As my read through the Bible
in a year comes to a close again, I’ve been reflecting more and more about how
no matter how many times I read all the way through God’s Word, there is always
SO MUCH MORE that I learn. This is
probably my seventh time reading from start to finish, and I think I’ll wind up
doing it again in 2014, though I’m thinking about just reading through the Old
Testament in 2014 and through the New Testament in 2015 (this mirrors what our
pastor is planning to cover in the next couple years so there’s an ulterior
motive to it). Part of my thinking is
that even though I love reading cover-to-cover there can tend to be a rote
aspect to it. That is, I read to make
sure I read, rather than to read with a deeper sense of purpose. Maybe slowing down a little will give me a
chance to appreciate what I read a little more.
With my reading last week, I
covered Philippians 1 – 4, 1 Timothy 1 – 6, Titus 1 – 3, 1 Peter 1 – 5, and
Hebrews 1 – 13. Given we celebrate
CHRISTmas tomorrow, I wanted to camp out on one of Paul’s most significant statements
in his letters. It’s Philippians 3:12 –
I have not yet reached my
goal, and I am not perfect. But Christ
has taken hold of me. So I keep on
running and struggling to take hold of the prize. My friends, I don’t feel that I have
already arrived. But I forget what is
behind, and I struggle for what is ahead. I run toward the goal, so that I can win
the prize of being called to heaven.
This is the prize that God offers because of what Christ Jesus has done.
All of us who are mature should
think in this same way. And if any of
you think differently, God will make it clear to you.
We all realize, albeit today
to varying degrees, that CHRISTmas is a celebration of Jesus’s birth. We put out manger scenes, sing songs, and
give gifts to one another. Too often,
what we do in this annual recognition comes from tradition rather than a true
appreciation for the magnitude of what really happened over 2,000 years ago
(though remember that while we celebrate Jesus’s birthday on December 25, His
actual birthdate would be pretty different … some calculate in September, some
as late as November).
We must first realize that
Jesus was FULLY God. In John’s Gospel,
he writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the
Word was God.” The way the Greek is
written, it is clear that what we translate as “the Word was God,” is referring
to Jesus’s nature and His essence as God. In other words, He was in all ways, always
God. We also know from further reading
in John’s Gospel that Jesus was the person of the Godhead responsible for
creation … something only God could do.
Hence, He was not just present at creation, He did it. He was there, then, in the garden as Adam and
Eve chose to disregard God’s instruction, in their pride, and listen to Satan’s
temptation and bring sin into the world, revolting and perverting God’s
intention for our world and existence.
He was also present before then at Satan’s prideful betrayal and treason.
What did Jesus, God, do in
response? He took on human flesh to serve
as not just an example of the perfect life, but to go WAY beyond that and to
sacrifice that flesh for us. But think
more about the manner in which He took on the flesh. Let’s face it, He could have come back as an
adult, as a King, as whatever He wanted.
He chose to be born as a baby.
The most helpless form of human there is. He chose to be born in the lowliest, dirtiest
location in a fully insignificant, virtually nameless part of Israel, after no
one would take His parents in. Huh? Only God would do this. But WHY on earth would God do this? I think it’s because of a very underused word
during CHRISTmas … LOVE. As one of my
favorite unknown country CHRISTmas songs says, “He had the birthday, we got the
gift.” That gift is love.
So, what in the world does
all this have to do with Philippians 3:12 – 15?
Glad you asked!
That gift that God gave us is
what Paul’s referring to in this famous passage. It’s when he says, “I run toward the goal, so
that I can win the prize of being called to heaven. This is the prize that God offers because of
what Christ Jesus has done.” Because of what Christ Jesus has done. This is what we celebrate on CHRISTmas … yes
it also has all to do with His sacrificial death and conquering of that death
in Easter, but we’ll deal with that in a few months. 8-)
Paul reminds us of the
enormity of Jesus’s love by His birth and life.
