Thursday, August 16, 2018

Who Is Jesus Really?

The Supremacy of the Son of God

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
We can see as we move into the book of Colossians that in his first chapter Paul wants to clarify who the person of Christ really is.  Specifically he is dealing with some heresy in the church that taught that Jesus was only a man, but not really God. You can see in the above paragraph the many qualities Paul attributes to Jesus being fully divine. Such as:
1. He is the image of the invisible God.  We call this the "incarnation", or God made flesh. 
2. In Him all things were created in heaven and on earth.  Jesus was present at the Creation of the world, as the pre-existent Word of God.  
3. God was pleased to have all of fullness dwell in him.  Jesus didn't have just part of God, but all of Him.  There was nothing about God or His power that Jesus did not possess as a part of who He was.  
4. Jesus is the head of the church.  Since Jesus is now at the right hand of God, all things come under Jesus' headship.  Meaning Jesus has control over all things related to the church, and how God is reconciling the world through Him. 
Sometimes we forget how powerful Jesus was and is.  He is Creator, Lord and Savior.  This is the Jesus that calls us "friend" and reached out to us while we were yet sinners.  And the most incredible thing is that we are now "in Christ".  This is a phrase Paul is very fond of and uses quite often.  The idea is that Jesus lives in us through the power of the Holy Spirit.  When you realize all of the qualities Jesus possesses and realize He lives in you, you can see how much power you have at your disposal. 
But often times we do not recognize or live under this power He has given to us through His Spirit.  I think if we did, we would live more powerfully, as Paul did.  Remember that as St. John said, "Greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world." 

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Paul's Antidote to Anxiety!

Philippians 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God,which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

This is a classic verse and a good one to memorize.  One thing most everyone experiences on a daily basis is anxiety.  And often anxiety can lead to depression.  Anxiety comes from an expected negative outcome that feels out of our control.  Anxiety can be very debilitating.  Paul's antidote to anxiety is prayer.  

Notice Paul says, "Don't be anxious about anything".  This is not a suggestion but a command.  Then Paul says, "But in every situation in petition and prayer present your requests to God."  Note Paul says "every situation". Sometimes we think we can only come to God when we are at the end of our rope, but Paul admonishes us to take all of our anxiety producing concerns to God.  Paul says to present your requests to God with thanksgiving.  What does this mean?

When we pray it is good to give thanks for what we already have.  Being thankful about how God has already provided for you will help you to trust that God will be faithful to provide for all of your needs.  Finally, Paul gives an incredible promise which is an outcome of giving God our anxieties through prayer.

Paul states, "A peace which passes all understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."  The peace Paul is talking about comes directly from Christ.  It is the peace the Resurrected Jesus gave to his disciples when he said, "My peace I give you, not as the world gives."  Jesus' peace comes to us in spite of our circumstances.  It is beyond our understanding, because it doesn't make sense how we can be at peace when stress is surrounding us.  This is promise God makes through Christ, and God always keeps His promises. 

I have found that whatever I am going through, if I take it to the Lord in prayer, I always come out more at peace.  If nothing else I know Jesus is with me as I go through the trial.  

The great old hymn, "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" says, "Oh the peace we often forfeit because we do not take it to the Lord in prayer."

Are you facing anxiety today? Don't forfeit the peace Jesus promised you.  Take it to the Lord in prayer!

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Go For the Prize!

Philippians 3:12 "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."

Many of us set goals in our lives to accomplish things that are important to us.  Examples are: running a marathon, finishing a field of study, earning a degree, raising healthy children, losing weight etc..  

But one thing is for sure, if we don't set goals we will not achieve the things we want to accomplish.  Once we have a goal, we need a plan to map out the steps necessary to reach our goal.  Without a plan to achieve our goal it is more like a "pipe dream".  Finally, unless we work the plan we have little to no likelihood of reaching our goal.  

Paul's goal was to become like Jesus Christ.  He knew he was not Jesus, but wanted to become like him in this life, as he prepared to meet Jesus in the next life.  Paul had skeletons in his closest like all of us. He persecuted and even supervised the killing of Christians.  He was prideful of all of his accomplishments and pedigree as a religious Jew, Pharisee who was from the tribe of Benjamin.  But when he met Jesus he realizes it is all "rubbish" compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ.  

