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Victory on the Battleground of Your Heart, Part Four

Are you one of the 68% of believers who don’t believe in Satan or who are just confused about it all? I sure hope not. But even as part of the 32% that acknowledge that Satan is real and active, there are a few things that we need to do to prepare ourselves for battle.

  1. Realize: You are not already clothed with the armor of God.

I guess I’ve always thought that the armor of God is something you get when you’re saved. You know, like the fruit of the Spirit or spiritual gifts. But it’s not. And I’m certain I’m not the only one who got a bit confused about this. Ephesians 6:13 says that you must “take up” the armor of God. Other versions tell us to put it on. That means we don’t already have it on!

  1. React: Put on the armor of God.

It really is as simple as that. We need to consciously, regularly (if not daily) put on the armor of God. That might mean that you need to read through this passage every morning and physically go through the motions of putting each of these pieces on your body. I’m serious. Buckle that belt of truth. Go through those motions, asking God for each of the protections. Or it may be a little less literal. Here are some examples.

  1. The belt of truth – Refuse to believe or repeat statements that are not fully grounded in the truth of Scripture. No more sayings like “God never gives us more than we can handle,” when faced with a problem or “I guess God just needed another angel in heaven” when someone dies, or “Everything happens for a reason” when something happens you can’t explain. No more Christian platitudes. The words that you say and the beliefs that you hold must be grounded in Scripture. If you’re not sure what Scripture actually says, that’s a good place for you to start.
  2. The shield of faith – I have a friend who regularly preaches the gospel to herself. At first I thought that sounded a little bit corny. But the more I thought about it and the more I talked with her, I realized that this discipline is amazing. She regularly reads through the story of what Jesus did for her on the cross, in his life and in his death. She reminds herself often of what he has done. That is taking up the shield of faith. This repeated recitation of the gospel is a shield about her heart.
  3. The helmet of salvation – Of course we’ve already discussed the importance of salvation in fighting these spiritual battles. But the idea of a helmet is so important. Romans 8:5-6 says “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” That helmet is the protection of our minds. An unprotected mind is an easy target for the flaming darts of the evil one.
  4. Remember: We win in the end.

Revelation 12 says that Satan will be defeated and cast out and that God wins. As children of God and co-heirs with Christ, that is a promise for us as well. We may face all sorts of attacks and trials and temptations while on this earth, but we win in the end!

I want to show you a few verses in the book of Romans. Let me give you a little back-story on what Paul has been talking about before we get to Chapter 7. He’s been discussing the law and what the law has done to us. Basically, without the law, we didn’t know what sin was or that we were sinners. But as soon as God gave the law, we realized that there was no way we could ever measure up and meet all the requirements to be holy. The law showed us that we desperately need someone to save us. So in verse 15, Paul starts in on quite a rant as he tells us that he can’t seem to do what he wants to do and he keeps doing all the things he doesn’t want to do. Romans 7:15-20 says

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

This is a saved guy. This is the APOSTLE PAUL. He wrestles with sin. He confesses and repents and then has to come back again and again. This doesn’t mean he’s a failure. This means he is in the process of sanctification, just like you and me. So don’t beat yourself up when sin sneaks in. It will happen! Instead, keep turning to God. I love verse 25 where he answers the question he just asked “Who will deliver me?” by saying “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Jesus is our Deliverer. If you’re looking for help, you won’t find it within. You are not enough. You are beyond help! Look to Jesus, the author and perfector of your faith, who is your deliverer. Trust what Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” We do not stand condemned; we do not stand in the flesh. We can walk according to the Spirit because of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for us. We are free!

So here’s the battle plan. God’s will is your sanctification. He has plans to work all things for good for you. But there is a force of evil that is at work, seeking to harm you and to thwart God’s plan for your life. You also have sin in your life that will distract you and turn you away from God and His perfect plan. Learn to distinguish between the two. Is sin eating you up from the inside out? Or are you under attack from the evil powers? Will you take action, repenting of sin when necessary and putting on the armor of God regularly? It’s the only way to stand firm. Know what you believe and recognize your enemy. And always remember that we win in the end.

I want to leave you with one Scripture. 2 Thessalonians 3:3-5 says

But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.

There’s a war that’s being waged for your heart. Sin can’t win. Satan can’t win. The Lord is faithful and He will guard your heart. He will win in the end.

 

Victory on the Battleground of Your Heart, Part Three

2 Corinthians 10:3-6 tells us “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh.” Ephesians 6:12 backs that up and says,

“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 the heavenly realms.”

