now, understanding the need to hold fast and the joy found in faith of others, the Philippians were to follow Paul’s example. They were to rejoice with Paul, all the while holding fast to the word, and allowing themselves to be poured out for the sake of others. This was a life of faith, one in which the commitment was made for the long haul, where holding fast became second nature, and sacrifice a normal practice.
Sometimes it’s really hard to keep going when you don’t see any results. Walking with the Lord day in and day out, holding fast to the word, we come to him with expectations. Often our expectations are not met in our own personal timing. We want things to happen faster, and in the way in which we imagined. But that’s just not the way in which God works.
Today’s passage is a gentle reminder that the Christian life is one of an on-going journey into transformation. There may be some dramatic moments, but for the most part, it will be a steady journey of holding fast. Somedays that will look like holding onto a bucking bronco that is determined to send us crashing to the ground. Other times it will be a gentle ride in which we are tempted to let go and shout, “look, no hands!” We all know that when we do that we are not prepared for the unexpected, and down we go!
What does it mean to hold fast to the word? We must embrace the daily discipline of spending time reading the word of God. We must allow the word to leap off the pages and enter into our personal lives. The word must become transformative in our actions and reactions. Even when we feel as if we are going through a dry spell, we continue onward, for in the long-haul, it will make a difference.
Holding fast to the word means that I let go of self-interest. Life begins to revolve around knowing and becoming more like Christ. My life becomes an offering for the sake of others that need to know the Savior. Suddenly, we find that we have followed Paul on his journey, reflecting Christ and shining like stars in the world.
Lord, please help me have the courage and the strength to hang on and follow you faithfully. Amen.
Monday, April 2, 2018
Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world.
This is a continuation of the thoughts from Paul which he wrote after including the beautiful first-century hymn. Because of all Jesus has done for us, then we are to act in particular ways. We follow the example of Christ, who did not complain, but emptied himself and became a human. Just think of all the ways in which Jesus could have murmured and argued with the Father! Living in human flesh, as we all know, is not always pleasant.
The implication is that the people of the secular world loved to murmur and argue, and that those who follow Christ don’t respond in the same way that others in the world may. In the midst of corruption and perversion, Christians are to shine like stars.
There are days in which I really do feel like murmuring and complaining. I’m thinking that I have this skill along with the best of us. That’s why this scripture is so challenging, because it reminds us of the incredible sacrifice of Christ and his beautiful response, and the challenge to all of us. To follow Christ means that we learn to respond to the difficulties of life in a way that reflects our relationship with him.
I’ll confess that my struggle in this area is when I feel that there has been an injustice. What is our response to be? Do we stand up for the injustice, or do we allow things to happen so we are not murmuring or complaining? When are we complaining, and when are we simply standing up for what is right? How far do we press an issue? Have you ever found yourself there? This causes me angst because I want to be like Christ, and yet, I feel that allowing people to get away with abuses that affect others, or maybe even me, is just not fair! I’m praying for that place in which I find the right balance and that I can imitate Christ.
This leads me to believe that the murmuring and arguing may have been about petty things. There seems to be a connection to a crooked and perverse generation, and the new Christian life may have seemed a heavy burden to bear because it would have been so radically different from Roman society. Yes, Paul thought that Christ’s followers could shine like stars in the world, and this needed to be done without murmuring or complaining. Jesus had challenged his followers to take up the cross and follow him. Yes, do this without murmuring or arguing. Serve Jesus every single day in ways which will be contrary to society, and do it with a good attitude!
We have tried to live dangerously close to the practices of the world. In some ways, we have made our faith a Christianity of convenience. It’s easier not to argue or murmur when there’s nothing to give up! The reality of the commitment to Christ is one of self-sacrificial living, just like Jesus. He gave up everything for us, and we are to be willing to give up everything for him. We do this without murmuring or arguing, and the result is that we shine like stars in comparison to the dark, perverted, and crooked world in which we live.
Lord, thank you for your resurrection life which gives power to transform. Please, help me to live in that power, willing to be at odds with the world around. Amen.
