- 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.
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:
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.
Thursday, March 22, 2018
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
This beautiful first-century hymn gives us a glimpse of the early church’s understanding of Jesus. They were close to the reality of Christ, some having witnessed his very life and ministry here on earth. How would those who had seen him try to describe him?
This hymn affirms the divine nature of Christ, and that he is God. It also affirms that Jesus viewed power in a way which would always be used for the good of others, and that this is an attribute of God. God, the eternal and creative, who is all-powerful, uses power for the sake of others. Or, is even willing to relinquish power for the sake of others, which is what Christ did voluntarily. It was in his nature to try and reach out to all of humanity.
Jesus models servant leadership, being willing to take the lowest position so that he can create a pathway for humanity to be united with the Triune God. Jesus was willing to take upon himself the sins of all humanity and die because of his great love for all of us.
This hymn is one of praise for who Jesus is!
We are traveling through the season of Lent, following Jesus to the cross. To follow Jesus, we should really wrestle with who this Jesus is! Sometimes we have a rather sanitized version of Christ and fail to see the reality of what he has done for us, and what that means for us, if we are to become like him.
Humility, self-sacrifice, service to others, and relinquishing of power are all the hallmarks of Jesus’ life, and should be reflected in his disciples. If we are to become like Christ, then we are to have the mind of Christ, becoming like him. This doesn’t preach to those who are looking for an easy Christianity, or some kind of a prosperity gospel.
A recent Barna study revealed that young people in the United States are walking away from the faith because the faith they received as children was too much of a fantasy. Youth groups that were “fun,” and fancy playgrounds for children’s entertainment subtly taught that this is what Christianity is all about. When faced with the reality that Christianity was really something different, they have left, thinking that we’ve tried to pull some come of bait and switch.
Instead of trying to attract people by competing with the world, why not try and present the true Christ? No, it’s not always a pretty picture, but it is real, and the Christ who humbles himself, is also the Christ who walks with us day in and day out in the realities of the mess which we find in this world.
What would happen in our churches if we began to teach children from a small age that we are servants of others? When the church begins to model Christ’s activity, the world just may begin to take notice. Maybe they’ll cry out, “see how they love another,” and not, “look what a cool coffee bar they have.”
We don’t need to try and be like anything, but Christ. That takes true humility, because being a servant or slave, isn’t cool. But this is the true Jesus, the one who invites to come and follow him through Lent, and to the cross.
Lord, forgive me for when I’ve gotten it all wrong. Please, help me live into you and your life. Amen.
Tuesday, March 20, 2018
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
When this section comes to a conclusion we discover that Paul is talking about the mind of Christ. It is the character of God which is selfless, doing nothing out of selfish ambition, but everything for others. It is God’s character that is humble, which is why the incarnate Christ came for humanity. We are invited to participate with Christ, so that his mind becomes our mind, and his characteristics become our characteristics.
When we are in Christ we discover the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit unites us in fellowship with the Triune God. It is there that we discover the mind of Christ. His thoughts become our thoughts. His passions become our passions. His humility becomes our humility. His characteristics become our characteristics.
The life of a Christian becomes a witness to the presence of Christ. There should be an obvious transformation in the lives of God’s children, and the result visible for all. God didn’t take on the characteristic of humility, but his humility always existed. It was because of God’s humility that Christ became incarnate for all of humanity. The visible expression of the incarnation reveals the character of God’s holy love. Selfless self-giving for the sake of others becomes the overwhelming picture into which we are invited to be drawn.
If there is no humility; no putting others above yourself, then maybe we need to question whether we truly are in Christ. This is the witness of the Spirit in our lives, the mind of Christ, actively engaged in our daily lives. This brings glory to God.
Lord, I want to know you more. I want the mind of Christ to be revealed in who I am on a daily basis. Amen.
Sunday, March 18, 2018
Philippians 2:1 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.
Christ becomes the encouragement for God’s people, his life an example of sacrifice for the sake of others. If God’s people are “in” Christ, then self-centeredness is being destroyed on an on-going basis. Love fills our being and there is no room left self, but the Holy Spirit brings about transformation.
Paul’s joy is made complete when he witnesses the destruction of self-centeredness and now sees the unity of the body of Christ. The mind of the believer is to be joined to the mind of Christ and to the mind of neighbor. Together the love poured out in participation with Christ binds the community of believers together in holy love. Selfish ambition and conceit (self-centeredness) should not be evident in the lives of the believers. Christ’s spirit of humility should so overwhelm a believer that they give themselves in constant service to others. Our own interests become sacrificed in service to others.
