Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Various Forms of "Me"

So, today, I have to go to a doctor's appointment, which gives me a tiny sense of dread.  It's just a small kernel, lingering back there in my subconscious.  I'd rather go get a doughnut or a facial, ok?  But, there it's appointment. 

Most of us people spend an inordinate amount of time caring for (attending to) our bodies.  (Even if we overindulge them, that is a form of "attention" or "care".)  It is sort of built into us by our Creator God to want to stay alive in this crazy world for as long as possible...for some reason.  Sociologists call that "the survival instinct", I guess.

Our text today is Philippians 3:20-21 (NET) - -

20  But our citizenship is in heaven – and we also await a savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21  who will transform these humble bodies of ours into the likeness of his glorious body by means of that power by which he is able to subject all things to himself.

These days when I look into the mirror I see the likeness of somewhat of a stranger.  When you get to be about 21 or so, you feel like you actually look like "yourself", fully "grown".  And then, from that point on, you start to look stranger and stranger, even while feeling like the same "girl" or "boy" you used to be, in some respects.  Believe me, young readers, it's weird.  So, we devote an inordinate amount of time grooming this perishable body, this body which will one day lie on a morgue's or mortician's table, cold and dead.

Another large portion of our day is devoted to training our minds (souls)....with "mindless" (pardon the pun) entertainment, or school work, or job training, or conversation with others, etc.  Training the mind toward godliness is a more noble pursuit, because mind (soul) and spirit are so intertwined.  "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus...." (Philippians 2:5)

And, consequently, because there are only 24 hours in the day, we neglect the deepest, most true part of ourselves, the part which will live forever...somewhere: the spirit.  These days, I am in the phase of caring for my body and soul so that I can continue to nurture my spirit, by submitting it more and more to Jesus Christ.  Despite the challenges of my body aging, this is a very good phase of life in which to be.  In the time I have remaining, I want to use my resources (body and soul) to grow closer to Him and to advance His kingdom here on earth.  As Paul proclaimed in Acts 20:24 - - -

But I do not consider my life worth anything to myself, so that I may finish my task and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the good news of God's grace.

The thing about these two verses (Philippians 3:20-21) I love the most is not the part about our bodies being raised from the dead and transformed some day.  When I die, my soul and spirit will go immediately to be with my Lord and Savior (Ecclesiastes 12:7; 2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:23). My body is "immaterial" (Lord, I am just full of puns this morning...); in other words, it will remain "sleeping", decaying in the grave or wherever my descendants put it.  I will slough off this flesh and will never return to it in its earthly form.  My soul and spirit will one day (maybe hundreds of years from now or maybe next week) be reunited with a likeness of my earthly body; but, more importantly, on that great day, my new body will be in the likeness of Jesus' "glorified" body.  He will then unite my soul and spirit with my "glorified, heavenly" body.  No one knows when Jesus will return to earth to do this; only Father God knows that day and hour.  But, on that day, my reunited (NEW! body)-soul-spirit will be my possession for all eternity here in the "new heaven and new earth", described in Revelation 21-22.1

Here's the best part of Philippians 3:21.  Paul declares Jesus' "Godness": that Jesus is definitely God, one of the co-equal parts of the Holy Trinity.  Paul declares Him Savior, yes, but also calls Him "Kyrion" (Greek for "Lord").  Jesus used this same word to refer to God the Father, in the gospel accounts.  It will be God Jesus Himself who raises the bodies of His Bride from the dead on "that glorious day" (see song link below).  As He raises them - - - from cremation urn, from ocean floor, from moldering casket, from the dust of the earth - - - He will transform them with the same power He used to create the world, the same power Father God used to raise His Son from the dead and transform His earthly body into its glorifed, heavenly form.

Paul makes allusion to Jesus as Creator in Colossians 1:15-20, which we will study in a couple of weeks.  John referred to Jesus as "the Logos", the Word, in the beginning of his gospel.  It is indisputable that Jesus Christ is God, and that through Him all things were created, all things "consist", that is, "are held together".  He's "got the whole world in His hands", literally.  (Gives you a new twist on that little children's song, doesn't it?  Now you know it points to Colossians 1 and John 1 and Philippians 3!  :)  )

Good morning, Lord Jesus!  Thank you for another day in which to "live and move and have my being" - - - in You.  (Acts 17:28) What incomprehensible power!  That will be a glorious day, but not nearly so glorious as that day in which my spirit unites with You fully, for the first time, in Heaven.  I can only begin to imagine... May I worship You today, in Spirit and in truth.  In Jesus' name, amen.



Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Wonderful Example? Horrible Warning?

Someone gave me a calendar several years ago.  It was one of those themed items (maybe by Maxine?) that had a saying or an adage for each day.  You could flip from one day to the next and see some humorous bit of wisdom.  Often, as I flipped over the new page, I'd laugh.  But, one day, I flipped the page to see this:

"You can either be a wonderful example, or a horrible warning."

This sobering thought reminds me of Paul's plea in today's text:

17  Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.  18  For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, 

Other versions translate "following my example" as the word "imitate".  The Greek word is SymmimÄ“tai , a word not used elsewhere in Scripture, which actually means "co-imitators".  That's why the NASB translates the thought as "join in following my example".
The other key word here then is "join", which signifies Paul's desire for the Philippians to unite in following the example set forth by him and by others like him, hence the "us" at the end of verse 17.

This reminds me of a time when, as a choral director of high school choirs, I attended a wonderful week-long workshop to learn choreography from a Disney park choreographer.  Fortunately, I was in my 20s at the time and in great physical shape.  The choreographer would stand in front of our group and, in order to learn the moves to each piece of music, the group would imitate him.  If we made missteps (and we made many), he would make us go over the steps again and again, until we "got it".
The end result was a beautiful and powerful synchronized performance where, not everyone looked the same, but we all together made a tremendous impact through both our auditory and visual performances.

