Just to Know Him

 

Philippians 3

Let’s get right to it: Read Philippians 3:1-11.

Paul starts off this section of his letter by warning the Philippians to watch out for those “dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh”. He’s referring to a group of people known as Judaizers, who were part of the early church but they believed and taught that salvation was earned through a mixture of God’s grace and human effort. They taught that a believer had to first convert to Judaism and follow certain parts of the Mosaic law, especially circumcision, before they could be saved. They didn’t teach that salvation was by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. They thought there was something more that needed to be added to it.

So Paul tells the Philippian church to have nothing to do with these people. He longs for believers to understand that every bit of salvation depends upon the completed work of Christ on the cross and absolutely none of it depends on us! He goes even farther to give them a list of all of the reasons that he could put confidence in his flesh. He basically says he could beat anybody in a contest in righteousness and rule-following. He was circumcised on the eighth day – that shows he comes from a very devout Jewish family. He’s of the people of Israel, God’s chosen people! Not only that but he is of the tribe of Benjamin – the same tribe that Israel’s first king came from – Saul! (Could it be he’s even named after this king?) He is a Hebrew of Hebrews, as Jewish as they come. And when it comes to the law, he’s a Pharisee; he not only knows the law, he follows it and teaches it! He was even so zealous that he persecuted the early church because of their blasphemy against the Law. As far as meeting all of the righteous requirements of the law, Paul had checked off all the boxes. Blameless.

Take a minute and make a two-column chart. Label one side “Righteousness” and list all of the good things you’ve done. Really do it!!! Don’t skip this part!!!

Here’s mine:

RIGHTEOUSNESS KNOWING CHRIST
Bible teacher
Children’s minister
Pastor’s wife
Mother
Adopted two kids
Rule follower
Go to church every time the doors are open
Play the Piano
From a good Christian family
Lots of Scripture memorized
Lots of good Christian friends
No R rated movies
Give tithes and offerings regularly
Know all the church answers
Great godly husband
Good advice giver
Mentor/Role Model to many
Friendly, Kind and Loving
Raised sweet (ha!), obedient children

Now label the other side of the chart “Knowing Christ.” Write in big letters over the righteousness side LOSS.

What Paul is saying here in his letter to the Philippian church is that compared to Christ, every good thing in his life is worthless. The crazy part is that all of these things on my list are good things. None of them are bad! And yet every single one of them is rubbish compared to knowing Christ. None of them count. None of them matter. I could lose every single one of these things and be just fine and dandy as long as I have Christ. The best things I have done, rubbish. The people that I love, rubbish. I could lose them all and it wouldn’t even matter compared to knowing Christ.

I’ve gotta say, I don’t think I’m really at that point. Surely I’m not alone in that.

God would you change our wills? Would you change our desires so that we can look at our lists of righteousness and declare them worthless compared to you? God, help us to want you. Help us to desire you. Help us to know you.

You and I are dealing mostly in hypotheticals here. For most of us up until this point in 2017, we haven’t been asked to give up our list of righteousness. Remember our old friend Job who lost everything he loved, including his kids? He is a great example of one who understood the value of knowing Christ above any earthly thing. But you and I most likely have never been faced with the loss of every good thing we’ve done and everything that we are. We’ve never actually had to count it as loss. Paul had though. Don’t forget that he wrote these words from the inside of a prison cell in Rome. I mean if that’s not righteous, I don’t know what is. He’s writing words that would later appear in the Bible from a prison cell where he has been jailed for his belief and teaching about Jesus Christ. If righteous acts were what it was all about, Paul would have it! But Paul knows that his righteousness doesn’t come from himself or the law. His righteousness comes from his faith in Jesus Christ. He says again to the believers here that he simply wants to know Christ and the power of his resurrection. He wants to be like him in his death and share in his sufferings. For Paul, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

Now it’s important to note here that God is not necessarily asking you to give up your righteous acts. Many of those things on your list of “righteousness” are things that are there in the life of a believer because of the work of the Holy Spirit in your life. The point is in the comparison. In putting your list of righteousness next to knowing Christ, there should be no contest, no comparison. Knowing Christ is all there is.

Some of you are putting all of your eggs in the basket of righteousness. You’re banking on the fact that you’re a good person, leading a moral life. You go to church or to Bible study and you feel like that has earned you a point or two in your favor with God. You probably have never written out a list of your righteousness before, but now that you look at it, it seems like a pretty good list. You know you don’t have to work for your salvation, but if you did, you’d be sitting pretty right now. But let’s look at what God has to say about that in Matthew 7:21-23.

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

God’s response to all that prophesying and demon-casting-out and mighty works in the name of the Father? “I never knew you. Depart from me.”

I can think of no more terrifying words. I never want to be more dependent on my list of righteousness than I am on Jesus Christ. I want Him to be my life, my all, my everything. I want to know Him and be known by Him. How about you?

There’s a great old song that was written from this passage of Scripture called “Knowing You.” Look it up on youtube and give it a listen.

All I once held dear, built my life upon,

All this world reveres and wars to own.

All I once thought gain, I have counted loss

Spent and worthless now, compared to this.

 

Knowing you, Jesus. Knowing you.

There is no greater thing.

You’re my all, you’re the best

You’re my joy, my righteousness

And I love you, Lord.

Now my heart’s desire is to know you more

To be found in you and known as yours.

To possess by faith what I could not earn

All surpassing gift of righteousness.

 

Oh to know the power of your risen life

And to know you in your sufferings.

To become like you in your death my Lord,

So with you to live and never die.