This entire passage is actually a positive reflection on the life centered in Christ. Why would I pick such a negative title? Because, if we take this passage and look at the opposite of what it is telling us, we discover the incredibly destructive nature of self-centeredness.
- When we focus on ourselves we will not receive any encouragement from being “in” Christ. We won’t have time to spend with Christ because we allow the activities that are of greater priority to use up our time. More than likely, we will become angry and blame God when things aren’t going our way.
- Compassion and sympathy become distant when we are self-centered. It becomes difficult to see the needs in others, or to empathize with what may have brought them to this place in life. Instead, we are critical and blame those who are in a difficult state, sure that they are responsible for their own problems.
- For those who have tried to mentor us, there is no joy. Parents, pastors, Sunday School teachers, and friends, who try to lead us in the direction of Christ are often hurt by the self-centeredness of the individual who refuses to live wholeheartedly for Christ. The pain comes from watching the individual make destructive choices that will have long-lasting impact.
- Selfish ambition and conceit define choices and activity. Success becomes the key, at any cost. Even if other people are hurt or damaged along the way, it becomes acceptable because ambition drives this individual. Putting other people down, letting them know that they are not worthy of the same status becomes a characteristic. This is usually done in an effort to make the individual feel better about themselves, but the cost is others’ egos.
- The interests of the self are always more important than those of others. There is no concern about the effects of one’s liberties on the lives of others. What feels good and right becomes the priority.
This is a picture of what should not happen in the church, nor in the life of a believer. Our self-centeredness needs to be given over to God, so that the Spirit can fill to overflowing. This creates the potential for unity within the body of Christ, and joy.
The picture of a church focused entirely on Christ and in service to others is beautiful. These people, willing to give up their own desires for the needs of others, will reflect Christ in all things. While self-centeredness may be destructive, Christ-centeredness will result in the flourishing of all involved.
Lord, may your Spirit daily fill to overflowing until there remains nothing but you! Amen.
Saturday, March 17, 2018
Phil. 1:27 Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, 28 and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. 29 For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well— 30 since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.
Paul’s concern for the church in Philippi is one of spiritual consistency. He knows the dangers of hypocrisy, for if Christians do not live as they preach and speak, their witness will be invalidated. Just as Paul endeavors to live every day of his life worthy of being a servant of Christ, so every follower of Christ is to do the same. Whether someone is watching you live your life, or not, that should not matter. What matters is to remain faithful.
Unity within the community of faith was absolutely vital for this consistent witness. Believers are to spur one another on, linking arms and uniting in the mission of God. When this happens, when believers are bound together in their faith and holy love, then they are able to withstand the pressures from without. When the outside pressures do not prevail against the believers, they would see the reality of what God has done.
The privilege of serving, is that believers will be invited to participate in the life of Christ, including his suffering. But we will only struggle against the outside forces when we refuse to live in hypocrisy. Genuine servants of God become a real threat, but those who embrace hypocrisy are eventually abandoned, for they have no power.
One of the greatest criticisms against Christianity is what people view as hypocrisy. Not only is the world watching, and I believe, hoping that Christians will be genuine, but so are other Christians and young people, wanting to know whether this faith is real. The temptation to be Christian on Sunday and do your own thing throughout the week is not anything new. Paul was encouraging this new church in Philippi, that these believers, needed to be careful. Their faith in Christ could not be something that they simply wore on the exterior, but they had to be genuine, through and through. They needed to allow Christ to so fill their lives that they lived as his representatives here on earth.
One can often avoid hypocrisy by living a life of accountability. This is why the community of faith is so important to our own spiritual growth and development. Are we vulnerable enough to ask others to comment on what may appear to be hypocrisy in our own lives?
Being a part of the community of faith means that we are serious about becoming like Christ. I guarantee that this will put us at odds with society, because culture is not comfortable when the light of Christ is shone into dark corners. But when God’s people respond in holy love, Jesus is revealed.
This last year there were many hurricanes and floods in the Americas. Numerous people suffered as a result of the the damaging storms. I had the privilege of traveling to South Texas to survey some of the damage, but also to participate with a Disaster Response Team. Everywhere we drove, there were church vans, busses, and teams of Christians helping strangers to clean up in their time of need. This was Christianity in action, and those actions spoke loudly about love of God and neighbor. This is the church in action and it becomes powerful, opposing the negative voices. God’s people linking arms and reflecting the love of Christ, not at a worship service on Sunday, but in service to their neighbors.
