Sunday, 31 August 2008

Dead


For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
– Colossians 3v3


I don’t think any one of us like the idea that we are dead. We all think, some where along the way, and maybe to varying degrees, that it really is all about me. Sometimes, we think, it has to be about me and what I want. Somehow, it has to be about my goals and my desires and my wants and doing what is best for me. Sometimes I just have to do what is best for me. I am ashamed and embarrassed to admit how often I have had to deal with that in my life.

I wish I could find some way to support that in scripture, but Colossians 3v3 could not be any blunter. We died. Dead, finished, kaput, gone, wiped out. There is no ‘me’ left to think about, I am hidden in Christ because I am dead in Him. There is Christ and there is my flesh – nothing else.

What does this mean? It means I really don’t matter. How can a dead man matter? Since I am dead, and since I am hidden with Christ, my affections should be in Him alone. My earthly surroundings should mean no more to me that a coffin means to a dead man. (I have always wondered why they make them so comfortable :snicker: )

It really is all about Christ. I am alive only in Him. Following Him means that I forgt about the ‘dead guy.’

May I always be reminded of the truth of my ‘deadness.’

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Seek and set


If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.
– Colossians 3v1-2


‘Don’t love the world or the things that are in the world.’ I was looking over the passage this week in preparation for an upcoming message. When I read this passage today I was reminded of the connexion between these two scriptures and a few others.

The allure of the world is strong. We have to see the world and its system every single day, and all day long every day. It is there when we watch the news, it is there when we turn on the telly, it is there when we logon to the internet, and it is there as we go though our daily lives. It is so visible that it seems like we can’t get away from it. It manifests itself in the lust of the eyes, in the lust of the flesh, and in the pride of life.’ That is why God tells us to ‘look not on the things that are seen, but the things that are not seen.’

God must know that this is going to be a problem for us because He warns us of the same problem here. Those of us who have been raised with Christ have to decide what we are going to seek and where we are going to set our affections. Are we going to set our hearts and minds on those things that we see every day? Or are we going to set our hearts and minds on the things that are above; the invisible, eternal things that we cannot see?

So much of what we do every day is based on the wrong thing. Instead of basing decisions on what really matters, we base decisions on our circumstances. Sometimes I look around me and see all the ‘stuff’ going on. When that happens the problem is not with the ‘stuff’ is it because I am seeing the stuff and setting my heart and affection there.

When I love the world, I am always going to look in the wrong place. When I look in the wrong place it is because my affections are misplaced. My affections are misplaced because I love the world.

What problems we cause when we set our affections in the wrong place.

Friday, 29 August 2008

Of no value

So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God. Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations "Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle," which all concern things which perish with the using according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh. – Colossians 2v16-23


I realise that this is a lengthy potion of scripture, but I wanted to show the entire context. Rather than quote everything I just want to grab some of the phrases that catch my attention.

Let no one judge you…
Let no one cheat you of your reward
Why…do you subject yourself to regulations?
Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle
The appearance of wisdom
Neglect of the body

There is a tendency in some circles to try and regulate Christianity. Early in my Christian life I was told things like (and I won’t try to reproduce all of the rules here):

Good Christians don’t go to the movies (cinema)
Good Christian men don’t wear beards
Good Christian women don’t wear trousers
Good Christians don’t listen to rock/country/ccm
Good Christians go to church every time the church doors are open for any reason
Good Christians don’t associate with lost people
Good Christian men and women don’t go swimming together

There are some good principles in some of these. People who adopt some of these as their personal standards should be respecting for doing so.

However, sometimes it does not stop there. When these standards become a list of ‘do not touch, do not taste, do not handle’ then we have the situation that Paul addresses here. Those who have lives where the spirituality is based on rule do have an appearance of wisdom. It looks like a really good idea. The neglect of the body sounds like a good thing.

Look at the very last phrase in this passage - these things are ‘of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.’ We often swallow the line that ‘do not touch, do not taste, do not handle’ will solve the problem of indulging our flesh. Rules don’t do anything to help us deal with the flesh.

Maybe instead of ‘keep the rules’ we should push ‘keep your heart, for out of it are the issues of life.’

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Nailed to the cross

And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. – Colossians 2v13-14


My favourite line from my favourite hymn is from ‘It is Well with My Soul.’ H.G. Spafford wrote these words in what is normally the third stanza. (Sadly, this is the verse often skipped in the ‘Baptist 1st, 2nd, and 4th stanza singing rule’: insert a chuckle here: )

‘My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious though, my sin, not in part, but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more. Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord, oh my soul.’

What powerful words. in the light of today’s passage. While we were dead in our trespasses and our sin, in our wicked ‘uncircumcised’ state, we were made alive together with Jesus! We had a couple of things against us. Our sin was against us. The list of requirements was against us. But he took the problem out of the way when He nailed it to His cross!

When Satan tempts you to despair remember – nailed to the cross
When tempted to sin remember – nailed to the cross
When a particular sin rears its ugly head remember – nailed to the cross
When someone comes with a list of rules and requirements remember – nailed to the cross

Nailed to the cross and I bear it no more, praise the Lord, praise the Lord, oh my soul!