Willing and Working

I want us to camp on Philippians 2:12-13 for a little while. Paul gives these Philippian believers instructions to “work out (their) own salvation with fear and trembling”. If you’ve been around any good Bible teaching for very long, you know that this doesn’t mean that we work for our salvation. That wouldn’t line up with the rest of Scripture. Scripture teaches that salvation is a free gift and that all we have to do is receive it through our belief in the resurrection and by our confession of Jesus as Lord. Ephesians 2:8-9 says “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” This leaves no room for a works-based salvation.

 

There’s two concepts here – a “working in” and a “working out”. If you like to mark words in your Bible, circle or underline the word “work” in verse 12 and then do the same for the other two references to “work” in verse 13. This gets a little deep for a minute but hang with me. In verse 12, the Greek word for “work” is “katergazomai” (cot-air-gaaaz-oh-my). It means “to put something into effect entirely or thoroughly. In other words, it means to establish or accomplish or complete. Paul’s instructions to these believers is that they should complete their salvation, not as if God had left it incomplete, but as a way of living up to all that God had established through their salvation. They should “work it out” because of the work that God had done in them. This confirms other Scriptures such as the ones we studied in James 2:17 that says, “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” The faith is the work that God has done in you and the works are the work that God is doing through you. We continue to allow God to work through us because of the work he has done in us.

 

The next reference to “work” is in verse 13 when Paul says “for it is God who works in you”. While this is exactly what we just discussed in verse 12, the word here for “work” is a completely different word. This word in the Greek is “energeo” (in-er-gay-oh). This word means “to cause to function or to carry into effect.” It’s an action word that means pretty much what our English word for “work” means. The other word was an establishment type of work; this word is an active functioning work. God is actively working in you. Have you ever felt like God must’ve given up on you? That He must’ve just left you alone? Take heart. The Bible says that God IS working in you. But there’s more.

 

The last reference to work in verse 13 says, “both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” This type of work is the same as the one we just discussed, “energeo” (in-er-gay-oh). The work that God is doing in you is the same work that he will do through you for his good pleasure. Did you catch that? You are not the one working here. God established it, God works in you and God works through you. And it builds just like that!

 

Here’s the problem though – sometimes we get in a bit of a hurry, just like Sarah did when she was waiting on the son that God promised her. She took things into her own hands and allowed Abraham to sleep with her servant Hagar. Old Sarah was hard at work. She was busy orchestrating everything just so, in hopes that she could fulfill God’s promise to her. The problem of course is that God wanted to be the one to work. There were all kinds of consequences of Sarah taking things into her own hands and working so hard, consequences that we still suffer today through the descendants of the two sons of Abraham, Isaac and Ishmael. The lesson in the Old Testament agrees with the lesson in the New Testament and it we read it with God in mind, not us in mind, we learn this: God wants to work in us. God wants to work through us.

 

All this talk about work, but there’s one little word in this verse that sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. Verse 13 says, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Time to look up one more word! God works in us, both to will and to work. This word, “will” is an active, present tense verb. The word in the Greek is “thelo” (the-low). It’s an action word. It means to desire or want strongly. God works in us not just so that he can work through us. This verse says it’s both to desire and to work. He wants His desires to become our desires and that’s why he works in us.

 

Have you ever been totally, brutally honest with yourself in regard to sin and obedience? There are some sins that we just don’t want to let go of, if we’re totally honest. And there are some commands we just don’t want to obey either. Maybe it’s your favorite TV show that you know doesn’t glorify God, or maybe it’s the comfort you feel when you’re cozied up with your best friend sharing all the gossip, or maybe it’s even some addiction to alcohol or drugs or pornography or food that you’re unwilling to let go of. Or when it comes to commands of God, maybe it’s that you can say “amen” all day when the pastor preaches or the teacher teaches, but you don’t really want to go into all the world and preach the gospel. That part of Scripture must be for someone else because you’ve got a nice home and a nice life here. Or maybe it’s a command like honoring the Sabbath and you’re just too busy to obey that. Or maybe it’s the instructions to tithe and give cheerfully but you just don’t think you have enough to make the ends meet if you do that. Goodness, we’re all a mess.

 

When you’re brutally honest with yourself you realize that your desires don’t always line up with God’s desires. Never fear, He’s got a plan for that. Verse 13 tells us that he wants to establish his desires in you – “to will and to work” for his good pleasure. He wants you to want what he wants and he will work in you to accomplish that! Be honest with Him and tell Him when your desire doesn’t match with His. He will work in you to change your heart. Psalm 37:4 says “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Don’t read that verse as if God is your genie in a bottle, ready to grant your every wish. In the same way that Philippians tell us that God will give us new desires, so Psalms tells us that it is God that gives us our desires in our heart when we delight in Him.

 

Well that’s just two verses of our study today! We’ll just zip through the rest. Read Philippians 2:14-18.  Make note of how Paul loved these people – he wants what’s best for them and he devoted his life to make that happen. He knew grumbling and complaining would tear their church apart, and he knew their obedience would glorify God.

 

He considered himself a “drink offering”, which of course is a reference to the Old Testament sacrificial system in which an offering would be placed on the altar and then a liquid “drink offering” would be poured all over it. Paul knew that he was not the main offering. The work that the Philippians were doing in Philippi was the offering to the Lord. Paul considered himself as the drink offering, poured out on top as an offering pleasing to God. What a beautiful picture of the Church.

 

Paul closes this section with verses 19-30, which again show his love for the Philippian church. He has wonderful helpers in ministry, Timothy and Epaphroditus, who he honors as servants of the Lord, men who have lived out all the things that he has just described. I love these personal notes that are slipped into Paul’s letters because they make the writing so much more real. We see that these are not just made up stories with lofty teachings that no one could ever live out. It’s just the opposite – these are real people doing real things, living real life, facing real problems. If they can do it, we can too.

 

 

I Apparently Don’t Always Need to Be Right.

