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Only One risen Saviuor

Only One risen Saviuor
There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved - Jesus

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

I Press On

Philippians 3:12 Paul says "...I press on..."
 
Sometimes following Jesus feels like the walk in the video below. Keep going. The path leads Home.
The following dream is also relevant to the theme of pressing on:
 
"I dreamed of being with a large body of people. A portion of this assembly started out prepared to journey. We had heavily loaded wagons. As we journeyed, the road seemed to ascend. On one side of this road was a deep precipice; on the other was a high, smooth, white wall, like the hard finish upon plastered rooms.
 
As we journeyed on, the road grew narrower and steeper. In some places it seemed so very narrow that we concluded that we could no longer travel with the loaded wagons. We then loosed them from the horses, took a portion of the luggage from the wagons and placed it upon the horses, and journeyed on horseback.
As we progressed, the path still continued to grow narrow. We were obliged to press close to the wall, to save ourselves from falling off the narrow road down the steep precipice. As we did this, the luggage on the horses pressed against the wall, and caused us to sway toward the precipice. We feared that we should fall, and be dashed in pieces on the rocks. We then cut the luggage from the horses, and it fell over the precipice. We continued on horseback, greatly fearing, as we came to the narrower places in the road, that we should lose our balance, and fall. At such times, a hand seemed to take the bridle, and guide us over the perilous way.
As the path grew more narrow, we decided that we could no longer go with safety on horseback, and we left the horses and went on foot, in single file, one following in the footsteps of another. At this point small cords were let down from the top of the pure white wall; these we eagerly grasped, to aid us in keeping our balance upon the path. As we traveled, the cord moved along with us. The path finally became so narrow that we concluded that we could travel more safely without our shoes; so we slipped them from our feet, and went on some distance without them. Soon it was decided that we could travel more safely without our stockings; these were removed, and we journeyed on with bare feet.
We then thought of those who had not accustomed themselves to privations and hardships. Where were such now? They were not in the company. At every change, some were left behind, and those only remained who had accustomed themselves to endure hardships. The privations of the way only made these more eager to press on to the end.
Our danger of falling from the pathway increased. We pressed close to the white wall, yet could not place our feet fully upon the path, for it was too narrow. We then suspended nearly our whole weight upon the cords, exclaiming: “We have hold from above! We have hold from above!” The same words were uttered by all the company in the narrow pathway. As we heard the sounds of mirth and revelry that seemed to come from the abyss below, we shuddered. We heard the profane oath, the vulgar jest, and low, vile songs. We heard the war song and the dance song. We heard instrumental music, and loud laughter, mingled with cursing and cries of anguish and bitter wailing, and were more anxious than ever to keep upon the narrow, difficult pathway. Much of the time we were compelled to suspend our whole weight upon the cords, which increased in size as we progressed.
I noticed that the beautiful white wall was stained with blood. It caused a feeling of regret to see the wall thus stained. This feeling, however, lasted but for a moment, as I soon thought that it was all as it should be. Those who are following after will know that others have passed the narrow, difficult way before them, and will conclude that if others were able to pursue their onward course, they can do the same. And as the blood shall be pressed from their aching feet, they will not faint with discouragement; but, seeing the blood upon the wall, they will know that others have endured the same pain.
At length we came to a large chasm, at which our path ended. There was nothing now to guide the feet, nothing upon which to rest them. Our whole reliance must be upon the cords, which had increased in size, until they were as large as our bodies. Here we were for a time thrown into perplexity and distress. We inquired in fearful whispers, “To what is the cord attached?” My husband was just before me. Large drops of sweat were falling from his brow, the veins in his neck and temples were increased to double their usual size, and suppressed, agonizing groans came from his lips. The sweat was dropping from my face, and I felt such anguish as I had never felt before. A fearful struggle was before us. Should we fail here, all the difficulties of our journey had been experienced for naught.
Before us, on the other side of the chasm, was a beautiful field of green grass, about six inches high. I could not see the sun, but bright, soft beams of light, resembling fine gold and silver, were resting upon this field. Nothing I had seen upon earth could compare in beauty and glory with this field. But could we succeed in reaching it? was the anxious inquiry. Should the cord break, we must perish.
Again, in whispered anguish, the words were breathed, “What holds the cord?” For a moment we hesitated to venture. Then we exclaimed: “Our only hope is to trust wholly to the cord. It has been our dependence all the difficult way. It will not fail us now.” Still we were hesitating and distressed. The words were then spoken: “God holds the cord. We need not fear.” These words were repeated by those behind us, accompanied with: “He will not fail us now. He has brought us thus far in safety.”
 
My husband then swung himself over the fearful abyss into the beautiful field beyond. I immediately followed. And oh, what a sense of relief and gratitude to God we felt! I heard voices raised in triumphant praise to God. I was happy, perfectly happy."

Perspective

Philippians 3:12 "Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
15 Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. 16 Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind."
Today's passage has so much in it. Paul confesses he is not Home yet but he is on the way. It speaks to the constant challenge of staying the course. Fifty percent of marriages end off course. They began with a life long commitment, they began with joy and hope and dreams and great intentions but somewhere along the way one or both began to get off course. Perhaps it was an affair. Perhaps it was an addiction. Perhaps it was unmet expectations. Perhaps it was an unexpected tragedy like the death of a child or a chronic illness. Perhaps it was just plain neglect. No matter the scenario somewhere along the way "for better or worse until..." was lost sight of.
Now let's return to the context of the letter. The Philippians are upset because Paul is in prison and God is not doing anything about it. I can assure you that this line of thinking if held onto will end with the Philippians losing their faith completely. Trouble leads to complaining, complaining leads to disillusionment and disillusionment leads to abandonment. The only cure for this spiral is perspective. "Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus". Would Jesus quit? If Jesus was my husband and I got MS and was unable to give Him children would He divorce me? If Jesus was my husband and I cheated on Him would He just cut me loose or would He fight for me? If Jesus were my husband and things got too tough would He look for greener pastures?
What about dark valleys? If Jesus was left to rot in prison and all His followers were praying for His deliverance but His Father just left Him there, would He turn on His Father? In sports they fight for the prize and we cheer yet in matters of faith when things get hard we doubt and then complain and then become disillusioned and turn away. But not Paul. He says plainly "I know I'm nothing like Jesus yet but I want to have His mind and His heart and so I press on. He went through far worse than I am going through and He never quit so I'm not quitting either. His journey to save us cost Him His own life and if my journey to follow Him costs me mine so be it."
Perspective. How quickly we can lose it. How long it can take sometimes to get it back.
 
