Sunday School Series: A Higher Standard/Calling

9 02 2017

I bet God hears a lot of excuses.  If I could have a telephone wired to his ear, so that I could hear all of the prayer requests and conversations that Jesus’ people had with him, I’m sure I would hear a lot of excuses.  I’m sure I’d hear all of these perfectly valid* and honest reasons* for not being kind.  I’m sure I’d hear a lot of blaming* and I’d hear a lot of absolutely convincing* evidence that the person is doing the best they can.  (*=sarcasm).  I wonder how many of those excuses would be mine.  I wonder how many of those reasons I’ve used to validate myself or make myself feel better about the lack of commitment I’ve had/have today, when it comes to building my relationship with Jesus.

The thing we gotta realize is that excuses don’t cut it.  When we excuse our self out of opportunities to show growth or to show maturity, then we are truly misunderstanding the whole point of Jesus’ coming to earth.  See, prior to his coming, this personal relationship thing?  It didn’t really truly exist.  You worshiped as a corporate body.  God was over there, and we are over here.  When God came to earth, he ripped away the veil and was able to gain entrance into our hearts.  There’s no excuse that is worthy of giving a reason for not loving or for not caring for other people.  By excusing our behaviors or lack of behaviors, we are shying away from the responsibility of our call as a believer.  Excuses are of this world.  They’re not of the kingdom of heaven.  If we continue to make excuses, then we will live a life full of excuses, and not full of obedience and living.

Philippians 2:1-2:  Joy in Unity

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit,if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.

It is not of this world for people to be in unity and not to be fighting.  In fact, all stories typically have a conflict that go with it.  One of the earliest things that I learned about the church is that you had to go.  Then, I learned why.  You go because of community, and wrapped up in the word community is the word unity.  See it there?  commUNITY.  You go because of the people there, you go to worship God.  You go because christians know that you can’t hope to grow unless you have a community that surrounds you, helping you, and encouraging you.  As a young kid, I disliked church, because it was the dreaded opportunity for me to have to wear a dress!  Gross!  But I learned something as I grew older and I wore pants, that the church is not designed to be an oppressive place, but a place of freedom and joy, a representation of the freedom and joy we have in our relationship with God.  We were not designed to grow and go through this life alone, we were designed for community because the trinity is community.  We were made for community, because it is only when we are in community that we can practice unity.

Paul is clear here, that if we have value in Christ and each other, then we must remain united.  There is no room for selfishness in unity.  We must remain supportive and we must be known by our love for each other.  Unless we do not have value in each other, then we will never rid ourselves of the selfish chains that attempt to hold us to ourselves.

We cannot hope to love each other, and to unite together if we do not understand that community/unity is expected of believers.  We cannot hope to embody the love of God if we do not hold each other to a high standard of unity.

But this comes at a great cost.  Be aware of this.  If I hold unity and community in high regards, then I must hold myself at a secondary regard.  There is no place for selfishness here, but each person submitting themselves for the sake of unity.  We must have all of the same priorities, the same desires, and advance them together for the sake of unity.  I do not think that this means that we lose our own individual personas, but on the contrary, we were all made differently so that we can approach the same goal from different angles.  If the goal is to love people, then each individual does that in their own unique way.

Philippians 2:3-4:  Humble Service

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

We are called to a higher way of living, we are called to a new life of love and living together.  We are called of a different way to live.  This type of living is very foreign in our world.  It is so foreign that I almost feel confident in saying that many churches don’t have a hold on this type of living.  Our world teaches us that our selfish ways are the only way to get ahead.  We are supposed to look out only for our spheres of influences, and no one else.  The world teaches us to divide ourselves from each other, to keep arbitrary things like skin color, religion, money, music preferences and a whole other list of things that make us different from each other.  It does not tell us to look beyond our comfort zones and it does not tell us to see beyond our own little world.  It tells us to put our blinders on, and separate ourselves.  That, my friends, is not biblical and it is not loving.  This selfish attitude has unfortunately, permeated our Christian thought too.  We seem more concerned about all of the things that divide us, and more concerned about those that we can keep out of heaven than those that we can let into the fold.  We claim that God is the excluder, but then we ignore the prophecy found in Revelation.  In Revelation, it says that all sorts of people, all kinds of people will be found worshipping God.  Do you remember that?  Excluding people is not the way of the kingdom of God.  But we are often so closed off from everyone except those who exist in our own little worlds.  And that is selfish.

When we put others’ needs before our own comfortableness, we create an excuse for not sharing the gospel, or not living out the gospel.  When we follow scripture, we realize that our own ambitions are worthless, unless they benefit the people of God.  We must seek to erase the divides and love each other like our neighbors and love each other like family.  That’s hard.  Because that means that we have to eliminate the personal bias and prejudices that exist within us.  That means that we have to do the hard heart work.  And if we don’t do that, then we’re keeping ahold of our selfish superiority.  And that’s contrary to this scripture.

Humility isn’t something that you do, but it’s a process of showing people that they are important by decreasing our importance to ourselves.  This is an attitude that also applies to our relationship with God.  If we want to show humility then we gotta submit to God’s plans too.  We gotta realize how much wiser his ways are than ours.  This is something that’s so often talked about in this life, but if we were brutally honest, then I’m sure you could join me and say that surrender isn’t quite so easy.  If I were to truly surrender, then every summer, I would not search for another job, knowing full well that God has called me to the one I have.  But I still search, thinking that the grass is greener than where it is, and honestly, it probably is, but if I were to actually cross pastures, I am certain the grass would not taste as good as being in God’s will and purpose for my life.

Philippians 2:5-11:  An Example Worth Following

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage, rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!  Therefore God exalted him to the highest place  and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

We don’t have to look hard or far to find an example that is worth following.  We see an example for us clearly lined up for us and laid out clearly.  Quite simply, this is the message of the gospel.

The first instruction that the gospel message has for us here is that we gotta make our attitude just the same as Jesus’ attitude, and then it lists examples of that behaviors.  These specific behaviors are more than guidelines, they’re commands and commitments.  By following and doing them, we discover more of Jesus and his love.  We discover how to love each other by following that example.  If we refuse to follow this example, then we’re not true believers.  We’re not truly convinced of the saving power of the gospel to all people.  It’s one thing to preach the gospel, but believing it is another story.  If we can’t believe that it is our calling and our example, then there’s no reason for us to hold salvation to be true for ourselves.  We demonstrate our belief in this salvation story by allowing it to lead us and be a defining example for us.