A Study of Philippians 2:1-11

Confession Time: I like to be right. I have an opinion on just about everything and I truly, sincerely believe that my opinion is right. When Trey and Lexie and Chris and I went to Germany over Spring Break this last year, my husband pointed this out to me (ever so lovingly). He told me that everywhere we went, I seemed to have an opinion about how people could be doing things better. In the airport, the line was too long so I made a comment about what they could do better to fix that. The driver of the car we were riding in didn’t seem to know quite what they were doing and you better believe I had an opinion about how it should’ve been done. Our schedule got messed up and I had the solution! Until he (ever so lovingly) pointed out my need to have my way all the time, I’d never noticed that I had so many opinions and that I felt the need to express those opinions so often! But ever since that trip, I’ve become increasingly aware of how opinionated I can be and how often I feel entitled to my own way. So for those of you who have had to sit and listen to my rants about how the world could be run better, I apologize! I’m trying to do…BETTER.

The thing is, I know I’m not alone. Most of us have strong opinions about one thing or another. Whether we express them loudly and constantly varies from person to person of course. But most of us struggle on some level with a lack of humility that comes from pride and entitlement.

Paul has some very specific words for the Philippian church on this very topic. Let’s read Philippians 2:1-4. He says “if” there is any encouragement and “if” any comfort from love, etc, but this could’ve been translated as “because there IS”. There IS encouragement in Christ and there IS comfort from love and there IS participation in the Spirit and there IS affection and sympathy. So because all of these things DO exist, verses 3-4 apply! Because of all this, everything we do should be done with vision for others. The crazy thing is that it’s going to go against every natural tendency we have in us- that’s what SIN does!

 

Considering others as more significant than ourselves goes against every natural tendency in us.

 

Can you imagine what our churches would be like if we considered other people more significant than ourselves? All of a sudden we would be far less concerned with getting our own way and far more concerned with what is best for the Body of Christ. Can you imagine what our marriages would be like if we considered our husbands needs and interests over our own? What if, the next time you start to get aggravated at your husband for whatever husband-ish thing he has done wrong, what if you stopped to consider his point of view and his interests before you thought of your own? I have a feeling we would all begin to enjoy a whole new level of intimacy and friendship in our marriages if we considered our husbands’ needs before our own.  And what if we took the same approach with our children? Our mothers and mothers-in-law? Our co-workers and our friends? Can you imagine if we considered their interests as greater than our own?

 

Considering others as more significant than ourselves is God’s plan for your life.

 

You don’t have to pray through this and wonder what God’s will is here. He says DO THIS. And he doesn’t leave us roaming around wondering what on earth that could possibly look like. If you keep reading in 2:5-8, we see the perfect example of someone who did this – Jesus, of course. If ever there was One who put the interests of others before his own, it was our Jesus. Jesus is God. He is fully divine. He didn’t have to come to earth and live as a man, tempted in every way and suffering in every way, even to death on a cross. At any given moment in his thirty-three years, he could’ve said “Enough.” In fact, he could’ve come to earth as the King that he is. Instead he completely emptied himself and took the form of a servant. There was no fanfare here – just a baby in a manger and a humble man teaching the multitudes. He could’ve come to earth as a man who was a King. Instead he came to earth as a man who was a servant. He wanted to show us how it’s done.

But I don’t want to go any farther until we look at one more thing from verse 5. Paul tells the Philippian believers to “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus. ”This seems a bit intimidating to me. As Paul is saying that we (the church) should have the same mind, the same love, being in full accord and of one mind, I’m thinking of the believers I know, specifically the ones in my church. The thing is, we just don’t always agree. We have opinions and interests and needs. We don’t always have the same mind, the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. As I consider the conflicts we’ve had as believers, not just in this church but in every church I’ve ever been a part of, I wonder how we can be of one mind when we just don’t agree! And that’s where the mind of Christ comes in. If we seek to have the mind of Christ, meaning that we are intentionally putting the needs of others before our own interests, we will be in full accord and of one mind with other believers who are seeking to have the mind of Christ.

Let me explain a little bit more – First read Ephesians 4:3-6 and 31-32. You simply cannot be of one mind, in one spirit and still have fighting and anger and bitterness among your ranks.

 

God purposed believers to be of ONE mind, but we mess it up with our selfish ambitions.

 

We face a problem though when we are willing to consider another believer’s interests above our own, but they aren’t willing to consider anyone else’s interests above their own! What do we do then? This can be in the church, this can be in marriage, this can be in family relationships or parenting. What do we do when we are willing, but the people we’re trying to be ONE with are only thinking of themselves? I’m so glad you asked.

Flip over to Colossians 3:12-15. I have to admit that I was kind of hoping the answer would be that I could just go ahead and plow through with my opinion as long as I felt like I had the mind of Christ! Of course that is the opposite of what I should do. Friends, it’s gonna take compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. It’s gonna take us bearing with one another and forgiving each other and loving each other. I love verse 15 that reminds us to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts. And be thankful! Oh yeah, THAT.

God purposed believers to become one through humility, patience, forgiveness and love.

 

Oh that we would take up the fruits of the Spirit in our lives, empty ourselves and consider others as better than ourselves. What would this world be like? What would our churches and our families and our marriages be like? Pray today that God would do that work in us.

To live is ________?

Yesterday we looked at Philippians 1:12-30.

Remember, Paul wrote this letter to the believers in the church in Philippi while he was imprisoned for his faith in Rome. He sent his companion Epaphroditus to the church to tell them what was going on and deliver the letter. Verses 1-11 of Chapter 1 are an introduction of sorts where Paul expresses his love for the people and his desire to see them walk in ways that would glorify Christ.

He continues in chapter one with these four ideas.