So, there is also a call for unity in these verses.  He goes on in the passage to highlight two women who are having some kind of squabble, and to ask the small church to help them work it out.  As believers, we will have disagreements, sometimes serious ones.  Often, the call for unity is proclaimed, to resolve the differences.  But, unity for the sake of appearances or comfort is a false unity.  In other words, unity is great, but only if it is based on truth.  We as Christians are admonished to be unified, but not when error is present.

Paul recognized the power of example, of mentoring, of leadership.  In 1 Cor. 11:1, he "grounds" his admonition by anchoring it into bedrock.

Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.

Furthermore, in the earlier parts of his letter to the Philippians, and in his other letters, he describes the characteristics believers should imitate as well as the ones they should avoid.  What Paul desires they imitate is his distrust of his own abilities to live for Christ under his own power, his clear sense of his own shortcomings, as well as his earnest desire to reach the perfect example Christ Jesus gave.

Some have said that Paul is being arrogant in his request for the Philippian believers to imitate him. What he is asking of the Philippians is that join him single-mindedly in a similar quest  - - - - that being to pursue righteousness by following Christ's example.  Every Christian should be able to say these same words to their brothers and sisters in Christ.  If we can't declare that we are "walking this way" or "walking worthy", then we need to examine our hearts, repent of and confess any hidden sins and perhaps even re-examine our own salvation to see if it is indeed true.

Paul is writing to believers here, about people in the Philippian church.  In verse 18, he writes about church members who break his heart.  Apparently, in addition to believers who are following his and Christ's example, there are those who are living as "enemies of the cross of Christ."  What an indictment!  You might say that these are a "horrible warning"!  It is sad to contemplate that enemies of Christ can infest the church.  But, it happens.  When any believer falls into sin, or worse, practices sin, he or she at that moment is an enemy of the cross of Christ, because that sin is an affront to God. It is like a slap in His face, after all He has done to redeem us.
The people Paul describes here, though, are of the "practicing" kind.  Instead of "walking worthy", they persist in their sin, in order to set up their own power-structures, their little "kingdoms", which stand in opposition to the kingdom of God.  Psalm 55:20-21 (ESV) describes these people perfectly:

My companion stretched out his hand against his friends;
he violated his covenant.
His speech was smooth as butter,
yet war was in his heart.
His words were softer than oil,
yet they were drawn swords.

We are to avoid the plague.

So, today's question for me and for you is this:  which will you choose to be?  A wonderful example? Or, a horrible warning?

Father, may each of us, Your redeemed, blood-bought Bride, make the choice today to join together in imitating Your Son, our Savior.  It is in His glorious name I pray, amen.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Responsibilities of Citizenship

There is a pervasive view in our country that is distinctly un-American.  Basically and generally, this view says, "Let someone else watch out for us and/or fight for our freedoms."  It's a type of "willful blindness", a hashtag I saw on Twitter this afternoon.

Yesterday morning, I was listening to an interview with an Israeli man.  I learned that all Israeli citizens are required to be in the Israeli military forces (except for the very physically or mentally disabled), and that all Israeli citizens are trained in self-defense, that is, how to use a firearm.
Needless to say, the nation of Israel remains in a constant state of defense, being constantly attacked from enemy forces.  However, their people are as prepared as it is reasonably possible to be!

In America, although attacks are escalating, we are increasingly taking our freedoms for granted and allowing the other distractions of life to prevent us from protecting them.  We are not, by and large, being vigilant.
However, the rights of citizenship are dependent upon the responsibilities of citizenship in order for those cherished rights to be preserved.

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
Edmund Burke

One American manifestation of this is voting.  In local elections, where elections have tremendous consequences, the voter turnout is shockingly low.  It is not much better in primaries/national elections.

Another example:  When our sons were involved in JROTC in high school, most of the parents of the cadets did not join the booster club.  It was fine with the majority of parents to let others make decisions for them and their children.

Still further: in community organizations, most of the members do not even know what the governing documents say, much less do they know when their rights as members have been infringed.  They view the foundational, guiding documents as mere paper.  As a result, the opposite can occur.  A small group of members can then flagrantly trample on the rights of the members, because the members are "blissfully unaware" of their rights.

In Philippians 3, where we have been studying the past several days, Paul speaks of the Christian's heavenly citizenship, the gift to every believer in Jesus Christ.  He also speaks of the responsibilities of citizenship - - -

I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 3:14 (KJV)

That doesn't sound like "sitting back and doing nothing", does it?  Fulfilling the responsibilities of our heavenly citizenship sometimes requires tremendous, supernatural courage: courage to live for Christ, to fulfill our calling, to confront evil, to love the unlovely, to evidence Christ's beautiful holiness and grace.

May it be so, Lord Jesus!  In Your holy name, amen.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Benefits of Citizenship

Citizenship is the word that jumps out at me from today's passage, at the end of Philippians 3.  Every dweller on this earth has some sort of citizenship, and in most cases, multiple citizenships.  Here is an ordinary example.

A person is born somewhere on earth, in some country.  In some cases, the birth automatically makes him/her a citizen of that country.  Each sovereign country makes its own citizenship laws, but often being born in a country grants citizenship to the newborn, especially if one of the parents is also a citizen of that country.  Being born into a human family gives a person a type of citizenship within that family.

As the person grows, they usually accumulate other types of citizenship...clubs, churches, service organizations, etc.  In each case, citizenship confers certain rights but also carries responsibilities.
Citizens learn about their "group", to use a generic word, from its founding, guiding documents.  It is those documents which describe the rights and responsibilities of citizenship and also which give the group the principles that allow it to function in a healthy manner.  If the citizens follow the guiding documents, the organization is healthy (assuming the guiding documents are sound to begin with). 

In the Christian church, for example, what is the most foundational "document"?  The Bible, of course! It is full of God's precious promises, the benefits and rights of citizenship, membership in the Church Universal, the Body of Christ! Then, individual groups (in Southern Baptist parlance, we call them conventions, associations and churches) go beyond the Bible to establish governing documents, such as church constitutions and by-laws.  These tools further define local rights and help to ensure the healthy functioning of the citizens.  Properly crafted, when they are adhered to, order follows.  When they are not, chaos and enmity ensue.