Christ has a humble attitude and demeanor.  While Jesus was God, scripture is full of references to where he refers to God as his father.  Let’s take a minute.  To call someone a father is to refer to him as a superior person.  But, scripture says Jesus is equal to God?  How can that be?  Simply put, although Jesus had all honor as a son of God, he, in effect, took his crown off, and placed it on a throne and started working and walking around with beggars in plainclothes.  More than just that, he was selfless in his obedience to his father’s will.  We can see in the garden where he is struggling to accept the ultimate call of his obedience and purpose of life, in choosing to accept death on the cross.  But he made that commitment and he went  through with it, just like he said he would, even though it was difficult to do so.  He could have decided that he didn’t want to die for humanity at the last minute.  He could’ve been in so much pain that he could’ve just called a legion of angels to his rescue while he was on the cross.  But he didn’t.  He didn’t because he knew his purpose in life was to glorify God, and by his choice to be obedient, he would make salvation available to all people.  He accepted that call.  Regardless of how he was feeling.  When we have a humble attitude like Jesus, then we recognize the supreme lordship of God’s will over our lives and over our own desires.  When our plans are submissive to the will of God, then we are liberated from all of the choices that being “in charge” requires of us.  This is very hard.  It is not for the lighthearted.  It is easier said than done.  I’m still working on setting aside myself to the will and ways of God.

Christ followed up his submission with acts of obedience.  His method of obedience was in casting aside his deity, becoming a man and entering this world as a manger, surrounded by cattle and stinky, smelly sheep.  He became a carpenter who was essentially at the mercy of the hospitality of others.  He squatted to poop on the side of the road, probably experience bowel discomfort, battled illnesses and hurt feelings.  Our humility is nothing unless we follow that up in actions.  Christ did.  We cannot be humble and have no actions that back it up.  This is hard too.  This is the higher calling.  Humility means that we don’t get angry when someone hurts us.  We recognize that we too, are imperfect people, and so when people make us more aware of that fact (through hurting us), we find no offense in it.  When we make a mistake, we admit it first, we are not stubborn, but we look out for the best of others, and correct those mistakes.  This is really hard.  Truly hard.  It would be easier to never forgive someone when they hurt them, or refuse to admit that we made a mistake.  But at what cost?  We ruin relationships that way.

The benefits of Christs’ humility benefits us all.  In the same way, others are benefited by our humility.  Because Christ was humble, he is now lifted up and exalted, given a special seat at the right hand of the father.  This is very backwards, but from my experience with the Kingdom of God, it’s pretty all backwards there anyways, so it fits right in!  There, the last are first and the first are last, the humble is exalted and the proud is cast down.  If we want to take ahold of heaven, if we want to enter the gates of glory, then we must follow his example.  We must follow up our faith in actions of service and love.  We must not allow our pursuits or loves to overshadow our love for God and our desire to see him work in our lives.  Because we have his example, we are able to experience grace, and we have benefited from his humility.  In the same way, others benefit when we are humble and we are able to approach them with an attitude of grace and love.


It’s obvious to me that the call of Jesus is a call to a higher standard of living.  It is a very difficult one.  Jesus even said it would be hard.  It’s not easy to look at the face of your enemy and offer the other cheek when he already slapped you.  It’s not easy to volunteer to go the extra mile with someone when they won’t help you the same way.  It’s not easy to allow people to hurt you without striking back or getting defensive.  Simply put, the call of Jesus is not easy and it’s not human and very un-American.  But like I said, it is a higher standard of living.

Because after all, our lives are not about us, are they?

 

Peace and love,
-MB

Advertisements




Sunday School Series: Happiness, Joy and Partners in Ministry, Philippians 1:3-11

22 01 2017

Author’s Note:  Please see the previous post to give you some of the context of this church’s founding and Paul’s relationship with it.  I made a post earlier about this, and I’m so very glad that I did so!  Thanks!

Everyone is trying to find joy and happiness.  We buy things, thinking that they will make us happy and they will fulfill us.  Our government is built upon the premise of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  We read that it is an “unalienable right.”  We expect happiness to be lasting, and then, like a whisper, it fades away.  In my life, I can remember times when I have thought “If ________ happens, then I will be really happy.”  The happening happens and then I’m the same person, there’s no great upheaval of personal change or growth.  Eventually that happenning only becomes another page in my book of life.  For example, my college graduation.  When I was in high school, I was so focused on getting into college.  I filled out scholarship applications left and right.  I got into college, and I started focusing on that graduation date.  This dream never seemed more happiness-inducing than the nights where I was holed up in the library for another late night working on a paper.  I would get lost in my dreams of walking across the stage and shaking Chancellor Peacock’s hand.  When the day finally, arrived, my work was done, and I remember that I sat there as a friend made a speech about something, and I remember thinking “this is it.”  And it wasn’t like this great event.  It was just me, sitting in a polyester gown, shaking a hand and walking across a stage.  I was so proud that I did this, but then the next day, I woke up, and I was myself again.  Now, five years later, my graduation day is just another memory.

It doesn’t last, does it?  Happiness?  That’s the difference between happiness and joy.  Happiness is an emotion, and emotions honestly, they’re fleeting.  They change and disappear after awhile.  But joy, I think truly is more permanent, despite the present circumstances.  It’s sort of like the difference between liking someone and loving them.  You can like them all you want to, but that “like” fades at the first sign of annoyance.  Love exists regardless of how annoying the person is, or when they scream “I don’t speak chinese” in your ear as they sleep.  (True story)

Paul’s Partners in Ministry:  Philippians 1:3-6

 I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy  because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

If we use happiness to describe Paul’s emotions towards the church in Philippi, then (because we know of his previous experience in prison because of his preaching of the word) it would be odd that Paul would be thanking God for the memory of this church.  If it were me, and I had been arrested, then I would want to do anything possible to push the memory of that horrible experience out of my mind.  But Paul here was “praying with joy” each time he thought of them and was full of thanksgiving about them.  Each time he gave thanks, he remembered them in love.  It’s a wonderful thing to have such a good relationship with those that you serve in ministry with that they give thanks for you, each time that they remember you.  In that way, I identify with Paul.  In my college years, I served at the Appalachian Wesley Foundation, and as I served, I never remembered to take a moment and recognize just how blessed I was to not only be friends with those that I was serving God with, but also, to enjoy the moment with them.  Now, all of us are spread across this great state, and some are across the continent, and I miss them, and pray for them every so often.

Why am Paul and I filled with joy?  It says so here, “because of their partnership in the gospel”, a partnership that has been solid from the founding until now.  A partnership that has led to blessings and growth that has lasted, both in each other and in Christ.  Obviously, Paul and this church have had contact since Paul left, and they possibly exchanged many letters until this letter was penned.  I think that there was a certain amount of peace knowing that he had a group of people that were united, supporting him.  I think that encouraged him greatly, and I think it helped him to endure, even when he was facing a lot of difficulties ahead of him.  I think it helped him feel his load lightened because he knew that there was a group of people praying for him, and they were peacefully there, waiting his return.  The relationships that he had created while there, they were very important to Paul.  Paul’s encouragement from his relationships with Lydia and others in the church sustained him in ministry, and Paul was confident that this growth and maturity would continue until the day that Jesus came back.  I am confident that Paul knew this fact, because Christ began it!  I think it’s important for us to note that our confidence in God and what God is doing is ultimately the source of our joy!  Apart from that movement of God, relationships cannot growth or initiate, our relationships cannot encourage use.  Our interactions cannot produce fruit, without his touch.  And if he begins the partnership, he will build that partnership until the end.  He will continue to give it all blessings and growth.