  1. Paul’s Priority:The Gospel Preached (1:12-14)

Paul lived his life for the sake of the Gospel. The fact that he was imprisoned for his faith didn’t discourage him at all, in fact it had just the opposite effect. Paul told the Philippians that his imprisonment had actually served to advance the Gospel because the whole imperial guard had been able to hear the good news while he was there! Not only that, but he said that because of his imprisonment many of the Christians that Paul had influenced were more confident, bold and fearless when it came to speaking the Word. They knew that if Paul could do it and see the Gospel proclaimed, they could do it too. They looked to Paul and knew that they could no longer live in a “business as usual” sort of way – they had to live purposefully, just like he did.

  1. Paul’s Goal: Christ Proclaimed (1:15-18)

In Paul’s Day the Gospel wasn’t just good, it was good NEWS. It was the hottest headline in town and the subject of all the chatter as word spread that there were people who were willing to risk their lives for its sake. And just like today, some people jumped on that bandwagon for all the wrong reasons. Many looked at it as a way to gain popularity, notoriety and fame. Paul’s response? What does that matter as long as Christ is preached? Paul wanted the good news of Jesus to get out by any means necessary. He wasn’t going to waste breath on gossip or waste his worries on these people who were out to get him or out to gain attention for themselves. He rejoiced in seeing Christ proclaimed.

  1. Paul’s Choice: Christ Glorified (1:19-26)

to live is Christ

Paul takes a moment to consider his two options – life or death. He says in verse 21, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Most of us would reverse those two ideas and say “To live is gain and to die is Christ.” We look forward to the day that we will be with Christ at our deaths (to die is Christ, right?), but our lives are built for gain. It’s the American Dream after all! We build big houses and buy fancy cars and take big vacations and send our kids and grandkids to play all the sports and do all the activities. We store up treasures here on earth without ever considering that we are living life as if to die is Christ and to live is GAIN. We’ve gotten so confused. Paul says to live is Christ and to die is gain. We’ve got to change the way we live.

  1. Paul’s Instructions: Suffer for His Sake (1:27-30)

If we change the way we live, if we begin to prioritize Christ in our life and gain in our death, there’s one thing that will inevitably happen to us- suffering. To someone who is living for gain, this seems like terrible news. Suffering doesn’t fit in a life lived for gain. But a life lived for Christ? Bring it. Bring the suffering. And Paul says that’s exactly what will happen. If we want our lives to be worthy of the gospel of Christ, we will find ourselves standing firm in one spirit with other believers, striving side by side for the faith of the gospel. There will be opponents, but we need not be frightened by them. We can look at Paul’s example and know that we can endure suffering because he did too! One of the verses in the homework this week asked how you are suffering for Jesus. And that’s because Philippians 1:29 says “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” Suffering has been GRANTED to us as a GIFT! My first response to this question was simply “I don’t suffer for the gospel.” How sad is that? If suffering has been granted to us as a gift and it is part of living for Jesus, the fact that I am not suffering for His name’s sake makes me wonder why. If you’re in the same boat, trying to figure out why you’re not really suffering for the Gospel, may I ask you to consider that you may (like me) be living for gain? Ouch. It’s time for us to risk it all and live for Christ, suffering included.

If you had to answer truthfully, how would you fill in these blanks?

For me to live is __________________ and to die is _________________.

Would you put your kids in that first blank? Your husband? Your house? Your career? Your hometown? Your family? Your hobbies? Your dreams?

And what would you put in that last blank? Scary? Inevitable? A long way off?

Most of us probably wouldn’t fill in those blanks the way Paul did. Let’s let that sink in and think on it a while. Then let’s change our answers and our hearts.

 

 

 

 

Philippians: The Big Picture

I’m so excited to get to lead our Fall 2017 study over the book of Philippians. This is such a great, encouraging book and as we dig deep, we’ll be challenged by it too!

You can’t study the book of Philippians without first taking a look at the author of this letter, the apostle Paul. His story is so fascinating and it’s proof that God can and will use ANYBODY, no matter your past, your baggage, your issues or any other excuse you can think of. We’ve got to go over to the book of Acts to remind ourselves what Paul’s story is, otherwise as we read his letter to the church in Philippi, we might begin to think that Paul was perfect and then get overwhelmed with all of his advice for Christian living.

Look at Acts 8:1-3. Keep in mind, our Paul of the New Testament is the same man that is also referred to as Saul in the New Testament. (Now if you read about King Saul in the Old Testament, that is definitely a different character.) So in the New Testament, Paul and Saul are the same guy. Before Paul’s conversion to Christ, he was called Saul and he was an active leader in the persecution of Christians in the Church. He gave approval to the stoning of Stephen and he was well known through the area for his arrest and killing of believers in Jesus, even women! This is why it’s such a shock when in Acts 9:1-19, Saul encounters Jesus on the road to Damascus. He was heading there to persecute more Christians but when he arrived, he had become one himself. It took a while for other followers of Christ to believe that he had truly been converted though. Ananias was hesitant when God spoke to him in a dream and told him to go find Saul and speak some prophetic words over him. Ananias understandably didn’t want to be killed and he didn’t believe Saul had been converted until he saw it for himself. It didn’t take long and Saul’s story of his conversion from persecutor of Christians to follower of Christ had spread throughout the land. Many were just like Ananias – afraid of him! But as they watched him proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ boldly in the synagogues, the believers were amazed at his boldness and the unbelievers began to seek him to imprison and kill him in the same way that he had once imprisoned and killed other Christ followers.

THIS is the guy that wrote the majority of the New Testament Scriptures! This man who gave approval to the death of Christ followers, who dragged men and women to prison because of their faith. God had a big plan for Paul’s life that can only be described as miraculous.

So as you read the book of Philippians, I want you to remember a few important things.