Sunday, March 25, 2018
Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
As the beautiful early church hymn comes to a close the people of God are invited into the conversation. The beloved are those who have come to follow Jesus Christ. Paul encourages those who have followed him, to continue to work out their salvation “with fear and trembling.” All of this is in light of the beautiful kenosis hymn which has just been quoted. The humility of the Almighty God has resulted in the uniting of humanity with the Divine and participation in the Triune God. For those who have already come to the Lord, there is the charge to continue to work out their salvation, which is an encouragement to continue in the spiritual journey. Each and every single person is to remain connected and “in” Christ, daily engaged in the spiritual journey.
With fear and trembling God’s children are to reverently and humbly engage in the spiritual walk. Paul would say that this includes the practice of virtues. In other words, Christ’s followers are to intentionally imitate him in their behaviors. This is studying and practicing to become more like Christ.
This activity is synergistic. As we put forth the effort to imitate Christ, God empowers us, “enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” In other words, when we work at becoming more like Christ, God empowers us to make it possible. This is what happens when God and Man are partnered together in the mission. This is not a works theology for we know that it is not by works that we are saved. However, this is the life of the sanctified. This is the one who has already been saved but must now remain on a journey of transformation into the very image and likeness of Christ. To do so, we practice being like Christ, but God empowers us, so eventually the world wonders whether they are seeing us imitating Christ, or Christ in us. It all becomes seamless, and this is what he means by working our your salvation.
I don’t recall being raised in an environment where we were encouraged to practice the virtues. That language wasn’t used, but I believe the principles were a part of the culture in which I was discipled. To follow Christ meant putting aside the things of the world and wholeheartedly seeking to know Christ. Some of us even wore bracelets embossed with WWJD (What Would Jesus Do). This was a great reminder that we were to have the mind of Christ and follow him in all things. We were to stop in different situations and consider what Christ would do.
We have stepped away from talking about particular behaviors because there was a period of time in which the church was quite legalistic. At the same time we must realize that to be imitators of Christ, to practice the virtues, to work out our salvation does include the embrace of particular practices. Let’s just think about a few of them:
- Our eating habits. We don’t know for sure, but I don’t think that Jesus overate. I’m guessing he ate what was necessary for his life and ministry. We know that there were those who traveled with him and cooked for his entire ministry team. Martha loved putting on a good meal. I’m sure that Jesus enjoyed eating a good meal with those around him, but he didn’t let food define who he was. Walking everywhere that he went, he would have gotten more than 10,000 steps in daily.
- Forgiving those who hurt us. Jesus refused to allow the attitudes of others to define who he was. He graciously forgave those around him, and even went out of his way to provide a pathway for their salvation.
- Ministering to the margins. Jesus hung out with people that others would have claimed were “unclean.” He intentionally went to those who were living at the margins and provided a pathway for transformation.
- Living a life of sexual purity. Yes, Jesus is an example for us, and Paul is continually speaking to God’s people that they are not to be engaged in the sexual practices of the day. The first century Roman Empire was a society in which all kinds of sexual acts were approved by the different religions. The Emperor was known to have married a young boy. The temple prostitutes were sanctioned to “help” people to worship. In the city of Corinth it’s known that the city was rampant with sexually transmitted diseases. Married men had relations with their wives so that they would bear children, but in the meantime found other male and female partners to satisfy their “passions.” To be a follower of Christ was to embrace a completely different lifestyle, one which would seem entirely at odds with the prevailing attitudes of the surrounding world.
- Honesty and Transparency become defining factors. Truth has, at times, taken a hit and probably needs to be practiced on a regular basis. It’s far too easy to speak into the grey areas, and yet, truth should be boldly pronounced and lived out in the life of the believer. Transparency should be a virtue, for Christ-followers ought to be those who have nothing to hide. This includes faithful financial stewardship and care of God’s resources.
- Prayer. Spending time in prayer becomes transformational and life sustaining for the Christ-follower. This is the place in which we are brought into intimate fellowship with the Triune God. Time must be set-aside for prayer. This isn’t just a five minute a day relationship with God, but a genuine intimate two-sided conversation in which we become vulnerable enough to have God tell us where we need to grow and mature.