So Paul realizes since the things he used to live for had no eternal value, he forgot what was behind him and gave his all for what lie ahead.  Paul says his goal was to win the "prize".  This is a word used for a winner of the Greek races.  It was a wreath that went around the winner's head.  Paul translates this is into the goal of becoming like Christ until God called him home to win the ultimate prize eternal life with Him.

Earthly goals if they are the right ones have value in this life, but the most important goal we have if we are a Christ follower is to become more and more like Jesus.  Importantly this means forgetting what lies behind of us and straining forward to what is ahead of us.  There is no use in looking in the rear view mirror.  Jesus has a great future as we focus on him and run to the win the prize that he has purchased for us in heaven.  Let's go for it!

Thursday, August 9, 2018

What Does It Mean to Work Out Your Salvation?

Philippians 2:12-13 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

Whenever Paul says "therefore" he is moving toward an application of the text.  In this case Paul is admonishing them to a life of humility and putting others interests ahead of themselves.  Their model is Jesus who did not not count equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself and became a servant unto death on a cross.  The word "servant" comes from the Greek word "doulos" which means "bondservant".  It is also translated "slave", though this word is not used much anymore because of the association with modern day slavery.  But the term basically means, "Someone has given up their rights to serve someone else."  As a Christian, we are called to serve Jesus which is what it means to be a follower of Christ. Where are "Christ-ians", which means "little Christs".  

In today's passage, Paul uses the phrase, "Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling".  Many people confuse this to mean that one needs to do good works to be saved.  Paul would never teach this and it is completely opposite of everything he teaches to all the churches in the rest of his letters.  So what does it mean then?

To work out your salvation means you already have it.  You are saved because of what Jesus did for you and your faith in it.  But once you are saved, it doesn't mean you have no role in living out what it means to be saved.  The word "saved" means to be "redeemed" or "delivered".  In our case we have been delivered from sin, death and the power of the devil. So since we are now freed from these powers that used to rule us, we can use our power in Christ to serve our neighbor.  Makes sense right?  

Jesus showed us what God is like, as he completely lived out his life in service.  You will never see Jesus putting his own interests above those around him.  Jesus was never selfish, boastful or prideful.  Ultimately he showed the full extent of his love by dying for us. The ultimate act of service and sacrifice. 

So Paul says now that you are saved, live out your salvation intentionally knowing how important it is to offer your life back to God.  Live in the freedom you have to serve and give yourselves to one another.  Finally, Paul says, "For it is God who works in you to will and act according to his good purpose." So even as we live out our salvation is it God working in us through the power of the Holy Spirit.  

Where is God calling you to be a servant today? Where is he calling you to be humble and consider others' interests as better than your own?  Maybe it is at home,  with a friend, or at work!  Go be a Christ-ian.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Paul's Two Simple Goals!

Philippians 1:21-26 "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me."

Today we begin Paul's letter to the Philippians.  Paul received a very specific call from the Lord through the "Macedonian" man to come across the ocean to Greece.  The church at Philippi started through a woman named Lydia, who was a purple cloth dealer that met with a prayer group down by the river. Lydia invited her into her home and she and her house were baptized. The church started and grew rapidly and became a church that Paul was very fond of.  

We see Paul's affection for them in chapter 1 when he says,"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."

We also know Paul was likely in prison when he wrote to them. Paul shares with them the secret of being content in all situations.  He concludes, "For me to live is Christ and to die is gain."  He is content because his desire is to be with Christ so he is not afraid to die.  But he also sees the fruit being borne through his ministry as evidenced by the growth of the Philippian church.  

At the end of the day Paul's concern for his favorite church is greater than his desire to be with Christ.  Remember Paul has many other churches he is overseeing.  Paul shows us what a person looks like that has really simplified his life.  If he lives he serves Christ and helps build the church.  If he dies he gets to be with His Lord.  

