Thursday, 31 July 2008

All our best efforts are dung?

Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish [dung – KJV], that I may gain Christ – Philippians 3v8

One of my favourite places on the island is about a 40 minute drive from here. Trim Castle is the largest Anglo-Norman castle in Ireland. As part of the tour they take you to the garderobe. The garderobe is not the most glorious place in the castle. To put it plainly, it was the castle’s toilet. Because clothes (and people) were rarely washed there had to be a way to keep the bugs and other critters out of the clothing. The problem was solved by hanging clothes in the garderobe to allow the ammonia from the refuse to kill of any little nasties.

In order to keep the ammonia flowing many castles had a worker called the gong farmer. His job was to stir up the waste so that the ammonia could be activated. He also had the job of cleaning out the waste from the chutes every so often.

I hope you are not reading this first thing in the morning or at meal time. You may, “Roger, why this sick history lesson in your blog?’ Well, I wanted us all to get a clear picture of how Paul saw his good works and all the wonderful things he had done. He used the word skubalon to describe them. After a little work it is obvious that this word describes all that is base and corrupt. Some say that it refers to the scrapes thrown out to the dogs, but many scholars, apparently including the translators of the KJV, say that it refers to excrement. This would include the revulsion with which Paul saw his former works. It appears that Paul used one of he basest words he could to describe his religious life before Christ.

Paul had it made in a worldly sense. He was a Pharisee, properly educated, an expert of the Law, and a keeper of the Law. He was on the right track. Yet, as he looks back he says that all of this is loss. It is all worthless. Indeed, all that was dung compared to serving Christ.

This breaks down any arguments for what we ‘might have had’ if we did not serve Christ.

There is nothing compared to following Christ. Everything, all the shiny baubles and worldly attractions are nothing but skubalon. No wonder Paul had no confidence in the flesh! Christ or skubalon – which has the greater appeal?

Click HERE for an interesting word study of skubalon at

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

No confidence in the flesh

For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh, - Philippians 3v3

This battle of confidence in the flesh is obviously one that has been around from the very start. We somehow get the idea what our walk with the Lord is all about what we do instead of who we are. Paul introduces the comments that define what the true circumcision is. The true circumcision worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Jesus Christ, and have no confidence in flesh.

Note that it is all spiritual. We tend to get is all bottom side up. From all fronts we get the notion that our walk with the Lord is determined by “do this, don’t do that.” We think that if we can get our actions right in the flesh, the rest will follow and we will be right with God.

But that phrase, “no confidence in the flesh” rings in my mind. As these thoughts are intended to be my musings, I am just going to muse this morning. It seems to me that if I am worshipping God in the Spirit, rejoicing in Jesus Christ, and having no confidence or reliance on the flesh, right actions will naturally follow.

I have discovered something in the last few years. There was a time when I thought if I did everything right, followed the rules, and ticked the boxes eventually my heart would get sorted. I am starting to learn that if I get my heart sorted all the stuff that I used to do in the flesh becomes part of my spiritual walk.

Confidence in the Spirit will lead to a doing what is right. The reverse is not always true.

Monday, 28 July 2008

Of the same mind

I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. - Philippians 4v2

Well, somehow this morning I read out of the wrong chapter and didn’t even notice it until I got ready to type this out. I guess we will get back to chapter three tomorrow.

I don’t have a clue who Euodia and Syntyche were. If I knew Greek better, I might be able to hazard a guess whether they were men or women, but then I might get myself in trouble for making comments, so maybe it is better this way.

Whoever they were they have been immortalised over some kind of row they were having. Paul calls them out by name and begs them to be of the same mind in the Lord. Something had divided these two believers, and Paul was begging them to sort it out. Divisions in a church spread like cancer. Too often a church is ripped apart at the seams by what started as a personal squabble.

Paul doesn’t go in to a deep theological discussion. He simply tells them to be of one mind in the Lord. I don’t think that ever indicates that any one is going to agree on everything and every little detail. What we can do is to find our commonality in the Lord. It seems to me that Paul is saying – ‘You don’t have to agree on everything, but you do need to have the mind of Christ; and mind of humility and servanthood.”

What would happen to our fights, spats, squabbles, arguments, and rows if we had the mind of Christ in every discussion? What would happen to the importance of our own opinion? Would we need the last word? Would we have to respond? Would we return railing for railing?

Next time we get involved in an argument over something, lets strive to have the mind of Christ and see what happens to the fight.

Lesson from Epaphroditus

Yet I considered it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier, but your messenger and the one who ministered to my need; - Philippians 2v25

I enjoy looking at the ‘minor characters of the Bible. Epaphroditus was one such character. We don’t hear much about him, but what we do hear is encouraging and is a blessing.

There seems to be a very special relationship between Paul and the Philippian believers. Paul had been hearing good reports about the church there, but needed someone to fill in the gaps and share things that could not be communicated in writing (v30) so the church there sent Epaphroditus as a messenger to let Paul know what was going on (v25). Epaphroditus also brought a gift, probably financial from the church (4v18).