Paul saw great power in citizenship.  He was a citizen of Rome, by birth. As such, he used his Roman citizenship effectively to open doors for the spread of the gospel, which other Jews could not.  His Roman citizenship carried many excellent benefits.  He also viewed citizenship as a great analogy for the Christian experience.  Let's look at today's scripture:

10  My aim is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
12  Not that I have already attained this – that is, I have not already been perfected – but I strive to lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus also laid hold of me. 13  Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have attained this. Instead I am single-minded: Forgetting the things that are behind and reaching out for the things that are ahead, 14  with this goal in mind, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15  Therefore let those of us who are “perfect” embrace this point of view. If you think otherwise, God will reveal to you the error of your ways. 16  Nevertheless, let us live up to the standard that we have already attained.
20  But our citizenship is in heaven – and we also await a savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ,  21 who will transform these humble bodies of ours into the likeness of his glorious body by means of that power by which he is able to subject all things to himself.
Philippians 3:10-16, 20-21

Despite all of Paul's confusing talk of "attaining", the key to this passage is verse 16.  By Jesus Christ's virtue, by His finished work on our behalf, by our being born into God's family spiritually, having accepted Jesus Christ as Redeemer/Savior, we have already "attained perfection".  That is, His perfection has been conferred upon us, as our heavenly citizenship.  This "attaining" happened at the moment each of us made his or her own personal decision to accept and follow Jesus Christ.

Paul goes on to affirm the ultimate benefit of possessing heavenly citizenship: eventually, we will see Jesus, face-to-face.  It will occur either at the time of our death or when Jesus returns to earth, whichever happens first.  Other benefits of heavenly citizenship, as we live our earthly lives, are:
  • knowing Him more and more (as I blogged about in the last post) (vs. 10)
  • experiencing His resurrection power on a day-to-day basis (vs. 10)
  • sharing in His sufferings (vs. 10)
  • living out His calling on our life (vs. 12-14"I strive to lay hold of that for which Christ laid hold of me"
  • humbly "running for the prize" (vs. 14)
Some of these don't sound like benefits, do they?  But they are!  The reason they are is that they mold us more and more into the image of our Savior, Jesus.  Or, at least, they should, since that is what they are designed to accomplish.  Some of the benefits sort of "bleed over" into the arena called "responsibilities of citizenship", which I'll blog about tomorrow.

Lord Jesus, Father God has put all things under your feet, and I am so grateful that you "subject all things" to Yourself.  I pray for myself today, Lord, to learn You more, to love You more, to have my heart brought into greater alignment with Yours. I submit myself to Your calling on my life, even to share in Your sufferings, as my life is Yours.  I gave it to You some 50 years ago.  I ask that You keep me humble, Father.  Only in humility can I truly, single-mindedly "run for the prize".  Pride is a snare and a trap, which will trip up even the most dedicated and well-trained runners.  Thank you for "laying hold of me"!  Oh thank you, Lord Jesus!  In Your blessed name, amen.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Deep, Permeating Love

So, I begin this post by confessing my complete inadequacy to expound upon the topic.  That being said, I'll try.  Let's go.  Today's text is Philippians 3:8-11 (NET).

8  More than that, I now regard all things as liabilities compared to the far greater value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things – indeed, I regard them as dung! – that I may gain Christ, 9  and be found in him, not because I have my own righteousness derived from the law, but because I have the righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness – a righteousness from God that is in fact based on Christ’s faithfulness. 10  My aim is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

There are some sermons I will remember forever.
The setting was my college campus, Bob Jones University.  I was sitting in Sunday School - - - which we called Baptist Girls.  The speaker/teacher that morning was one of our class officers.  I didn't know her very well.  Baptist Girls was a huge SS class - - 300-400 girls, on average.   It was not an intimate setting.  Bob Jones University was a place where there was a great deal of emphasis on conformity, rules-following.  I was blessed to be educated there, graduating with a B.S. in education.  But, in all respects, it was an artificial environment, from the standpoint it did not mirror the outside world.  At any rate, I digress.
So, here was this college girl, teaching to us from Philippians.  The verses above were her text, and I remember being stunned at the revelation she shared, the illumination I received.  I'm sure I had heard sermons on these verses before, but then the truth of Paul's words hit home like a sledgehammer.

As the Hokey-Pokey song exclaims, "That's what it's all about!"

I have been powerfully distracted this morning while trying to write this blog.  There are many "important" things going on in my life right now.  This is by design, God's and Satan's.  God has plans for me to carry out for His kingdom, as I "live out my salvation".  Satan throws distractions into my path, to pull me off course.  But, both of these things, this yin/yang struggle, can obscure the central issue: how is my relationship with Him?  How well do I know Him?

Permeate....I love that word.  It means  "to diffuse through".  If you have ever used a diffusing machine to humidify a room or to spread essential oil into the air, you know that the moisture (and
fragrance) soon permeate the air, the space in which you dwell.

Walking with Jesus, knowing Him, should be like that.  His spirit lives in us, and should PERMEATE our being.  Jesus is not satisfied with a "compartment" in our lives; He desires to permeate every particle of our being.  Just as we move through air, as we live our physical lives, so may we have our individual spirits soaking up His essence, every moment.

This is the transformed, resplendent life! 


O my dear heart, young Jesus sweet,
Prepare thy cradle in my spirit
And I shall rock thee in my heart
And never more be parted from thee.

But I shall praise thee evermore
With songs sweet unto thy glory;
The knees of my heart shall I bow
And sing that true Balulalow. ('Lullaby')

- See more at:


O my dear heart, young Jesus sweet,
Prepare thy cradle in my spirit
And I shall rock thee in my heart
And never more be parted from thee.