Next time you feel yourself doubting or hear yourself complaining ask yourself this question. If the situation were reversed what would I want? If it was me in the bed would I want my spouse to stay? Then why am I thinking about leaving?
When in doubt look to the One we are following. Life is hard because we're not Home yet. Press on. Today.

The Whole Story

Philippians 3:7 "But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. 8 Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, 11 if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead."
 
Sometimes I wonder if we (and I mean we) really get it. Here is a man who by religious standards was on top. He was in the realm of excellent Jews a superhero. Then he met Jesus. What he found in Jesus made him consider all his religious "attainments" to be garbage, manure, trash. Not only does he consider his religious attainments to be nothing, but he also considers his position, his stuff, indeed everything to be nothing in comparison to what he has found in Jesus. Even his personal safety and earthly life is of no count. All trace of self interest and self preservation has been swallowed up by his love for Christ and more so by Christ's love for him.
His one goal now is to be like Jesus. Sometimes we forget what that means. We selfishly love what we can get from Jesus but we forget what it might mean to follow Jesus. In a world full of I phones and a love yourself first ideology we are being blinded to what love and self sacrifice really are. We worry about our rights and fairness and justice but often we only worry about justice for just us. Jesus came into this world as a living, walking, talking example of what love in action looks like. Born as a bastard, raised in poverty on the "wrong side of the tracks", he was misunderstood by everyone including his own mother.
He lived for everyone but Himself. There is no record that He ever owned anything of significance. Never had his own home. Spent His ministry years constantly travelling often sleeping outdoors. The very community of people (Jews) who should have embraced Him were the ones who rejected Him the most. He healed, they harassed. He cared, they complained and criticized. He reached out to bring people together, they demonized Him for it. Finally after countless attempts to stop Him in some legal way they just gave up and murdered Him on fabricated lies.
Paul was one of the haters. Paul made it his life mission to track down and eliminate the "followers of The Way". Then Paul had a personal encounter with Jesus and everything changed.
Now Paul is passionately trying to explain to the church in Philippi that suffering is just a normal consequence of following Jesus and he is fine with it. The church in Philippi it seems has only grasped half the Story. Like much of Christianity today we love the forgiveness of Jesus but don't grasp the following part.
Paul is simply saying "Guys it's all trash. Whatever you are afraid to lose, it's all temporary and passing away. Jesus is Eternal and this life and this world and everything in it is going to be gone. Jesus will raise us up again just as He raised and will make all things new. Hanging on to stuff, hanging on to me, hanging on to this life is missing the best part of the story. We are going Home."
Paul grasped the whole Story. Do we?

Is Repetition Good?

Philippians 3:1 "Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. For me to write the same things to you is not tedious, but for you it is safe.
2 Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation! 3 For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh, 4 though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: 5 circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; 6 concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless."
I don't know about you but I hate repetition. I hate repetitive songs, I hate repetitive sounds like a barking dog or a pounding hammer. I hate watching a movie over again unless it has been years. I hate being told something more than once. Clearly Paul does not feel the same way. He is repetitive and makes no apologies. He says it is for their good.
As an educator I know the value of repetition. We train our brains to learn new things by repetition. We find out what people are passionate about by listening to what they talk about most. Repetition certainly has a place. Here in chapter 3 Paul begins by saying I am going to be repetitive for your safety.
What is he being repetitive about?
Do you remember that in Galatians the problem was men coming into the church preaching another gospel? Do you remember that in Colossae and Laodicea men were coming in to teach that more was needed than Jesus? Now here on Philippi Paul tells them to be aware of the dogs, the evil workers, the mutilators. What's happening in Philippi? Men are telling them they need to be circumcised like the Jews of old. Paul says you circumcised if you worship God in the Spirit and rejoice in all that Jesus has done and have no confidence in your flesh.
He goes on to say that he isn't saying this from some lack on his part. He isn't trying to change the rules to suit his lack. It's not Iike that at all. On the contrary he is saying if I could impress God with my credentials and wow Him with my resume I would be in good shape. He wouldn't have had to join the Jews, he was born one. He wouldn't have had to get circumcised as an adult because he was circumcised on the 8th day after his birth just like Jesus and all good Jewish boys. He wouldn't have to learn and keep all the Jewish feasts and customs and practices because he had been doing it all for life! He was even running around squashing the heretical uprising that was teaching that the carpenter from Nazareth was the Lamb of God and undermining all things Jewish.
We can't have it both ways. Satan knows that if we make our faith about more than Jesus eventually the more takes over completely and Jesus disappears. Eventually how we dress or what we do or what traditions we keep become the sum and substance of our religion and Jesus the Person, Jesus the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the whole world is lost sight of in our endless attempts to prove ourselves worthy and purchase what Jesus has already given freely.
What is Paul being repetitive?
 
Jesus alone. Jesus only. Jesus paid it all. Jesus 1 - Flesh 0
Get over yourself today and repeat it tomorrow, and the next day, and the next... Jesus paid once for all. It is the truth that bears constant repetition. Trying to add to it ends up throwing Him away...

Does Individualism Matter?

Philippians 2:25 "Yet I considered it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier, but your messenger and the one who ministered to my need; 26 since he was longing for you all, and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. 27 For indeed he was sick almost unto death; but God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. 28 Therefore I sent him the more eagerly, that when you see him again you may rejoice, and I may be less sorrowful. 29 Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness, and hold such men in esteem; 30 because for the work of Christ he came close to death, not regarding his life, to supply what was lacking in your service toward me."
 
The theme continues - another worker for the Lord who did not consider his own life something to be preserved or protected.