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Complete in Him

For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. – Colossians 2v9-10


Complete in Him. Those words have a powerful impact all by themselves. The Christian immediately identifies with what it means to be complete in Christ. The truth becomes even more profound when we look at the preceding words; ‘In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.’

In other words, we find our completeness in the Christ. All of the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Christ. Therefore we are complete in the One Who is totally complete. There is nothing we lack, there can be no shortage. Most of all, for me, there is nothing I, that is, my flesh, can do to fix what He wants to do.

Aaron Wolfe put it perfectly in a late 19th century hymn. I don’t know the details, but someone as recently revived this wonderful own song, which states perfectly what it means to be ‘complete in Him, in Whom all the fullness of the Godhead dwells.’

Complete in Thee! no work of mine
May take, dear Lord, the place of Thine;
Thy blood hath pardon bought for me,
And I am now complete in Thee.

Refrain:Yea, justified! O blessed thought!
And sanctified! Salvation wrought!
Thy blood hath pardon bought for me,
And glorified, I too, shall be!

Complete in Thee! no more shall sin,
Thy grace hath conquered, reign within;
Thy voice shall bid the tempter flee,
And I shall stand complete in Thee.

Complete in Thee— each want supplied,
And no good thing to me denied;
Since Thou my portion, Lord, wilt be,
I ask no more, complete in Thee.

Dear Saviour! when before Thy bar
All tribes and tongues assembled are,
Among Thy chosen will I be,
At Thy right hand, complete in Thee.

Aaron R. Wolfe, 1821-1902
Refrain, James M. Gray, 1851-1935

Don’t be cheated

Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. – Colossians 2v8


Whenever we come across a warning sign in the word of God we do well to stop and pay attention. In the previous verses Paul was instructing the believers to walk in Christ, rooted and built up in Him, abounding in the faith, living what they have been taught, and abounding with thanksgiving.

With that foundation we can look at the warning. Beware, because there are those out there who through there love of worldly wisdom, through their trickery, and through human traditions will try to cheat you. Their basis not Christ, but human traditions.

Paul is writing to believers. Therefore the warning here is for us. Our faith is not in danger; we cannot be cheated out of that. Yet, if we are not careful we can be cheated by those who would rob us of the life of abounding in Christ.

Sadly, the traditions of men can creep into the church. Things which are not according to Christ creep in as traditions. When these traditions are allowed to rise to the level of rules and policies we have indeed been cheated and robbed.

Beware; don’t be robbed by those who would impose their worldly traditions on you.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Steadfastness of your faith

For though I am absent in the flesh, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ. – Colossians 2v5


I praise God for the churches He has allowed be to be a part of since I have been saved. I thank God for the school I went to. I am grateful for the men I have known and developed friendships with through the years. All of these things have played a role in making me who I am today.

One thing though that I think we have missed out on is something Paul addresses in Colossians 2v5. We pay lip service to it, but I am not sure we value it like we should.

When Paul wrote to the Colossians he did not praise them for all the people won to Christ on Tuesday night visitation. He did not praise them for the number of baptisms in the last year. He did not praise them for their new multi-million drachma building plan. In fact, he did not praise them for any of what we see as so important today.

He praised them because they were in good order and they were steadfast in their faith in Christ. Their ‘order’ was a military term. They toed the line. They met the mark of God’s word. There was a wonderful orderliness to their lives.

There were also steadfast. The Greek word used only here in the New Testament is another military term which means solid and able to stand the attacks of the enemy. They would not be moved from their faith in Christ. Nothing would shake them.

It is this last term that catches my eye today. As I examine my life I have to ask, ‘How solid is my faith? What does it take to shake my faith in Christ to sort things out?’ Apparently I still have lessons to learn. Events do not shake my faith in Christ for salvation, but they can shake my faith in ‘how and why.’

Oh for the faith that is so solid that it is not moved or shaken, no matter what comes my way. When these things happen, I want to trust Him not only in my salvation, but in the hows and whys of my circumstances.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Knit together in love

that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, - Colossians 2v2


I continue to be amazed at the importance placed on unity in the body. Paul informs that part of the reason for his letters to the church is that he might share what he is going through for the gospel. This news was so that his hearers might have there hearts encouraged, and that they would be knit together in love.

The wording here is wonderful. Our English term ‘knit together’ truly gives a good picture of that Paul is saying. I know very little about weaving and knitting. But I do know that a key part of it is ensuring that the fabric is pressed together tightly. I do know that a loose thread can destroy a fabric. I can remember seeing large looms compressing each line of fibre to insure that it was tightly and securely pressed into the fabric.

This is the image that is portrayed here. Truth is our foundation. We can never sacrifice it for anything. It can never be compromised. True love would never compromise on truth. True love unites, binds, presses, and knits our hearts together in the truth.

Lets keep our eyes open for any loose threads in this fabric of love.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Him we preach



To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. – Colossian 1v27-28



This is an election year in the United States. I have not been there, but if this is like every other election year tomorrow morning preachers all over America will stand in their pulpits and preach politics.