But I shall praise thee evermore
With songs sweet unto thy glory;
The knees of my heart shall I bow
And sing that true Balulalow. ('Lullaby')

- See more at:

O my dear heart, young Jesus sweet
Prepare thy cradle in my spirit
And I shall rock thee in my heart
And nevermore be parted from thee.

But, I shall praise thee evermore
With songs sweet unto thy glory
The knees of my heart shall I bow
And sing that true Balulalow ("Lullaby")  
by Anthony Way                                         


O my dear heart, young Jesus sweet,
Prepare thy cradle in my spirit
And I shall rock thee in my heart
And never more be parted from thee.
But I shall praise thee evermore
With songs sweet unto thy glory;
The knees of my heart shall I bow
And sing that true Balulalow. ('Lullaby')
- See more at:

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Beware the Joy-Killers!

We can observe with some bemusement how Paul did not use his revision skills so aptly in the letter to the Philippian church. When we examine the end of chapter 2, it appears Paul is about to tack a closing onto his letter.  And, in that vein, at the beginning of the next chapter, our text for today, the first word is "Finally".

But, then, after admonishing the Philippians to "rejoice in the Lord", he seems to think of something that steals his joy - - - fake Christians who actively work against evangelistic efforts, specifically, his efforts to establish Christian congregations.  And, he takes off on a vehement rant!  (lol)

Who are these people to so inspire Paul's ire and condemnation?  He speaks here of two categories of opponents, whose intent is to divide and to lure away into error gullible believers.

You have met the first group in others of Paul's letters.   They were commonly called "Judaizers". These are those who formerly disdained Gentile peoples, referring to them as "dogs" not worthy of salvation, which is why Paul refers to the troublemakers as "dogs" here in verses 2-3: (All today's Scripture references are from the New English Translation - - NET.)

2Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh! 3For we are the circumcision, the ones who worship by the Spirit of God, exult in Christ Jesus, and do not rely on human credentials

These evil-doers had written off the entire Gentile world (which was the greatest majority of the world, for goodness' sake!), prior to Paul and others evangelizing it.  As Christian missionaries spread the gospel message to non-Jewish people groups, such as the Philippians, Judaizers would come in right behind them and slap a whole bunch of Jewish tradition, rules, regulations, etc. on them in the vein of "You can't be a Christian unless you do all this Jewish rigamarole too."  The chiefest of these was, of course, circumcision, which Paul specifically mentions here.

This group exalted "rules" and "behaviors" over loving relationships, which are the essence, the bedrock foundation, of the Christian walk.  Paul was intimately acquainted with the "rule-worshipping life", because he had formerly lived it (vs. 5-6).

We see the second group in verses 18-19:

18For many live, about whom I have often told you, and now, with tears, I tell you that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ.19Their end is destruction, their god is the belly, they exult in their shame, and they think about earthly things.


What are the descriptors of this group of joy-killers?  The over-riding characteristic is that they are more focused on earthly things than on the mission Christ has given every Christian.   (I'll focus on that mission in the next post or two.)  Their focus is on satisfying their own fleshly appetites, of various kinds.

We are all tempted by something, or by several somethings, even those of us who have been adopted by Jesus Christ, who are His children, His transformed saints!  None of us is immune to temptation. But, this group described here as "enemies of the cross of Christ" does not belong to Jesus Christ. They worship their own selfish desires.  Paul says "their god is their belly", and this has sometimes been interpreted to say that they are compulsive overeaters.  While that could be one manifestation, in the larger sense, these people give in to any and every fleshly desire which comes across their paths. And worse?  They rejoice in their carnality!

So, here Paul paints two extremes of ungodliness: one rejoices in their legalism and the other rejoices in their hedonism. Paul warns the Philippians to avoid both groups, as both are evil enemies who will divide churches and dampen the flame of holy, righteous joy. Although he is describing non-Christians, sometimes masquerading as Christians, Paul realizes that true believers can at times get "the stink" on them too.  This is why Paul says, "Beware!"  (Don't step in the dog poop!)

In the next post, we will examine the nature of the true believer in Jesus Christ.  Paul does that so magnificently here in chapter 3.  I can hardly wait to dig into that!

Lord God, it is so easy to "get slimed"!  I thank You for holy discernment (which often I am sadly lacking) and for forgiveness and cleansing and restoration.  Your saints, Your beloved need all of these to deal with "stepping in it" and getting the stink of sin on our lives.  Thank you for how You pick us up, clean us up and again restore our righteous joy when we come to You all dirty and marred by the enemies of the cross.  We worship You, our Savior and King!  In Jesus' name, amen.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Your Story, His Story

Paul's letters to the early churches were, on one level, just that - - personal letters.  Accordingly, he greeted old friends and commended to old friends new ones.  We see an example of this at the end of Philippians (2:19-30 NET)

19Now I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be encouraged by hearing news about you. 20For there is no one here like him who will readily demonstrate his deep concern for you. 21Others are busy with their own concerns, not those of Jesus Christ. 22But you know his qualifications, that like a son working with his father, he served with me in advancing the gospel. 23So I hope to send him as soon as I know more about my situation, 24though I am confident in the Lord that I too will be coming to see you soon.
25But for now I have considered it necessary to send Epaphroditus to you. For he is my brother, coworker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to me in my need. 26Indeed, he greatly missed all of you and was distressed because you heard that he had been ill. 27In fact he became so ill that he nearly died. But God showed mercy to him – and not to him only, but also to me – so that I would not have grief on top of grief. 28Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you can rejoice and I can be free from anxiety. 29So welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him, 30since it was because of the work of Christ that he almost died. He risked his life so that he could make up for your inability to serve me.

Here we begin to see a bit of Timothy's and Epaphroditus' stories.

Timothy was a young preacher/missionary, being mentored by Paul.  Being a minister of the gospel is a lonely, arduous calling.  Ministers need mentors, whether they are 18 or 24 or 58, or however old...They need mentors for encouragement, advisement and fellowship.  Mentors are godly advisors, those who are "farther down the path" and can point out signposts along the way.  We see here that part of Timothy's story is he bore a great love for the church at Philippi, and he was passionate about advancing the gospel.