 The theme of the church as a body with each member supplying a part is also continued. This person - Epaphroditus - about whom we know little was known for three reasons. He worked with Paul to spread the gospel, he nearly died in the line of duty, and he added something to the church in Philippi which it lacked without his presence.
 
Individuality is not bad in any way. God designed that we be unique. Unfortunately well meaning people are often blind to this fact and religion often ends of being an exercise in conformity that discourages, shuns, and even destroys individuality.
 
The truth is that our individuality is needed by the body while at the same time our individuality needs the balancing influence of the body. I have observed over the years that every church congregation has a personality. Some are all about being friendly and inviting but may lack depth and purpose. Others are all about studying and knowing the truth but lack in both friendliness and a balanced view of who the Truth is. Some churches are very concerned about behaviour and conformity to a mutual standard while other churches seem to have no standards at all. How does this happen? It happens because at some point leadership was out of balance and over time the church body grew to reflect that imbalance.
 
Sometimes God will send an individual or individuals into a church body to counter balance or bring a more healthy wholistic personality to the body. Often these persons are met with suspicion or resistance or even opposition. In our imbalance we forget that Jesus was both law and grace, justice and mercy, compassion and principle, strict in tje way He lived yet open wide to work with and walk with sinners of all stripes.
 
Jesus confused religionists. His behaviour threatened their conformist culture. His love for the unlovable threatened their behaviour based control model.
 
The bottom line to all this is that we need each other, and we need Jesus. And often we need the people we naturally resist the most. Consider Jesus - consider Him in His fulness, not just the aspects of His character that naturally appeal to you.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Church?

 
 
Philippians 2:19 "But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, that I also may be encouraged when I know your state. 20 For I have no one like-minded, who will sincerely care for your state. 21 For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus. 22 But you know his proven character, that as a son with his father he served with me in the gospel. 23 Therefore I hope to send him at once, as soon as I see how it goes with me. 24 But I trust in the Lord that I myself shall also come shortly."
 
Recently someone asked me why we have a place to gather together called the church if Jesus is all that matters and we can talk to Him anywhere any time? It's a great question. We should just be able to connect people with Jesus and walk away. We could dispense with all the structure etc... Think of all the time and money and energy that could be saved by dismantling this huge "thing" we call "the church".
 
How we structure "the church" can always be up for discussion and tweaking but we can't get rid of it. Here's why: we're followers of Jesus. Nowhere in the Story called the Good News about an amazing God who went to the greatest of lengths to save us will you find a precedent, much less a model, for flying solo. In the very beginning God said to Adam "It is not good for man to be alone". When Jesus was here He never sent anyone out on a solo mission. His disciples were always sent out in pairs. All through the New Testament the church is compared to and described as a body - many diverse parts making up one harmonious whole.

 A thumb and an eye are different in form and function. They appear to have little in common on the surface but I wouldn't want to lose either one. In addition they are both from the same source and often work in harmony, both controlled by the same brain and fuelled by the same blood flow.
 
When Jesus assembled His 12 students we call disciples He could have chosen 12 like minded men. However He didn't. The truth is He gathered a group of politically and ideologically diverse men who fought on a regular basis. Why? Typically we gather together in groups based on sameness and distance ourselves from those who think differently. Why did Jesus do what He did?
 
Why indeed and what does all this have to do with Philippi and you and I? Group dynamics are fluid. In sports teams talk about team chemistry. They talk about the importance of having players who have good leadership skills and are good in the locker room. Guys who put team ahead of self. Guys who can rally the troops. Guys who can take and collection of individuals and help form them into a cohesive unit where each player will think of his teammate ahead of himself. They also talk about guys who are a cancer in the room. Guys who are only about themselves and create disunity by their very presence and attitude.
 
Group dynamics are fluid. They rise and fall with both circumstances and the changing makeup of the team. In Philippi the team morale is low. Paul's imprisonment and the apparent failure of the church to be "winning" against the forces of evil in the world are combining together to create a depressed defeatist attitude in the body we call the church.
 
What is Paul’s solution? He plans to send Timothy. Why Timothy? Because Timothy thinks like Paul. He's good in the "locker room". He is not affected by opposition and apparent defeat. For Paul and Timothy to live is Christ and to die is gain. This life is not to be counted or considered. We battle for Christ and if we win by losing the kingdom advances and if we win by dying the kingdom advances even more. It is a perspective that is lacking in Philippi. The body is missing a part and Timothy is that part.
 
The bottom line is that no man is an island. We need God and God designed us to need each other. If you find yourself lacking a team or on a team that is missing some parts stay close to Jesus. He will provide. He knows where you are and what you need. If the thought comes into your mind that you don't need anyone and you can fly solo just fine reject the thought. It may sound heroic but it's not from God.
 
"Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together and even more as you see the Day approaching." Hebrews 10:26
 
No man is an island and no man stands alone. Church means "the called out ones". Called out of individualism and selfishness into teamwork and self sacrifice. Called to create the image of God together!

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Did Jesus Complain?

Philippians 2:14 "Do all things without complaining and disputing, 15 that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain.
17 Yes, and if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18 For the same reason you also be glad and rejoice with me."
 
At the risk of being repetitive Christianity is all about Jesus and all about love. Yesterday we talked about humility in our walk with God and not playing the blame game or being critical of others. Today we're going to go deeper into what Paul was addressing.
 
Complaining and disputing. Those are the traits that make us no different than the world? I was raised to see Sabbath keeping as the thing that would be a sign to the world that I was a true follower of Jesus. I was taught that the day would come when people would see two distinct groups on the planet: Those who through loyalty to God would keep the true Sabbath and those who through compromise with the world and self preservation would keep the false Sabbath created by bad religion. There will be a scenario along those lines but it will come about in ways I never saw or understood.
 
Complaining and disputing. It's ironic to me that in the religious realm we classify certain beliefs as heresy and certain moral failures as sin yet we tolerate and even thrive on complaining and disputing. Paul says these two behaviours are harmful and make us one with the world - crooked and perverse. Why? I mean isn't it right to complain about injustice and to dispute with those who are in the wrong so they will see the error of their ways?