This is only one of the topics that will gather attention and be sure to get plenty of ‘amens.’ Personal preferences will be preached as Bible principles, some gossip in the church will be make it way to the preacher’s notes and he will want to deal with it publicly hoping to deal with it in a general way, perhaps, to avoid a one on one confrontation. I know the temptation – sometimes our desire to be praised gets in the way of faithful preaching.

I don’t think Paul worried a whole lot about hearing an ‘amen.’ What did Paul preach? ‘We preach Him [Jesus].’ Preaching Jesus is all we really need. By preaching Jesus Paul said that they were ‘warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom,’ with the eventual goal of presenting every man perfect and mature in Christ Jesus.’

“We preach Him.’ What an ambition, what a goal, and what a choice!

I guess if I could only give one word of advice to a preacher it would be ‘Preach Him!’

Friday, 22 August 2008

For the sake of the body

Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking what is lacking in the affliction of Christ for the sake of His body, which is the church: - Colossians 1v24


The word of God puts a lot of emphasis on the body of Christ and its importance. We often think about doing what we do for Christ, and that is true, we cannot minimise that. However, here Paul mentions another reason why he does what he goes through what he goes through and why he suffered what he suffered. Why else would Paul go through all of this? The answer is clear here – for the sake of Christ’s body, the church.

We would all at least claim that we would do anything for Christ. But I think we need to ask ourselves what we are willing to do for His body as well. His affliction, though it was because of His stand for Christ, was for the sake of His body. He was willing to suffer because his ministry of preaching and teaching was to build up the body. He would let nothing get in the way.

I would like to think that I would give up everything for Christ; I trust that if the occasion arose I would be able to do so. I have never given much thought though to give up everything for His body – I hope that I could say the same for it as I would for Him.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Reconciled

…and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled - Colossians 1v20-21


Reconciliation is word you used to hear a lot in Ireland. There were constant talks on ‘peace and reconciliation’ on the situation in the North of Ireland. All over the world nations at conflict want to try and find reconciliation. Couples going through a divorce here are required to go through attempts at reconciliation. In St Patricks Cathedral in Dublin you find the “Door of Reconciliation.” (Click HERE for the story). It is clear that reconciliation of conflicts is always a part of people’s thoughts.

There is however a much greater reconciliation that dwarfs all the others. There was a time in every person’s life when they were alienated from God, His enemies, because of their wicked works. Sin totally alienates us from God. What a horrible situation to be in – God’s enemy! Amazingly, it pleased God to reconcile all things to Himself, making the needed peace only through the blood of Christ. What a price to be paid, yet He was willing to pay it. God took to the first step in reconciliation. Someone always has to make an offer, and in this case, only God could make it. Man caused the conflict, God offered the peace. He paid the price, He initiated the reconciliation. In fact, it was about Him. All we had to do was accept the peace treaty.

Praise God for His reconciliation!

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

The pre-eminence


And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the pre-eminence. – Colossians 1v18



In our Bible study last Sunday night we talked about how God uses the church to help the believer grow in Christ. One of the key words that Christ uses to describe His church is the word ‘body.’ All over the world members of the body assemble locally the carry out the role of the church in the New Testament.

There is only one head to the body. Anything else would be an abomination, a freak, a monstrosity. Verse 18 reminds us that only Christ is the head of the church. Since He is the head only He can have the pre-eminence. No man, no matter how well known, how smart, or how popular deserves the pre-eminence in the local church. In fact, according to 1 Corinthians 12, the members of the body who we give the least regard to are often the most important. Every member of the local assembly of the body has a role, none of them less or more important that the other.

The church is all about Jesus – plain and simple. It is not about us at all. God does set certain members in specific roles according to Ephesians, and there is a responsibility on the church to provide for those who make their living as pastors, but no one in the church deserves the pre-eminence that so many claim and even demand.

John also addresses the issue in 3 John where he mentions a man named Diotrephes. According to John this man, ‘loved to have the pre-eminence.’ The word used here is a form of the word pre-eminence used in Colossians. Diotrephes was one who craved to be first in the church, he was ambitious of distinction. A friend recently asked me if this man was the pastor. I agreed that I thought he was, since he certainly seemed to have some influence there.

What happens when someone like Diotephes craves distinction in the church? What happens when he loves the pre-eminence?

When one loves the pre-eminence he loves what is Christ’s alone. When one loves the pre-eminence he really wants Christ’s place in the church.

May I always make sure that Christ alone has the pre-eminence not only in my personal life, but in the local assembly where I am allowed to serve.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

In Him all things consist

For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. – Colossians 1v16-17


Sometimes I wish I could just experience a little bit of consistency. Things change so quickly. Just when I get the impression that things are finally going to carry on for a little while, something happens to remind me that nothing in life is going to be consistent. Situations and circumstances are going to change. It is just part of life.

Yet, I am reminded today that there is a consistency. Since all things consist in Christ He is the ultimate, and indeed the only place that we can look to for consistency. He is consistent and all things consist in Him. He never changes; all things carry on in Him. He holds all things together, everything stands firm in Him.