Side note – have you ever found it odd that a common theme for baby nurseries is Noah’s ark? We’ve actually got a few pictures of the ark in our nursery at church with all the cute little animals everywhere. You know that the reality is a bunch of stinky animals and tired, traumatized humans are on a boat for several months while God destroys literally everything in all of Creation except for them. But let’s paint it in pastel colors and slap it on the wall. Along those same lines, I’ve seen lots of clever illustrations of people dressing up in little plastic suits of armor, illustrating what the armor of God looks like. We’ve got little plastic swords and shields and we make analogies of how we should dress up every day in that stuff. It’s literally in our kids’ dress-up boxes. And that’s mostly because we start reading at verse 13, instead of starting back there in verse 10 when we hear about cosmic powers over this present darkness and spiritual forces of evil. That wouldn’t be anything we’d want to dress up like now, would it?

The fact is, we are going to need more than a plastic sword and shield to defend ourselves against the attacks of the spiritual forces of evil. The battle we face is REAL. Let’s get a couple of facts out of the way first.

Satan is not omnipresent (everywhere) or omniscient (all-knowing) or omnipotent (all-powerful), like God is.

Satan is just one created being. Any power he has is power that God has allowed him to have. Any roaming he’s doing around the earth is roaming that God has allowed. Satan does not have access to your thoughts and he is not on your shoulder tormenting you. He isn’t in your head. But while he’s only one created being, he has a legion of demons doing his bidding. Demons are created beings, like Satan, who most scholars believe were originally angels who followed Satan when he was cast out of heaven. Nineteen out of the 27 New Testament books reference demons. Satan is real. Demons are real.

Surprisingly, a Barna research study released in 2009 revealed that 60% of Christians do not believe that Satan is real. SIXTY PERCENT. OF CHRISTIANS.

  • Four out of ten Christians (40%) strongly agreed that Satan “is not a living being but is a symbol of evil.”
  • An additional two out of ten Christians (19%) said they “agree somewhat” with that perspective.
  •  A minority of Christians indicated that they believe Satan is real by disagreeing with the statement: one-quarter (26%) disagreed strongly and about one-tenth (9%) disagreed somewhat.
  • The remaining 8% were not sure what they believe about the existence of Satan.

This is not a study of the unbelieving world! How can we ever fight this battle if we don’t even believe there is an enemy?

So what do we do? What are these practical secrets I am about to reveal to you about how to fight this battle? Like any good solution, the first step is acknowledging you have a problem. Stay tuned.

Victory on the Battleground of Your Heart, Part Two

When it comes to spiritual oppression, there are two main kinds of attacks we face.

1 Peter 5:8 says “Be sober-minded, be alert. Your adversary the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour.” We have a very real enemy who seeks to destroy us and will stop at nothing to do it. His attacks come in many forms. But this war we fight is on two main fronts.

  1. Sin from within

Part One of this series mentioned the scriptures in Romans that tell us that we’re sinners in need of a Savior. We know we are sinners. But sometimes we expect our sin to go away once we’re saved. We know better than to sin, right? And as much as I hate to say it, most Christians have gotten really good at fixing up the outside so that it looks like sin is not an issue any more. I remember a certain other group in Jesus’ day that did the same thing. They were called the Pharisees. In Luke 11 Jesus had some choice words for the Pharisees. “Woe to you, Pharisees!” and “You fools!” He called them hypocrites and accused them of cleaning the outside of the cup and dish while the inside was full of wickedness. Such hypocrites we all are.

The fact is, we are all sinners and coming to Christ does not automatically take away the sin in our flesh. But what about 2 Corinthians 5:17, you say. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” This verse is so often taken out of context and put next to a picture of a butterfly. When a caterpillar changes into a butterfly, it is no longer a caterpillar, right? It’s fully a butterfly. So if this “new creation” business is the same as that, why do I keep sinning? Why am I constantly battling the temptation to sin? Why do I still feel so much like a sinner?

Unlike the butterfly who is no longer a caterpillar, we saved humans are still left in our flesh. There’s no running from it or hiding from it at this point. Sin will always be a temptation and we will still fail daily. 2 Corinthians 5:17 points us to the truth of sanctification. It carries the thread in the common theme of “already but not yet” that we find in Scripture. We are already saved, but we’re not yet sanctified. We are already in Christ, but we’re not yet that completed new creation. In fact, we are on our way to becoming that new creation when we see Jesus face to face and our sanctification is complete. While we are here on earth, it’s like we’re the caterpillar, still in the cocoon. We are already a new creation, but we’re not complete yet.