 Apparently not.

Let's remind ourselves what it means to be a Christian. It means we are followers of Jesus. It means He is our Teacher and our Example. It means in any given situation we should be striving to do what He would do if He were in the same situation. This means if we can find a scenario where Jesus complained, we would be right to complain in a similar scenario. Think about that... It also means if Jesus did not react to certain situations with complaining, neither should we.

 It is also true of disputing. If Jesus disputed with others we should study those instances and make sure we react in the same way in those or similar situations.

I could be wrong but I have been
searching my memory bank trying to recall one instance where Jesus complained because of an injustice done to Him. I can't think of one instance where He disputed about or defended His rights. The truth is I can't think of any scenario that involved Jesus thinking about Himself or defending Himself or anything along those lines. The only time He ever talked about Himself was to clarify who He was or to make it clear where He drew His strength from. There is no record of Him defending His possessions as there is no record He had any. Only twice was He described as angry and in both instances He was angry because of harm being done to others by those who professed to represent His Father. The truth is the more I think about it the more clear and obvious it becomes. Everything Jesus did and said and all His reactions to life were motivated by two concerns. Love for His Father and love for us. His own person and life were of no concern to Him. In fact if we want to get really practical the most common complaint that passes through the lips of humans is the very basic "I'm hungry" yet Jesus skipped meals if He had the opportunity to help someone. He knew that moments to truly communicate with others on the heart level were precious and had to be done when the time was right and if it meant missing a meal so be it.

Look at what Paul says above. Living a life free of complaining and disputing will make us shine as lights and will only happen if we are holding tightly to the Word of life who is Jesus.

 Notice the next thought. He talks about his own life being poured out like a drink offering, like a sacrifice. Where does Paul get this idea? From where does this imagery come? It comes from the example of Jesus' life. Jesus poured Himself out. His life was fully spent for our benefit and to reveal the true character of His Father. We are His followers. Complaining and disputing will reveal nothing more than selfishness. There is no Jesus in them.

 Paul may die in prison. His thoughts are "So what? My life is an offering, a sacrifice. If my death is in any way helpful in making Him known and bringing light to others so be it".
 
The church in Philippi has seen the love of Jesus but have not yet grasped the meaning of following Him down the road of self sacrifice. Part of the process of learning to fully hold on to Jesus is learning to let go of this world, even our very lives.
 
We have rights and followers of Jesus will choose to lay their rights down. When this happens we'll have nothing to complain or fight about...

The Blame Game

Philippians 2:12 "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure."
14 Do all things without complaining and disputing, 15 that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain."
 
The counsel here about working out our own salvation with fear and trembling is often misunderstood. We have to remember the context and then the picture comes into focus. The stress level is high in Philippi and it's causing them to turn on each other. As we discussed stressful situations either pull people together or tear them apart.
 
You may find it fascinating to learn that the Jews even today believe that if all Jews kept the Sabbath properly for even one day their Messiah would come. I share this to point out the underlying thinking. "If we are good, good things will happen". Now flip that idea around. "If bad things are happening we must be doing bad things". Now Paul is in prison which is bad so that means it's likely they feel this is some kind of punishment for their "badness".

Combine these two: stress turns people against each other and bad is happening because they are bad. See the fruit of those two things? A wide open blame game.
 
Into this volatile and divisive atmosphere Paul says "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling...". Fear and trembling is an expression that means "with humility". What Paul is saying is that if you are going to look for fault or criticize or play the blame game look at yourself not others. Then the true key is the next sentence - "For it is God who works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure".
 
The truth in that sentence is deep and wide while at the same time simple. Only God can give us a heart that both wants to do and does the things He loves. Stress and fighting and blaming are far from His ways. Attacking others and finding fault in them is even further from His ways. Paul is diffusing the situation by turning their eyes back to themselves and more importantly to God. He is the source of our transformation. He is the source of our peace. He is the source of all that is good.
 
When we turn from Him because of stress we become harmful to ourselves and others. When we turn to Him in stressful situations we become a blessing and bring healing and hope into the situation.
 
Paul is the prisoner but because His eyes are on Jesus look at the influence he is having. How about us? When trouble comes do we bring division and add to the stress or does His presence in our lives bring a calming big picture perspective?
 
 
"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the beginning and finisher of our faith." Let's do it today and every day.

Losing Is Winning

Philippians 2:5 "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. 9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
 
The truth is that seeking the top leads to the bottom.
 
 
What we struggle to realize is that the universe is at war but it's not a war of bombs and guns, it's a war of ideas. In our times we hear lots about the war on terror and the crises in the middle east. Despite all the peace talks and wars fought and money spent the unrest is increasing. It seems no matter what the west does the intensity just keeps rising. The biggest reason for this is that the west fails to grasp that they are not warring against a country or a group of people. They are fighting ideas, ideas they don't understand and ideas that spread by fighting against them. Islam has a view of the west based on their religious world view. We in the west have a worldview that doesn't understand Islam. They think we should think like them and we think they should think like us.

 Warring against an idea is a lot more complex than warring against a country or a group of whatever description. Ideas are invisible. Ideas are impossible to kill unless you kill every person that has the ideas or unless you present something so compelling that their ideas change.
 
Now imagine a universe created by a God. Imagine that within that vast universe among His created beings the idea rises up that this God is evil despite His brilliant appearance and seemingly good character. How do you counter such ideas? Killing those who think He is evil would only serve to convince others that He is and the idea would spread and solidify. Somehow this God would have to demonstrate over time and through various circumstances that He is anything but evil.
 
When Jesus came to this earth as one of us and then allowed Himself to be killed the watching universe was shocked and fully and finally convinced. By choosing to become nothing He became something war would never achieve. He became understood. He became the embodiment of the love they doubted was truly in Him. Evil doesn't die for others. Evil seeks itself. While Jesus was being killed His Father, whose character had been on trial for millenia did nothing. He, for the sake of restoring peace to the universe and putting to death once and for all the idea that He was only self seeking and evil was forward put to rest in the realm of the angels.