Hypocrisy makes us weak and destroys our testimony. We need each other to keep us accountable, genuine, and strong. The world needs genuine followers of Christ.
Lord, thank you for the reminder to continually seek you. Thank you for friends and family members who ask the hard questions and help us to remain real. Amen
Friday, March 16, 2018
Phil. 1:15 Some proclaim Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill. 16 These proclaim Christ out of love, knowing that I have been put here for the defense of the gospel; 17 the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but intending to increase my suffering in my imprisonment. 18 What does it matter? Just this, that Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true; and in that I rejoice.
Paul was in chains because of his love for Christ. When he encountered Christ on the road to Damascus, everything changed for him. He didn’t just embrace a faith, he embraced the author of that faith and fell deeply in love with Jesus. His passion was to know Christ and to proclaim Christ to everyone he could.
In Rome, it appears, he encountered those who were not happy with him, or his preaching. It may have been that there were those who were already working in Rome, preaching, and Paul’s appearance in town may not have been welcomed. They had been the well-known authorities or preachers of the word and now, this stranger appears and seems to have more authority. Out of envy, or jealousy, they may have been preaching, but with the intent that it would get Paul in more trouble. That maybe, if they preached even more zealously, it would arouse the anger of the Emperor so that he would take out his frustration on Paul.
Under house arrest, Paul has to contemplate what’s happening around him. He can’t get out. He can’t defend himself and he can’t believe that others who claimed to know Christ would behave in this way. One can only imagine that it took a time of deep personal reflection and intimate conversation with the Lord that he was able to come to his conclusion. The motives of these individuals were incredibly wrong. They preached for the wrong reason and they most certainly intended harm.
Maybe it was after the initial anger subsided that Paul had to examine his own heart. He wanted people to know Christ. Therefore, whether the motives of the other individuals were wrong or not, he would not try to stop them from preaching. If they thought they would do greater harm to Paul by preaching, then he wanted them to go on preaching. Paul was not motivated by personal preservation, but by love of Christ. If, in any way, shape or form, Christ could be preached, then he was willing to accept his own fate. He chose to rejoice and refused to react to then as enemies of the gospel. His motivation was to know Christ, and that was more important than anything.
It’s fascinating that those who intended to do harm, actually became agents whom God used to help Paul spread the good news. He was trapped and couldn’t get out into the city to preach. He did teach and preach every day from his chains, but I’m sure he also prayed about a way to bring the gospel to the city of Rome. He was able to rejoice that no matter what their motivation, the gospel was preached.
This speaks to the power of the message and not the messenger. The good news about Jesus may be inadvertently spoken by those who think they are in opposition. God doesn’t waste these kinds of opportunities and therefore we should not allow them to become a frustration. That’s the point here, that we cannot allow what others do to derail us from our relationship with God. We must also live every day in the realization that the power of God is greater than our current circumstances. With Paul, we slow down, we take a deep breath, we spend time in prayer, and then we see the good in what is happening. We rejoice anytime Christ is lifted up.
The heart will direct our actions. The contrast here is that Paul’s motivation allows him to see the good that can come out of this frustrating situation. Those who are preaching out of a wrong heart fail to see the good that their preaching is doing. The only “good” their preaching can do would be to harm Paul. They are blinded to the fact that the Holy Spirit is at work through their words and touching, transforming lives. It’s an odd contrast of motivations and actions and results. Yet, I would hope that we would want to find ourselves with a heart like Paul’s, whose motivation was to know Christ. If that becomes our motivation, we will begin to see, both the good and the bad around us, through a new lens.
Paul had to take time to check his own motivations. When he finally discovered he was not seeking self-preservation, he was able to see that God could use bad, for good. We all need regular moments of introspection and soul-searching. It is there that God helps set things in the right direction, and gives us a sense of peace.
Lord, may you be preached, and may my heart be always turned toward you. Amen
Wednesday, March 14, 2018
I want you to know, beloved, that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ; and most of the brothers and sisters, having been made confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, dare to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear.
Paul was writing to his dear friends in Philippi while in prison in Rome. His concern was not for himself, but for those whose lives he had touched. He didn’t want others to be discouraged by his circumstances. He also probably understood that he would not be the only one who might experience imprisonment and so he wanted to show the ways in which God could be at work.
As a result of his imprisonment, Paul made every opportunity to preach to those guarding him. The whole imperial guard had now heard about Christ. He had reached an entire group of people who were insiders to the work of the Roman system.
As word trickled out about Paul’s witness, even while under guard, the rest of the Christian community was emboldened. Now, they were speaking the word to those around them, and without fear.