  1. The Bible is a book about God. This is always number one! Don’t get trapped into believing that the Bible is a book about YOU. All too often we get caught up in the idea that we should read the Bible because it will tell us how to live and what to do and what kind of person we should be. It will show us these things of course, but if that’s all we’re looking for as we read, we are going to miss the most important thing about Scripture – it is a revelation of God’s character! It’s written so that we will KNOW HIM more. Don’t get confused about who the Bible is about.
  2. The book of Philippians is a letter from Paul to BELIEVERS in the church in Philippi. This book is not written to unbelievers. You cannot take the statements made in this book and apply them to people who don’t follow Jesus Christ. When you read the Bible, you must consider the context of what you’re reading. In this case, we are reading a letter to the Church that was written by Paul while he was in jail. If you are a believer you can safely read this letter as if it were written to you.
  3. The Gospel is ALL OVER this letter. Look for it. Underline every reference to “the gospel” that Paul makes. Remember that The Gospel is the referring to the good news that Jesus died for our sins, rose again, now sits at the right hand of God the Father and will come back one day. The Gospel is GOOD NEWS.

 

Read Philippians 1:1-11. These words reveal just how precious the believers in Philippi were to Paul. He had invested a lot in them and he considered them partners in the gospel, which was his LIFE. He longed to see the good news of Jesus spread so that people could be saved.

Speaking of salvation, let’s make sure we get a few things straight before we start. Don’t tune out here! I want you to get the difference between salvation, sanctification and service. 

  1. the work God does for us—salvation

Romans 5:8 – “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”

  1. the work God does in us—sanctification

John 17:17 – “Sanctify them in your truth; your word is truth.”

  1. the work God does through us—service

John 12:26 – “Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.”

And check out each of those three things – are any of these three things something that YOU do? Does any of it depend on how good YOU are? Does any of it depend on how often you go to church or whether or not you drink or cuss or whether or not your kids follow the Lord or whether or not you follow all the rules? Salvation, sanctification and service are all absolutely dependent upon GOD.

So as you read and study the book of Philippians, do a little self-inspection and decide which of these areas you find yourself in right now. Do you need to be saved? Salvation is a gift from God and I would love to tell you more about it if you’re not sure. All it requires from you is belief in Jesus Christ. The rest is up to Him! Most of us will see ourselves neck deep in sanctification. God is chiseling away at us to make us resemble his Son. He is working in us to make us that new creation he promised he would make us. As you begin to resemble him more and more, he will be able to use you to serve Him. There’s nothing more satisfying than being used by God to fulfill his purposes here on this earth. Look at your life right now and decide where you are and where you want to be. As you read Philippians you’ll be reminded of how God saved you, you’ll start to see all new ways that God wants to sanctify you and you’ll be inspired to allow Him to reach others through your service. It’s a beautiful connection and I hope you’re excited to see it happen in your life!

So in these opening verses of Philippians, what do we learn about the character of God? If we read this letter as if it were written about God, (because it is!), what do we learn about Him? Here are a few things I got from Philippians 1:1-11.

  1. God is the giver of grace and peace. (1:2)
  2. God gives us partners in the gospel as gifts to us! (1:3-5)
  3. God is trustworthy- He will finish the work he started! (1:6)
  4. God knows our innermost thoughts. (1:8)
  5. God receives praise and glory when our love abounds, when we have knowledge and discernment, when we are pure and blameless, when we are filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ! (1:9-11)

I challenge you to keep reading Philippians in light of what it teaches us about God, not seeking what it can do for you. I’m convinced that if you keep God at the forefront of your reading, you’ll be strengthened and encouraged in the process. If you’d like a book so that you can follow along as we study, I’ve got a bunch of them in Gonzales or you can order them from amazon here.

Happy studying. 🙂

 

Why I Stopped Writing (and why I’m starting again)

I have been crippled by unbelief.

As soon as I realized my problem, my thoughts wandered back to the story of Jesus casting the demons out of a boy who was mute, foaming at the mouth, seizing and injuring himself. Mark 9 records the story of this boy’s father coming to Jesus and asking him if there’s anything he can do to help his son. IF there’s anything he could do.

That’s the way I’ve been living my life the past few months. Tiptoeing around, wondering IF there’s anything God can do with me. Wondering IF there’s any way he can heal me, forgive me, teach me or use me. But He answers me the same way that He answered that poor, desperate father. “If you can? All things are possible for one who believes.” I found myself in the shoes of that father, asking God to help me overcome my unbelief. “I do believe! Help me overcome my unbelief!”

Could He do it? Would He do it?

I haven’t doubted my salvation or God’s sovereignty or the authenticity of Scripture. The doubt I faced came much more subtly through the puzzled looks on the faces of ladies in my Bible Study group as I taught the Word, through the sincere questions they raised about what I’d just taught, through the times I’d spent alone in preparation, wondering if I was getting it right and feeling the weight of the responsibility I’d been given to handle the Word of God. The last study I taught was James and I admit that I naively went into it thinking that it would be a no-brainer. I was so wrong! I’ve never questioned myself more than I did as I taught through the book of James. “Help me overcome my unbelief!”

So that’s why I stopped writing for a while. That’s why I blogged about James 1 but never published anything more from that study. That’s why I didn’t jump on the opportunity to lead a summer Bible Study with my community of ladies. I’ve been doubting and wondering how God can use me, an imperfect person, a sinner saved by grace, a woman with very little formal religious education, to teach the very words that He breathed into existence. So I stopped.

And now here I am again, writing a new post. Starting over. Trying again. I bet you already know the answer as to why I’m back.