As history continues to unfold here on planet earth where we are far less aware of the war in the universe over what God is really like the picture for us will become clearer.
 
Paul says very clearly that Jesus is fighting the war through self sacrifice and calls those who follow Him to do the same. This is why Paul is ok with being in prison. His life here on this earth is of no consequence to him. Why should it be? He understood that all that matters is for people to learn the truth. Truth as Jesus said is the path to freedom.
 
When the truth finally and fully comes out and God is seen for the all loving God that He is and Satan and his followers are exposed for the liars they are the war will be over. So complete and compelling will be the evidence that every knee will bow and every mouth will confess that Jesus is Lord. Some will confess it with joy because they always believed He was love. Others will confess it because the overwhelming evidence will force the confession from them and they will admit defeat.
 
Peace is coming to the universe and this earth. It will be achieved in the only way that works. Evil will exposed for what it is. Love will be exposed for what it is. Today we live in the midst of the war. We are being called to choose.
 
Let me make it simple. Love is self sacrificing. Evil is self seeking. I choose love. I choose Jesus. I choose God. I can't wait for Him to be fully and completely revealed for all that He is!

Monday, 20 April 2015

Human Rights?

Philippians 2:5 "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death, even the death of the cross. 9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
 
Do you know what's crazy? We expect to be followers of Jesus while maintaining the same thinking we have always had. Each of us has political leanings and/or a worldview that is likely not in harmony with God. As we begin to discover Him we naturally see Him and judge Him through our eyes. What we should be doing is judging our thinking through His eyes. Paul says in verse 5 above "Let this mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus". In other words "Think like He thought. Look at things through His eyes".
 
As much as we want to talk about ourselves and 2015 the Bible is only useful to us in the present if we examine it in the context of the story it is telling at the time it was written.
 
Like we've been discussing, Paul is in prison and they don't like it. Their way of thinking is that Paul is too good and too important to be in prison. Their thinking says God should be doing something about this if He is the Mighty God that Paul taught them about. They are so convinced of their own logic about the situation that they are becoming disillusioned.
 
 
Now let's talk about us. When bad things happen, when perceived injustices occur we get upset at God. In fact we're so self centered that we can watch the news and hear about strangers dying unjustly and it barely registers but if it happens to someone we love suddenly God is uncaring and/or incompetent. Many atheists will tell me they don't believe there is a God because if there was the world wouldn't be in such a mess. What they are doing is judging God by their own standard. They are saying "If I had God's power I'd cure cancer and end world hunger and violence etc..."
 
What is Paul’s response to all this? How does he respond to this group of believers that he loves? He says "Consider the mind of Jesus. Look at Him. He was God yet He became a man. In fact He didn't just become a man, He became the servant of men. He who made and owns everything became one of us and owned pretty much nothing. Consider Him who as a servant to His Father and to us even submitted to a premature and unjust death." Paul is saying "Think about it!" More than saying 'think about it' he is saying "Think like Him. Count your life, count my life, as nothing but a sacrifice to God."
 
Man there is power in this. It is contrary to our nature. Our gut screams against this from the ends of our toes to the top of our head. We want our rights. We want justice (often just for us). From as early as we can talk the most common phrase from our lips about our worldview is "that's not fair".
 
To be fair it is true. This world is not just or fair. It is full of ugly events and brokenness. What our humanity does not recognize is that this life is a war zone and the only weapon of value/worth in this fight against evil is sacrifice. Love is sacrifice. Love is other centered. Love weeps more at your pain than my own pain. Jesus is love. Jesus held nothing back for Himself. He never held a placard defending His rights. He never called a lawyer to defend Him against injustice. He never called on His Almighty Father to rescue or defend Him or nuke His enemies. He wasn't here to defeat His enemies, He was here to win them through self sacrificing love.
 
It's not our nature to think like Him but He is willing to give us His heart and mind.
 
 
Let this mind be in you that was in Jesus...

The Storms

Philippians 2:1 "Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, 2 fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. 3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others."
 
Stress has a way of either bringing people together or tearing them apart. Parents who lose a child often end up losing their marriage too as the pain manifests itself as anger, or withdrawing or any other forms of reaction which are death on a relationship. The church in Philippi is stressed over Paul’s imprisonment. He is not just a preacher to them. He is the one who introduced them to Jesus who could heal any disease and walk on water, even raise the dead. It's likely they heard also of Peter's miraculous rescue from prison. Yet their beloved champion of the gospel is languishing in prison and the experience is causing individuals to doubt and the church to fracture.
 
This month marks ten years since cancer invaded my otherwise peaceful life. It came suddenly and by God's intervention it left just as suddenly. At the same time there was a precious lady in Cape Breton who had been battling cancer for years and through ups and downs was gradually losing. After my miracle which was an undeserved as her illness, I went to see her. She had heard about me being sick too and asked how I was doing. I didn't know what to say. Here she was struggling for years and my "battle" came and went in a few weeks. I could do nothing but share the truth. She squeezed my hand and told me how happy she was for me. Then she paused and courageously asked "Why doesn't He do that for me?"
 
I had no answer. I still don't. I can't explain my healing any better than I can explain her eventual loss. We hugged and cried. In that moment I would have changed places if I could have but the journey of life is not like that. We each have a road to travel and only when we reach Home will we understand why our journey had to be the way it was.
 
In Philippi they are struggling. Why is their Mighty Jesus doing nothing for their precious Paul? The stress is affecting relationships. The strained relationships are affecting the entire church. The pain and doubt is manifesting itself in a myriad of unhealthy ways. Into the stress comes a letter from the very one who is the focus of their angst.
 
What is his counsel?
 
First he has already assured them he is ok in chains. He is even ok if the chains end in death. Now he turns his attention to them. His solution is to pull together instead of apart. To be humble. To strive to see things from the perspective of another.
 
I've been around long enough to observe that in times of trouble 5 people in the same situation can react five different ways. One might use humour to diffuse the stress. Another from a sense of helpless frustration will react with anger. Still another might just cry. Another might withdraw into a sullen silence. The last might begin to try and control the other four as means of bringing structure and productivity and normalcy into the chaos and controlling to make up for being out of control.
 