I can’t imagine what life must have been like for Paul. It could not have been pleasant and I’m quite certain that under the same circumstances, I would not have been looking at the bright side. It’s far too easy to get caught up in difficulties and allow yourself to get down and frustrated. This means that people would not hear the good news of Jesus, but they would hear my own personal whining and complaining.
Yet, I’m fascinated by Paul’s ability to see opportunity in everything. Why not begin to preach to the guards? Suddenly Paul had access to a group of people who never would have heard the good news. How often do we find ourselves in situations that we see as negative, but God just may see as opportunity?
Paul served as a channel of God’s prevenient grace in reaching out to a community of people who needed to hear the good news. God wants to use us as well, to be channels of grace. When we offer our lives as living sacrifices to the Lord, then we begin to see that our circumstances may be opportunities to be poured out in service to God.
I don’t think that Paul “loved” his circumstances, but he learned to make the best of them. He embraced every opportunity that God provided to share with others what Christ had done for him. He prayed, lived and moved in the power and the presence of Christ. He learned in every situation, to make the best of things.
Lord, there are times when it’s easy to get discouraged. Please, give me a heart and passion like Paul’s. Give me the vision to see the opportunities, and not the obstacles. Amen
Monday, March 12, 2018
And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.
Paul, as a spiritual leader and mentor to many, is constantly modeling prayer. In this opening greeting to the church in Philippi, he begins with a prayer. His concern is for the spiritual well-being of the people of God. As followers of Christ, their lives were to be defined by love. This love was not only to be seen in and among the church community, but was also to overflow and touch those around them. Christianity was to become marked by this love of neighbor.
The ministry of the church in Philippi was to live into the wisdom of God. This would help them to have knowledge far beyond their own skills and abilities, and would give them insight into the best pathways in which to more forward. The Christian life is to be one of on-going and continual growth in the direction of Christ. The result is one who is pure and blameless, a church and a community of believers who will be able to work in God’s harvest field, reaping in such a way that God will get all the glory and the praise.
Have you ever heard of a BHAG? That’s a “Big Hairy Audacious Goal.” Often BHAGs are far beyond our personal capacity to comprehend. They seem beyond our reach and, quite possibly, beyond our skills to achieve. At the same time, I think we serve a God with a lot of BHAGs. My sense is that God had given Paul a vision for the ministry in Philippi that was much larger than the original circle of believers who met at Lydia’s home. But these people had no roadmaps for church planting. They had no “how-to” books, nor did they have mentors who knew how to describe to them where things were going. Could this group of people have ever imagined that Christianity would eventually become the religion of the Roman Empire? Not hardly, and yet, within 300 years, it did.
Paul knew that prayer was key to participating in God’s extraordinary vision. In no way would a small band of people be able to realistically take on the task before them. To even know how big the task was would have been overwhelming. Instead, Paul realized the need to pray for their spiritual lives and development. These people needed to know Christ if they were to participate in world-changing activities. To know Christ was to live a life infused with holy love, and this, overflowing. We are to draw closer to Christ, every day of our lives. Just as Paul, we are to bathe all that we do in prayer and, while in Christ’s presence, allow the Holy Spirit to work in and through us. In prayer we are blessed to participate in the fellowship of the Triune God. Here, we receive insights that are far beyond our own personal comprehension. It is in this space of prayer that a group of believers in a town called Philippi can catch a glimpse of God’s BHAG.
Not only can we catch a glimpse of God’s BHAG, but we can discover access to the necessary resources to go after the dream, or the vision. Suddenly we may have a strategic plan, working in a way that we would have never imagined. But this only happens when it truly comes from God. God doesn’t need us to figure out the strategic plan. God already knows how to do what God is doing! We are to get to know Christ, and through knowing him, we will begin to see the plan, and produce a harvest.
Jesus came preaching peace, and the kingdom of God. These are incredible dreams, and Paul believed that through prayer, God’s people could begin to participate in God’s audacious goal.
Lord, the vision and dream is larger than anything that we can begin to imagine. May it begin by participation in you. Amen
Saturday, March 10, 2018
Eph. 6:23 Peace be to the whole community, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Grace be with all who have an undying love for our Lord Jesus Christ.
Much of what we learn from Paul is about prayer. In this letter to the Ephesians he breaks out in prayer several times, and just when you think he’s finished praying and wrapping up his letter, he seems to pray again.
