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Lean on Me… December 19, 2014

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Philippians.
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“Only, live as a citizen worthy of the Gospel of Christ, in order that if in coming and seeing you or in being absent, I might hear in regards to you that you are standing in one spirit — of one life, struggling along in the faith of the Gospel.”

(Philippians 1:27)

There are few things more gratifying than seeing a person that you have mentored in the faith growing on his or her own and flourishing in the faith. And, in this case, it is not just an individual, but a church. Indeed, there are many who participate together in this process, for it is one who plants, another who waters, and God gives the growth (1 Corinthians 3:5-9), so often we are not privileged to see the fruit of our labors while we are still alive on this earth…it is about God’s glory and not our own, nevertheless, when God graces us with the privilege of seeing that fruit, it is a rich blessing indeed…and even if not in seeing, but in hearing, again, there is much joy in seeing the fruit develop that you have been privileged to care for.

Thus, it is Paul’s desire to see or hear of the Christians in Philippi being of one spirit and struggling together as one to live out the faith of the Gospel. And the reality is, living out a genuine faith, whether in times of persecution or not, is challenging. All too often Christians seek to live out their faith as individuals standing alone rather than as individuals who are part of a Christian body. All too often, for fear of embarrassment, Christians turn down the help of their brothers and sisters in faith who would be more than willing to walk alongside of them during times of trial…like the old pop song, goes: “Lean on me, when you’re not strong, and I’ll be a friend, help you to carry on…” That should be the mantra and expectation of life in the Christian church. To what end? To the end that we walk in spiritual strength and the sins that so often cause us to stumble and fall, do not plague our lives any longer.

What is More Needful…Glorying in God’s Work! December 18, 2014

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Philippians.
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“In order that your glory might abound in Christ by me, as a result of my returning again to you.”

(Philippians 1:26)

I wonder whether we genuinely rejoice in God because of the spiritual mentors that God has placed in our lives. Often we can remember the baseball coach or the Scoutmaster that helped us grow or achieve excellence in a particular area, but what of our pastors, our Sunday School teachers, and those other people that God has placed in the community around us that have pointed our minds and hearts towards heaven?

Paul is not making this statement because he is prideful or because he desires to “bask in the glory” of what he has worked in the lives of the Philippians. He says that it is more needful for them that he return so that they can celebrate what God has done in their lives through him. Why is it more needful? I believe that again the answer lies in the relationship that Paul had with those in this church. He had guided and mentored them and they were engaged in his ongoing ministry not only through financial gifts but more importantly, through prayer. As the writer of Hebrews sets forth, we are to remember those in prison as well as though we are in prison with them for we are one body (Hebrews 13:3). Thus, Paul’s release would be a kind of release for them as well and they would be able to celebrate the answered prayers that they had lifted up.

Obviously, God does not answer all of our prayers in the ways that we would like or expect them to be answered, nevertheless, God is Good. The question that then we must raise is not whether or not God answers as we would like — He is God, we are not, such then is not purview — but to ask ourselves, are we so invested in our missionaries and our mentors in prayer that we would glory in God for what God has done through those we have sent off or through those who have cared for our spiritual needs? All too often, we are selfish and when we fall into selfishness, we fail to recognize that often our greatest need is to celebrate that which God is doing in another part of the body of Christ.

So, what is the doctor’s remedy for our selfishness? There are two parts. First, find someone who has mentored you spiritually and thank them. Trust me, it will mean a great deal. Second, find a missionary or a ministry that you or your congregation has supported that is healthy and growing and celebrate it to the glory of Christ. Take pleasure in what God is doing in the life of others even if he is not doing the same kind of work in your life…right now at least.

Evangelism and Discipleship: And/Both not Either/Or December 15, 2014

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“Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and stay on with all of you for your advancement and joy of the faith.”
(Philippians 1:25)

Here is a significant idea that is often missed in the life of the church and even of believers. We have been impressed so strongly with the call to evangelize (an essential idea) that we often forget that we are also called to disciple (another essential idea). How often we spend all our efforts on evangelism and then forget that evangelism is only the first step of a life-long process. It is interesting, while evangelism should include a relationship, it does not require a relationship to be present (the Holy Spirit is awakening the person to faith and belief anyway!). But for discipleship to happen, relationships are required. I wonder if people don’t engage in discipleship because they are afraid of committing the time or transparency that a genuine relationship requires. It is easy to stay busy and by doing so, keep people at arm’s distance. It is entirely a different thing to engage with people in meaningful ways over a long period of time…yet that is to what we are called.