Without Jesus’s birth those 2,000-plus years ago in Bethlehem, Paul
points out that we’d have NO hope of the prize of heaven. Not only that, but he reminds us that we
would lack the motivation and propulsion to go through the hazards of life that
we all experience. Paul went through
prison, stoning, near-death multiple times … certainly worse than many of us go
through … but similar to what some of us have to endure in life. Without Jesus’s love expressed in His
incarnation, the realities and inevitabilities of life would have ZERO meaning,
purpose or reward. WITH it … it has all
meaning, purpose, and reward.
Our lives have context because
of Jesus’s birth. I’ve said it before, I
don’t know how people who don’t know Him make it through life. The pain, struggles, disappointments, etc.,
would seem overbearing but for the promise of heaven that Jesus availed to
us. I think that’s what Paul is saying.
So this is my
overly-simplistic way of reminding us that CHRISTmas is way more than what we
typically make of it. Even when we think
we realize what it means, I still have to wonder if we really, really do, me
included. CHRISTmas is everything. It’s the ONLY reason we have hope. It’s the ONLY reason life makes sense. It’s the ONLY reason we can celebrate
anything in life.
And probably the most amazing
thing … to me … is that it’s the ONLY thing that a fully loving creator could
have done in response to an unloving, unlovable creation. Man, is that ever a head-scratcher.
So, tomorrow, let’s ALL try
to take into full account the meaning and implication of what our loving God
did. The more we think we understand it,
the more we’ll realize it defies understanding.
Thank you JESUS! Happy birthday!
In His powerful, loving,
This week I moved further
into and through Paul’s epistles, as well as finishing Acts. Specifically I read through Acts 20 – 28,
Romans 11 – 16, Colossians 1 – 4, Philemon, and Ephesians 1 – 6. Something interesting struck me as I was
reading through Colossians chapter 3. The
specific passages were in Colossians 3:8 – 11 … during a section in which Paul
is talking to the church at Colossi (and us) about, now that we are followers
of Christ, how we should act and how we should be different. The passage says,
But now you must stop doing
such things. You must quit being angry,
hateful, and evil. You must no longer
say insulting or cruel things about others.
And stop lying to each other. You
have given up your old way of life with its habits. Each of you is now a new person. You are becoming more and more like your
Creator, and you will understand him better. It doesn’t matter if you are a Greek or a
Jew, or if you are circumcised or not.
You may even be a barbarian or a Scythian, and you may be a slave
or a free person. Yet Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.
So you’ll have to bear with
me as I unpack the relatively unconventional allegory that came to mind about
the topics in this passage as they relate to us. Simply put, what this passage is telling us
is to change the way we live, the behaviors and attitudes that seep out of
us. In a way, I sort of visualized this
like a sponge (and no, not because of the incessant episodes of SpongeBob
Square Pants that the kids watch … though the concept is pretty funny).
Think about a sponge … let’s
say your general household sponge. A
sponge on its own, with no liquid (water, cleanser, etc.) is pretty
unusable. They can contain a multitude
of liquids, those that are harmful and those that are beneficial. They can soak up quite a significant bit
more than their own mass. When squeezed,
what’s actually in them leaks out. If no
liquid is put in them, over time they dry up and become brittle and
useless. If liquid is put in them and
left inside them without being put to use, they can become quite nasty, smelly
and dirty, hardly useable at all.
Turning the analogy around a
little to make it remotely applicable to the passage at hand, in order for us
to be the new people under Christ that we should be, we have to think of
ourselves as sponges. That is, just as a
sponge with no liquid in it is pretty useless, so are we if we haven’t allowed
God to fill us with His Holy Spirit when we come to faith in Jesus. That’s the first step. However, we can also allow a multitude of liquids
to take on absorption in us … many of the traits Paul mentions in the Colossians
passage … anger, hatred, cruelty, lying, bitterness, pride, etc. Those are harmful. There are other “liquids” we can fill up with
… such as those referred to as the fruit of the spirit – love, joy peace,
patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, etc.
(which Paul writes about in Galatians 5).
Those are the beneficial ones.
Just as sponges, we have an
incredible capacity to soak up these liquids, both good and bad. And just like our household sponges, we
rarely fill ourselves to the fullest capacity possible. But no matter what, when we’re pressured,
stressed or squeezed, we find out what is truly in us … because what’s actually
in us is what leaks out under distress.