God helped my unbelief! He answered! I don’t have to be perfect or reach some higher spiritual “level” before I’m qualified enough for Him to use me. I just needed to get over all the excuses I offered. Sometimes you just have to be real tough on yourself and tell yourself to quit hiding, quit being emotional, quit acting like you don’t know what God has called you to do. So I quit. I got over it. He helped my unbelief! And now I’m back. I’m not quite sure where we’ll go from here – I’ve always been one to let God guide me in that. But thanks for hanging in there with me in my absence and for joining me again as I do what I know He’s called me to do, which is write and teach the beautiful truth of His Word.

 

Remaining Under (James 1)

Once upon a time I participated in a study over the book of James by Beth Moore. In the first session she challenged us to memorize the entire book of James. I thought that sounded like a pretty good challenge so I got busy memorizing. I finished chapter one and never got any farther and that was probably five years ago. Of course the verses I repeated the most were the ones at the beginning of the book.
One day I was at the dentist – I hate the dentist – and I was very nervous as they prepared me for the drill. I laid there in the chair trying desperately to think of any Bible verse I could recite to bring me peace and comfort. Immediately my mind went to the book of James – surely there was peace and comfort there! Unfortunately, all I could remember was verse one – James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations, Greetings. James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations, Greetings.
Now while that verse didn’t necessarily bring peace to my heart, it did bring peace to my body as I recited it over and over and over again. God’s word will not ever return void!
I love that our study of James directly follows our study of the book of Job. They go hand in hand! All of the lessons and truths that we learned in Job are affirmed in the book of James. James is a practical book for godly living – some even call it the Proverbs of the New Testament. James skips from topic to topic, giving believers instructions for how to live out their faith every day.
The first topic he tackles is suffering, trials and perseverance. The Greek word for steadfastness literally means “to remain under”. I have some beautiful notes written in my Bible from 2015 when I battled chronic hives for most of that year. I wrote, “Trials develop perseverance and wisdom, making me more like Jesus. When I am more like Jesus, people will see HIM in me! I have had hives for six months so far and I am asking God to allow me to remain under them for as long as it takes to make me more like Jesus!” That note was dated 3/3/15. Another note just after that simply says “Hives gone” 7/15. What a beautiful reminder to me of the beauty that comes to a heart surrendered to God, a heart that remains under a trial until it has produced steadfastness and maturity. If you are under a trial right now, friend, can I encourage you to fully submit to God in it as you remain under it? He may not remove it from you quickly, but you can be sure that he is creating completion in you.

The next section of chapter one deals with brothers who are poor and those who are rich. I just love how God gives me good practical examples to help me understand what he’s teaching me in Scripture. Just yesterday I spoke with two separate believers. One shared with me about seeking the Lord and serving Him in their poverty, trying to trust Him to provide for their needs. Just a few hours later another person came to me to share about how they are trying to trust God in their wealth, seeking ways to serve Him and know Him more without getting lured by the temptation to love their money and possessions. I think that’s what this passage is getting at – no matter your financial situation, seeking to overcome it to the praise and glory of God!
James 1:12-18 takes us back to the trials – Face it, trials were a common, ever-present fact for believers in the first century church, just like they are for us in 2017! James says that the one who remains under those trials will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those that love Him! Again, God doesn’t take the trial away! The person remains under it. When you’re faced with a trial, do you willingly take your place under it or do you beg God to take it? The next time you are faced with a trial, I challenge you to look at it through the lens of the gospel and choose to seek Him in remaining under in it instead of pleading with Him to remove it from you!
But then James goes into temptation, clarifying that God does not tempt anyone. Interestingly enough, he doesn’t say that Satan is the tempter here. Of course we know that Satan is the father of lies and he does tempt us, but here the temptation James mentions comes from a source that we don’t often acknowledge – our own evil desires. When you’re tempted, recognize that sometimes that temptation is from your own sinful flesh and refuse to give in to it. It will only lead to death.
James brings up a topic that hits close to home for all of us next. In verse 19 he tells us that we should be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger. If there was ever any advice to help you in your marriage or in your relationship with your parents or your children or your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, this is it. Listen more. Talk less. Don’t jump to anger.
To follow this up, James tells us that it’s not enough to just hear the word of God – we have to do what it says. Hearing it does nothing. Doing what it says is evidence of a change in our hearts. We look into Scripture, we persevere and we are blessed!
And last but not least, James confronts the concept of religion. He tells us that if you think you’re religious but you’re running your mouth all the time you’ve missed the point of religion. It’s not that religion is bad like our society has tried to tell us. In fact, it’s the opposite. Religion is good – taking care of orphans and widows and keeping yourself pure. All of these things are evidence of a change of heart. When your heart changes because of the gospel of Jesus Christ, you become less and less concerned with the things of this world: constant gossip, money, trials, anger, etc. You become more and more concerned with living out your faith, letting there be evidence in your life of a change in your heart.

James isn’t going to stop here. This whole book is full of ways that we can make little changes in our lives to honor God more and change our lives to be a better reflection of the change he has brought in our hearts. Stay tuned for more, but be careful not to look into the perfect law that gives freedom and then forget what you’ve seen. Don’t be a hearer who forgets. Be a doer who acts!

Finishing Up the Book of Job

As we wrap up our study of the book of Job, one of our questions was “Do you think God ever explained to Job why he had suffered?” Of course this one is a hypothetical question because there’s just no way to know whether God did or he didn’t. But if there’s one thing we learn from the book of Job, it’s the character of God. In fact, we can learn about the character of God all over Scripture, through story after story, on page after page.