Paul gave this man high regard, calling him ‘my brother, my fellow worker, and my fellow soldier.’ He said that Epaphroditus ministered to his needs. What a guy this Epaphroditus must have been! He came to Paul to encourage and lift him, to minister to him, to bring him a gift, and to let Paul know what was going on in the church! What joy must have filled Pail’s heart when he saw Epaphroditus at the door of the rented house where he was under house arrest (Acts 28v16-31).

While he was with Paul, however, Epaphroditus took ill. He became so sick in fact that he nearly died. The believers in Philippi were worried about their dear brother. Even then Epaphroditus’ thoughts were on them because he distressed that they were concerned for him (v26). God spared Epaphroditus’ life and thereby spared Paul ‘sorrow upon sorrow.’

And so we come the passage in question. Because of his concern for the believers there Paul sent Epaphroditus back home to Philippi, probably with this letter. But he sent the letter with in instruction in mind. “Hold men like Epaphroditus in high esteem because he was willing to give up his life in God’s service.” It is interesting here that God’s service was as simple as bringing a church report to Paul.

What sticks out to me in the Epaphroditus story is that everyone cares about everyone. No one cared about themselves. It was all about giving, sharing, and communicating.

Oh that I could be a faithful Epaphroditus – a brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier; ready to minister to the needs of others and more concerned about them than my own life!

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Holding fast

holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain. - Philippians 2v16

I am not an old man, starting to see it on the horizon maybe, but not yet. In my years though I have seen all kinds of ideas, fads, and trends come and go. One recent one was the “Prayer of Jabez” which promised all kinds of success and blessing if you prayed it every day for thirty days. That wasn’t the first one, and there have been other things since.

Even in my conservative Christian circles we have had all kinds of solutions to the challenges of Christian life and ministry. Yet, Paul makes it all very simple. The answer, instead of whinging, complaining, and crying about the situation is to simply hold fast to the word of life. There is nothing else to really hold on to. The word of life refers to the gospel, and all of God’s revelation of His truth in His word. Paul did not have it yet, but today we have the completed word of life in the Bible.

There are times in my life when I was simply ready to quit. Everything that I thought was stable had failed. All the props were knocked out from beneath me. In those days it was God’s word and His word alone that allowed be carry out. There is nothing else worth holding on to.

Holding fast to the word of life allows me to one day rejoice. It allows me to know that my labour, no matter how challenging, was not in vain.

If I am clinging to the word of life, instead of complaining, my race is worth it and my labour is valuable.

Hold fast to the word of life- nothing else is certain. Everything else liable to let us down.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

No complaining

Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, - Philippians 2v14-15

At first glance it seems hard to imagine that God would put such an emphasis on complaining. They key to being blameless, harmless and without fault in the crooked and perverse generation. It is hard to argue with context here, that is what the passage says.

I have to thank a former co-worker named Tim for first bringing this to mind for me. We installed air conditioning systems together in Alabama. As the years went by I enjoyed the friendship and mutual growth in our Christian faith. We had many spiritual discussions. I had been to Bible college, was a little older, and had a little more experience so in most of our conversations I felt like I was speaking from a more mature point of view.

One day, in a particularly dirty and damp crawl space, I was whinging about the dark, the dirt, the bugs, the smell, the difficulty in hanging the ductwork, and so on and so on. Tim asked me to go back out to the truck and get something or other, I complained (again) and Tim replied with “Do all things without murmurings or disputings.” It was a true “touché” moment for Tim, it was done in fun, and it lightened the moment. But it had a longer impact. It got me thinking and it has been there through the years since then.

Why is this big deal? Why would God say that by doing this we will be “blameless and harmless;” that we will be the children of God without fault in this wicked world?

When we murmur and complain are we not saying that God has messed up? Are we not saying that we are not content with what He is doing? Are we not, in essence, saying that we could do a better job?

Only God and we know our hearts. On we know when light hearted bantering becomes complaining and disputing.

If we want to be the blames and harmless Christian God talks about here we need to stop our whinging about what God is doing in our lives. He still knows me, if I complain about it I am usurping His authority.

Friday, 25 July 2008

His good pleasure

for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.
- Philippians 2v13

I received the following in from a friend yesterday. I am going to post the entire anecdote to help illustrate my point today.

Sometimes we wonder, 'What did I do to deserve this?' or 'Why did God have to do this to me?' Here is a wonderful explanation!

A daughter is telling her mother how everything is going wrong: she's failing algebra; her boyfriend broke up with her and her best friend is moving away.

Meanwhile, her Mother is baking a cake and asks her daughter if she would like a snack, and the daughter says, 'Absolutely, Mom, I love your cake.'

'Here, have some cooking oil,' her Mother offers. 'Yuck,' says her daughter.

'How about a couple of raw eggs?' 'Gross, Mom!'

'Would you like some flour then? Or maybe baking soda?' 'Mom, those are all yucky!'

To which the mother replies: 'Yes, all those things seem bad by themselves. But when they are put together in the right way, they make a wonderfully delicious cake!