Praise the Lord that I can find consistency in the One in whom all things consist!

Monday, 18 August 2008

Delivered

He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, - Colossians 1v13

There are certain great truths in the word of God that need to never forget. In all the hustle and bustle and business, in all of the ups and downs and highs and lows, in all of the struggles and blessings we must never forget a key word. What is that word? Well, there may be many, but for me today the word is ‘delivered.’

Until the 12th of February, 1974 I was captive to the power of darkness. I walked according to the course of this world. I walked of according to the dictates of the prince of the power of the air. I was hopeless, helpless, and hapless. On that Tuesday in Chester, PA, I put my faith in Jesus Christ and a marvellous conveyance took place. At that instant God transported me from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of Christ. My citizenship was changed in an instant, done and dusted, it was finished.

The problem is that we have short, human, fleshly memories. Sometimes in all the everyday stuff that we face we can forget the marvellous word ‘delivered.’ My encouragement should come from the fact that since He delivered me from the kingdom of darkness he can deliver me from whatever I face today!

Today, when the tough times come and we get confused, we do well to remember the powerful ‘delivered.’ Deliverance was not only for then, His power to deliver continues on.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

According to His glorious power

that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; - Colossians 1v10-11


There is no doubt in my mind that there is nothing that I can do according to my own ability. That is a really humbling lesson. We want to be able to do something on our own and in our own strength. Paul instructs the Colossian believers here to ‘walk worthy of the Lord, live fully pleasing to Him, be fruitful in every good work, and increase in the knowledge of God.’

In reality that is a pretty tall order. Those things really read well. They look great, and the words kind of roll off the tongue. They sound great when you read them, but this is tough stuff! When you first get saved this is wonderful, but pretty soon you realise that you simply cannot do it!

That’s where the rest of the passage comes in. The only hope is to be strengthened with ‘all might.’ Where does ‘all might’ come from, ‘according to His glorious power.’ Where does ‘all might' and “his glorious power’ lead? It leads to patience and long suffering. How does that patience and longsuffering play out? The answer is clear – ‘with joy!’

The songwriter Andrew Peterson puts it like this – ‘Give us faith to be strong Father, we are so weak. Our bodies are fragile and weary. As we stagger and stumble to walk where you lead, give us faith to be strong.’

Being strong is not easy, but by faith we can depend on His omnipotent strength.

Friday, 15 August 2008

All your need



Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God. And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4v18-19


This is a neat little illustration here. It is one of those passages often preached in missions conferences with the idea that; ‘If you give to missions you don’t have to worry because God will meet all your needs according to His own riches in glory by Christ Jesus.’

For a change, one of the tired old preaching clich├ęs is not far off. Although I am not so sure that God acts in response to our giving and using it as a motivation for giving, the truth is still there. We can give with confidence that we are not going to lack, because God is always going to meet our needs.

Paul was full up as a result of their wonderful gift. It really wasn’t the money, because Paul knew that God would always meet his needs as well. Their willingness to give was in and off itself a sweet smelling aroma, a sacrifice that pleased God. What made it even more precious is the fact that God would keep on meeting their needs.

The whole chapter is about contentment, giving, and trusting God. They all go together. When we are content we can give of ourselves and our resources. Whatever we give is a precious sacrifice, and we can rest assured that God is not going to let us down.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

I am full

Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God. – Philippians 4v18


Here we find Paul, a prisoner of the greatest power on the face of the earth, under house arrest in a rented home, hundreds of miles from home, family, and friends. A pretty miserable lot wouldn’t you say? Surely, if anyone had a right to gripe it was him.

His contentment was real and palpable. If contentment is indeed being bound by what we already have, then Paul could surely say, ‘I am full.’ In his mind he had everything, even though he had nothing.

The financial gift sent by the Philippians was a great blessing to Paul, obviously, not because of the size of the gift, but because they had sent it. Their gift was a sacrifice acceptable to God. His joy was for them because they were able to share in whatever Paul saw accomplished in Rome.

What a joy to be able to step back and say, ‘I am full.’ For me that is easy to say when we have sixty children at Kids Klub Kamp or sixty plus people at a carol service. Then I can sit back and enjoy the fullness of the work where God has put us. I also want Paul’s ability to say, ‘I am full’ when things are not going so well and when the ministry struggles.

May I have the wisdom to choose ‘I am full’ over ‘poor little me.’

I can do all things


I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. - Philippians 4v12-13


I am ashamed to admit how often these words have crossed my mind and even, at times, escaped my lips, ‘I just can’t do it any more.’

Those are horrible words for the believer to think or say. When they have come in to my life it is because I have once again lost my focus. The problem is as obvious as it can be – indeed I can not do anything in God’s work. I can only do it through Christ who strengthens me. I am reminded of another passage that reads, ‘I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.’

In our Christian lives we are always going to come across things that we think we cannot handle. Sometimes, when stuff happens over and over again we selfishly think that we have had enough. Paul knew something that most of us miss. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. Paul knew how to handle blessings and deprivations, he knew how to be full and hungry, and he knew how to handle good news and bad.