Paul’s Affections towards Them:  Philippians 1:7-8

 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

I truly think that Paul and the believers of this church felt a special bond between them, and this special bond was strengthened especially when they experienced great hardship at the beginning.  I truly think that they thought it was worth it because it brought them closer together.  The evidence that I draw this from is because Paul is never as personal as he is in these letters.  He never spent much more than a sentence proclaiming his affections towards a church other than this one.  It’s for that reason that Paul is so affectionate towards them.  From verse 7, I don’t really understand why he said “it is right”, but I imagine that he was facing some criticism because of his obvious affection towards this church.  This often happens when you find yourself in a new friendship or relationship.  I’ve experienced it, sometimes, people get jealous because of the companionship that you’ve found.  They’ll sometimes make passive aggressive statements and remarks or something to say that hints towards their disapproval.  I think this is the perspective that Paul is coming from in this particular passage.  I can imagine that he was hearing some remarks from some of his churches about his perceived favoritism.

But Paul isn’t saying that they should stop being so affectionate with each others, in fact, he’s doing the opposite, he’s affirming the value of this church in his heart.  He’s mentioning that their joy towards each other is holy and right because it is rooted in the fact that they are partners in ministry, mutually supporting each other.  More than that, they have supported him regardless of where he is or what is going on.  Whether he is in prison or enjoying ministry, he continually feels their support and their love of him.  I think this is really valuable for Paul because he probably had a few lonely evenings where he wondered if any of this was making a difference, if it was worth it.  I’m sure he felt especially isolated when he was travelling, and their encouragement helped him to continue on further.

Often, when people are partners in ministry together, they don’t get to be in the same place of service together, and they’re not able to see each other as often as they want.  But they have a sense of calling to each other, that no matter the space, we’re serving God together, and we are mutually growing each other.

Paul’s Desire for Maturity:  Philippians 1:9-11

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight,  so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

Here, we get to the desires of Paul’s heart for this group.

He first prays and desires that their love will grow.  He desires not that their love will only grow for each other and for him, but also that they’ll grow in their love of God.  Through growing in their love for God, they will find knowledge and discernment.  Obviously, we know that the love for each other is already there and it is already thriving.  But now, he wants them to grow more in their knowledge of God and who God is.  By growing in the knowledge of who God is and what God wants for their lives, they will be able to better discern what the will of God is.  Discernment is a process by which a believer or a group of believers figures out how they feel and where they stand on issues.  For example, this last election.  I don’t know which way you voted, but I’ll tell you how I figured out how to vote.  I looked at the candidates, and I looked at what they said they believed.  I looked at what they stood for, and I looked at what God values.  I voted accordingly to my mindset on all of the evidence.

In the early days of the church, they were trying to figure out what they thought and believed.  They didn’t have a moral code to abide by, and they had to figure out what christian values were.  Christian lifestyles were so new, and they did not have the clear definitions that we hold so tightly to today.  So these believers had to figure it out.  Now, remember, they didn’t have written gospels, they just had each other and their relationship with God to depend on.  All of the discernment was for the purpose of appearing blameless before God.

Discernment and growing in character and knowledge of God leads to maturity, and that was what Paul wanted for their faith.  He wanted them to grow in Christ and he wanted them to produce the fruits of righteousness.  No doubt, he was having the story of Jesus teaching about the vine and fruit in his mind as he was writing this.  He no doubt remembered that Jesus told us we can recognize him through the fruit produced.  Believers should have the good fruit being produced that brings others to knowing Christ, and not chasing them away from the things of God.  If we live our lives producing fruit that is pleasing to God and enticing to others to seek God, then at the very last day, we will be declared righteous before God.  On that final day, praises will ring out for God’s faithfulness and for the gifts of love we experience through each other!


For that reason, I am glad that we are partners in ministry together!  For that reason I am glad you are a reader, and I am able to share with you the conclusions of my heart from scripture.  It is my prayer in this life/ministry that we live together, we can grow together and we can produce fruit together.  Fruit of joy and peace and love, not discord.  With God’s help, may I be that for you!

Peace and Love,

-mb





Sunday School Series: Context of Philippians

18 01 2017

Author’s Note:  We will be beginning a series in Philippians on Sunday, to prepare for this, I have referenced some scripture in Acts to help give us a context for understanding the church’s history.  I hope this helps in your understanding, because it certainly helped mine!

Paul and Silas are travelling around, preaching and ministering to areas and churches in Acts.  The first time (that I know of) that Paul visited Phillipi, he had a lot of things going on!  I was interested in these events so I started reading.

Meeting Lydia  Acts 16:11-15:

From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day we went on to Neapolis. From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.

This is the first opportunity that we have to meet Lydia, and it certainly won’t be the last.  Lydia will later be a member of one of the founders of the church here.  She will raise Timothy who will later become a “son-in-ministry” to Paul.  Paul probably had no idea that he would meet someone who would be so influential to his ministry.

  1.  Lydia was successful financially.  She was a seller of cloth, and was actually probably selling in the marketplace when she heard the message of Paul.  She was in a group of women who probably were makers or sellers of cloth like her.  She sold purple cloth, which was the most expensive of the cloths, because the dye was the rarest found.  Reserved for royalty and higher-income families, she had very wealthy clients who probably paid a hefty sum for her cloth.  The fact that they mention her name at all, and what she does, indicates that she is in a prominent position in the society, because everyone would’ve known who Lydia is by her trade.
  2. Paul’s words made a believer of Lydia in Christ Jesus and his resurrection.  It says that Lydia already was a believer in God, so she was probably Jewish in faith already.  But God opened her heart to Paul’s message, it says, and she began to believe.  God used Paul’s words to convict the heart of Lydia.  Just a moment ago, I tried to put myself in Lydia’s shoes.  I tried to imagine that I was a Jewish person, and then Paul was standing there with a message from God.  I was faced with a choice, to continue to believe what I believe, or to change my heart and follow God.  I’ll be honest and readily admit that I wasn’t so sure that it would be an easy choice for me to make.  But I’m glad that she did, because God used her in amazing ways to impact the world for the sake of the Gospel.
  3. Lydia allowed God to use her to minister to other people through hosting them. All because Lydia believed, her household also began to believe.  They all were converted and they all were saved.  Then, she invited Paul into her home.  As wealthy as she was, she was able to use that wealth to give rest and refuge to the ministers of God because she had extra room in her household.  She used her possessions and what she had to not only lead her household but to also, give Paul and Silas a place so that they could be ministered to.  I’ve never been a vagabond minister, a nomadic disciple, but I imagine it would be very draining to give and give of yourself the way that Paul and Silas did, without return.  I imagine she gave them food, a place to sleep, and Christian company that cared about their struggles.  Often, we forget that even though Paul and Silas were moving and grooving great things for God, they also had their own struggles that they dealt with on a daily basis, and they wrestled with.  It must have been very wonderful to ease their personal load by sharing their troubles with another person, by finding a person to pray for them.