Hebrews 11 gives us a bunch of examples all in one place of great men and women of the faith. If we look at these stories in our search for the character of God, we will quickly find our answer to the question posed in our homework about whether or not God ever explained to Job why he had suffered. We have to ask “Is God the kind of god that tells us the reasons for everything?” Let’s look at Hebrews 11.
Hebrews 11:1 tells us that faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen. The answer to our question is given right here in this first verse. If God were the kind of god that tells us the reasons for everything, this whole concept of faith wouldn’t even be an issue. We wouldn’t have to believe because we’d already see. But God wants use to be sure of who He is without seeing the full picture. He gives us lots of examples in this chapter of people who did just that. Take a minute to read through chapter 11 if you haven’t lately. 
We read of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and Sarah. In verse 13, we find that all of these died in faith – they didn’t receive the things that were promised to them and still they persevered in the faith! We have the privilege of seeing all of the promises made to them fulfilled, but they didn’t get to see it. We can be confident that God’s promises to us will be fulfilled in the same way, even though we won’t get to see it happen. 
Then we read more of the faith of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab and so many more. These people didn’t see the promises fulfilled either but persevered in their faith that God would do what He said He would do. Hebrews 11:39-40 says 
And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

Do you know what the “something better” is? JESUS. You see, these heroes of the faith had to walk through trials and tribulations without seeing the fulfillment of God’s promises to them. That’s because God had something so much bigger in mind than the simple answers to the questions I’m sure they asked. Hebrews 11:36 -37 says that many were mocked and flogged and imprisoned and stoned and killed. I’m sure they wondered why. After all, they were human, just like us. But the answer to their question was that God had provided something better – He would send his son to be the answer to every one of the “Why” questions we ask.
Isaiah 55:8-9 sums it up perfectly:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
So why is our natural inclination to ask “WHY?” every time something bad happens? Well, as much as it pains me to say such a simple answer, it’s because we’re human. We want answers. We feel like we need answers. And sometimes we even feel like we deserve answers. But in truth, we will almost certainly never get that answer this side of heaven. And in even greater truth, once we get to heaven, we will almost certainly not care about the answer anyway because we will be face to face with the PROMISE himself, the sovereign Creator, Almighty God.

As we finish our study of Job, take a minute to read 2 Corinthians 4:16-18. How I wish that our friend Job had been able to open his Bible and read these words to find comfort in his affliction. We can rest assured that our pain is not for nothing. God is working all the time to bring about His perfect will and to accomplish things that are far greater than all we could ever ask or imagine.
Thanks for studying Job with me.

"Where Were You?" God Puts Us In Our Place

These are the chapters we’ve been waiting for! (Job 38:1-40:5) Throughout our study of Job we have had to wade through the murky waters of chapters 1-37. The story of Job is one that doesn’t make a lot of sense to our human understanding, except that most of us can relate to him on some level. We’ve all experienced grief and tragedy and suffering and pain. Beyond that, we’ve all experienced those times when it feels like God is so far away. We know in our heads that he has not moved, but our hearts sometimes feel so far away from him and he just seems so silent.
But He doesn’t remain silent forever. Here in Job, God has let the drama continue long enough. Job and his friends have been spinning round and round debating the cause of Job’s suffering. They’ve been accusing Job and Job has been defending himself, over and over again. Now it’s God’s turn to speak and when he does, Job is left speechless.
Now is a good time to remind you that this is definitely not a portion of Scripture that we can read selfishly. Remember, this is a book ABOUT GOD. These chapters will drive that point home, potentially more than any other portion of Scripture.
Read Job 38:1-11. All the way through verse 15 God questions Job about Creation. Of course the answer to every one of these questions is that Job was not there at all. And it’s a rhetorical question anyway – God knew this. He is sovereign over all.
God continues this round of questioning in Job 38:16-38 by asking Job questions about the weather. Read Job 38:22-27. We get such beautiful pictures of places we know nothing about. Of course God knew that we would discover many things in our scientific quest for understanding. So he gave us verse 36 in there to remind us that even the things we know, we understand because of the wisdom and understanding he has given to us.
Once you consider all of creation, the fact that God made it all and controls it all, you’d think that would be enough to put us properly in our places. But no, God continues with this questioning and Job remains silent. Next he asks Job to consider the animal kingdom in Job 38:39-39:30. Read Job 39:1-4 and 26-30. God reveals his sovereignty over all of the animals – the fact that he knows when the mountain goat gives birth is amazing! Have you been following the story of April, the giraffe that everyone has been watching? They’ve installed a camera in her pen at the zoo to show us all the exact moment when she gives birth, but the problem is that she hasn’t yet and it’s been several weeks. They keep saying it’s coming soon and the whole world wants to see, but it’s obvious that none of us are in control of any of that because people have been watching and waiting for days and have found absolutely nothing!
But here’s the most interesting part to me. This is the part where God asks Job about the lion’s prey and the hawk feeding its young. We like to focus on the fact that God is tenderly taking care of his animals, but we can miss the fact that he’s using some of them for food! The lion’s prey most likely did not die of “natural causes”, but was viciously attacked and eaten up by a pride of hungry lions! Does that mean that God is not a good, good father? Of course not! The little eagle babies that are high in the nest waiting for their daddy to bring them some food are delighted to suck up the blood of their prey! That blood came from an animal that God created, an animal that God was watching with the same amount of care as he watched those eaglets. From this we learn the truth that the suffering that we experience does not change the very nature of God. He is still good. He is still sovereign. Sometimes we’re the predator and sometimes we’re the prey and either way God is still very much sovereign on his throne and his love for us has not changed. Beautiful.
After this in Job 40:1-5 God gives Job a chance to speak. But again Job remains speechless. He’s gotten the point that after all this debating who’s right and who’s wrong and who’s sinful and who’s righteous, he is left with the answer that he can never be wise or righteous enough to God. God is so sovereign, omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent that to even consider saying anything “right” about himself is just silly. Job is properly put in his place.
So I want us to end this session just thinking about how awesome God is and how little we are, even on our best days.
Read Colossians 1:15-23.
Now watch this: Laminin
And now watch this: 
How great is our God!!!