Then, we have Epaphroditus.  Paul describes him as a Christian brother, coworker, fellow soldier of the Cross, messenger of the gospel and minister to the Flock as a whole.  It appears that Epaphroditus developed an illness which resulted from his arduous pursuit of the work of ministering the gospel.

In giving the Philippians a peek into the lives of Timothy and Epaphroditus, Paul also revealed some things about himself.  He would have loved social media, I think, because it would have allowed him to interact more frequently and more easily with the baby churches he had been graced by God to establish.  He confessed to some anxiety over Epaphroditus' condition and relief at God's mercy in the situation.

I am grateful at the many "stories" of people's lives, as they are revealed in the Bible.  I'm convinced that each one is there for the specific purpose of our edification.  None of them, except Jesus' own story, is flawless or free from either "potholes in the road" or downright "ditches".

All of this makes me think about my own "story", and I invite you to consider yours as well.  Another word for "story" is "legacy".  What type of story is our life leaving?  What will each of our legacies be?

Here is a key question:  are we trying to write our own stories?  Or, are we allowing God to write them, to use us to tell His story?

This is so important for Christ-followers to get right!  I was having a conversation about it with a friend yesterday.  One of the hardest things to discern is the voice of God, His leading in our lives. Often, we don't get a "lightning bolt answer".  There is no Damascus Road experience, as Paul had. Notice that Paul did not get those all the time.  Here, for example, he didn't know if E. was going to live or die!  It produced in him some grief and anxiety!

Our daily walk with Jesus is to be one of faith, a faith-walk.  If we ask Him to give us direction and discernment, to show us His way, He will.  If we seek and listen to His heart, He will speak.  And, what He speaks will always line up with His revealed, written Word, the Bible.

Unfortunately, we are prone to try to write our own stories....sort of the "I did it MY WAY" syndrome.  So ridiculous!  People who do that don't even realize that they are not in control at all....Furthermore, often, taking that approach results in many landing in a deep, dirty ditch, as opposed to walking the straight and narrow path of faith.  Paul alludes to these folks (Christians in this context, although both Christians and non-Christians are susceptible to this folly) in verse 21:

Others are busy with their own concerns, not those of Jesus Christ.

The best way to live out "your story" is to let Him write it on your heart.  Allow Him to write HIS story on your heart!  It will be a "work of art"!

Father, thank you for the life stories, the examples You provide in Scripture.  Jesus gave us His perfect example.  Everyone else's was imperfect, some wildly so!  We can be assured, though, that if we allow You to write our stories, they will be magnificent testimonies to Your grace, mercy and boundless love.  They won't be easy, but they will be oh, so worth it!  Write Your story on our hearts! May that be so for each of us who call you Lord, precious Jesus!  In Your name, this prayer goes forth, amen.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Working It Out

We continue this morning through the beautiful letter to the Philippians.

12So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence but even more in my absence, continue working out your salvation with awe and reverence, 13for the one bringing forth in you both the desire and the effort – for the sake of his good pleasure – is God. 
Philippians 2:12-13 NET

Really, it is helpful to read these verses backwards.  (Oh that Paul and his writing style!)

For the sake of His good pleasure, for His glory....God brings forth in His children (by the Holy Spirit in their hearts) the desire to live out their salvation.  And, Christians should do that, with a reverential attitude toward the One who makes it possible for them to do it.  We should be constant in this, whether anyone is watching or not.

Now, these verses have been twisted by some to "say" that our salvation is not certain if we have trusted Christ.  These say we have to "work for" it.  But, that is not what these verses say, because that interpretation would fall in direct conflict with the overwhelming majority of Paul's similar teachings on the grace of God - - - grace and grace alone.

Think of a bridegroom, newly married, gloriously in love with his wife.  Out of his seemingly boundless love for her, he jumps out of bed each morning and goes off to earn a living to support her. He doesn't do this out of duty, but as a love offering.  That's the kind of "working out" that's described here.  He doesn't have to work to earn his bride; that bargain has already been sealed.  He works to demonstrate his love for her.

In his Concise Commentary on these verses, Matthew Henry put it like this:

God's good-will to us, is the cause of his good work in us.1 

A good companion verse to today's verses is Philippians 1:6 (NET) - -

For I am sure of this very thing, that the one who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.

All works of righteousness flow FROM righteousness, that righteousness which can only come from a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

This is why Jesus said, "By their fruits you will know them." (Matthew 7:16).  It is the Son's Holy Spirit who creates "the tree" and Who then produces the fruit which grows on it.  If the Holy Spirit is not present in a person's life, there will be no or little "fruit" (good works).  If the Spirit is present, He will produce in that person's life the evidence, the "fruit of salvation".

If I look past my laptop screen this morning, I can see one of our apple trees just outside the basement window.  Never has it borne figs.  At the moment, it has some apples on it.  In a couple of weeks they should be ready to pick, if the deer don't get to them first.  But, the tree has some is not filled with apples, and some of the branches are brown.  It has weathered some hardship, although it appears to be fighting valiantly to overcome.  Last year, due to a late "cold snap" in March, it bore no apples at all.  The year before that, its branches were heavy with apples in July.

What am I trying to say?  Sometimes our Christian lives are "uneven" also.  Even when opening ourselves up fully to the Holy Spirit's fruit-producing work, we are at times beset by evil, or deceived by the Enemy or tripped up by a temptation or just plain weary.  And, our "working out our salvation" takes a dip...or a dive.  But, if we trust in our Savior, if we trust in His plan for us, we will bear fruit again.   In a later season, our boughs will again be heavy with fruit.

For my fellow believers, I don't know about the "state of your tree" today.  I would say that I hope your boughs are heavy.  But, I know that the Lord allows us to go through difficult seasons - - - drought, cold snaps, hail that pummels us, etc.  Other times, He prunes our branches for His own purposes.  And, praise Him - - - always praise Him!