Paul and Silas Identified Acts 16:  16-19

 Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities.

So obviously, there has been quite some time between the first few verses of today’s examination and the verses in this section.  Which is fine, but I think we need to acknowledge this.  So what happened in between verse 15 and 16?  A lot, from what I can understand.  See, if these things happened the next day, scripture would say the next day, it’s usually pretty keen on keeping up with that.  So, it had to be some time after Lydia was converted, so to speak, and in the meantime, Paul and Silas probably set up camp there and was ministering to the people in the area.  No doubt that their connections with Lydia created some really influential connections for Paul.  The church probably had started out of Lydia’s home and was growing in the knowledge of God.

  1.  Even demons recognize that God is at work.  Meanwhile, in their day to day life, Paul and Silas were going to the marketplaces each day, and sharing the gospel.  This lady, we don’t know her name, but she was a fortune teller.  We do know her occupation.  Well, she started walking behind Paul and Silas, telling everyone who they were and what they were doing.  I imagine she wasn’t following from afar, I’d like to imagine that she was almost like a parrot, squawking every time that Paul turned the corner.  She was taken by this spirit who told the future, and she was able to identify these people by what they were doing, whose they are, and what their message was.  I’m sure the evil spirit was motivated by wanting to send people running from Paul.  I’m sure it was meant to deter Paul’s work from being effective.  My point is this, even people who aren’t involved in the things of God can recognize when God is at work.  I’m not saying those people are full of demons and all of those things….not at all.  But what I am saying is that it’s easy to recognize when God is at work through his people.  In fact, it’s hard to hide God working in his people!
  2. God will provide a way out or a way through obstacles  Far too often, though, when we are encountered with an obstacle or something/someone who opposes what we are doing, we shut down.  Or we give up.  We think that if God brings obstacles and hardship, he must not be in it, right?  Oh dear believer, nothing could ever be further from the truth!  When we encounter the obstacles and hardships we face in ministry, that’s just the time for us to buckle up and prepare for something great to happen!  In Paul’s case, he dealt with the figurative parrot for days, until he couldn’t take it anymore, and then, he turned around and cast out the demons that were inside this fortune teller.  At that very moment, they were gone.  She was vacant of the spirits that robbed her of herself at that very moment.  I imagine she just sorta stood there, stunned, and walked away.  I wonder what happened to her?  Anyways, back on track, God provided the way for Paul to leave his obstacle of that parrot, and he will provide the same way out for us.
  3. If God works, expect consequences!  Paul’s consequence is found in the owners of this fortune-teller, who no doubt, were angry that their source of income was done away with, she was good for nothing, in their eyes.  So they grabbed him, and honestly, they probably felt like Paul was stealing from them.  “They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.”(vs 20-21) He was stealing their livelihood, their person that they could use and abuse.  He liberated her from their bondage, forever.  Can I just take a moment and say that those same words are the very same that the enemy says about those that we minister to?  He says the very same things about those who find encouragement under the wings of our care and concern.  He says the very same things about those that find hope in the way that God uses us.  So we’d better be ready for consequences.  When we submit to God’s call to ministry, then we’d better be ready for consequences.  Regardless of the consequences.  In the case of Paul and Silas, they were humiliated in the marketplaces, stripped of their clothing and flogged.  Then, they were jailed.  (Vs 22-24)

Paul and Silas and their Ministry in Prison Acts 16:25-40

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas.  He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household.

When it was daylight, the magistrates sent their officers to the jailer with the order: “Release those men.” The jailer told Paul, “The magistrates have ordered that you and Silas be released. Now you can leave. Go in peace.”

But Paul said to the officers: “They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out.”

The officers reported this to the magistrates, and when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they were alarmed. They came to appease them and escorted them from the prison, requesting them to leave the city. After Paul and Silas came out of the prison, they went to Lydia’s house, where they met with the brothers and sisters and encouraged them. Then they left.

This is a rather intense story.  I’ll try to refrain from summarizing, and insulting your intelligence, but I do want to make some commentary.

  1. Paul’s Response.  I think Paul and Silas’ response to being jailed is very interesting here.  It’s actually very contrary to what our human nature leads us to do.  Paul and Silas went into jail and were given the highest area of security, and not only that, they were chained to the stocks.  I don’t know if you know anything about stocks, but when in a prison in that time period, the stocks were literally bolted/connected to the entire foundation.  So in order to break these locks and chains, it would have to take a super-human hulk person to do it.  So they’re given the tightest of security, and if it were me, I can honestly say that I would truly, truly be woeful and pitching a fit like a four-year old.  Instead, they used the opportunity to minister.  How often am I presented with an opportunity to minister, but because of my own selfishness, I don’t?
  2. Paul’s impact.  Because Paul was faithful to use any opportunity to minister, God opened the chains that bound him, and kept him captive.  Likewise, when we minister, God will open those chains that bind us, because that’s what he does.  When my heart was broken in times past, when I allowed myself to be used, God healed me, in ways that I never thought possible.
  3. God saves!  Well duh!  But look at it!  Look how God used Paul’s situation to bring more people to him!  It is so true, that God can use any and every situation to bring people to knowing him, and God can use any and every situation to change hearts!  There is no heart that is too hopeless that he can’t lift.  Look at that jailer!  After the earthquake, God broke the prison, and the jailer awoke, thinking that all of the prisoners were gone, and he was ready to kill himself.  He was ready to face death instead of hope.  But God pulled him out of that area of despair and he saved him!  How exciting!
  4. The Message spreads.  Prison cannot contain the message of God.  Bad news cannot contain the message of God.  God’s message and his ministers on this earth will not be contained.  They will not be silenced.  Even though Paul’s message, they attempted to silence, it was not.  Knowledge of the works of God spread.

 

After this, Paul left the area.  The church in Philippi grew and more and more people were adding to the family of God.  No doubt Paul received word of the church’s growth in numbers and no doubt that he was continuously hearing encouraging words from this body of believers.


This is the context of the book of Philippians.  If I have missed anything, understand that I’ve never studied the Bible academically, I’m just sharing what I know.  I hope this helps you understand more of the book of Philippians and their church.





Watch and See

31 12 2016

Author’s Note:  The source for this reflection comes from 2 Chronicles 20:10-30.  Please feel free to peruse this scripture at your leisure, as I think an understanding of the scripture that this comes from is crucial to getting the entire meaning of this entry.  