These vastly different reactions are a breeding ground for misunderstanding and conflict. In this Satan rejoices. Paul knows the danger and calls them to press together and in humility consider the other person. When we choose to love and pray for others in the storm and determine to seek their good it is hard to fight with them.
 
 
They say finding joy is not complicated. Seek Jesus first, seek Others second. Consider Yourself last.
Joy in the storm.

Fear?

Philippians 1:27 "Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God. 29 For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in... Him, but also to suffer for His sake, 30 having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me."
 
This is going to be short:
 
There should be no fear on the heart of the Christian. Fear can only enter when the trouble we face becomes our focus and Jesus is lost sight of.
 
Paul was in prison and the assault against followers of Christ coming from both religious and political forces was indeed real. However from his prison cell Paul wrote to the Philippians that they should in no way be terrified by their adversaries. Why should they? Why should we? To live is Jesus and to die is gain! The only things this world can take from us are temporary but life with Jesus is eternal and any victories for evil will be short lived.
 
My favourite author describes the night Jesus was crossing the Sea of Galilee with His disciples and a violent storm arose. Storms are enemies that easily humble us to submission. As the storm raged the disciples were frantically doing everything they could to survive. She says they were so busy trying to save the boat and save themselves that they competely forgot He was right there with them. What was He doing? He was sleeping. Why? Because His Father had told Him He would cross to the other side. He had perfect peace because He believed His Father.
 
Christians should never be afraid. Father says we are going to safely cross to the other side. If He is for us who or what could possibly be against us?
 
"He will keep him or her in perfect peace who's mind is stubborn for Him because they believe in Him." Isaiah 26:3

Friday, 17 April 2015

Heaven?

Philippians 1:19 "For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, 20 according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. 24 Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. 25 And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith, 26 that your rejoicing for me may be more abundant in Jesus Christ by my coming to you again."
 
Is Paul the mighty apostle and evangelist suicidal?
 
I absolutely love this passage of Scripture. It reveals truth most of us can't comprehend. Most of us are happy about the thought of having heaven to look forward to at the end yet we're in no hurry to rush to the end. We like life. We see death as an inevitable enemy and heaven as a hope that softens the lethal blow of mortality. Too often our thoughts of heaven center in the where and the what as if we're going on an eternal vacation to a place we've never been and we nervously wonder if it will satisfy. Cheesy images of harp playing and floating on clouds have warped our picture. Fanciful dreams of mansions and opulence appeal to our lustful greedy nature. The truth is the Bible for all that it says in its 66 books and letters and collections of poetry spanning thousands of years of history says little about the place.
 
Reread what Paul says and we start to see why. Paul isn't suicidal. Paul is anxious. Paul doesn't care about the place. Paul cares about the Person. Paul has no unhealthy desire to escape his present reality or earth in general. Paul just wants to see His Best Friend face to face. For him to live day by day is to walk in connection with Christ and to die is the knowledge that the next voice he will hear is His.
 
Why I love this passage is twofold: First it speaks to how real Paul’s relationship with Jesus was. He wasn't a religionist clinging to theories as an insurance policy for the afterlife. Paul knew Jesus personally and his "religion" was simply sharing with the world the reality of Who his Saviour was.
 
When my wife and I got married it was at Christmas time and was supposed to be followed by beginning life and ministry together on January 1. However a mix up in courses meant a return to school for a final semester for me while she finished school 6000 km away. That's right. We spent the first 4 months as newlyweds 6000 km apart. Do you think I looked forward to that semester being over? Do you think I wanted to be somewhere other than where I was? And do you think that desire had anything to do with trying to escape my current physical location or to get to another physical location? I didn't want to go to a place. I wanted to go to a person. I would have wanted to be where she was wherever that was. Had she been with me I would have been content to stay where I was.
 
Paul loved Jesus and simply wanted to be where He was. Sure they were in constant communication but letter writing and talking on the phone pales in comparison to the face to face reality of being with the one you love.
 
The second reason I love this passage is the reason Paul gives for why he is ok with staying on this earth and why ultimately he believes he will live and not die. The church in Philippi had reason to fear for Paul’s life. Following Jesus at that time was a potential death sentence. Others had been killed already. However Paul writes that he thinks he will live because God has work for him yet to do and he is ok with it. He is thankful for the privilege to serve. His love for Jesus has given him a heart of service to others. His life has become one of self sacrifice. He lives in the trenches of the cosmic war and is willing to stay in them for as long as is necessary for the furtherance of the gospel.
 
It wasn't that many years before that Jesus Himself faced a similar situation. Facing the cross as He prayed in Gethsemane Jesus had the choice between staying for our sake or fleeing for His own sake - stay in the trenches or flee the battlefield. He chose us and Paul demonstrates he is a true follower by making the same choice.
 
How about you? What is your life about? Are you here to get or to give? Are you pouring your life into others for His sake or striving to get more here while hoping for gold and palaces in the life beyond.
 
Heaven is not a destination or an insurance policy. Heaven is the continuing of our walk with Him that begins here in the trenches of the cosmic war that will end in eternal peace.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Happy In Prison?

Philippians 1:15 "Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from good will. 16 The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; 17 but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice.
19 For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, 20 according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. 24 Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. 25 And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith, 26 that your rejoicing for me may be more abundant in Jesus Christ by my coming to you again."
 
Crazy! The guy in prison is writing to those who are free to encourage them. His basic message to them is that there is a reason he is in prison, it is helping the Good News reach people it has never reached before. The officials, the prison guards, everyone he is in contact with are hearing the message. He mentioned that yesterday and now we find out his imprisonment has had another effect in helping spread the knowledge of Jesus.
 
Because he can no longer preach publicly others have stepped up to the plate and are preaching more boldly. Some because they were jealous of Paul and his "fame". Others because they love Jesus and Paul and are stepping up to fill the gap. How does Paul feel about all this? Is he threatened by it? Is he afraid he won't be "the man" anymore? Is he afraid others can't preach like he can? Not in the least because Paul isn't about Paul. Paul is only concerned with one thing. He wants the world to know about Jesus and if him being in prison makes that happen more quickly and/or effectively so be it, even if not all the preachers have the best motive.
 