If we put no liquid (via the
Holy Spirit, the fruit of the spirit) in us, we eventually dry up, become
brittle and good for nothing. We can
also fill ourselves up, even with the beneficial stuff, but leave it inside too
long and get moldy, stinky and nasty.
Either way, anything but useable.
To summarize my harebrained
example, in order for us to live in the manner worthy of our new identities in
Christ, we have to allow ourselves to be filled with the Holy Spirit so that we
can be useful. By allowing Him to absorb
into us, we can then exude the benevolent traits we’re called to … serving as a
blessing to others as God works through us, putting us to use in a
world-cleansing way. We can ask Him to
keep the harmful substances away from us so that we don’t apply damaging
substances to those around us, and in the process spoiling the character God
calls us to have. Finally, we need to
remain filled but only insofar as it relates to us using the good liquid in us
and filling up with more good liquid … continuing to put it to use rather than
keeping it in and letting it spoil.
Okay. Enough strange illustrations. I hope you catch my drift.
This week, let’s ask God to
fill us more … now that we already have His Holy Spirit within our hearts …
with desires to serve Him, to love others and to shine His light so that others
will want to know what it’s about. Let’s
ask Him to make us good, clean, useful sponges.
Praising the Lord for you,
Reading through Paul’s
letters to the Romans and Corinthians is always amazing. Romans is far and away one of my favorite
books in all the Bible. At the end of
the day, though, it’s always amazing to note Paul’s conversion and turnaround
from being chief persecutor of the church, to the most powerful example of
God’s grace and love, and a crucial instrument to write about those from the
deepest personal experience there may be of such matters.
This week’s reading took me
through 1 Corinthians 15 – 16, 2 Corinthians 1 – 13, and Romans 1 – 10. One section I highlighted but really didn’t
think twice about until just now is in 2 Corinthians 3, particularly verses 1 –
Are we once again bragging
about ourselves? Do we need letters to
you or from you to tell others about us? Some people do need letters that tell about
them. But you are our letter, and you
are in our hearts for everyone to read and understand. You are like a letter written by Christ
and delivered by us. But you are not
written with pen and ink or on tablets made of stone. You are written in our hearts by the Spirit of
the living God.
Leading up to this passage
exiting chapter 2, Paul is noting to the church at Corinth the reward of
relying on God to help him deliver God’s message … that God leads the way for
Paul’s ministry to succeed in reaching the recipients of Paul’s message for
Christ. He talks about how some
preachers use their ministry to gain personal wealth. Paul’s point here is that he didn’t need
accolades, rewards, wealth or anything to demonstrate the fruit of his
labor. The church was his proof, his
reward, his badge of honor, his accomplishment.
How does this relate to
us? The “letter” Paul refers to could be
considered like something of a letter of recommendation or a letter or commendation
… both concepts with which we today are familiar. While each differs somewhat in terms of its
intent and its content, both have similarities and cool applicability for us.
Consider a letter of
recommendation … according to a definition on Wikipedia, it “is one in which
the writer assesses the qualities, characteristics, and capabilities of the
person being recommended in terms of that individual’s ability to perform a
particular task or function.” So, a
letter of recommendation provides validation of someone’s fit for a purpose
based on historical direct observation and experience.
A letter of commendation
deals with “presenting, mentioning, or praising as worthy of confidence,
notice, kindness, etc.,” and “to cite or name with approval or special
praise.” In a similar way, commendation
has to do with recognition of exemplary achievement.
In either case, personal
experience and observation corroborates the distinction.
Paul seems to be admonishing
us through his reflection that our motives in relationship and ministry must
not be external in orientation. In other
words, our goal in these respects shouldn’t be focused on recognition,
notoriety, financial reward, status, wealth or fame. The “letter” he refers to is essentially the
acknowledgement of their success … that “letter” is the church to which he was
ministering, with whom he’d had fellowship and relationship. Same with us … the people we serve, minister
to, relate with, do life with, they are the reward for our labor and devotion
in sharing God’s love. They are the
embodiment of an eternal orientation … a storing up treasures in heaven, as it
Thus we have our marching
orders so to speak. God made us
relational beings and for reasons only He knows has entrusted to us the ability
to pass along his message of mercy, forgiveness and grace. He expects us to be His hands and feet in
serving His people and His creation.