If you know me, you know that there are a few things that I struggle with in my life.  One of those things is very personal and private.  In the age of the internet world, we often reveal so much behind this anonymous screen, and many people will feel so free to just word-vomit everything that’s going on in their lives.  If you don’t believe me, scroll through your facebook feed, twitter tweets or instagram posts.  You’ll see some pretty honest reflections of how people feel, and sometimes, they’re honest to the point of being too honest!  And if you’re like me, it’s almost eye-opening, to see what that person posts, because you do learn a lot about people.

I mention that, because this is not the case with me and this particular issue.  You’ll never see a facebook post about this content or this particular obstacle that I am facing, and the only way to actually find out about what is going on and through my head, is not to read the hashtags or scroll through my feed, it’s to have a conversation with me, to ask me, and to talk to me about it.  Which in this day and time, can seem like an extremely vulnerable thing for me to do, but I trust you, as a person sitting in front of me, than I do a computer screen.  So let’s talk!


Okay, so what’s the deal?

The deal is that in dealing with this mystery circumstance/difficulty, I have received an answer.  I have specifically received an answer for this situation, and I am so excited about it, that I surely need to tell someone!

That’s where you come in.  So that’s the purpose of this.  I guess you can already see what the answer was by the title, but let’s just humor me for a moment.  Pretend the title isn’t there, and pretend that you don’t know anything, except that I’m going to tell you all about the answer to some unknown circumstance.  Deal?

So let’s look at King Jehoshaphat, shall we?  So he took the throne at the age of 35 and would reign for 25 years.  In general, his reign is praised because the kingdom enjoyed mostly peace and prosperity during his rule.  However, he messed up once.  He pursued an alliance with another king, King Ahab, who is the king of the Northern Kingdom, and the way that he did that was to have his son marry Ahab’s daughter.  One thing we need to know is that King Ahab and his people were idolitors and they worshiped many other things beside God.  So of course, by creating an alliance with this kingdom, and because Jehoshaphat indirectly indicated that he approved of the way that the subjects of the Northern Kingdom lived their lives because he didn’t object to it, God got upset.

Meanwhile, the enemies of King Jehoshaphat assembled together to create  coalition against his kingdom.  They wanted to take over the kingdom.  So King Jehoshaphat assembled the people together, for the purpose of speaking to God and addressing him directly about what was going on.  So what did he say?  Well he first reminded of how God brought them out of Egypt and that he protected his people.  He reminded them of his faithfulness and how he helped them.  Previously, the people had a chance to take over these people and to attack them, but they didn’t, and King Jehoshaphat personally probably felt a little gyped because they had now turned on him.  So he called for God’s judgement, and he expected some sort of response because he had the faith that God would be good and he would give them strength.

So as they were waiting, this guy Jahaziel was used by God.  Now it’s important to note that this dude is never mentioned another time, so we don’t really know anything about him.  We don’t know where he was in the crowd, we don’t know if he was a trusted advisor, or a member of the poor, or an afflicted person.  We don’t know.  But I can tell you what probably did happen, and who Jahaziel was…and that was that he was an insignificant person.  God used an unknown person to speak to the King, and he told the King several things.

He told them that they don’t need to be afraid of the numbers, and that this is God’s battle, not the battle for King Jehoshaphat or his people.  He said that God was going to use this and that they were to march towards their enemies the next day.  But, God told them that the purpose for them to go was not to attack, but to observe.  They were gonna go and watch, and their eyes would see their enemy to be attacked for them.  And they were to just stand still and watch God deliver them from the threat of the enemy.

I can imagine after he was done speaking, the people just stood there, and they made plans for the next day.  They left the mountain that they talked to God and went back into their own houses.  I imagine that they were left with wonder and curiosity, and the thought of God fighting their battle for them.  What was he going to do?

The next morning, they got up and prepared to go. King Jehoshaphat, I’m sure was tempted to worry through the night.  If God didn’t come through, then the people would surely die.  Honest!  So as they were preparing to leave, King Jehoshaphat encouraged the people to be ready to watch God.  So before they left, they appointed a choir of people that would lead the group towards their enemy.  That choir was appointed the task of singing praises to God.  Which was contrary to any battle plan, because if you know the movies, they always shout out this war cry before they attack.

Now, it’s not clear as to what happened, or what went on at the battlefield, but the enemy was ambushed, and they were defeated.  I don’t know if it was angels or if it was some sort of herd of animals or what, but the clearest thing is that the people of God just stood there and watched, praising God.

The news spread throughout the area, of what they had done while their enemy had been vanquished.  The story of God protected King Jehoshaphat’s kingdom and the people of God.  Even though King Jehoshaphat had angered God, and did against him, he still protected them from the enemy, probably because his response had been a cry of help, and not a cry of “Why God?”


That was a long summary there, with a little commentary thrown in.

My point is this, when I began reading this scripture, I had previously prayed about this whole situation and circumstance, I prayed for some sort of resolution and I prayed for some kind of answer as to what I should do.  I prayed that if my heart was wrong, then that God would change me, but if it wasn’t wrong, that he would show me what I needed to do.  And then I found this scripture.  Then a few weeks later, I actually taught this scripture in my Sunday School lesson.

My answer is this, to wait and see, watch and see what will happen.  Watch and see what God will do, but in the meantime, lead in praising and praying.  Live your life in continual dedication and spend that time on God.  Don’t approach God, saying woe is me, but continue to pray for deliverance and continue to live your life just as you had before.  Wait and see.  Watch and see, what God will do.

I don’t know if any of you can relate to this issue, I don’t know if you can learn anything from this response, or if this even makes sense.  Maybe I seem crazy.  Delusional.  Whatever you might think.  That’s okay.  But here’s the thing, I’m told to wait and see.  I’m told to spend my time doing just as I’ve done and wait and see what God will do.

I don’t know what he’s going to do.  For all I know, he may be changing me!  He might leave the opposition the same and change me!  Or he might change them!

But the instruction I got was clear.  Wait and see!





Fruits of the Spirit: Joy

2 06 2016

Author’s Note:  This is the third installment in the Fruits of the Spirit Series.  You can find the Introduction here and the first entry on love here.  

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.  –Galatians 5: 22-23

The second topic or characteristic of the fruits of the spirit is joy.  Joy doesn’t always mean being happy.  In fact, joy as represented biblically could be defined as “Joy is a state of mind and an orientation of the heart. It is a settled state of contentment, confidence and hope. It is something or someone that provides a source of happiness.”  So joy is a source of happiness, but it is not happiness itself.  Instead of happiness, a good synonym for joy would be contentment, not happiness.  Happiness wavers, but joy doesn’t.  It’s something deeper.

For that reason, I turned to scripture and noticed several different things.  I first noticed the things that can destroy our contentment,  reasons to be content and how to be content.