God works the same way. Many times we wonder why He would let us go through such bad and difficult times. But God knows that when He put these things all in His order, they always work for good! We just have to trust Him and, eventually, they will all make something wonderful!’

Through this passage Paul has been saying that there is an outworking of our salvation. We are to show His salvation in our lives, in ‘fear and trembling’ as Paul puts it. We know straight up that this outworking is not going to be easy, it is going to involve trouble and hard times. Sometimes it is going to seem like raw eggs and cooking oil from our perspective.

Verse 13 should clarify this for us. It is God that is at work in us to carry out His will and fulfil His good pleasure. ‘Good pleasure’ refers to God’s ‘kind satisfaction. Now at first appearance that might appear selfish of God. That is, until we remember something about us. God is love and He loved us so much that He sent His Son to die on the cross for us. We are reminded in Romans that all things work together for good to those who love God and are the called according to His purpose.

God is at work in us to accomplish His will and His good pleasure. Part of His good pleasure is doing good for us. Let’s not taste the raw eggs, cooking oil, and the dry flour. Let’s simply look forward to the cake that He is working out in His will and His good pleasure. At the end of the day He knows far better than us what is good for us.

Praise God for His will and His good pleasure!

Thursday, 24 July 2008

The mind of Christ

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. - Philippians 2v5-7

There are a lot of terms that we hear and use. The phrase “the mind of Christ” is one of those. We often use it in a generic sense, and that is indeed a worthy goal. However context is always vital and the context here clues us in to a key element of the mind of Christ.

Though He was already in the form of God Himself He did not think that was something He had to cling to. He did not need that, because He knew who He was. He was the consummate example of true humility. Instead of clinging on to that position he made Himself of no reputation. He took on the form of a bondslave. He came in the likeness of man.

In this illustration it is clear. Our only desire should be to serve God. Nothing else really matters. Position, prestige, and power are all meaningless if we truly have the mind of Christ. None of those things are things that we should grasp at.

We are to follow where He leads and do what He wants us to do.

A Puritan writer put it this way (found in The Valley of Vision): “May we be alive to every call of duty, accepting without question thy determination of our circumstances and our service.”

The mind of Christ is one that forgets about self and circumstance to serve Him.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Lowliness of mind

Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. - Philippians 2v3

I doubt there is any term less appealing to 21st century western culture than “lowliness of mind.” If you doubt what I am saying head towards Dublin on the N7 one morning during rush hour (adapt to your local big town and the major road leading in) and watch the traffic cutting and jockeying for position. Okay, if you are like me all you have to do is think for a second about your own feelings in that traffic being among the “cutters and jockeys.”

If you have ever seen the 60’s film “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” you have seen a classic picture of selfishness and greed. Four groups of people hear about money hidden in a California state park. The entire film is about the greedy rush to be the first to get the money. No one else matters, nothing else matter, but finding the money.

I don’t know if the writers and producers intended it, but they captured what life is far too often what it is all about. It is all about “every man for himself.” We could reword the verse above this way to describe the film, and life in general. Sadly the phrase too often is adopted by the church and its members. “Let everything be done through selfish ambition and conceit. In haughtiness of mind let each esteem himself better than anyone else!”

Few of us are content to take the back seat or go to the back of the queue. We all like acknowledgement and praise. Too many of us like the prestige of being in charge and being in control. It is a battle that I face on a regular basis. When I go into a situation I want to take over and far too often I really don’t think about who is in the way. Part of that, I have to say, is just basic leadership. But sometimes I have to examine my heart to determine if I do that only because I don’t think anyone else can do it right.

Esteeming others better than ourselves is such a challenge. Putting others first, not just in action and in visible ways, but deep down in out hearts should be our goal. It is more than just getting in the back of the food queue at a church dinner. Esteeming others better than myself means I don’t even think about me. If I am truly esteeming other better than me I don’t even think about doing it. I lead when I need to lead and I follow when I need to follow. I act when I need to act and step aside when I need to step aside.

Can you imagine a body where everyone was putting others first?

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Striving together

Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, - Philippians 1v27

One of the themes of Philippians is joy. Another is unity. Apparently Paul had heard of some petty divisions arising in the church at Philippi. It seems that folks just could not get along with each other.

One thing that breaks my heart is watching the breakdown of Christian relationships and friendships. Some times churches are destroyed over these divisions. We fight over the silliest things, and things that are meaningless all because our stupid pride gets in the way.

Paul uses simple words – “stand fast…one spirit…one mind…striving together…” and all of these words are linked together. If we can’t learn to get along how are we ever going to work together for the faith of the gospel? How are we going to reach the world if we are so busy fighting each other that we can’t move out.

We are never going to move forward when there is infighting in the ranks. The Body of Christ, His church, must be working together for the gospel. None of us are perfect. We all have our flaws, our warts, and our issues. We are never going to agree on all the finer points of doctrine and theology.

Yet, Pauls words should still ring out today – “That you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel!”