This is one of those faith statements. There are going to be times when we just don’t think we can do what God asks of us. There are times when our circumstances seem so difficult that we don’t think we can do any more. News is going to come that makes us question if we really can carry on. This where we must dig down for that ‘raw faith’ and choose to trust His word.

At the end of the day we can’t…in and of ourselves handle it. Yet praise God that I can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens me!

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Freedom

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: - Philippians 4v11


Now before I start, I know that the Bible was not written in English, but I do find the meanings of our English words fascinating. Here is the entry for “content” from the Online Etymological Dictionary – “1418, from M.Fr. contenter, from content (adj.), c.1400, from L. contentus "contained, satisfied," pp. of continere . Sense evolved through "contained," "restrained," to "satisfied," as the contented person's desires are bound by what he or she already has.”

In reality, this etymology is pretty close to the Greek word for contentment here. It was a classic Greek word that was used two other times in the New Testament. It has the idea that ‘what I have is sufficient.’ The two words used to form the word meant ‘self-weightless.’ The content person is free from the weight and pressures of ‘stuff.’ Freedom from stuff, as Socrates said, is true wealth. – ‘He that is content with least, for autarkeia is nature’s wealth.’

I am blessed by the fact that Paul reminds us that he had to learn the lesson himself. Apparently he suffered the same problem that we have. He must have been just as likely to be impatient and discontent as we are. I wonder if that fact that God took everything away from him and knocked out all the props had anything to do with him learning to be content.

My favourite classic novel is ‘Robinson Crusoe’. It is much more than a story about a guy stuck on an island. The story of his salvation is well worth a study in itself. However, the great theme after salvation was learning to be content with what he had. For years he dreamed of what he might have had if he had not been shipwrecked. But gradually, after his salvation, he learned to be totally at peace with where he was and the lot God gave him. I am away from home at the moment, but if I have my marked copy of the book to hand I would share where he finally learned that his desires were to be bound by what he already had, that contentment was nature’s true wealth.

The problem is that we far too often try to manipulate our situation to bring about contentment. We think ‘If I only had this or that, if I was only here or there, I would be content.’ Crusoe learned that contentment had to come first. When he learned to be content he saw himself as master of his own land. He saw the wealth of resources available to him. He saw himself as alive and a child of God. He saw all the good that God had provided.

Had his circumstances changed? No, he was still stuck all alone on an island. But he had learned that true wealth comes in being bound by what he already had. Contentment is freedom from stuff and situations!

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Just Do It!

The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you. – Philippians 4v9


A few years ago Nike ran an ad campaign built around the theme, ‘Just Do It!” Although it was all about a very humanistic, worldly centred, and Epicurean lifestyle, this verse always makes me think of those ads.

Those ads were, in another sense, saying that rather than just around thinking about being an athlete, go out and do something about it. Put down your remote, get out of your easy chair, and go do it! In that sense they are not so bad. Theory is not enough, living vicariously is not enough. If we are going to accomplish anything, we have to go do it.

Here Paul says, in essence, “I have told you what to do. Instead of being careful be thankful. Pray about everything. Choose the right thoughts. Now do it. Just do it.” If we don’t do it, then we are simply not going to be able to experience the peace of God. It is when we ‘do it’ that the peace of God is going to be with us.

If we don’t do it, the only peace we are going to have is our own peace, and we all know how well that works.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Changing my mind



Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praise worthy meditate on these things.
– Philippians 4v8



I have a book on my shelf called “The Battle for the Mind.” The author slips my mind at the moment, but it is the title that fits today’s thoughts. The Bible speaks a lot about our minds. We are told to have the mind of Christ, to have our minds renewed, to be of one mind, to have lowliness of mind, and so on. Just a quick look indicates that the word “mind” appears about 50 times in the New Testament alone. It is obvious to any of us who are honest that the mind is where the great battle of the flesh and the spirit take place. It is our minds that become full of cares and anxieties. It is our mind that encourages us to find our own fleshly way of acting instead of seeking the Spirit’s way.

Here is this passage we find a clear piece of instruction. While we cannot choose what comes across out paths, we can choose our thoughts in response. That is where this passage comes into play. Here God just lays it out for us – here are the things to choose to meditate on. While we tend to dwell on fleshly, self focused, worldly stuff God lays it on the line. Meditate on these things.

True things
Noble things
Just things
Pure things
Lovely things
Reputable things
Virtuous things
Praiseworthy things

What a contrast to things I tend to meditate on. To my honest, there are times when I can meditate on all the opposites of that list. And then I wonder why I have a hard time having the mind of Christ? I get frustrated at the slowness of the reformation of my mind?

I get to choose what to dwell on. God tells me what to dwell on. How simple can it get?

Saturday, 9 August 2008

The un-understandable peace of God



and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4v7



I just could not go on without one more comment about these verses. What is the result of replacing carefulness with thankfulness? If I can ever learn that lesson what will be the benefit?

Verse 7 has the answer – ‘and the peace of God, that passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.’ There is not better occasion for Satan to attack than when we are loaded up with cares. When that happens my focus is already on me and my troubles, so it only makes sense that I am going to seek to gratify my flesh and use my own methods to deal with my cares. When that happens I always lose.