Whatever season in which you find yourself today, don't harden your heart against Him.  If we revere and worship Him, we will "work it out" by allowing His Spirit to "work it out" in us.

Father....not by works of righteousness which I have done, but according to Your mercy You saved me. Grace and divine grace alone could save a wretch like me.  I don't even want to contemplate walking through this earthly life without Your Holy Spirit to move and work in me.  Fortunately, I don't have to.  Work in me the fruits of righteousness, so that Your name may be further glorified.  In Jesus' name, amen.


Monday, June 20, 2016

1-3-1 Voluntary Humiliation

Have you ever chosen to voluntarily humiliate yourself?  I witnessed that at church yesterday.  We got to see a wonderful Father's Day video, set on Father's Day afternoon.  One of the two men in the vid went to church dressed like a clown.  His children had given him all kinds of ridiculous clothes for Father's Day, because his family has a tradition Dad wears his gifts to church on Father's Day morning.  The dad stated, "Their love language is humiliation."  What he was really demonstrating was that he loves his kids and that he has a wonderful sense of humor to submit to that type of "attention".  This was not true humiliation, of course, but more the eye-rolling kind.

However, today, we are looking at the mystery of Jesus Christ choosing to voluntarily submit Himself to the will of Father and, in so doing, to humiliate Himself.

I hesitate to call the doctrine of the Trinity troublesome, but to the limitations of the human mind, it is.  We humans want to understand all things.  We want to ... know it all, and when we don't, or can't, we are troubled.  I believe this is part of our being made in the image of God.  He put this thirst for knowledge and understanding within us.  This seeking is part of how the Holy Spirit leads us to salvation.

The Trinity is inscrutable.  1-3-1:  one God (who appears mainly as Father/Spirit in the Old Testament) - - - 3 Persons of God clearly revealed in the New Testament - - - as One.  That's not even a good sentence, for goodness' sake!  How are we to grab hold of that?!

Fortunately for us, the apostle Paul gives us some key information about the Trinity in today's Scripture: Phillippians 2:5-11

You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had,
who though he existed in the form of God
did not regard equality with God
as something to be grasped,
but emptied himself
by taking on the form of a slave,
by looking like other men,
and by sharing in human nature.
He humbled himself,
by becoming obedient to the point of death
—even death on a cross!
As a result God highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee will bow
—in heaven and on earth and under the earth—
11 and every tongue confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord
to the glory of God the Father.

The first important point to see is that Paul restated the common belief among the other apostles and in the early Christian church - -  Jesus Christ is God Himself, not an "exalted human", not a "good man", not an "enlightened teacher" or other such nonsense.
Jesus existed in Heaven with Father eternally, no beginning, no end.  The apostle John knew this truth to be so foundational he opened his gospel book with a similar assertion, telling us that "the Word" (Jesus) was not only with God "in the beginning", but that He was/is God.

 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God. The Word was with God in the beginning. All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created. In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind.
John 1:1-4 (NET)

The next important point was that Jesus did not consider His equality with Father and/or Spirit something more important than the salvation/redemption of all mankind.  Herein we see the unfathomable love of the Son for us people, that he voluntarily humiliated Himself by "taking on the form of a slave", not a slave to us but a slave to Father, in order to satisfy through His choices Father's inflexible demand for a sinless sacrifice to cover our sins.

That was His first "voluntary humiliation".  The second was, of course, His Passion, as we call it in Christian terminology - - - that is, His submission to Father's plan of death, burial and resurrection.

I've got to stop a moment and say, "Don't you just love what God did there?"  Low in the grave He lay....the forces of Satan were no doubt rejoicing!  They were firmly convinced they had won!  And, although it was a ghastly devastation in the eyes of the disciples, God was sovereign.  It was all part of His plan.  I'm sure you have days of "ghastly devastation" too.  We all do.  If we trust Him, though, and celebrate His unimaginable love for us, we realize that in the middle of "ghastly" He will work beauty and glory and incredible grace.

Ok, moving on....
So, after Jesus finished his second "voluntary humiliation", He rose from the dead, and after a few days ascended to Heaven, where He now sits at the right hand of God.  We aren't given all the details of what happened when His body lay in the grave or when He was not with people in those days following His resurrection.  We do get a glimpse of Him presenting Himself before Father to proclaim the "It is finished" in Heaven.  That was given in a vision to John, and is recorded in Revelation 5, and alluded to in Philippians 2:9.  How beautiful and glorious!  Thus began the Church Age.  Hallelujah!

Of course, today, not every knee bows to Jesus Christ (vs. 9-11).  Although Jesus once again is with Father in Heaven, His Holy Spirit dwelling in the hearts of the redeemed, He has not yet returned to Earth as conquering King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  Although He is worshipped (as depicted in Rev. 5) now, and by us His own beloved children, He is not acknowledged by all for Who He is.  That is future; that is yet to come.

"Bow now or bow later", as the saying goes.  I'm delighted to "bow now".  All praise to my glorious Savior!

Father, thank you for John 3:16.  I don't fully understand Three-In-One, but that's okay too.  May this mind be in me as it was in Christ Jesus....may I walk before you in utter obedience and in celebration of Your divine plan.  In Jesus' name, amen.


Friday, June 17, 2016

Titanium Humility


A friend today was sharing a story about a little 'ole church lady, sweetest thing you ever saw, never had an unkind word to say about anyone.  One day he was telling her all about a recent mission trip, how he did this and he did that...She rightly perceived that he was being boastful.  In response she sweetly said, "I'm so glad that God has you to prop Him up, Mark!"  As I blogged about yesterday, that was a "settin' down"!

Was this little lady a humble person?  It seems she was.  However, her humility was not one of weakness.  She knew when to have some titanium in her humility.  In this case, she called on it to disciple a younger brother in the Lord.

Today's scripture is from Philippians 2:3-11 (NET) as we continue our journey through this book.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,  
not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very naturea God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8  and being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10  that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11  and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Godly humility is a very desirable spiritual trait.  I've noticed, though, that there is a lot of the fake kind around.  Let's look at how Jesus Himself modeled this trait for us.