So sometimes, as a believer, the heaviness that you feel is the weight of your own sin. The entrapment you’re experiencing is because of the consequences you’ve brought on yourself with the choices you’ve made. Is that you today? Is there any sin in your life that you need to confess? Any relationships you need to have restored?

If you examine your heart and you see that sin is causing you to live in defeat, REPENT. 1 John 1:9 says “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” It really is that simple. Right where you sit, confess that sin and he is faithful and just to forgive it. Does that mean it won’t tempt you anymore? No. Does that mean you’ll never do it again? Maybe, maybe not. The good news is that no matter how many times you mess up, God has already forgiven you and to cleanse you. We tend to believe the lie that we’ve strayed too far or done something that God can’t possibly forgive, especially when we sin after our salvation. Shouldn’t we be better than that? The good news is that God is not concerned with that. The blood of His Son has covered your sin, once and for all. His concern now is your heart. His will for you is your sanctification. So as many times as it takes, turn back to Him.

Sometimes the sin that weighs us down is the sin of other people. Other people’s sin can really be like a punch in the gut because the consequences reach far and wide to those of us who have no fault at all. If you’re suffering because of the sin of someone else, there’s no magic pill to swallow that will help you. There’s nothing you can do to fix it. So your best bet is to stop trying to fix it and make a daily habit of handing the person back over to the Lord. When we throw our hands up in surrender, God will do the fighting for us.

Stay tuned for the next post concerning spiritual attack and how we can fight the battle.

 

 

Victory On the Battleground of Your Heart, Part One

When God’s perfection invades our imperfection at the moment of salvation, a battle begins. If you’ve ever felt attacked on all sides, suffocated or overwhelmed, stuck under the weight of heaviness in any area of your life, you can be sure that a war has been waged for your heart. But never fear, I’ve got some practical ways to defend yourself against the snares of the enemy and see God’s beautiful purpose in your sanctification!

Keep in mind that I’m a good little Baptist girl. From the time that I asked Jesus to be the boss of my life as an 8-year-old, to this moment as the senior pastor’s wife of FBC Gonzales, I’ve been a member of 14 Southern Baptist churches as the military and the ministry have moved me around the world. There’s really not a charismatic or Pentecostal bone in my body. But for far too long, many of us Baptists and really, Christians in general, haven’t even acknowledged that there is an enemy, much less prepared ourselves for battle. But the fact is, 1 John 5:19 says that the whole world is under the sway of the evil one. The good news is that 2 Thessalonians 3:3 says that God will protect you from the evil one. But you know what that means? War.

Before we can go any farther into these spiritual attacks, we’ve got to nail down a couple of things first.

  1. Salvation – Most of what I’m going to write is for Christ-followers. A Christ-follower (aka “Christian”) is someone who has chosen to deny themselves and their sinful ways and allow Christ to be the “boss” of their lives. Romans 3:23 tells us that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Then Romans 6:23 tells us that the wages of that sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. A few chapters later, Romans 10:9-10 tells us that if we confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead, we’ll be saved. So the things I’m going to walk you through today are for people who are Christ-followers. They understand that their sin separates them from our holy God and they see their need for a Savior. They’ve confessed their sin and they’ve confessed Christ as their Lord (boss). They believe in their hearts that God raised him from the dead. They’re saved and they’re following Jesus. So if that’s not you, I want you to first of all know that you can do that right now. Right where you are, you can confess your sin to God and you can tell him that you want Him to be the boss of your life and you can give the rest of your days to him, right where you’re sitting right now. But if you’ve never done that, a lot of this may not make sense to you and it certainly won’t apply to you. There’s something wild that happens at the moment of your salvation that most evangelists won’t share with you because its’ not exactly “attractive” or “appealing”. It’s not going to make you say, “Sign me up for this Christianity thing!” The things we’re going to talk about today are words written to Christians about the war that is being waged against us.
  2. Sanctification – So let’s go ahead and assume that you are saved. You’ve made the choice to follow Jesus. Now what? 1 Thessalonians 4:3 says “For this is God’s will, your sanctification.” Sanctification is what happens AFTER you are saved. And sanctification is a process. It begins the day you’re saved and it is complete as you pass from this life into your eternal life with Jesus. Sanctification is the process by which you are made holy. It’s what happens to you as you are made more and more like Jesus Christ. Want to know God’s will for your life? Sanctification. As much as I hate to break it to you, God’s will for you is not that new house or that new job or that new guy or that confusing decision you’re trying to make. If you’re asking God for what His will is, you won’t find it in any of those choices that weigh heavy on your mind. You’ll find it in sanctification. As you live your life to honor God, denying yourself and turning from the constant temptation to sin, seeking after Him, you’ll find that those choices that come up only serve to further sanctify you as you rely more fully on Him and trust Him more deeply. God’s will for your life is your sanctification.