Destroyers of Contentment:

  1. Insecure People. It’s so easy to allow people to have the power to destroy our contentment.  Living life with other people is just plain hard sometimes.  People don’t always have the same goals and the same aspirations as I do.  People don’t always agree with me.  People are not always so easily able to swallow their pride and move on with life.  Insecurity is an ill that plagues many people.  Insecure people put their faith and sense of identity in other people.  Unfortunately, other people are not a secure place.  As one songwriter put it once “Our hells and our heavens are a few inches apart.”  The true place of our security has to lie in the secure things.  You don’t tie a boat to a stick in the sand, where the waves reach the stick.  You tie a boat to something that can be anchored down, that cannot move.  Something that is secure.  People are like those sticks along the shoreline.  Some small bit of turbulence or pain comes, and it’s very hard to hold on to the stick.  In fact, the people we often put our security in, have their own stuff to deal with, and they can’t be the anchors for us.  We have to place our trust and our security in what God says about us, and in the love of God.  It is steady.  It doesn’t matter what is going on, but God’s love still stands, his faithfulness is an anchor upon my heart and will not be moved.  But people?  They can be moved all of the time.  In fact, they can get insecure, jealous and selfish too.  They can lash out on us, or themselves, simply because of their insecurity.  You and I cannot afford to be tossed about on the waves.  James 1:2-7 says “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.”  The believers of God, they need to be secure in God.  They can’t waste their lives and their time by being unsteady and insecure.  We must be sure.
  2. People who are intentional about creating conflict. Sometimes, we don’t make the wisest choices with who we spend our time with.  Sometimes, we surround ourselves with people who just seem to have a knack for causing all of this stress and drama.  Honestly, I’m not sure why we do so!  I guess it’s to keep us from being bored or something.  Whatever the reason, we keep them around, and we often add fuel to the fire.  I’ve tried to think and contemplate why people enjoy this drama, and I looked in First Timothy 6:5-7 and found this:  “and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain. But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.”  As I thought and studied on this word from the Bible, I realized that perhaps the financial gain concept doesn’t just apply to money alone.  I think it applies also to the concept of whatever we think will happen as a result of becoming closer to God.  See, in this time period, those who had money were said to be closer to God than the poor. Of course, Jesus came along and kinda destroyed that thought, as seeing that he was homeless and all.  But anyways, the people who think that whatever they’re doing gets them closer to God, are the ones that cause “righteous friction” that is constant and never-ending.  For example, there are people that I do not agree with.  When I was actively trying to keep these people in my life, it was difficult to maintain the peace and contentment between us, because it’s hard to remember that we don’t do anything to reserve our space in heaven, and we can’t argue our way to the pearly gates.  Because in the end, we are all in the same state, barren as we came, and barren we will leave.  Don’t let yourself get wrapped into the illusion that you can gain entrance just by being right or “righting” someone who I think is wrong.  Usually, when I think I’m wrong, I push the issue until my point is made.  That is where I am in the wrong.  I’m to pursue peace and pursue contentment with things as they are.  If I do not, then it robs me of my contentment.

Reasons to be Content:

  1. The body of Christ depends on it. There are numerous joys that can occur when we are united with a body of believers.  There are so many benefits from  being in accord with believers.  I cannot stress enough, the value of belonging and associating with believers.  However, one of the temptations of being united with believers is that we often find that it is very easy to be discontent with one another.  The reason for this is that it is easy for us to not remember that we are all human, and we can’t always all exceed expectations.  Try as we might, our best will never be good enough.  Even though we are imperfect, we are still to look past the imperfections and focus on the joys.  It is easy to find discontentment.  In fact, Philippians 2:1-2 says:  “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.”  To me, that is instructing believers that if we want to enjoy the benefits of the body of Christ, then we must also be in one accord, without divisions that are so easily to pop up when there is discontentment.
  2. Because God has delivered us and he delivers us. Psalms are full of this theme.  God delivers us.  It’s not just from war, or conflicts, although those are important.  Actually, we probably experience a lot of deliverance from this, more than we realize.  But what we often do not realize, is that we can be delivered from harmful situations.  And we can find deliverance from bad things.  We can find protection.  David echoes this understanding in Psalm 43, when he says:

 Vindicate me, my God,
and plead my cause
against an unfaithful nation.
Rescue me from those who are
deceitful and wicked.
You are God my stronghold.
Why have you rejected me?
Why must I go about mourning,
oppressed by the enemy?
Send me your light and your faithful care,
let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy mountain,
to the place where you dwell.
Then I will go to the altar of God,
to God, my joy and my delight.
I will praise you with the lyre,
O God, my God.

David’s understanding of this and his reflection of his understanding is that we have a place to go, a refuge to enter into, someone who is actively on our side and is working things out for us, to help us, and to deliver us from this life and into the next.  Despite how bad things get, despite how hard they may get, we have salvation, and we have ultimately, the assurance of eternity with God.  And that, it should help us to last beyond the present state of being.  More often than not, we forget that we will be delivered, and we focus on the bad parts of life, on the apparent futility of it all, such as David did in verse 2 and 3.  But after that moment of self-pity, he ends with the image of being lifted high on the holy mountain, at the alter of God, where his home is made, where he will find peace.  It’s hard to remember that.  It’s hard for us to remember to focus on the fact that in the end, when it’s all over and done, the struggle we experience now is just a momentary bruise.  That’s it.  It’s not a broken bone, it’s a bruise.  Here today, and gone tomorrow, because that’s the way that this world operates.  If we could just focus on that, if we could only focus on the fact that this is all just temporary, our problems would seem not so large anymore.

Conclusions:  How to Be Content

Joy is marked by contentment, in which the soul is at peace with the world and with the people that you live with.  Joy is something that is hard to obtain, and I, myself, have to continuously fight with myself to keep the joy there.  It’s not about happiness, because happiness is an emotion, which is as unstable as a hill on a fault line.  Instead, joy is a state of being, a decision that I’ve made.  We have to decide to be joyful and content in God.  No one else will make this decision for us.  We have to make it for ourselves.  And it’s not so easy sometimes.  But it is totally worth it.

So now that we see all of the benefits of contentment…how do we become content?

It’s both quite simple and very complicated.

We gotta grow.  We gotta be intentional about growing closer and closer to the one that made us, and the one that sustains us.  The more and more that we grow, the more and more that we’ll let go of the things and people that don’t help us be content, and the more we will chase after and find the things and people that will help us to be joyful.  I cannot express enough, how we must continually pursue the things that help us to be joyful, regardless of our circumstances.

Not a new conclusion, not a new message, and not a new object for us to do.





For My Good!

26 05 2016

Author’s Note:  I didn’t mean to take a break from the Fruits of the Spirit series….this topic just could not get off of my heart and I learned so much from writing this post and I hope you do the same!