Monday, 21 July 2008

Living = Christ

For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. - Philippians 1v21

What is life? The Bible describes it this way, “It is like a vapour that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.” Since our human life is so fleeting and so transitory why do we have such a problem focusing on it instead of eternity? The Bible also instructs us to not look on the visible, temporal things, but instead focus on the invisible.

I think the problem is really simple, and it is a follow on to what we saw yesterday. Paul had determined that Christ would be glorified in His body whether in life, or death, or anything in between. How did he make that determination? What was the key?

Today’s verse is the answer. For Paul life did not equal popularity, prestige, possessions, power, or pride. Life equalled one thing – for Paul to live was Christ and Christ alone. All the rest of living with its work and leisure, good times and bad, ups and downs, and successes and failures was secondary. To Paul life was Christ, pure and simple. The problem too often is that life = me. That’s why we get angry and frustrated. That’s why we get hurt and slighted. If for me to live truly was Christ and not me, then none of this would really matter.

Life = me?
Life = Christ?

Which equation fits our lives? For the believer can there be any living other can Christian living?

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Christ will be magnified in my body

according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. - Philippians 1v20

I am having a challenging time with this passage that I have read, preached about, and heard preached about so many times. Maybe it is the slow summer in the ministry that is giving me time for reflection and contemplation. I don’t know. But as I read through these verses and consider the words I realise that there is a great gap between Paul’s testimony and my own.

One thing mattered to Paul – that Christ be magnified. His desire was that Christ would always be magnified in his life… or even his death. Circumstance and his own standing were meaningless to him. He didn’t care if he was preaching to the believers at Ephesus or sitting in a prison in Rome. All that mattered was that Christ was magnified in his life.

Deep down inside I think we all like a bit of fame and glory. It may to be varying degrees, but we all like to be recognised and acknowledged.

At the end of the day who do we really want to magnified? Is it important that I be magnified or that Christ be magnified? I am weary of circumstances controlling my contentment. I am tired of me displacing Him. I am tired of my magnification displaces His.

Oh that Christ might be magnified in my body, whether by life, or by death, or anything else along the way.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Christ is preached – I rejoice

What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice. - Philippians 1v18

I get convicted a lot when I read and study the word of God. This passage today though hits me like a 2x4 (I am not sure what they are called in this day of metric lumber).

I don’t like it when I am attacked and criticised by other preachers. I don’t like it when men talk behind my back to try and make me look bad. A few months ago I received a letter full of lies and deception. My feelings were hurt, I was angry, and I wanted to “get back at him.”

Sadly, this is not an uncommon occurrence. . I see the same flaw in other men. Attacks and criticism result in retribution and revenge. Christian scandal sheets, once laid somewhat harmlessly on church tables, are now online for all the world to see.

I am not talking about false teachers spreading their heretical false teachings. I am talking about preachers who preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our methods, ideas, and preferences differ – but we all preach the same gospel. Paul points out that some of these guys even preach with the wrong motive, but the gospel is still proclaimed.

I wish I could grasp this better. I think Barnes’ Notes puts it well.

(1) When we are laid aside from preaching by sickness, we should rejoice that others are in health, and are able to make the Saviour known, though we are forgotten.
(2) when we are unpopular and unsuccessful, we should rejoice that others are more popular and successful - for Christ is preached.
(3) when we have rivals, who have better plans than we for doing good, and whose labors are crowned with success, we should not be envious or jealous - for Christ is preached.
(4) when ministers of other denominations preach what we regard as error, and their preaching becomes popular, and is attended with success, we can find occasion to rejoice - for they preach Christ.
In the error we should not, we cannot rejoice; but in the fact that the great truth is held up that Christ died for people, we can always find abundant occasion for joy.

I guess I don’t really get it. But Paul is saying that if Christ is proclaimed he rejoices. There is definitely something I need to learn from this passage.

Friday, 18 July 2008

For the furtherance of he gospel

But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, - Philippians 1v12

Sometimes we think we have it tough, and some people really do. I think it is tough because I have to live in a rented house. I think it is tough when I see my electric bill. I think I have it tough when I pay 1.35 euro a litre ($8.00 a gallon) for petrol. I think I have it tough when I get some discouraging news. I think I have it tough when some one gets sick.

However, some people do have it tough. Like the preacher who was born with no arms and no legs. Like the Christian I saw interviewed who was totally paralysed, but gave constant testimony to his love and devotion to the Lord. Or like Paul, imprisoned in Rome for his faith in Christ. How do these guys do it? How does someone like Joni Erikson Tata continue on faithful in service? Why do others of us get down every time circumstances go the wrong way?

I think Uncle Screwtape has the answer. When he wrote to Wormword he said this regarding humans. “But you must remember that he takes Time for the ultimate reality. He supposes that the Enemy [God}, like himself, sees some things as present, remembering others as past, and anticipate others as future…” The folks in the paragraph above all knew that it is not about the here and now. They knew that there is an Eternity to keep in mind.