And for Paul, as he contemplates God’s design for him, he recognizes that the growth of the people of Philippi in their faith is far more important than his personal comfort and satisfaction of leaving life in this fallen world and being present with Christ eternally. Thus, convinced of their need for him, he is convinced that God’s design is that he stay on to serve as a “discipler” for their good. Were we only to take a similar mindset toward one another. Were our churches, even, to emphasize discipleship as we ought and were our church members to value being discipled as we all ought, how different a culture we would live in today! Yet, culture is transient and thus can be changed if we begin at home and change how we approach the idea of “being disciples” and discipling others. May Paul’s mindset here be our own…and all to the glory of Christ.

Preferences and Desires December 11, 2014

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Philippians.
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“Now, I am absorbed by the two. The longing I have is to depart and be with Christ for that is much more preferable; but to remain in the flesh is more needful on your account.”

(Philippians 1:23-24)

This is one of the major themes of the book of Philippians…considering the needs of others as more significant than the desires of oneself. We will see this idea developed more fully in chapter 2, but it is scattered throughout the theme of this letter. Such was the mindset of Christ, was the mindset of Paul, and is meant to be our mindset as well. I earnestly believe that the great majority of our conflicts…whether marital or in social settings…stem back to pride and selfishness…we want our way and what we desire and the needs of others are seen as secondary. If we could genuinely say with the Apostle Paul, “I would rather, but you need this more…” then I suggest that the vast majority of our conflicts would be resolved very differently than they are resolved now.

Paul begins these verses with the reflection that his mind is absorbed by these two things that are before him…he is not entirely sure what is going to take place next. He is pondering God’s direction. He goes on to assert his longing to be with Christ. He has had a long ministry that was filled with great triumphs but also with great hardships — just read 2 Corinthians 11 to put the hardships in perspective — Paul is waiting to complete his race. At the same time, he recognizes that the timing of that race’s completion is in God’s hands, not his own. He also is aware that there is still need that he continue to labor for the good of the church that is in its infancy around him. Thus, he recognizes the need for that which is preferable to be placed on hold so that what is necessary can be done. Fruitful labor will be God’s choice for Paul’s life, and though he desires to depart, what we see in this saint is that he will change his desires to align them with God’s desires.

And this is the lesson we must learn ourselves. Often, when God leads us into a new area of our lives or opens a door to minister to others, we may go through and do so begrudgingly. Often, we even say, “Yes, I would have much rather done something different, but God led me here.” While that statement may be true (at least at the outset), as Christians, we must not allow that statement to remain true for us. A big part of following God is that of taking our desires and aligning our desires with God’s desires. We should learn to desire what God desires and when God shows you his design, you should re-align your desires along the path that he reveals. I won’t suggest that is an easy task, but I will put forth that in Christ it is possible.

Thus, as you go forward this day, keep this model of the Apostle Paul in front of you. Seek to give priority to the needs of others around you rather than your own preferences and then seek to find your joy and desire in the things God would have you set them in…not in those things you prefer. And in doing so, see what God does through and in you.

Making God’s Desires Our Own December 10, 2014

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Philippians.
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“And, if I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful work for me, but which I will choose, I do not know.”

(Philippians 1:22)

Here is the simple message of the Christ-focused life. God gives us work to do; we must do so to His glory and by reflecting the fruit of the Spirit. How often we live lives that are marked by distraction. How often we live our lives focused on ourselves, our reputations, our goals, and our own ends, not on the glory of God. How different our lives would look, would they not, if we to embrace and pursue Christ instead of self.

The idea of “choosing” in the Greek is rooted in the notion of that which is more desirable for our lives. In a world where different schools of theology debate the nature of human free-will, people sometimes excitedly declare, from a passage like this, “Look! The Apostle Paul is affirming his absolute freedom of will when he speaks of choosing one over the other.” As a Calvinist, my response is to say, “Look at the text.” Paul is speaking about life and death — yet, scripture also teaches that God numbers our days (Job 14:5; Psalm 139:16), surely Paul understands that there is nothing that he can do to even add an hour to his life (Matthew 6:27). So how is it that we are to understand the “choosing”?

To begin with, though God is sovereign, we are not unthinking robots. We make real decisions in a way that is relatively free…at least free in the sense that our decisions are consistent with our character. Note, God’s freedom is constrained by his character as well (he cannot lie, sin, cease to be God, etc…), so this notion of our freedom constrained by character should not throw us much.

So, by Paul’s character, what is it that he will choose? What will be most desirable for him? We have just spent verse after verse seeing the intensity of Paul’s focus on the glory of God. What Paul wants, what he desires more than anything, is exactly what God wants for him. And this Paul does not yet know. Will he soon die or will he live? He will speculate some in the verses that follow, but above all else, he wants his desires to be aligned perfectly with the desires of God himself. Everything else is secondary.