It’s a different experience to hear the news secondhand than it is to experience it.  Everyday, thousands of newscasters report on the events of the world, but I rarely think that those who experienced the event firsthand, rely on these newscasts to inform them of what happened.  But, once the event happens, there’s no way for us to go back in time for us to move from being a second-hand observer who learned about something on the news, to becoming a first-hand participant.  The man who served in a war, can never move to being a second-hand observer.  He felt the heat of battle, the sting of death, the brush of bullets and bombs.  The person who hears about a riot cannot experience the riot itself personally.

I used to think that the disciples, they really had it made.  They were first-hand observers of Jesus.  They walked with him, smelled his body odor and they ate with him.  They were shocked by him, cried with him and slept near him.  What an experience that must have been!  I used to get jealous, because I thought that if I only walked with Jesus and saw the miracles, then surely, my faith would be like a mustard seed, the smallest of seeds that produces the largest of results!  But then, I read some scripture that Jesus shared with them, John 16:7, which says “But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”  Wow!  That verse is really powerful.  Jesus starts it out saying, “this is the truth” and then he drops the bomb on them  “It is for your good that I am going away.”  I would have disagreed with my friend, if I were a disciple.  I mean, sure I know that he’s the creator of the universe and all, but I would miss him.  My life was made complete by having him in my life and it was made better with him.  He made me wine out of water, fish and bread out of nothing, provided growth and love and companionship, where I didn’t feel it before.  I found acceptance, despite my lack of faith or ability to trust, despite my low social status, I found love.  And to think that this source of love and friendship was going to leave me, and I was going to be better off than when he left me?  That’s preposterous!  That would mean that I would be moving out of a relationship with Jesus and then back to life as normal!

A Second-hand Watcher
This type of person is a benchwarmer, so to speak.  A benchwarmer is a part of a team, but they often miss out on the real action of the game.  They may be substituted in and step up once in a while, but they are not a consistently actively involved person.  If I, as a disciple, would’ve went back to my life as usual, then I would be considered a second-hand watcher.  I am someone that knows the expectation, because it was clearly explained and outlined to me by Jesus, but instead of living up to the expectation, I simply expect it to happen to me!  When the day is over, I’ve neither contributed to the game as a whole nor detracted from it.  I have simply floated along and have nothing to show for my time with Jesus.  Instead, I have evidence of my existence, but not much beyond that.

To me, this sounds very similar to that of the experience in the Christian church.  Honestly, if we want to criticize the world and our society for being “godless” and going against the call of God, we have to first look at ourselves.  Matthew 7:3-5 says “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite!  First, take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”  Although it seems that Jesus is talking about the companionship from believer to believer.  I think it can expand beyond that.  I don’t think that he means that the way we relate to each other is not applicable to the way we relate to other people in the world.  We must give respect and love to the people who are around us, regardless of the shared faith or lack of shared faith.  I honestly think that Jesus means for us to treat our Christian brothers and sisters with the same regard as we give to those who believe different from us.  And vice versa.  Think about that.  And vice versa.  It’s harder to make us look at ourselves than it is to criticize the world.  Before we even think about criticizing others, we need to take a long hard look at ourselves, and how we have failed to be anything more than a benchwarmer.  Jesus tells us that it is shameful for us to criticize our brother, when we are guilty of having issues that keep us from growing.  WE cannot criticize the world and its policies without first critically examining ourselves.  And honestly, if we had been doing so all along, we would not be the secondhand observers that the world knows us as.  Shortly speaking, it is the church’s fault that our society has felt the diminishing impact of the church upon that society.  We stopped doing the things that make us active participants, and started warming the pews, and being content with Sunday being the only day reserved for God.  Instead of remembering 1 Corinthians 13:1, we gave Christianity a bad name by clanging out our objections without love.  And we were not growing spiritually.  We were not making disciples of Christ.  WE were simply living our lives and going to church on Sunday, and somehow, we thought it would be enough.

 

Active Participant
Who wins the games?  Who handles the trophy?  Who goes down in the sports halls of fame?  It’s not those that keep the bench from floating off the game floor, it’s the people who are the active players and do whatever it takes to be successful.  It is the ones who intend to accomplish something, who are intentional about what they do.  Active players don’t just wait around for skills and special abilities to happen to them, they are the ones that continuously strive to become better and the ones that desire very greatly to be better players.  Players don’t wait for life to happen, they don’t wait for accomplishments to just be handed to them or spontaneously occur.  Instead, they devote afternoons, hours to improvement.  Each practice, they show up, regardless of how they emotionally feel about getting out to practice, and they practice, knowing each practice makes them better, stronger.  Excuses don’t matter, because if it is important to you, you make time for it, no matter what.

The more and more I study Jesus and the more and more I read the gospels, the clearer it becomes to me that he expects me to realize that belief doesn’t matter all that much, unless its an active thing.  Until we believe it so much that we live it, we will never learn more than mere drops of grace and small fractions of love.  We will not learn how to love people a smidgen of the way that we are supposed to, the way that Jesus loves us.  Unless we get off of the bench and get in the game, the Bible will be mere words of fiction, Jesus is a mythical character and love is a construction paper cut-out heart.  Matthew 7:3-5 says “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite!  First, take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”  When we are not active participants, yet we are pulling out planks out of others’ eyes and criticizing others and not critically looking at ourselves, we fail to embody the call of Christianity.  We fail to be the lovers of people that we are called to be.  We fail.  That’s it.  Until we get off the bench and are actively growing, we have no idea what our faith really calls us to do and be for others.

Well, that’s all well and good-but how do we get off the bench?  From what I understand, spiritual growth has several components:

  • You must spend time in the Word with God.  It’s not enough to just read the Bible, we must also understand the meaning behind those special words.
  • Pray and ask God that he will help you find understanding, and apply that understanding of the scripture into your life and into the interactions you have with other people. He will teach you how to interact with others in love.
  • Seek to serve God through the church and on an individual level. Use your natural talents to help you figure out how to serve God and others.
  • When given the opportunity to share your faith, do it! Your story is an experience that they can’t take away from you.  What God has done in you, they can’t contest.
  • Remain faithful to your growing relationship with God. It’s easy to let the emotional fire die, but remember that there are some things work committing to doing despite how you feel.

Don’t let the excuses get in your way.  We can make anything an excuse.  Don’t.   If this is truly important to you, and if you believe that your faith makes a difference, you will see the fatality in  being a bystander.  If it is worth it, you will make the time.  If it is meaningful, you will choose to remain faithful and committed, despite the feelings or excuses.  Be warned though, the excuses are overbearing.  The task is difficult because it involves a departure from your selfish way of things.  It may ask you to sacrifice, it may hurt you a little bit, but you will grow.