- Scripture. Studying and reading the scriptures helps them to become a part of the fiber of our very being. Just recently I stopped to reflect on the years in which I’ve been spending this time in the word and journaling (blogging). It started out slow and methodical, and yet, I kept learning more and more. Now, I struggle to get through a chapter! (As you’ve probably already learned) Something else has happened and it’s been reflected in my preaching. I may prepare a sermon but in the moment God seems to draw something out of me, and I’m surprised. What I’ve discovered recently is that this slow plodding, spending time in the word for years is suddenly bubbling out of me in unexpected ways. The well of knowledge of the word and God is continually taking me deeper and filling my life, and God is using that to speak to others.
We could all go on and on, making our lists of things that may be the virtues that we are to pursue. The reality is that in everything we do, we are to practice Christ with excellence, and in that moment God’s power will enable us to do more than we could ask or imagine. Then, as we work out our salvation, the world will wonder whether they are watching us imitate Christ, or Christ in us.
Lord, I pray for your strength and guidance to be all I can for you. Amen.
Saturday, March 24, 2018
Phil. 2:9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Something amazing happens in this hymn. First there is the focus on the humility of Christ and the beauty of his incarnation. Then comes the connecting word “therefore” that leads us to new heights in understanding the love of God. This is the exaltation of humanity because Christ's humility was the assumption of human flesh. It was not Jesus that needed the exaltation — it was us!
By assuming human flesh, Jesus was able to exalt humanity, saving us from death. When Jesus was lifted up by the Father, so were we. Jesus creates a human bridge between created and Creator that allows us to become partakers of the Divine nature; we can now fellowship with the Triune God.
We are the ones who were in desperate need of this work of God. We all die in Christ, but are then exalted and raised up with him. The result is a Christian life which is empowered by the resurrection. Paul’s purpose in reminding the church of this hymn is unity. Jesus’ followers journey with him in humility to the cross, and are exalted with him into a holy life. In this scenario there is no room for fighting, or personal ambition, only a church community that is focused on Christ.
The beauty of Christ’s humility and exaltation is that it has a profound effect on our lives. It is in walking the pathway of humility that we are able to experience the exaltation. This is a message of hope and transformation for the here and now. We don’t have to wait until death to experience the exaltation, but it’s God’s desire for us to participate in Christ today.
Many people in all of Christendom will be baptized on Easter. This has been a part of Christian tradition for nearly 2000 years. It makes sense when we see baptism as dying out to our former selves and raising up out of the water, united with Christ in new life. Baptism itself is humility and exaltation.
Far too many of us get lost in humility, and often a false humility at that. A bruised self-image is not humility. Allowing our emotions to be beaten up by others and destroying any healthy sense of self is not what this passage is about. It is about the sacrifice of personal ambition, for the sake of Christ. It is about laying down ourselves, our self-interest, our desire to be “right,” so that we may know Christ.
The beauty of being united with Christ is that we may participate in a transformed community. This isn’t easy because our own thoughts, ideas, opinions and egos can easily get in the way. But that’s why following Jesus is different. If we truly unite with him in humility, we experience the exaltation or participation with him. This is where the renewing of our minds takes place, and no longer do we need to prove that we are right, or that our way is the best way. Instead, there is a genuine desire to know Christ, and this radically transforms our thinking.
Exaltation is our sanctification as we are united with our holy God. The awesomeness of this encounter can only lead us to praise and adoration, where we confess that Jesus is Lord! The significance of this phrase would not have been lost on those first-century believers. Only Caesar was called Lord, because the people believed in the deification of the Emperor. This was the deification of Christ, who created a pathway for humanity to be united with the Divine. “Jesus is Lord” was a declaration that the humility and exaltation had accomplished much more than any earthly ruler could even imagine.
This weekend we celebrate Palm Sunday. The people were excited and engaged in praising Jesus, but they had no comprehension of who he really was and what he would accomplish. If we don’t humble ourselves, we won’t have any substantive understanding either. Let’s not get stuck at Palm Sunday, but begin, even now, to dive into resurrection life and Christ’s exaltation. It will be transformational.
Lord, may I follow you in humility, and live in the power of resurrection. Amen.