What a remarkable model for us to follow. How different our culture would be if Christians were committed to God above all else. In a world where pluralism has crept into many people’s theology, how different our churches would be if everyone would be as committed to the scriptures and their authority in life as the Apostle Paul presents himself. Jesus said that if you love me you will obey me (John 14:15)…that means not only obeying the commandments that we like, feel comfortable with, or are acceptable in the community around us, but all. That means embracing not only the parts of scripture that you appreciate or happen to agree with, but all of the scriptures as one unified book of God. As Paul will later write, they are “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16).

Let us throw to the wind our hinderances and pursue Christ. May we love him in every sense of the term and serve him. And may our desires for our life be found to be in tune with God’s desires for us…not just in some things, but in all areas of life and thought.

“Take my life and let it be,

Consecrated, Lord to thee,

Take my moments and my days,

Let them flow in endless praise.

Take my will and make it Thine,

It shall be no longer mine.

Take my heart, it is Thine own,

It shall by thy Royal Throne.

Take my love, my Lord, I pour

At Thy feet its treasure store,

Take myself and I will be,

Ever, Only, All for Thee.”

-Francis Havergal

Live for Christ and Him Alone! December 04, 2014

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Philippians.
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“For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

(Philippians 1:21)

“In the event of my death, celebrate.” You know, as a pastor, I spend a lot of time with people who are sick and dying and very rarely do I come across a person who is genuinely excited about their impending death…especially when the person dying is younger, at least in a relative sense. We have become accustomed to speak about heavenly things with anticipation but when we face the reality of heavenly things, it seems that we cling to earthly things with vigor…just the opposite of our Lord who did not heaven as something to be clung to but abased himself and became man. While we affirm intellectually that heaven is a far better place for us than earth, our hearts don’t often embrace that intellectual reality.

I believe that our problem with genuinely embracing the second half of this statement stems from our problem with embracing the first half of the statement, for until you become so focused that everything you do in this life is for Christ and to His honor, then the thought of ending those labors here, where we do things imperfectly, and beginning them in glory, where we will do things perfectly, just does not resonate with us. Yet, for Paul, this mindset — that all I do is for Christ — is the only way to live…or die.

As people, particularly in the western world, we have become jaded, self-centered, prideful, narcissistic, greedy, sensualistic, and focused on personal gain. Life, we are often taught, is about what I can achieve, accumulate, and experience. Those things that do not meet our personal “needs” are cast to the side as unnecessary and irrelevant. Striving for virtue has been replaced with striving for vainglory and “Self” has become the Baal and the Ashtoreth of our generation. And, as a result, the culture is collapsing all around our ears.

The solution: Christ and Christ alone! Living for Christ in all things puts the things of this world in their eternal perspective and shows them to be the pale and fleeting things that they really are. Living for Christ and seeing His glory in all things is also the corrective to our view on death. For the believer, indeed, our death is gain, for it is being ushered into the presence of our risen Lord. Yet, we also long to hear the words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” For that we must embrace a life that is lived not for self and selfish things, but for Christ and for Christ alone. Then again, for whom better can we live?

Mountaintop Thoughts December 02, 2014

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Philippians.
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“according to my eager expectation and hope that in nothing will I be ashamed, but to be outspoken in all things, now and always, that Christ would be magnified in my body — whether through life or through death.”

(Philippians 1:20)

Paul begins this verse with a fascinating word: ajpokaradoki/a (apokaradokia). We tend to translate the term as “eager expectation” when rendering it in English. Literally, the term means, “thoughts from the pinnacle). Perhaps the closest idea to that in the English vernacular is that we talk about “mountain top” experiences as being the best and most wonderful experiences of our lives. Well, imagine that Paul is talking about “mountaintop thoughts” as a parallel idea and you will find yourself getting very close to the meaning of this term. What makes this term particularly fascinating is that in ancient literature, it is only found within Christian writings…or perhaps I could present it this way, within Christianity alone can you find the basis for an eager expectancy, for a mountain-top thought.

Our thoughts are wonderful things. They transport us out of our circumstances and remind us that there are better things that await. Our thoughts, when grounded in the promises of God’s word, are often a corrective to our feelings and our fears…those things that often haunt us at night when no one else is around. And when we rest our thoughts in God and in his glory, we are able to face both life and death with boldness and confidence. As we read through this letter together, make a special note about how much emphasis Paul places upon his thinking and thoughts; in the world we live in, one that spends most of its time talking about feelings, you might be surprised at how often Paul focuses on thought and reason.

And thus, as he thinks expectantly toward the promise of Christ’s glory after death, Paul’s prayer and hope (understanding that hope, too, incorporates the idea of confident expectation) is that he will do nothing that would dishonor his Lord…even in suffering…so that Christ is magnified in his body at all times and in every way. Oh, how our world would be different were every Christian to embrace such a mindset in life. May it be that we all strive toward that end.