Clearly the character of Jesus is becoming the character of Paul. Human nature is to be self obsessed. Concern for self is our highest concern. Self preservation is our greatest concern. Not Jesus though. He lived for others and took no thought for Himself. At the end when He had the choice between self preservation or saving us He went boldly to the cross.
 
Paul having experienced the grace and peace that comes from discovering the self sacrificing love of God in Jesus wants nothing but to have others discover the same Jesus and the same grace and peace.
 
An innocent man in prison is happy. That is illogical. Tomorrow we'll discover Paul is highly "abnormal". That's what finding Jesus does. It turns our lives upside down for the better.
 
Whatever comes your way today don't be discouraged. If you're living for Jesus it is all working together for good. Ask God to help you see life and your circumstances the way Paul saw his.

Why Do the Good Suffer?

Philippians 1:12 "But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, 13 so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ;14 and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear."
 
Now we begin to understand why Paul has been encouraging the church in Philippi. They are upset because he is in prison. How can this be? Why would God allow such a mighty worker as Paul to be imprisoned? Bad things don't happen to good people right? God protects His own right? I mean what is the point of following Him if He just let's the bad guys throw you in prison?
 
Wasn't Jesus not only a good guy but perfect, spotless, and blameless? If you feel He is an exception what about Joseph who falsely accused rotted in prison for a while after being sold into slavery by his own brothers? How about David who had to flee for his life only for being loyal to insecure slightly demented king who was supposed to love him? How about Elijah who was hunted by his own king as if he were Bin Laden? Jeremiah was locked up by his own king just for telling the truth. The list of Old Testament men of faith who suffered just for being faithful is long...
 
"Ok" you say. "But that is the Old Testament. Everything was crazy in the Old Testament".
 
Let's try the New Testament then. Jesus warned his disciples that they would be hated for following Him. He even declared the day would come when men would kill His followers and think they were doing God a favour. James was killed before the New Testament ink was dry. Peter was imprisoned. Paul was imprisoned multiple times. Various early church writers claim Peter was crucified upside-down in Rome by Nero in AD 64. We know from the Bible that he did die for his faith but we're not told how.
 
All this to say that the evidence is ample that bad things happen to God's people and often the worst things happen to the best or at least boldest of them. Why? Is God asleep at the wheel? The Bible says He never slumbers or sleeps. Does He not care? The Bible says we can cast all our cares on Him because He cares for us.
 
In Hollywood good always wins but bad usually happens along the way. In fact Hollywood makes their money on the story lines of good versus evil where it appears evil will inevitably win and then suddenly at the end good rises from an apparently impossible situation to triumph. Why? Because satan is a copycat and he ultimately knows how this whole controversy between good and evil that we live everyday ends.
 
Cancer, alzheimers, als, and the list goes on are just way people seem to suffer so unfairly. This does not even take into account the millions upon millions who go to bed hungry everyday in a world where there is plenty for everyone. Many thinking people become atheists when they consider the evil in the world and an apparently all powerful God who seems to sit by and do nothing.
 
Apparently the church in Philippi was discouraged by Paul’s imprisonment. It speaks to me of our selfishness when we can be ok with suffering as long as it doesn't happen to us or those we love. Then suddenly God is questioned, even resented, and sometimes written off completely.
 
What does Paul say? Paul says "Guys don't worry. This is a good thing. The Good News is reaching places and people it never would have had I remained free."
 
Joseph after rising from prison to be Pharaoh's right hand man and then guiding the nation through a drought that would have wiped them out gained an interesting perspective on his harsh life. When reunited with his brothers who sold him into slavery he said "You meant it for harm but God meant it for good".
 
There are plenty of stories where God does rescue His people from evil and harm. Is He arbitrary? No. The Bible says He has no favourites.
 
 
To understand all this one must have big picture perspective. God's ultimate goal for us is not safe passage through this life. His goal is to get us all Home at any cost. He is in a war with Satan who has no morals and does not care at all. He has nothing to lose because he knows ultimately he will be defeated. If he could have his way we would all be destroyed but we're not. Why? Because we're being protected by our Father. The question is why does He sometimes remove that protection and let hell's fury blow through our lives like a raging tornado? Why did He heal my cancer but not my mom's?
 
Paul told us the answer. See the "bad" people who put Paul in prison are His children too and He wants them Home as well. In the big picture when the last scene closes and eternity with God begins we will have the opportunity to review the entire story of the war that was waged here on earth. Then we will see that every time God seemed to turn His back on us it permitted at least one more person to find Him and make it Home.
 
Evil is real and war is awful but God will win and good will triumph and it will all happen in such a
way that no one will ever question God's heart again. God is love and the war will prove how true it is. Every good guy who suffered will rejoice to see the good it brought and through their sacrifice every "bad" guy will have an opportunity to find God and choose good.
 
Don't despair when good guys go down in the battle. They will rise and more good will come from it. God makes no mistakes.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Love Is More Than We Think. More.

 
Philippians 1:9 "And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, 10 that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, 11 being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God."
 
Abound more and more - this speaks powerfully of positive growth and change. We spoke of this yesterday and we will go deeper today because it is a part of of the good news that has almost become bad news in some minds and I'm starting to understand why. Paul doesn't just think positive change is a possibility, he prays for it and fully expects it. He believes that someone who loves can love more and that someone who loves more can love more and still more.
 
I have a friend of mine who has really gotten into body building. She couldn't do a chin up when she started but now she is on competitions and can out lift me by a long shot which no one would ever expect if you saw us standing side by side fully clothed to hide her chiseled physique. She can lift so much more than she could when she started but guess what? She can still train to lift more. More.
 