When He looks at the collective body of evidence that accounts for our
impact in this world, I suspect He is going to look at the people we’ve
blessed, touched, helped, loved, and reached for Him. Hence … as Paul talked about … our “letter.”
Let’s devote ourselves in
prayer this week to aligning our hearts to the heart of Jesus … to looking out
for His people in the way He would want us to.
Not because of outward recognition or reward, but for the intrinsic compensation
that comes from the effect on the people we touch. Let their faith, their love, their longevity
and effectiveness in ministry be our report card. Let’s ask God to constantly check us by His
Holy Spirit, and to adjust our attitudes and motives to heavenly-minded ones
rather than earthly-minded.
In the strong love of JESUS
CHRIST, Savior of the world,
This week took me deeper into
the ministry journeys of Paul … specifically through Acts 17 – 19, 1
Thessalonians 1 – 5, 2 Thessalonians 1 – 3, 1 Corinthians 1 – 14. Among my favorite passages in all the Bible
is encapsulated within these sections of scripture. It’s in 1 Thessalonians 5:16 – 18 … a
relatively short portion that packs a huge punch.
joyful and never stop praying. Whatever happens, keep thanking God
because of Jesus Christ. This is what
God wants you to do.
Let’s take this
piece-by-piece as a bit of a personal attitude inventory.
Always be joyful. Okay, I confess I could stop
there and know that I’m a far cry from “always.” Think about what joyful means … admittedly,
I’m not attempting to translate the Greek, this is just plain old contemporary
English. There were definitions that
included “emotion,” “expression,” and “feeling.” But the one that I think hit the nail on the
head, from the point of view of this passage, was “a state of happiness or felicity.” The word “state” as emphasized, I think, is
the key. A state of being suggests a
constant, normal, true existence. How is
this possible? Let’s look at the next
Never stop praying. Praying puts us not just in
communication with God, but in communion with Him. It allows us to acknowledge His Lordship and
to express adoration He is rightly due.
We can also expose our hearts to Him (which of course He already knows)
and confess the ways we’ve deviated from His desired behaviors. In essence, this allows us to realign
ourselves to Him, which in an nutshell is the way we can achieve real joy. This joy can only come from a life devoted to
God in the day-to-day realities we face, when we surrender to His perfect,
loving, holy plan for our lives. When we
know God is truly the Lord of our life, how can we NOT have joy? I think this is why Paul says “never stop praying.” NEVER STOP PRAYING. How crazy hard is that? Although, I think the point is a lifestyle of
constant prayerfulness … not necessarily devoting 24 / 7 to being at home in
prayer all the time. We can be praying
nonstop as a matter of lifestyle and acknowledgement and intercession. Remember, God doesn’t need us to utter long,
detailed sentences with big King James Version words to know what’s on our
hearts from a prayer perspective.
Whatever happens, keep thanking God because of Jesus
Christ. Whatever happens. Whatever happens? Whatever happens! Another place where I have to confess I
struggle. My thankfulness is all too
often tied to the condition of my existence … little stuff, in fact, can pull
me out of this orbit. It’s a frustration
that I know is not something I alone battle with, but it’s my responsibility
(and your responsibility) to adjust our perspective to a thankful one. Why should we? How could we?
It says in the passage … “because
of Jesus Christ.” Enough said. When we really get right down to it, that’s
all it should really take. When we
really pay close, detailed attention to what Jesus did for us by serving as the
propitiation for our sin … there’s no reasonable way to NOT be constantly
thanking God … whatever happens. Besides
… “this is what God wants you to do.” I’ll say it again … enough said.
Far too often I lack a joyful
state of existence. I don’t sufficiently
carry a “never stop praying” lifestyle. “Whatever
happens” more often than I’d like can take me to places where thankfulness is
not chiefly my attitude. Let’s ask God
this week … especially given whatever dicey circumstances might be going on …
to remind us what real joy is, how to get it through a prayerful lifestyle, and
in so doing to restore our thankfulness … no matter what.
Thanking the Lord for you!