Most of us think that “Time is the ultimate reality” even though God lives and works outside of time. We think that God works just like us. Therefore a crisis at the moment draws all of our focus. It captures our attention and we can’t seem to let it go.

In today’s passage Paul provides the change of thinking we need to get out of this trap. “Everything that has happened to me has actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel.” So often we don’t let that happen because when things get tough we focus on ourselves. All that counts are my circumstance at this exact present moment.

May we learn, like Paul, to see every situation as an opportunity for the furtherance of the gospel. May we not swallow the line that “Time is the ultimate reality.” May we see each moment and each circumstance in the light of Eternity.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

The excellent things

that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, - Philippians 1v10

This section of my thoughts is interesting because I am hearing a series Sunday fortnightly out of Philippians. I am having a hard time differentiating between the preacher’s thoughts and mine. (Insert a chuckle here)

I do remember this message a few weeks ago. We were challenged to adopt Paul’s spirit here and approve, or test the things that are excellent. The end result is that is we do that we will be sincere and without offence in our lives.

How does this work? Through years of homeschooling my wife always encouraged our children to aim for 100% on all their work. That way, she said, if they fell short at least they would be closer than they would have been. It is easy to settle for second best. I have had students who were content to settle for a passing grade. The way to be a good student is to always strive for the best.

Paul lets us know that the same truth is applicable for Christian living. The only way to be “sincere and without offence” is to test the excellent things and to strive after them. When we settle for second we are certain to fall short of the best.

We are all in the flesh. We all have to deal with that. We all blow it. But if we are trying out the excellent things instead of the mediocre we are sure to come far closer to achieving the kind of Christian life God expects.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

That love may abound

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, - Philippians 1v9

It is obvious when we read books like Philippians that Paul had a great love for the people he ministered to and with. When we read Philippians we really sense that deep abiding love.

As he mentions the things that he prays for regarding them his first request is that their “love may abound more and more.” He knew the importance of love. He also knew that love was the solution to the problem of divisions in the local church that he will mention later. If love were not abounding, and abounding “more and more,” the issues could never be dealt with.

I don’t know if “disclaimer” is the right word here, but Paul does say something here to balance out this abounding love. He adds to the abounding love the words “in knowledge and discernment.”

The abounding love that Paul talks about here is not silly, careless emotionalism. He is talking about solid Biblical love. This is a love that is based on making a decision to love and then doing so. Love that abounds in knowledge and discernment does not ignore faults, flaws, and sins. This kind of love loves enough to risk hurt feelings and emotions to lovingly correct and chasten. This kind of love is not blinded by emotions.

May our love indeed abound more and more. But may it abound in godly knowledge and discernment.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

My confidence

being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ; - Philippians 1v6

There is a great principle in this passage that I think we can apply to many situations. It is pretty simple – God always finishes what He starts. He does not quit, he does not go back, He does not fail, He always finishes the job.

While this principle can be applied to many situations, here it deal with one thing; our salvation. I know that there are some out there who strongly disagree with me on this one, but it is passages like this that make it so clear to be. God is the author of my salvation. He is the “starter” of it. He is His plan, His work, done by His grace, and it will be carried to fruition by Him and Him alone. If I started it, maybe I could stop it before it is done. But I didn’t. I simple accepted His plan.

The Author of salvation is its Finisher. He who began a good work will complete. Praise His name that He did not leave it contingent on me!

Monday, 14 July 2008

On every remembrance

I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, - Philippians 1v3

Much of our Christian life and behaviour comes down to choices. We choose to obey. We choose to trust. We choose to be content. We choose to follow God’s will. We chose to love. We choose to depend on the Lord. Our choices should not depend on circumstance. When we make these choices, we do so make a choice and by God’s grace stick with it.

Here, I think, we have another choice. Surely Paul did not have a positive memory of every believer in Philippi. People were people then, just as they are now. Not everyone’s personality’s match up with ours. We all have our quirks. Some of us are loud, forceful, and forward. Some of us are quiet, reserved, and retreating. Some of us like the heat and the sun. Some of us like the cold and the wet. Some of us like Chelsea, and some (heaven forbid) like Man United.

Far too often we let these differences get in the way our true fellowship and thanksgiving. Let’s be honest – its hard to give thanks for a Man U supporter J !

Yet, Paul told the church at Philippi that we gave thanks every time he thought about them. Nothing really mattered. Personalities, quirks, preferences, and idiosyncrasies are forgotten about and replaced with thankfulness. In the context of the rest of the book Paul was even thankful for those preachers who were opposing him! That would be even harder than being thankful for that supporter of the football club mentioned above!

Choose thankfulness – sounds easy, but I guarantee we will find some out there that it is hard to be thankful for. You know what – it really doesn’t matter. Let’s choose thankfulness and see how that affects circumstances instead of vice-versa.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Being watchful

praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints - Ephesians 6v18

There is a rather common saying that goes this way – “I’ve got your back.” I think it comes from a military concept of watching out for a fellow soldier as he moves forward. It means that he is safe, from behind at least, as he goes into battle.