Paul finishes up this letter by bringing his readers back to the main theme of the whole letter. The church is to be a place in which Messianic peace is lavished upon the entire community. This becomes expressed in action through holy love, lived out in faith by those who are willing to embrace the work of the Father expressed in the Lordship of Christ. All of this is bathed in unmerited grace as the church grows in her undying love for the Lord.
Paul needed this prayerful reminder in his own life, as well as in the lives of those whom he’d help to disciple. The finest preachers and leaders need the prayers of the church. Those who find themselves working in dangerous places, especially need to be lifted up and surrounded by the community of faith in prayer.
I’m currently in a part of Africa where I’m hearing stories of great sacrifice. It’s humbling to learn what our pastors and leaders are willing to do to share the good news of Jesus with the world. Their passion for Christ seems to exude from every pore of their bodies as they lay themselves down for the sake of others. They rejoice in the victories won, and grieve over the losses. Many have lost children, or even spouses, along this journey, and yet they press on. I have the feeling that I have been in the presence of saints; saints who desperately need the prayers and support of the church.
The cosmic mystery of God’s plan is reprised here at the end of Paul’s letter. Jesus came to bring peace and unity. As diverse communities, knit together into one in the kingdom we watch a miracle unfold. Love, united with faith, cannot be restrained. This love overflows in and through the church community and the surrounding world. We are to be participants, through grace, in this great mystery. To the glory of God.
Let’s not forget the great mystery that is to be revealed through the church. She is the bride of Christ, destined to reflect the holy Trinity in all things, to the world, and to heaven above.
Lord, may the church take time to seriously reflect upon the mystery into which she has been invited. May you be lifted up and glorified in and through her. May she be your holy love in action, taking your mystery to the streets and to those in need. Amen.
Wednesday, March 7, 2018
Eph. 6:18 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. 19 Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.
This prayer begins immediately after Paul’s admonition to put on the full armor of God. A deep theological grasp will result in passionate prayer, because it is in truly understanding the gospel that we comprehend the importance of prayer. There is a gospel of peace that is at odds with the world and there is this cosmic unity which is to be experienced in the church. We must recognize that there are forces that are directly at odds with God’s desire for believers and the church.
Paul is encouraging the church to have a spiritual understanding that creates a heightened awareness to the need of prayer. When the Spirit moves, the church is to pray, not only for themselves but for others as well. Prayer begins with praise to God and then moves to supplication, or intercession on the behalf of needs. Petition is when we are praying for God’s grace to be extended to us because of our own behaviors.
Paul knew that his preaching needed the empowering of God’s Holy Spirit. He also recognized his dependence upon his fellow believers in Ephesus. They were to become partners in his ministry through prayer. Their prayers would help him to have wisdom and clarity when the time came to speak the mystery of the gospel. He wanted to be able to declare this gospel with boldness, but he knew he couldn’t do it on his own. While dressed in spiritual armor, it is the time to call upon the King.
When we connect Paul’s prayer to the armor of God something powerful begins to happening in our understanding. The more we grow spiritually, the more we realize that we need prayer. The more we pray, the more we will grow spiritually. They go hand in hand.
I’m a person who likes to have noise going in the background. However, I’ve found that this is sometimes detrimental to me hearing, or sensing God’s leading. It’s when I find a quiet space and begin to listen and communicate with God in prayer that I find direction. This is very often true when it comes to my speaking or preaching. On an intellectual level, I can prepare material. However, something radically different happens when that material becomes infused with God’s presence and leading. Often, in prayer, I have moments of insight that surprise me. It’s in prayer that I sense God’s peace about a particular direction in which I am going in a project. It’s God’s leading that helps me to have meaningful conversations with others. It’s in prayer that I’m prompted to write someone, or pray for a need. I need prayer, because I need to be connected to God.
So, how do we pray? We take the time to be grounded in the word. We soak up every bit of learning and theological grounding that we can. We stand firm in the armor of God and then we lean into all that God has provided for us, and journey into God’s holy presence. We pray in the Spirit and not out of our intellect. We ask the Spirit to lead and guide us in new directions and new insight. We pray for our sisters and brothers who are in the midst of spiritual battle. When we are sensitive to the Spirit we will actually sense and know when this is happening. We will pray for boldness to speak the prophetic words of God to the world. Yes, for ourselves, but also for others to have holy boldness.
We begin with praise and adoration of God on high. We intercede for others. We pray for our own spiritual well-being. Finally, we pray for a bold proclamation. This is the model that Paul has prepared for us, a church which shall be called a house of prayer.
Lord, may the sweet aroma of your holy presence lead us every moment of every day. Amen.