Spiritual Warfare or God’s Discipline?

I have talked to several people a lot this week about spiritual warfare. It’s caused me to take a step back and get a wider picture of this suffering that Job endured. So today our homework is over Job 27-37, but I’d like to zoom out a little bit and talk about the difference between spiritual warfare and God’s discipline and why it’s important to know the difference.
We know that the story of Job is a story about intense spiritual warfare happening in the heavenly realms between God and Satan. Sometimes we’re tempted to view Satan as God’s evil-equal, but it’s important to note that’s not the case at all. Satan definitely is evil, but he’s not at all equal to Almighty God. God is so much greater, so much wiser, so much more powerful than Satan ever could hope to be. Satan is a created being (created by God!) and he is pure evil. He roams the earth seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). He comes to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). He hopes to cause us so much suffering that we curse God and die, as suggested by poor Mrs. Job. But he is definitely not as powerful as God, nor is he omnipresent like God (able to be present in more than one place at a time), or omniscient like God (knowing all things).

2 Corinthians 10:3-4 says:

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.”
We got a glimpse into a part of this spiritual war that Paul tells the Corinthian church about when we read about Satan’s conversation with God in the book of Job so we can actually picture the negotiations between God and Satan. We know that Satan asked permission from God to attack Job and that he only got to do it because God allowed it to happen. This is a battle for Job’s faith, a battle for Job’s life. Job was able to stand firm in the middle of it because his faith in God was solid. And God, in his sovereignty, knew it would be.
Sometimes the suffering we are enduring is because of an attack from the enemy.

While there’s no debating that Job’s attacks were grounded in a spiritual battle in the heavenly realms, there is another form of suffering we sometimes face that is worth mentioning here. This form of suffering is God’s discipline. We must be able to distinguish between a spiritual battle being waged against us and the firm and gentle hand of discipline of a loving Father.
Hebrews 12:5-11 says:
              “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when   reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” 
Sometimes the suffering we are enduring is because God is disciplining us.
How can we tell the difference?
The first question to ask is “Am I submitting my whole life to the lordship of Jesus Christ?” If you can genuinely answer with a “YES” (not a yes because you go to church a lot or follow lots of rules, but because you are genuinely walking in fellowship with the Lord), then it’s likely that you are experiencing spiritual warfare. But if you answered “NO” to the above questions, the suffering you’re experiencing could possibly be due to the discipline and correction of the Lord. Often when a person comes to Christ, she readily accepts Him as Savior but is hesitant to make him Lord. I remember my mom putting it to me in terms an eight-year-old could understand – Jesus wanted to be my boss. If Jesus is truly your boss and you are submitting every part of your life to him, when bad things come your way you’ll be suited up in the armor of God, able to take your stand against the schemes of the devil. But if you’re struggling with the idea of making him your Lord, your boss, the struggles you’re facing could very well be the hand of the Lord’s discipline on you.
So what do we do when we know that we’re being attacked?
Ephesians 6:10-20 says:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.

If we want to have any hope of standing firm against the schemes of Satan, we must have the full armor of God. We need the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the readiness of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit (which is God’s Word). When we are fully equipped and prepared, we are able to stand firm when the flaming darts of Satan’s arrows fly.

So why is it important to distinguish between spiritual warfare and discipline? The answer is simple – We must stand firm against Satan’s attacks but we must willingly submit to the Lord’s discipline. If we submit when we should be standing or stand when we should be submitting, we may miss the lesson God has for us or even worse, give the devil a foothold in our lives.

James 4:7 tells us, “Submit yourselves therefore to God, resist the devil and he will flee.” This submission requires us to die daily to ourselves, meaning that we no longer just go around doing whatever we feel like doing, whenever we feel like doing it. Total submission to God means that every morning we wake up and we surrender our days to His guidance. We walk through our days asking him to point us to the jobs he has for us and obeying when he tells us what to do. It’s a radically different way to live life because it requires a complete change in perspective from one that is self-centered, to one that is completely unconcerned with self. When we submit ourselves to God and then see trials come our way, we can easily be shaped into the women that God wants us to be because we can recognize the hardships as God molding and shaping us to look more and more like Jesus Christ.

John 15 compares us to branches growing on the vine of the Father. Jesus tells us here that any branch that does not bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. Learn to recognize the pruning process in your life. (Now is a good time to remind you about Job’s wife – remember her trials were due to the testing of her husband. God certainly was at work in her life as well, pruning her, molding and shaping her, even though the test of faith was specifically for Job. While we do know that her first response to curse God and die was not a “submissive” response or even a “stand firm against the devil” response, we have to wonder if old Mrs. Job ever had a change of heart as she watched her husband resist the devil. Who knows?)

We’ll need that full armor of God to be able to resist the devil. A soldier doesn’t quickly throw on his armor when the enemy arrives and expect to win. In order to effectively resist Satan’s attacks, we must already be dressed! Interestingly enough, if we ever hope to submit ourselves to God, the same amount of preparation is needed.

The preparation required to resist the devil is the same as the preparation required to submit to God.

Both acts of preparation require us to spend time in God’s Word and in prayer every single day, not just when the trials come. How can you be ready to submit to God and his discipline? How can you be ready to resist the devil when the attacks come? By spending time with the God of the universe every day in prayer and in His Word. Submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee.

(Please also consider that sometimes we suffer due to medical problems – a condition that happens to every one of us because of the fall of man. Our bodies are our temporary homes, not meant to last forever. Sometimes our physical suffering has nothing to do with spiritual warfare or with the discipline of the Lord but from the very fact that this world is not our home.)


[1]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Heb 12:5–11.