There is something to be learned from this. As Christians we need to be sure that we have each other’s backs. As we move forward we need to know that someone is watching out for us. There are a lot of ways we can do that, but the greatest way is what Paul talks about here. In the context of prayer we read, “being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints.”

There is a lot we could talk about here, but I want to focus on that word “watchful.” The word literally means to “not sleep, to be awake.” There is really only one way to truly “watch each other’s backs.” We can physically be there a lot of times for each other. It is nice to be able to literally be there when we need each other. I doubt there is any greater blessing to know that someone can be there for me when I need them.

But that is not always possible. There are times when we just can’t be there. But there is a way that we can always be watchful, there is a way that we can always have each other’s backs.

The one thing we can always do is pray, and the Bible says that prayer is the way that we can truly watch out for each other.

A true soldier would never let someone go into battle and not watch their backs. We can do no less.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Fiery darts

above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. - Ephesians 6v16

Each piece of the armour is worthy of consideration. Each piece is vital. The armour is not effective unless every piece is there. Rather than look at every piece here, since this is only my reflections and not a expository commentary.

In verse 16 Paul says, “above all.” The piece of armour that covers the rest is this shield of faith. When it comes right down to it we always fall back on our faith as our protection. Do we or do we not trust God in every situation?

Satan is not about the let up. He is going to keep firing his darts. This verse does not promise us that the darts ore going to stop. It tells us what to do when the darts just keep coming.

There are times when we get lackadaisical and may lay our shields aside. Whenever we do that the arrows are sure to come. When they come they are sure to hit home. We really can’t afford to lower our shield of faith.

Friday, 11 July 2008

Standing in the evil day

Therefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. - Ephesians 6v13

When is this evil day Paul speaks of? We might be tempted to say that today is the most evil of days, and to an extent there may be some Bible support for that as “evil men and seducers wax worse and worse as we see the day approaching.”

And yet, the 21st century has no monopoly on evil. It only takes a cursory look at history to know that evil has been here all along. Only 150 years ago western nations held fellow humans as chattel. Children were forced into slave-like conditions as they worked 14-16 hours a day in sweatshops. Barbarity and cruelty are part of man’s heritage. We think we have progressed beyond that. Perhaps that is why it is such a shock when news comes out. We also live in a time when very little goes undisclosed.

No matter what, we do live in an evil day. What do we do about it? How have those brave souls who have gone before us survive in the midst of opposition, persecution, torture, and martyrdom? How do we handle the present evil and how will we handle it if we are called on to face the struggles they faced.

We put on the whole armour of God. It is described piece by piece in the following verses. Unless we learn the importance of wearing His armour we stand naked in the battle against “… the wiles of the devil….principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” in this evil day.

God provides us with battle for the armour. We will choose to wear it?

Thursday, 10 July 2008

As to Christ

Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ; - Ephesians 6v5

I have had some interesting jobs through the years. I have been a bin man (garbage man). I have set up mobile homes. I have crawled through muck and mire and worked in attics where the temperature approached 50C to install duct work. I have cleaned toilets. None of these jobs are what we might consider glamour jobs. Does God care about our attitude on jobs like that?

In Ephesians 6 God deals with slaves and their masters. Even though I have never been a slave, these passages still apply. When an employer pays for a day’s work that day is his. He has bought it and paid for it. We have laws to protect worker’s rights, but outside that my employer in a sense owns me for that day’s work. What does God say about how I am to respond? “Be obedient with fear and trembling, with sincerity of heart as to Christ.”

What was that at the very end? “As to Christ?” When I work I am to submit to my employer as I would submit to Christ. That means that whether I am working in an office worker, a bus driver, a school teacher, a mechanic, a high executive in a company, or a toilet cleaner I have a responsibility to obey my employer in the same way that I would obey Christ.

As Christian workers head off to work today we need to remember who our real boss is. Yes, we have an earthly employer, and he is the one we are to submit to. Yet, as we submit to our boss, we are really obeying our Saviour. Obey our bosses with a good attitude, as we would obey Christ.

How about it? Can we go out today and “clean a toilet for Jesus?”

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Provoke not your children to wrath

And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord. - Ephesians 6v4

God has honoured and blessed us with six children and now three wonderful grandchildren (so far). Parenting is one of the most wonderful of our callings. At the same time it is one of our most challenging.

What a responsibility we have. God has entrusted individual souls to us. We get to play a major role in teaching and moulding them. We are entrusted to insure that they are brought up in the “nurture and admonition” of the Lord. The problem is that we start out with no experience. But God does issue us with the perfect handbook.

There is a lot we could talk about here. The Bible is packed full of instructions, but here we have one simple aspect of parenting – “Don’t provoke your children to wrath.” When I first started parenting almost 30 years ago now I don’t think I had any idea what this was talking about. I did the right thing; I read the word of God. I read books on parenting. I started parenting in the late 70’s, still a very much “anything goes” time and I did not want to make that mistake. So I made sure that our eldest son was kept in line. He was, shall we say, precocious. He seemed that he was always in trouble for something, and I, being the dad, always wanted to sort him out. As I look back over these decades I realise how many foolish choices I made. Far too often discipline crossed over into provocation. When I consider now my choices provocation at times may have bordered on cruelty. I never abused my children physically, but I know that I provoked them, especially our eldest, with my words and actions.