The Trouble with Grey’s Anatomy Theology

2-Timothy-21-760x506I’m gonna be real honest here. I’ve never missed an episode of Grey’s Anatomy.  Google tells me that there’ve been 305 episodes of this show, so at roughly 40 minutes of content per episode, I’ve given over 12,000 minutes of my life to this show. That’s 200 hours. That’s 8 1/2 full days of my life over the last twelve years. And as much as I’d love to see what happens with Bailey’s heart attack, after this last episode, “Personal Jesus”, I’ve now had enough.

You guys, they’ve tackled topics that glorify lust and immorality and questioned the sanctity of marriage as well as the sanctity of life. They’ve made the good Christian girl look like a complete idiot. They’ve wrestled with political issues that make most followers of Christ cringe. And most of us have dismissed all of it as “entertainment.” It’s not real anyway, right? At least that’s what I’ve told myself as I’ve watched the past 12,000 minutes. But last night, they crossed the line and millions of women bought into it. If you weren’t paying attention, I hope you’ll listen to me now.

Here’s are 10 of the theological and Scriptural references they presented in just this one episode.

  1. “The Bible says that God doesn’t tempt us beyond our ability. God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.”
  2. “The Bible says when your right hand causes you to sin, you cut it off.”
  3. “God used that pain and turned it into something beautiful. I guess He knew what He was doing all along.”
  4. “The Bible is a book full of beautiful stories and metaphors and shouldn’t be taken literally.”
  5. “All Scripture is inspired by God but not dictated by God.”
  6. “Do what Scripture says within reason.”
  7. “If I can’t trust the Bible, what does any of this mean? What is any of it for?”
  8. “There is light and darkness and they both coexist.”
  9. “Job kept the faith and what did he get for it? Replacement children. PTSD. Was it worth it for Job to have been a faithful servant or would it have been better to just curse God’s name from the beginning? Where was God throughout all of Job’s pain and suffering? He was winning a bet with Satan.”
  10. “Where is He now?”

The problem with some of these little sound bytes is that they sound good and some of them are partially true. Look at #3. Of course God knows what He’s doing. And Romans 8:28 says “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” All things will work together for good, but not necessarily for everyone. This Scripture says that it will happen for those of us who love God, who’ve been called according to his purpose. Or look at #1. James 1:13 says that God isn’t the one who tempts us and 1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us that God won’t let us be tempted beyond what we can handle, not that He won’t give us more than we can handle. The writers of Grey’s Anatomy took the Scripture and twisted it ever so slightly, so that it sounds right even though it isn’t.  And some of the theology presented is absolutely terrible, like #11. If you want to follow up on any of that, check out my Study of Job here.

So does any of this even matter?

I wrote a blog post one time called Weak Women and Worms. If you’ll read 2 Timothy 3:1-7, you’ll see that as a woman, you are a specific target of the Enemy. Here ya go:

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy,  heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.  For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions,  always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.

This is why IT MATTERS.

There are people who are trying to creep into your household and capture you, weak woman, as you are led astray by your passions. They’re trying to capture me too. It’s time for us to stop allowing these people and these false theologies into our homes. As a wife and mother, or even as a single woman, you are the gate-keeper of your home. You say what comes in and what goes out. It’s up to you to know God’s Word and to test every single thing that you allow in against Scripture. When false theology like this tries to creep it’s way into your home, close the gate. Don’t believe the lie that it doesn’t matter. The enemy will whisper in your ear that it’s just entertainment. It’s harmless, really. Don’t believe the lie. Shut the gate.

Maybe you’ve never watched a single episode of Grey’s Anatomy. You’re still not safe. These lies, these small twists of the truth are everywhere. Perk your ears up and focus your eyes and you’ll see all the ways that these things that appear totally fine, even godly sometimes, are actually worms that are creeping their way into your home. We have a very real enemy who seeks to kill and destroy us. He knows he won’t win in the end so he is doing everything in his power to wreck us while we’re here, while we’re not even paying attention. Pay attention. Don’t shrug it off any more. Shut the gate.

 

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. 🙂