Take encouragement though.  Jesus said once says “But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”  The thing that makes it different for us than it does for the disciples, is that we have never experienced the human Jesus.  We have the Holy Spirit inside us, instead!  How cool is that!  See, Jesus isn’t interested in us depending on him for physical or depending on his physical presence for us to gain his assurance and peace in his presence.  Instead, he wants to reside in us!  How cool is that!?  Our assurance and security does not rest in the physical presence of Jesus, but in the unending presence of the Holy Spirit.  And this is for our benefit!  How cool!  This is for my good!  It is for my good that I am an active participant and not a benchwarmer.  It is for my good that I am growing!

And let it be for your benefit as well!

 





Intro: Fruits of the Spirit Series

16 04 2016

Walking through a store, you can’t help but to hear the random cry of “but I want it!” The scream is shrill, piercing, and you know it is a small boy or girl that is screaming for something.  Then, I hear “But you have so many other toys at home.”  “It doesn’t matter, I want it!”  The child probably has an already over-flowing toy box that isn’t able to contain all of the toys.  There’s a mountain of toys in another room, sprawled out everywhere.  You can’t walk through the living room without stepping on a matchbox car, and you can’t take a bath without finding a rubber toy floating in the tub with you.  There’s legos on the kitchen table, and a discarded bike lying out on the carport.  The fact of the matter is not what toy brings the child the most enjoyment and allows the child to disappear into the wonderland of imagination to create stories of adventure and drama, heroes and villains, cowboys and Indians, car chases and rescue vehicles.  Instead, the focus is on having the newest, or having the “mostest” toys.  As we grow up, we pride ourselves as being able to depart from the materialism.  We pride ourselves on being able to purchase things that are needed and we balance needs with wants.  We buff ourselves up, thankful that we are able to depart from that mentality.

When we go into our spirituality, we are taught that less is more, and that we should not seek the material things.  Where that place of the heart is concerned, we spend our time at spiritual events and we focus on the activities.

In a world where things are so quantity-driven, we as humanity have been chasing the things that give us a sense of quality.  We like the nicest and next big thing and look to the things that give us a sense of identity and give us the results that we want.  And the church is no exception to that.  The church is no departure away from that sense of status and it is no departure away from the quantity-ness of our society.  The life of a Christian is no exception to the quantity trend.  We hold programs and activities designed to attract people, we count our “visitors” that darken the doorways and we keep record of our attendance numbers.  We count ourselves successful when we have more people in the church today than we did a year ago, have raised more than our missions offering goal, or exceed the expected donations for a random drive of clothing or food.  We congratulate ourselves when we find value in numbers.

Unfortunately, we are never called to be concerned about quantity of people.  We are not called to keep attendance records or to programming and events.  We are not called to spend our time and efforts focusing on how we can grow our church numbers.  We are not called to make these things our focus and priority.  We are not called to make material or worldly growth a priority.  So many people would give you the statement to say that checking attendance and keeping record of numbers are not bad or sinful.  However, if I am honest, I’m not going to say that, because doing so tends to forget the individual behind the number, and it erases people of their individuality and their humanity and gives them the label of “visitor #2” instead of John.  It’s so easy when we do that, to just count it as a victory to add to the cause, instead of a person.  And when we do that, we forget to see the people as people, and we don’t invest in them.

We are not called, as a people, to numbers.  We honestly aren’t called to keep record of attendance, we are not called to keep track of numbers.  We aren’t supposed to worry about all that.  Instead, we are called to something more.  We are called to nothing higher than our own personal growth of ourselves, to the side of the God who loves us and who shares his life to us.  We are not called to the growth of the church, but to the relationship that we have with our Creator.  Never, does God say to us, to focus on the growth of the body of Christ, but he says to us, “Come near to me.”  He calls to us “Come close to me.”  “Know me.”

One of the most meaningful passages of scripture continue to be brought up time and time again recently.  I’ve continually heard and re-heard these verses.  In my college years, I spent some time in an in-depth study of this chapter as part of some discipleship training I experienced while serving in a church in Boone.  The passage that this training was based upon is as follows:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

-John 15:1-8 (NIV)

I won’t delve into an in-depth discussion or exposition of this passage, but I think that it is clear that it is our duty to remain close to the true vine, and to continue to grow in him.  As we grow, we go through seasons of our lives where we are pruned, or cut back, painfully exposed to the elements of the world that is designed to help us grow.

The purpose of our pain, and our existence is that we produce fruit.

The modern church seems to think that fruit is in numbers.  The modern church seems to think that success is fruit, and that as long as we are adding new people to the body of Christ, then we are growing and we are producing fruit.

Nowhere in the passage does it tell us to add more people to the belief of Jesus.  Instead, it is all about us abiding in God, and finding ourselves and our identity in Jesus.  Instead, it’s all about remaining connected.  It’s about discipleship, the intentional seeking of a closer relationship with the Creator through study, meditation upon scriptures, and through other experiences in which God communicates to us.  It’s about us seeking God and being discontented with just meaningless things, but seeking to be changed and transformed by the power of God.  It’s not about numbers.  It’s all about personal growth and growing intimacies with God.

But…it tells us to produce fruit?  What is fruit?  Is it apples?  Oranges?  Well yes, those are fruits, but this is not the kind of fruit that the scripture talks about.  In the context of the scriptures, it doesn’t even really talk about the expansion of the faith or missions.  Later in the scriptures, Jesus talks about how the disciples are to remain in love and they are to back that love up with actions.  And that, my friend, is all about discipleship.  Jesus even tells them how they are to grow and how they are to mature, and it is because….

“When the Friend I plan to send you from the Father comes—the Spirit of Truth issuing from the Father—he will confirm everything about me. You, too, from your side must give your confirming evidence, since you are in this with me from the start.”

-John 15:26-27

So, basically, he says that the disciples will be given a spirit that will not only confirm everything that Jesus said he was, but he will also come, and give you the power to produce fruit and will produce fruit in your life too!

When I first considered the question of “What is fruit?”  God gave me a new awareness of what “fruit” is considered.  It’s not numbers, but instead…

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:22-23

We don’t see fruit that way, do we?  Generally, fruit, as Jesus was saying, I don’t think he was talking about numbers or growth.  I think he was talking more about discipleship.  He was talking about how we grow nearer and nearer to the father, and as we grow nearer, then we embody the fruits of the spirit.  And that, my friend, is fruit.

That is what we are called to produce.

Not numbers, not church growth, but individual, spiritual fruits, that allow us to live in relationships with each other.

When we do that?  That’s when the church numbers start to grow.  That’s when people experience the saving love of God.  That’s when we start to make a difference in our world.


I feel called to start a series, about the fruits of the spirit.  In this process, I will examine all of the fruits of the spirit, using scripture, personal experiences and concepts to confirm that which I think that the Christian is called to produce in their life as fruit.  I will be examining each of the fruits of the spirit and will be using discussions.  I don’t know how often I will post, but I will finish this series.  Stay tuned for more updates!