But what happens when I choose thankfulness instead of carefulness? When I start giving thanks my mindset changes. I begin to dwell in the goodness of God. When I start giving thanks I realise just how great God really is. Surely, when I think of God’s gift of salvation, I cannot but be humbled at His greatness instead of my woes.

Now, let’s take this thought a step further. When I begin to dwell on Him through thanksgiving I learn to live in His perfect peace. This peace is something that the world cannot understand. It is a peace that endures no matter what. When we have that peace our hearts and minds are guarded against Satan’s attacks. I don’t look to solve my anxieties my way, and because my focus is on the Him instead of me my heart and mind are guarded against fleshly actions.

We achieved peace with God at salvation – we achieve the peace of God when we learn to choose thankfulness instead of carefulness.

With thanksgiving

Be careful for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. - Philippians 4v6-7


Over the years this has been a key passage for me. There are times that seem to lend themselves to care and concern. We never seem to get over these. Everything seems to be going fine, then news comes and circumstances change and with that change come cares and anxiety. It seems to just be part and parcel of life. I am grateful that God knows exactly when to give us His word.

One of these times a few years ago the Lord impressed this truth on my heart. The key to dealing with carefulness is to replace it with thankfulness. Even as I type this I am convicted about the last several days when cares have ruled in the place of thanks. When that happens I become virtually useless, but the problem is mine – not the situation.

Here is what God says – ‘Don’t be careful, but with thankfulness pray about everything. Then the peace of God, which you can’t even understand, will keep your hearts and minds through the power of Christ.’

Its time for me to replace my carefulness with thankfulness and let God’s peace replace my anxiety.

Friday, 8 August 2008

Be care-ful for nothing

Be careful for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; - Philippians 4v6


There are times and places when I am a big fan of the KJV. Philippians 4v6 is one of those places. I am sad that we have lost this meaning of the word ‘careful’ over the last 400 years. Today careful only means to ‘take care’ in a situation. I wish we had used a word like ‘be caretaking’ instead of robbing this lovely word of what really makes sense.

In 1611, from what I can discover, the word meant exactly what it sound like it should mean – ‘full of care.’ I would like to run a campaign to restore the true meaning of this word. The lesson is clear for us – don’t be so full of cares. I even like how Wycliffe translated this 350 years earlier – ‘be ye nothing bisi.’ The meanings here are obvious, and most of us know the feeling exactly. It normally happens to me in the wee hours of the morning. I wake up and my mind is bisi (busy). All the troubles hit me; bills to pay, my kids, things I have forgotten to do, living in a rented house (can you tell this is issue for me?), what is going to happen here, what is going to happen when 70 or 75, what if I get sick, what was that sound I heard in the car today, etc, etc, etc.

Sometimes these can be helpful because they motivate us to action. But sometimes there are things that we can do nothing at all about. Sometimes we are where we are or in a circumstance that can’t be helped and still the cares grow and dominate our thoughts. I am going to look at this a little more tomorrow, but as for now we have a clear answer – ‘casting all your care on Him, for He cares for you.’ We need not be our own care-bearers, because Christ cares for us! All of our cares, anxieties, fears, and ‘bisiness’ are wasted for we have One who already knows about them all and cares about every situation.

Don’t be careful, cast those cares on Him because He truly does care!

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Moderation…gentleness

Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. – Philippians 4v5


So much can be told from our demeanour. Jude tells us to ‘earnestly contend for the faith,’ and we are told to ‘fight the good fight of faith.’ We see plenty of fighting and contending in the body. Though love is not easily provoked and though pastors are not to be brawlers, I can think of plenty of provoked “tough guys” who are ready to fight at the drop of a hat.

However, I think we see a different pattern in the word of God, especially here in Philippians. Modern translations use words like gentleness and reasonableness, which are both marvellous translations. Wycliffe and the Bishop’s Bible used ‘patience’ which is also a good choice.

I want to focus on the KJV choice of words here, which, in its time, may have best expressed the thought. The translators chose the word ‘moderation.’ When the word first appeared in the 14th century it had he understanding of ‘keeping within due measure.’ It relates the idea of an ‘even handedness.’ Clark’s commentary quotes a Dr Macknight who defines moderation as, ‘meekness under provocation, readiness to forgive injuries, equity in the management of business, candour in judging of the characters and actions of others, sweetness of disposition, and the entire government of the passions.’

It appears that the word means ‘keeping a balance, not controlled by passions and emotions.’ This moderation means that principles guide us, not passions. When principles, instead of passions, guide us we see men from God’s perspective. This kind of moderation makes us gentle, patient, and reasonable in our dealings with others because we are guided by Him instead of our flesh.

Passion makes us volatile, impatient, discontent, on a constant emotional roller coaster, never ever to find that sweet balance. Moderation makes us gentle, sweet, patient, and even handed, not tossed about by every circumstance that comes our way.


Moderation, gentleness, even handedness, patience, balance, and reasonableness. How often do we make these things known to all men?

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Rejoice...in the Lord!

Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! – Philippians 4v4


Do you ever come across a Bible teaching that reads great, sounds great, and when preached it gets great ‘amens’ but when it comes to living it out you wonder about it deep inside? In other words are there times when what the Bible says doesn’t really seem to ‘work?’

Paul wrote to this marvellous church in Philippi, ‘Rejoice in the Lord always, I’ll say to you again, rejoice!’ In response we might be tempted to say, ‘Rejoice? I am just barely able to make it through! Rejoice??? With all that is going on in my life? Rejoice?????? You have got to be kidding! How I am supposed to rejoice with my kids sick, no money, a flat tyre on the car, a flat battery, doctor’s bills, threats to have my electric cut off, and losing my stupid job? How am I supposed to rejoice when my mortgage is in threat?’

Now, you might be saying, “Those kinds of thoughts are not very spiritual.’ There are not, but have any of us been exempt from them? How many of us have never had those or similar thoughts?

Well, when we have those thoughts the problem is not really God’s but ours. The problem is that our focus is in the wrong place. We are focused on all those externals. If you focus on them we will never really rejoice because there is always something to whinge about!

The key is right there in the verse, ‘Rejoice in the Lord…’ Wait, don’t miss it, “rejoice IN THE LORD’. My car is going to let me down as will my bank account, my nation, my friends, my church, and even my family. God loves me – that never changes. Jesus died for me – that never changes. I have an eternal inheritance – that never changes. God is faithful – that never changes. He will never fail me and that will not change!

Rejoice in the Lord!! I will say it again and again and again and again. Rejoice IN THE LORD!!!

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Stand fast

Therefore, my beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, beloved. I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life. – Philippians 4v1-3


I jumped into part of this section a view days ago when I skipped a chapter in my little survey. I want to come back to the whole context today.

It wasn’t easy to be part of a local church in the early days. There were all kinds of opposition and difficulty. They did not have the finished New Testament to give them guidance. The Roman Empire was not friendly to this new movement. The Jews were in open opposition. Plus I am sure they had the same day to day problems that we all face every day.

In the light of what Paul had already taught in the first three chapter he turns to making an application. Although not part of my thoughts for today, I simply can’t pass over the terms of endearment Paul uses, ‘beloved, longed for, my joy, and my crown.’ Paul dearly loved the individuals in this local church. He treasured them, and even when he had to correct them, he did so on the basis of pure and total love.

In the light of these things we look at the instructions he gives the church. In verses 1-3 we see a couple of key instructions for the group. Stand fast in the Lord and be of one mind in the Lord. Note first of all that the both of these instructions are based on a vital phrase – ‘in the Lord.’ None of this is possible based on human feelings and emotions. We can only find unity and the ability to stand fast in Him. It all comes back to 100% reliance on the Lord for our strength.

I think verse three is especially interesting. After instructing Euodia and Syntyche to be of one mind in the Lord, this verse says, ‘help these women who laboured with me in the Lord.’ I know there is a lot of debate about who Euodia and Syntyche were and if this phrase refers to them, but it seems contextually that Paul is referring back to them. He then goes on to say, ‘Clement as well, in fact all those who have laboured with me.’

What is obvious from all of this is the importance of other believers who have will stand fast in the Lord, be of same mind in the Lord, help each other, and labour together in the Lord. When we can do this we can face the opposition and struggles that are sure to come our way!

Monday, 4 August 2008

Our citizenship

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, - Philippians 3v20


As a citizen of one country living in another this passage always jumps out at me. While an American citizen living in Ireland I find myself under two sets of laws. While I am obligated to obey all of the laws of my “home country” I also must obey the laws of my “host” country. I need to do all the paperwork, pay the taxes, have the right visa and other paperwork, and respect and obey the local laws. Sometimes one feels like a man without a country.

I think there is a picture here for us. While out citizenship is in heaven we still have to live somewhere else. While they we are taught to submit to the proper authorities, to obey the laws, and to conduct ourselves properly. We have something of a dual citizenship while we are here.

Paul gives us a vital reminder here that goes deeper. As long as I carry my American passport I will never be Irish. In the same regard as long as we carry our Heavenly passport, we are not of this world. As an American I hold my citizenship in high regard. Paul, as a Roman citizen, did the same. Sometimes however there is a temptation to think that my American passport makes be special, or better, than others. Sometimes being an American Christian supplants being a Christian American.

I love politics. I really, really love politics. If I am not careful I can be consumed by it. This is an election year in the United States. It is tragic when politics divides believers. Bothers and sisters in Christ will sadly “bite and devour one another” over earthly political issues. I have seen Christians say things like, “You can’t be saved if you support _________________.” Since when did political choices supplant “grace alone, by faith alone?”

We need to be honest, responsible citizens where ever God allows us to be. But we err when that citizenship becomes more important than our heavenly citizenship.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Drawing the line

For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame who set their mind on earthly things. Philippians 3v18-19


So much of Philippians talks about unity. It is obvious that Paul wants us to learn that lesson from this letter. Unity in fact is the over riding theme of the book. And yet, as a friend asked yesterday, ‘With all these unity how do you know when to draw the line?’ For one thing a place to draw the line is when men try to hold believers to the Law. Paul, like Christ, uses very harsh words for them and doesn’t hold back at all. His word for them borders on crudeness as he refers to them as ‘mutilators of the flesh.’