Godly humility is sacrificial.
It requires we put those we love before our own interests - - - Jesus Christ our Savior in first place of course, and then our loved ones, our friends, seeking to build them up, to lead them to salvation in Jesus Christ or to lead them into deeper relationship with Him.
Jesus gave us the ultimate example of this.
If we look at His life, it was a picture of sacrifice, from beginning to the end.  He is our Good Shepherd, who lays down His very life for His sheep.  We see the titanium in his humility in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46).  There, after praying earnestly for God the Father to remove from Him the burden of the world's sins, Jesus obediently humbled Himself for the task set before Him.  Can you even imagine such sacrifice?

Godly humility is not self-seeking.
Humble people do not seek recognition for the good they do.  The dead give-away that someone is not humble is if they want people to recognize them for their humility or good deeds, if they seek title or position in order to receive the praise of others.  No matter how humble their words in such cases, their hearts are not humble.  Jesus talked about this in the context of giving, when he said "don't let your right hand know what your left hand is doing" (Matthew 6:3).
I watched the principal of a school stoop to pick up trash on the grounds as he walked on an errand across campus.  It was not his "job" to do that.  He did it unconsciously, without thinking.  He saw a job that needed doing; and, he did it.  That is humility.
You'll notice that Jesus did not exalt Himself, in the verses above.  Have you ever wondered about that?  After finishing the work Father gave Him to do, He certainly had that right.....
But, you see, in every action He took, He was being our example.  He let Father exalt Him, the Son!
So should we.

Godly humility is fearless.
Sometimes, to cover our fear, we "put on humility".  But, that is a deception as well as an excuse to shy away from the opportunities we have been given.  Godly humility is manifest when God's children look at the Enemy, allow themselves to be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit and then pick up their swords to fight for truth, for righteousness, for the gospel.....for love.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had it (Daniel 3:16-18)
Daniel had it (Daniel 6).
Esther had it (Esther 4:12-16)
Those who have given their lives as Christian martyrs had it.
The list could go on and on.... 

Godly humility trusts God. 
After we have been obedient in doing what He calls us to do, humility then continues as it trusts God with the outcome.  (Oh y'all....this one is so hard for me!  Well, humility in all points is hard for me, but this is the hardest.If we walk with God, we know deep down in our heart-of-hearts when God fearlessly wants us to sally forth in battle (CHARGE!!!!!), and when He does not.  It's those "does nots" that tie me in knots.  I'd rather "fix it" than pray about it; you know what I'm talkin' 'bout?  This is especially true when it appears "evil is prospering".  You know, the psalmists had the same dilemma.
Honestly, "fixing it" (even when it's not my place to fix it) is much easier than waiting on God to move.  It's comical, really.  I'll pray, "God, glorify Yourself through this situation!"  And, then, I am tempted to act in a way that steals His glory.
But, be sure of this:  godly humility puts the spotlight on God.  It magnifies and lifts up Jesus Christ.
Sometimes, our obedience brings difficult outcomes, scary outcomes.  Look again at that list of people above.  Sometimes, our obedience brings all kinds of personal loss, even physical death.
Daniel escaped the lions' den unscathed.

23 Then the king was delighted and gave an order to haul Daniel up from the den. So Daniel was hauled up out of the den. He had no injury of any kind, because he had trusted in his God.
"Unscathed", though, is not always the outcome for us, nor is it always God's will.
But, don't miss this!
When we are obedient and trusting, even when our obedience brings more trials and tribulations, we will always be safe with God.  Our eternity is safe with Him, even when our road here is rocky and rough.  

Humility is counter-intuitive, isn't it?  It goes against the way "the world" thinks.  But, it is exactly how Jesus lived.
Father, learning from my Savior's humility is convicting.  Even so, if I long to be like Jesus, I can't skip over the "humility parts".  If I long to "walk resplendent", I can't take shortcuts along the way.  I love that old hymn that says, "Grant us wisdom.  Grant us courage, that we fail not man nor Thee." In Jesus' name, oh yes!  May it be so! Amen.

God of Grace and God of Glory
God of grace and God of glory,
On Thy people pour Thy power.
Crown Thine ancient church’s story,
Bring her bud to glorious flower.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
For the facing of this hour,
For the facing of this hour.

Lo! the hosts of evil ’round us,
Scorn Thy Christ, assail His ways.
From the fears that long have bound us,
Free our hearts to faith and praise.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
For the living of these days,
For the living of these days.

Cure Thy children’s warring madness,
Bend our pride to Thy control.
Shame our wanton selfish gladness,
Rich in things and poor in soul.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
Lest we miss Thy kingdom’s goal,
Lest we miss Thy kingdom’s goal.

Set our feet on lofty places,
Gird our lives that they may be,
Armored with all Christ-like graces,
In the fight to set men free.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
That we fail not man nor Thee,
That we fail not man nor Thee.

Save us from weak resignation,
To the evils we deplore.
Let the search for Thy salvation,
Be our glory evermore.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
Serving Thee whom we adore,
Serving Thee whom we adore.


Thursday, June 16, 2016

Walk Worthy

It is crucial that you understand this truth:  the salvation that Jesus Christ offers cannot be earned.  It can only be given, not from human descendants to human heirs, but from the heart of God to heirs of His grace.

Regardless of how straight a path you walk, how you "tow the line", you can never "measure up" by your own efforts.  Only God's grace, extended only through the finished work and cleansing blood of His Son, can demolish your sins and purchase your salvation.

This is the message Paul preached: grace and only grace.

Then, though, Paul urges us to "walk worthy" of the grace we have received.