Praise God though, we learn and develop. Praise God that He is patient and loving even with parents. Praise God as well for His intervention. God has allowed that oldest son to grow into a true man of God, who is now on his own parenting adventure.

My thoughts today to parents in the early days? Don’t neglect your responsibility to loving correct and discipline. At the same, be careful to avoid the provocation that is so easy to do.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Husbands, love your wives

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her… husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. - Ephesians 5v25-28

I love my wife. I really do. For more than thirty years now she has been my friend, my helpmeet, my companion, my lover, and so much more. I cannot imagine life without. I do love her.

Yet, when I see the standards for love that God lays down I have to wonder how I really do. There are two standards here; love you wife as Christ loved the church and love your wife as you love your own flesh.

That really doesn’t need much expounding, does it. When I consider the love that Christ had for the church I fear that my love pales in comparison. When I consider how much I love myself, I fear that at times even there my love for my wife does not measure up.
I needed today’s challenge. I need it on a regular basis. My love for my wife is not to be compared to how much other men love their wives, but to how much Christ loved the church and how much I love me. To put that in the language of the deep American South – “That’s a whole heap o’ love.”

Monday, 7 July 2008

Submitting to one another

…submitting to one another in the fear of God. - Ephesians 5v21

Paul is about to begin a series on the importance of submission in the body of Christ. He is dealing with specifics of submission amongst believers. Before he gets into the specifics he makes a general statement and it just kind of flows with the rest of the instructions we have been dealing with – “Submitting to one another in the fear of God.”

This concept of submission goes right along the same mindset that is being discussed. Submission to others is a true test of humility. Submission comes, when as C.S. Lewis puts it, we see humility as “self-forgetfulness.” Then we really don’t care about making ourselves look good or bad. We don’t care if we are the most visible or least. We don’t care if we drive the train or shovel the coal. Our whole goal is to just forget about ourselves. Only when we forget about us can we truly submit to each other.

If we think about us at all we will never be able to submit with the right spirit. How do we forget about us? The answer is in the verse – we submit to each other in the fear of God. When we walk in the fear of the Lord we will truly forget about us. Then we can submit to each other.

Submission follows self-forgetfulness. We can have neither until we walk in holy reverence to the Lord.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Giving thanks for all things

giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, - Ephesians 5v20

There can be no doubt that God asks us to have a “gratitude attitude.” I have heard some preachers say, from I Thessalonians, that we are to give thanks “in” everything. They often say, “We need to give thanks in everything. It doesn’t say that we are to give thanks for everything.” That may be true in I Thessalonians, but here it could not be clearer – “Giving thanks for all things.”

But how do we do that? How do we give thanks for everything that comes our way? How do we give thanks when we struggle and struggle with our sin? How do we give thanks when everything goes bottom up? How do we give thanks when we struggle with paying our bills? How do we give thanks when we continue to meet unfulfilled expectations? How do we give thanks when crisis and disaster come?

The list could go on and on and everyone reading this could add to it. The question remains – how do we do it?

I wish I could say I had it all figured out. I wish I could say that I can give thanks for everything that comes my way. I think if we could ever grasp two key thoughts we might be on our way. First, God is in control of every situation we face. Second, God loves us. As simple as those may sound, if we really applied them then thanksgiving would come naturally. If I really believe that His, the One who is love and Who loves me is in control, then whatever comes my way comes with the knowledge of He who loves me. I will never understand it all, but I am not God. I cannot love as He loves, I don’t even know the next minute, much less the whole future.

Perhaps thanksgiving is the ultimate test of faith in Him.

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Singing and making melody

And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, - Ephesians 5v18-19

I sometimes wish I knew more about music. I do love music. I love listening to it, and much to the chagrin of those around me, I enjoy singing. I just don’t know a whole lot about it. A semester seminary course on song leading in 1980 is the extent of it.

God obviously cares about music. So much, in fact, that the first thing he talks about when He says “Be filled with the Spirit,” is music. “Speaking to each other in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs.” It is clear that God supports a variety of music, and that it is a part of being filled with the Spirit. I don’t know enough about music to talk about musical styles, so I want to go on to the next phrase.

“Singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” We are musical beings and God wants us to use that to glorify him. There needs to be a “heart’s song” in each of us. It is the heart’s song that leads us to truly worship him. It is easy to join along in sing in church. Anybody can do that. Even the lost can look in the hymnal or on the screen to follow along with the song leader.

God says for us to be singing, and also making melody in our hearts. This phrase “making melody” means, literally, to “pluck strings.” If we are filled with this Spirit His song hill our lives and He pluck the strings of our heart. When that happens the most natural thing will be for that heart’s song to be seen in our lives. If the Spirit’s fullness controls us our heart’s song will always be to the Lord.