Jesus is God! December 01, 2014

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Philippians.
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“For I know that this will turn out for my salvation through your supplications and through the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ,”

(Philippians 1:19)

The confidence of Paul in the prayers of the Saints and the strength of the Spirit should not surprise us much as we arrive here in verse 19. Indeed, as Christians, how we rely on the prayers of others. That said, I wonder whether we genuinely pray and make supplications to the Lord on behalf of those who are in distress, in chains, or just in ministry…the leadership of the church that we make wise and Godly decisions when such are set before us.

What is quite significant, though, about this verse is Paul’s use of the phrase, “the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” This is the only spot in the Bible where the Spirit is spoken of in this way. We find the phrase, “The Spirit of God,” often enough (25 times), but this is something that stands out, though it should not give us pause. The reality is that Jesus is God and thus it is a natural linguistic transition to make from saying “the Spirit of God” to “the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” At the same time, this verse does provide us with an apologetic reminder that Jesus Christ is fully God. We live in a day and an age where many are trying to make less of Jesus than he is, making him look to be some sort of demigod or divine human, seeing him as created and not part of the Triune Godhead. Here, Paul would seem to refute such an idea, reminding us that the Holy Spirit is just as much connected with the Son as he is with the Father.

But also make note of the language applied to the Spirit here…it is the Spirit who strengthens, who provides for Paul, who fortifies him in his time of need. How we need to be reminded sometimes that we do not do things in our own strength as believers, but what we do we must do in reliance on the strength of the Holy Spirit. He empowers, we bring nothing to the table other than obedience…and that is something the Spirit works in us as well. There is no room for personal pride, folks, only pride in our Savior, Christ Jesus.

In What Will You Rejoice? November 27, 2014

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“What then? But that in every manner, either with a pretext or in truth, Christ is being declared and in this I rejoice…but rather, I rejoice!”

(Philippians 1:18)

Here you go…this is the mindset that we are talking about…here is a man who is focused on the goal above all else…he is focused on Christ and upon Christ’s glory. How easy it is for us to lose sight of this. Paul is saying, look, folks, there are lots of people who are preaching Christ to gain attention, to gain favors, to gain a reputation for themselves, and even to cause me distress…but Christ is still being proclaimed!

Loved ones, do you see what it is that Paul is saying here? It is easy for us to decry bad denominations and self-serving preachers…and there is a time and a place to do that (see Paul’s language in Galatians!), but at the same time, there are often people who are being gloriously saved in spite of the bad churches and self-seeking preachers. Indeed, this is just one more testimony to the sovereignty of God in all things, particularly in our salvation.

The sad thing, I think, is that I often fear that while we do rejoice as God’s people, often we rejoice over all of the wrong things. Or, we at least, rejoice primarily over earthly things that are transient at best. Shall we rejoice? Most certainly! Yet, let us rejoice in Christ! Let us rejoice in one who is eternal and who offers eternal life! Let us rejoice in the one who is the source of all our hope and joy and promise. This world is passing away…in the scope of eternity, our time here is as dust in the wind. Why focus here? Why not focus on the one from whom glory gets its meaning. Jesus is the radiance of the glory of God! How shall earthly things compare to that? They cannot! Indeed, they cannot! It is Christ and Christ alone in whom we must find that joy and when Christ is proclaimed, let us rejoice.

A Meal-Ticket or A Ministry? November 26, 2014

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“On one hand, there are some who proclaim Christ from jealousy and contention while others do so in good will; the latter from love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel; the former preach Christ out of contention, not genuinely, intending tribulation to arise while I am in my chains.”

(Philippians 1:15-17)

At the first reading of these words, it would be natural to be shocked at what it is Paul is saying. Indeed, there are some people who, being jealous of the attention that Paul is getting, begin preaching Christ…not with any sincerity, but in the hopes that they will bring Paul grief while he is imprisoned and can do nothing to stop them. Surely this must not be the case! Are there some who are so wicked and brazen that they would do such a thing? The sad thing is that there were such people in Paul’s day and there still are such people today, who use the pulpit and the ministry to serve their own ends and care nothing about the state of Christ’s church.

So, how does Paul react to that? Does he rail against those who preach ingenuously? No, he doesn’t, but we will get to that. God is indeed clear that he has a judgment awaiting those who are shepherds who are only interested in feeding themselves (see Ezekiel 34 and Jude). And, “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord” (Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:9; Hebrews 10:30). God will bring judgment and great will be their fall, we need not fret over the end of the wicked.

At the same time, it should grieve us that there are so many in our world today that would make the Gospel their meal-ticket rather than a ministry. Even mores, it ought to grieve us that so many people would be so ignorant of the teachings of scripture that they would fall into such traps…people desperate to have their “ears itched” instead of being instructed in the Word of Truth. May we pray for a generation that will be so committed to the scriptures that they would see through the thin veneer of the prosperity gospel, the liberal gospel, and the heretical teaching that such contentious preachers would find no welcome in our communities. May God’s word be lifted up, not the greed or pride of men.

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