I wonder if we could say these words?  Let's look at Paul's life. One, Paul has developed such a personal relationship with God through Christ. He can't wait to realize the goal of His faith to be with Christ.  Secondly, Paul has so given himself to the work of Christ, that his ultimate joy on earth is the see the fruit of the seeds he and others have sowed for the gospel.  He is a great example for us to follow and strive to have his single minded focus.  

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Where is the Best Place to Find Parenting Advice?

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise—“so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”[a]
Fathers,[b] do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
As Paul concludes his letter to the Ephesians, he gets very practical. First, he talks about the relationship between parents and their children.  It is interesting that Paul feels this is so important 2,000 years ago, and we know it is no less important today.  As a parent of two children 15 and 11, I know how difficult it is to teach kids' discipline.  Our culture has taught kids to be entitled and respect for parents has dwindled.  Parenting in a single parent family is even harder. Here were a couple of quotes I found helpful:  
"It is essential that a parent teach the child obedience, so that the child will grow up knowing how to obey God even when he doesn’t understand everything or doesn’t want to." (Guzik)
"When the bonds of family life break up, when respect for parents fails, the community becomes decadent and will not live long.” (Foulkes)
In our culture the word "discipline" has taken on a bad name.  The very thing kids need is often miscontrued and watered down.  And the great thing about Paul's reiteration of the 4th commandment is that it is the only commandment with a promise attached to it.  He tells children and youth that as they honor their parents, "it will go well with them all of their days".  I have seen this time and time again that successful people have had a good relationship with their parents. 
Finally, parents are given an admonition as well.  Paul says, "Don't exasperate your children but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord." Though we need to discipline our children it should not be excessive or overly rigid.  Kids need grace and while there is the need for law/rules, there is also room for needed grace.  Remember grace is not getting what you deserve, and we all need it! Where would be without it?
Paul says to bring your children up in the training and instruction of the Lord. What does that mean?  It means that parents are the primary faith mentors for their kids.  Your kids will learn what faith in Christ is all about by watching you.  While you will never be perfect, you need to intentionally model the Christian lifestyle for your kids.  For example, if you never go to church what is that teaching your kids?  It is teaching them that worshipping God on a regular basis is not important or a convenient option.  What do you think will happen when they get out of your household?  
This passage is not preached enough.  As a parent I need help, but I also need to obey Paul's commandment.  After all isn't the bible the best place to find parenting advice?

Friday, August 3, 2018

What Kind of Lifestyle Should a Christian Strive For?

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children
 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.[a] Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.

Paul continues to move toward a practical application of what it means to live a Christian life.  Ephesus was a commerical city filled with lots of temptation and immorality.  Paul knew these new Christians would be tempted to fall back into old patterns.  Paul says our life is a response to Jesus love for us as he gave his life as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.  As such our lives should also be an offering back to God.
At the top of the list is sexual immorality, and other things related to it like improper or impure conversation, and coarse joking.  This would also include the language we use. Ie.  Obscenities and crude humor.  Of course none of us are perfect in this area and often fall, but it is a good reminder that just because we are saved by grace it does not mean we can act any way we want.  Our lifestyle is a reflection of the God we serve and the Jesus we purport to follow.  If our life is ruled by these type of things we don't reflect the God we praise, or the Savior who died for us.
Paul is so serious about us that he says, "No immoral person or idolater has any inheritance in the kingdom of heaven of Christ and God." Does this mean someone who indulges in these types of sins can't go to heaven? I believe Paul is saying that someone whose lifestyle is filled with these things doesn't show themselves to be a child of God.  Does this mean they aren't saved?  Only God knows.  But what about a Christian who engages in immorality?  Like any other sin we are called to repent of it and return to God.  We may struggle our whole life with particular types of sin, but we need to be careful our hearts don't become calloused and insenstive to the Holy Spirit's conviction of our sin.  
The bottom line is a believer is to move toward Christian maturity in the power of the Holy Spirit, our only hope for leading a holy life.  Our lives should increasingly grow more dependent on Christ and his grace, which leads to freedom to serve God and avoid immorality.  Though we will struggle with sin our whole lives and never become perfect until we go to heaven, we should still strive to lead our lives to try and please God and following Christ's example.