While we are singing the wonderful songs of the faith, lets us take time to look inside ourselves to see what the songs and melodies of our hearts reveal.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Redeeming the time

…redeeming the time, because the days are evil. - Ephesians 5v16

I love Christian biographies. I enjoy reading about God’s faithful servants. Most of the time we discover that they are people just like us. God used them simply because they were faithful. From these books we often find encouragement about how to make it through the tough times, and also how to survive the good times.

Sometimes we read of men and women have broken their lives and bodies in God’s service. Some of them “wear themselves out for the Lord.” Sometimes this is portrayed as a good thing. I am not so sure; there are plenty of examples in the word of God encouraging rest and taking care of our bodies. God gave us bodies to serve Him, I am not sure it is good to break those bodies in His service.

However, that is not the problem for most of us, at least not for me. I only had to read three words this morning – “redeeming the time,” before I was convicted. We are in the middle of a very busy week. Our Kids Klub Kamp and teen Colour Clash make for a tiring time. This the culmination of our church year and things will slow down in the ministry after this. If I am not careful I can use the restful and quiet time in a wasteful manner and not redeem these days.

Is God opposed to quiet times in His work? No, I think that is clear. But does He want us redeeming the time, even in quiet times? I don’t think we can neglect the fact that our time is precious, we live in evil days. We really can’t afford to waste the time He gives us, even the restful and quiet times. Restful need not mean wasteful.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Walking circumspectly

See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, - Ephesians 5v15

In “The Screwtape Letters” Uncle Screwtape, a senior demon, writes letters of instruction to Wormword, a young demon on an early assignment. I am reading this book for the first time in many years and am amazed at the insight of C.S. Lewis.

In one letter Wormword is exalting in the fact that his charge is losing his fervour for spiritual matters. Screwtape writes to warn him about certain things he needs to do to ensure that it continues. There is so much in that letter that I could talk about here, but one that really sticks out is this advice – “Keep his mind off the plain antithesis between the True and the False. Nice, shadowy expression – it is a phase…” Screwtape knew that if Wormwood could just distract his charge’s focus from the truth, and focus it on some “phase” we was going through the battle would be won.

Screwtape would hate this passage of the scripture (though indeed, he hated it all), for if someone could point Wormwood’s “patient” (the sneaky word Screwtape used) to this passage the patient would be aware of Satan’s ploys.

“Walk circumspectly,” Paul writes. “Keep looking around. Don’t allow you focus to be distracted. In this letter the patient was discouraged in his faith. Screwtape told Wormword to make sure that he does not look back into the scriptures. He wants him to think lightly of his problems, that they are not that big a deal.

I use this today, partly because I am reading the book again, but also because there is a clear warning for us. Sometimes we get so focused on what we are doing, even if it is a good thing, that we forget to look around. We forget the wily tricks of the devil. We must always be aware of the danger around us, in good times and in bad.

Keep ourr eyes open. Always be on our guard. Don’t let Wormwood and his Uncle Screwtape blindside us with their tricks.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

In all goodness

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), - Ephesians 5v8-9

There can be no doubt that we must live a whole different life that we lived. So different in fact that God compares it to light and darkness. The old life and the new life are literally as different as night and day.

Before salvation we walked in all those sins listed previously. That was our nature; we walked as children of darkness. Now we are to walk as children of light. Paul summarises that “walk as children of light” with this – “The fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth.”

I only want to look at one little aspect this morning. We read and study a lot about righteousness and truth, but we rarely have a Bible study on what it means to be “good.” Those who truly walk in the light are going to be good. Goodness is part of our new nature. Goodness is not comparative here as in “good, better, best,” but in the very nature of being a good man. It is possible to be great (in the eyes of men) without being truly good.

There is a little word here just before “goodness” and that is “all.” We are charged to walk in “all goodness.” If I could step aside from myself and examine my own life I wonder how much “goodness” there is to be seen.

I want to try and watch me and see how much true “goodness” there is to be seen.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Not even be named among you

But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. - Ephesians 5v3-4

What suits Christians? How should we act? What things “fit” us? While we are free from the Law there are still things that God says to us that help us live the way He wants us to live. The context here is still about imitating God. If we want to imitate God there are many things that don’t suit us.

There is a short list here; fornication, uncleanness, covetousness, filthiness, foolish talking, and coarse jesting. God says some things about these. They are not fitting in the life of the believer, they are no convenient, and they are not even to be named among believers. I don’t know enough Greek to know the superior translation, but I really like the way the AV translates this passage regarding these things – “let it not be once named among you.” These things should never be named among us, not even once.

We might be able to say, “Well fornication, uncleanness, and filthiness are not part of my life.” Super! But what about the rest? What about covetousness? What about foolish talking? What about coarse jesting? I don’t think we need to define those terms, we all know what they mean.

In this list there is not a break down of which of these are worse or better. None of these things suit God’s children. None of them belong in our lives – not even once.