 27  Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ so that – whether I come and see you or whether I remain absent – I should hear that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind, by contending side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28  and by not being intimidated in any way by your opponents. This is a sign of their destruction, but of your salvation – a sign which is from God. 29  For it has been granted to you not only to believe in Christ but also to suffer for him, 30  since you are encountering the same conflict that you saw me face and now hear that I am facing.
Philippians 1:27-30 NET

I had a mature Christian tell me once that godly character is not your public persona.  You can appear in public to be the greatest Christian ever.  You can do missions.  You can even teach Bible classes.  You can be a deacon.  You can speak sweetly.  But, the truth of your godliness, your relationship with Jesus, is how you act when no one is watching.  Evil loves the darkness, but hates the light, you know...

Paul is saying that, whether he is there to watch over the Philippians or not, he should hear that they are living in a way worthy of the great salvation gift each of them has received.  Walking worthy sometimes requires that we make sacrifices, that we even suffer, as we fight for the faith.

Walking worthy does not mean merely following a list of rules.  It begins with the start of our relationship with God, and it continues as that relationship is grown and nurtured.  Walking worthy means moving deeper into Jesus Christ, choosing Him and His ways, even when it costs us.  As C.S. Lewis said repeatedly in his last book in the "Narnia" chronicles: "further up and further in".1

The more we grow into Jesus, the more our lives will change.  This is how we come to "walk worthy".  A brand new Christian should be easily distinguishable from a seasoned Christian, because the latter should have grown in wisdom, in grace, in truth.  Sadly, that is not always the case, since some people remain "baby Christians", immature and living carnally, selfishly.  Saddest of all, this hurts the cause of Jesus Christ, the spread of the gospel, greatly.

So, let's live like the redeemed, blood-bought Bride of Christ which we are, walking worthy, hand-in-hand with Him!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016


Well, friends, the blog schedule continues to be herky-jerky this week, due to VBS, a work-related meeting all day today, etc.

Last night, I had insomnia and sat down with the Scriptures.  I know we are "in Philippians", but I want to take a short detour into Psalm 73 for today's (very late!) post.  Please grab your Bible and walk with me through this honest, raw, intimate psalm, written by Asaph.  (I'm using the NET version, although I read it last night from The Message.)

If I asked you to describe a successful person, what would you say?

Let's consider what the world considers a successful person to be.  Here are some of those attributes of worldly success, in no particular order:

financial wealth
power and influence
fame ("I'm gonna live forever' ... a certain generation will understand....couldn't resist!)
good looks
many friends
loving family

These worldly successes are not bad, in and of themselves.  Sometimes (often?) though, people achieve success in the world's eyes by doing the following to achieve the desired outcomes:

  • a "live and let live" attitude, disregard of sin - - theirs and others; "situational ethics" (vs. 7)
  • an attitude of "I'll use others however I please to get what I want" - - lack of compassion (vs. 5)
  • pride and arrogance (vs. 3 and 6)

  • slander (vs. 8)
  • rebellion and contempt toward God (vs. 9, 11)

Yet, God often "allows" evil people to "triumph" over those whose motives are pure.  If you are a person who longs to follow God, to please Him, to serve Him - - the worldly successes of such people can be profoundly troubling.

Why does God allow evil people to be so successful in this life, after all?

The psalmist never answers that question because often, in our specific situations, we don't get a precise answer either.  The more global answer is that God uses everything for His glory, which honestly, is not much of a comfort when you are mired down, beaten down, seemingly squashed by troubles.

What the psalmist DOES do is to "re-frame".  He rejects bitterness (vs. 21-22), enters God's holy presence (vs. 17), and he gets a clearer picture of the wicked.  He sees that they are on "a slippery slope."  These people reach a point in their lives when, they believe they "have it made", and all of a sudden God's judgment falls on them (vs. 18-19).

Then, the psalmist shows us the number one characteristic of a person who is successful in God's eyes.  What do you think it is?

Do you remember what it was like as a young child to be held by your parent's hand and guided through a crowd?  Perhaps it was at the carnival or at your large church or at some other large gathering where there were many close people.  You trusted your parent to lead you the correct way, and he or she must are here reading this, after all!

I think the number one characteristic of a person who is successful in God's eyes is humility, a willingness to allow one's own desires to become secondary to God's desires, a willingness to be led by Him.  I promise - - - if you think you've met a truly godly soul, he/she is humble.  The older I get, the more convinced I am of this.  What, for example, is the first step in accepting Jesus as Savior, accepting His offer of salvation?  It's admitting that we are sinners who are unable to atone for our own sins, unable to "save ourselves".
Listen to the psalmist:

25  Whom do I have in heaven but you?
I desire no one but you on earth.
26  My flesh and my heart may grow weak,
but God always protects my heart and gives me stability.

The humble, "successful" disciple of Jesus Christ puts Him first in his or her life.  Arrogant and prideful people are unable to do this.

23  But I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
24  You guide me by your wise advice,
and then you will lead me to a position of honor.

Do you see how the psalmist lives his life, walking resplendently with God?  Everything is subordinate to God's will and the desire to live continually in God's presence.  Such a humble soul is guided by God's wise advice, with God holding his or her hand.  Such a person is "at home" with God, in an ever-growing, ever-deepening relationship.

What is this place of honor of which the psalmist speaks?  It is eternity spent with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit!  When this life ends, He still holds our hand....and leads us into an eternity with Him.  I believe it will feel so ... familiar, to the one who has walked with God in this earthly life.

I attended the funeral of a godly, 92-year old woman two days ago.  The musician, my aunt, sang one of my favorite "funeral songs", and I believe the context of this post is perfect for me to share the chorus with you.  Pay attention to the last line especially:

Just think of stepping on shore
And finding it Heaven
Of touching a hand
And finding it God's
Of breathing new air
And finding it celestial
Of waking up in Glory
And finding it Home.1

Home is wherever Jesus is....It always has been.

Father, thank you for helping us when we find ourselves overcome by perplexity at how things are playing out around us.  We know that nothing is hidden from You, that nothing escapes Your attention.  Like a humble, trusting child holds the hand of its parent, may we walk hand-in-hand with You.  May we be increasingly at-home with You, both here and forever.  In Jesus' name, amen.