However before we go any further I want to make sure we understand that becoming more like Jesus and weightlifting have some similarities but some vast differences as well. You can train to lift more by effort but you can't become more like Jesus by effort, at least not in the way we think of effort. Typically religious thinking tackles sin and sin becomes the focus of our endeavour. We need to get rid of a certain habit or tackle a certain behaviour. In this mode the sin becomes our main focus. Have you ever noticed that when you decide to go on a diet and either eat less or eat differently that suddenly all you can think about is food? It consumes your thoughts, you think you are hungry even when you aren't. Sometimes you even dream of food. The harder you fight food the larger it becomes and the more it fills your mind. Does this sound like a recipe for success? Suddenly food has gone from occupying too much of your life to occupying all of your life!
 
Remember what Jeremiah said? "Can an Ethiopian change his skin or a leopard his spots? Then can you do good who are accustomed to do evil? (13:23) No no no, a billion times no.
 
Paul doesn't just expect positive growth though, he actually describes how it happens. First we discover the truth about the grace of God. We discover He loves us so much that He sent Jesus when humanity still hated Him. Jesus didn't just come but died for us while His own church, those who were supposed to love and believe in Him cried "Crucify Him". They did that to remove all doubt about Their love and to demonstrate Their grace.
 
Grace is unmerited favour. God favour us not because of what we are but because of who He is.
 
Paul says when the human heart grasps this Love our hearts begin to change. When we continue in
Their love our hearts continue to change. If I stand in the sun for 10 or 15 minutes I get a sunburn. If I stand in it for longer what happens? I burn more. Paul wants us to abound more and more in the knowledge of what? Our sins? No! His love! To discern more and more of Who He is, what He is like.
 
Let me give you an example of how love creates more love:
 


The Jews had a teaching tradition that you were to forgive a person three times and then walk away. As Peter traveled with Jesus and watched Him interact with people he began to realize that Jesus forgave more than the law required. One day he finally burst out with a question. "Master how many times are we to forgive? Up to seven times?" See Peter didn't know the answer but he knew the answer was more. He had be raised to think love meant three strikes and you are out but his time with Jesus was revealing that love forgives more than that. More...
 
Jesus answer was powerful beyond the number. Jesus said "No but seventy times seven". This was not a random number. In the book of Daniel there was a time prophecy that was 70 weeks long (7 days x 70). That prophecy was well known to Peter and all Jews because it was all prophecy about the Messiah. The prophecy says that in the middle of the 70th week the Messiah would be cut off for the sake of others. Jesus later died exactly in the middle of the 70th week of that ancient time prophecy.
 
With 5 brief words Jesus taught both infinite forgiveness and the purpose of His death - to make infinite forgiveness available for all. No one will miss out on heaven because they weren't forgiven. They will miss out because they threw His infinite forgiveness away.
 
 
The point is simple. Peter began to understand love was more than he had been taught by walking with Jesus. You can fight food or anger or lust if you want but you will lose. Or you can walk with Jesus and abound more and more until His love is so huge in your heart that the other stuff will have to go to make room. It's all about Him. It's all about His love which in time produces more and more of the fruits of righteousness which are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self control. These are all fruits produced by an ever deepening knowledge and discernment of His love and grace.
 
Turn to Him and immerse yourself in the Truth, in True Love. Today. Grace. Always.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Seeing Beyond the Surface

Philippians 1:9 "And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, 10 that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, 11 being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God."
 
I had planned to continue into verses 12 and onwards today but as is often the case the Lord had other plans. Yesterday we looked at the fact that love is a game changer. It is the only thing in the universe that has the power to reshape our very nature into a better one. This much is obvious. What is less obvious is what love is and how infinite it is.
 
Let's face it. Love is an word that is over used, misused, and often portrayed as something other than what love actually is. Notice that Paul was praying for their "love to abound more and more in knowledge and all discernment". Before we go any further let's think about the implications of that statement. First he is implying quite openly that they have a limited knowledge of what love actually is. Then he adds to the dimensions of love the quality of discernment.
 
There are lots of varying nuances to define what discernment is. Some would say it is the ability to see things as they actually are. Some would say it is the ability to know what is needed or what to do in a given situation. All of this is true. Eyes might see an angry person while discernment sees a scared person lashing out in anger as a response to their fear. As a husband, parent and pastor I crave discernment, I need discernment. In relating to other people we all need the ability to see beyond what is to the truth of the situation. Often strong emotions are only defense mechanisms or smoke screens to hide what is really going on the heart of a person. Silence can also be hiding something.
 
All my life my dad has been prone to what I considered irrational outbursts of anger. It took me over 3 decades to discern that anger is my dad's response to fear and helplessness. For example when we got sick he would get upset as if we had done something wrong. On the surface it seemed irrational but now that I understand anger is his reaction to feelings of fear and helplessness it changes everything. His anger was rooted in love because if he didn't love us he wouldn't have been affected by our sickness. However anger is not pleasant and without discernment our reactions to his anger were at best inappropriate to put it politely.
 
God is the source of love because He is Love. God is the one who can open our eyes to see things as they truly are.
 
Now look at why Paul is praying for them to have a deeper knowledge of love and greater discernment: "that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, 11 being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God."
 
Discernment teaches us what is excellent. Discernment can see past irrational anger and see fear that is a response to love and concern. Then instead of responding in anger which is the natural human response, we can respond with encouragement and assurance. "Dad I'm going to be ok, everything is going to be ok".
 
Discernment can see what the results of choices will be and cut off a bad choice before ever heading
down that path.

 Discernment can see what relationships will be beneficial and what relationships will be destructive and be able to avoid trouble.

 Discernment can see what a person you love needs before they have even found the words or recognized the need to ask. "Before you call I will answer" - God.
 
If we could discern how powerful discernment is we would be praying for it for ourselves and our loved ones. Look at the fruit it produces: seeing what is excellent, sincerity because we see past the surface to the heart, and removes offenses. Think about it. We offend each other because we can't see their heart. Sometimes people are offended by things we didn't even know about. A friend sees us and they are really down and they were hoping for an ear to listen and perhaps a hug. We saw them, they appeared fine, and we said hello and moved on. Discernment would have prevented that.
 
The example might seem insignificant but the implications are deep. Life is relationships and without discernment fueled by love we're bumping around in the dark.
 
Paul knew what they needed in Philippi and I think I might be a Philippian too. How about you?