Here Paul talks about some folks, but before we look at them notice his spirit – ‘I told you before, and now I tell you, even with weeping…’ Paul did not rejoice or take glory in dividing. He knew that unity was God’s will – but there does come a time when we have to draw the line. I was talking to some friends yesterday about Paul and Philippians. We talked about his stress on unity and rejoicing that Christ is preached even by those who disagreed with Paul. He asked, ‘Okay, where do you draw the line?’ That is actually an excellent question, because we know there has to be a line someplace.

I think Paul addresses that here – the enemies of the cross of Christ. Who are they? The ones whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, whose glory is there shame, and who set their mind on earthly things. I think he is referring here back to the Judaizers who made themselves the enemies of the cross by their behaviour. Rather than focused on the spirit their focus was on the flesh and fleshly adherence to a legalised system of living. Those who focus on the Law are indeed the enemies of the cross, for they make the death of Christ unnecessary and useless. If we could be saved by keeping the Law then Christ died for nothing.

Even for this group we see Paul’s spirit. It broke his heart to see this kind of behaviour as he warned us not to follow them. It is easy to stand in the pulpit, ranting and raving and spewing out venom against false teachers. It makes us look good and we get plenty of ‘amens.’

But where are the tears of compassion? Where is the attitude that weeps in exposing error? It has to be done, but to be biblical it must be done with a broken heart.

Friday, 1 August 2008

One thing

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, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. - Philippians 3v13-14


Like any of us who are honest with ourselves Paul knew that he was not there yet. In a thought that continues on from yesterday’s section, Paul says this (in a parrowphrase) – ‘I know that I am not there yet. I am not fully sanctified. I am not Christlike. But there is one thing I do. I forget about all the stuff in the past and stretch out for the rest of the race so that I will cross the finish line as I look upward to the call of God in Jesus Christ.’

It is hard to miss later words that seem to go in hand with this thought – “Looking unto Jesus, the Beginner and the Ender of my faith.”

Yesterday’s illustration of the Hoyts was not perfect. I used it to illustrate a specific point about our dependence on Christ as we press on. Here however, Paul expresses his own effort. “I forget about the past and I reach forward.” There are some today who claim that at some point of the Christian life we just stop working and go along for the ride. I just can’t see that from this picture. ‘I forget and I reach’ seems to imply that the life is still work. You can almost picture the runners in a race striving to get to the finish line.

One thing more today, I think it is important to note the concept of ‘forgetting the things that are behind.’ It is easy to dwell on the past, good or bad. Sometimes we can’t get over the hurts and pains other have caused us in the past. How often have I heard people talk about things in their family or hurts they have suffered that keep them from trusting God today? Freud and his modern followers would have us believe that all the problems we have today can be traced to childhood issues and they would have us dredge up the past so we can deal with it. What did Paul say? ‘I forget about that stuff and reach forward.’

Another thing that needs to be forgotten sometimes is the victories of the past. It is good for us to remember how God has brought us through situations in the past and remember from those times how He is faithful, but there are times where instead of doing that we look back on the good old days with wistful thoughts. “I remember when we had 19 buses and 200 bus kids every week.” “I remember the great city-wide campaigns when all the churches got together, shops closed, and thousands came to Christ.” And so on and so on.

It was great to see God work in those ways, but we can’t rest on our remembrances. We must press on, striving for the mark in the 21st century. Don’t look back; look forward to the finish line where the One who started the race for us waits with open arms for us to finish the race.

Pressing on

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. – Philippians 3v12


There is an amazing video online that summarises the lives of Rick and Dick Hoyt. These two men are a father and son triathlon team. Rick is severely disabled having very little movement in his limbs. He speaks by blinking at a computer screen. The beautiful thing is that as they compete, his dad, Rick, pushes his wheelchair, carries him on a specially built bike, and tows him in a boat tied to his waist. They are an amazing story of strength and inspiration.

When Rick and his dad compete they do so together. Obviously, they would go nowhere without Dick. Now, no human illustration is perfect, but I think we have something of a picture here of the race that Paul is talking about in this passage. Paul says. “I press on, to grasp the praise for which Christ has laid hold of me.” At Rick’s request, Dick Hoyt literally grabs his son in his arms, then pushes, pulls, and tows him through the race. There is a constant pressing on together.

Its not just in athletics, Rick has a degree in special education and is working on a device that will let people control their wheelchairs with eye movements.

Rick could have just given up. The battles were too hard, the race to severe, the goals could not be achieved. But with his dad’s help he keeps pressing on and is able to grab the prize at the end.

Our lives are all about pressing on. We are as helpless as Rick when it comes to living our Christian lives and running the race that is set before us. But Jesus laid hold on us, and He will carry us through as we press on, depending on Him.

The next time we are tempted to quit the race, might we give a thought to Dick and Rick Hoyt and their picture of pressing on.