What People Think

Continuing in my study of Philippians I didn’t move far from where I was in my last post; in fact, I only made it to the next paragraph!  Paul’s writing is so full of wonderful treasures for us as believers that you can’t escape each passage’s weight and meaning.  In Philippians 1:15-18, I discovered another result of Paul’s enviable contentment in difficult circumstances:  the ability to be unfazed by the opinions of others.

“Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill.  The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel.  The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry,  not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment.  What then?  Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.”  (Phil. 1:15-18)

As I read this, I was awed by Paul’s unaffected attitude to what other evangelists were doing to spite him.  I was also awed by the gall of those ‘preachers’, whose goal was to afflict Paul by spreading the gospel message without him!  In Paul’s day, and certainly in the present one, there will be people who want to spite us.  They may be other Christians or they may be unbelievers:  The facts are, if one is living biblically, many will turn against her.  It can be hurtful, unsettling, and burdensome to know that others are out to spite us.  How can we gain Paul’s security for our lives, so that ‘what others think’ does not become a factor in our decisions?

Paul recognizes in verse 15 that some preach Christ from rivalry — wanting to show up other Christians with good works or the number of converts — while others speak Christ out of goodwill.  Those who share out of the good of their hearts do it out of love (verse 16) while those who do it out of rivalry wish to inflict pain on their ‘competitors’.   We all have dealt with people who seem to constantly measure themselves against us.  They have an invisible yardstick held to our accomplishments, successes and goals; one which determines their own self-worth.  We can’t let their insecurity determine our own stability, and virtue which Paul evidences in the above passage.

Rather than worrying over the motives of the other evangelists, or fearing that his witness was hindered by the fact that he was in chains, Paul reveals a deep trust in God in verse 18:  “What then?  Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.”  Just as the secret to Paul’s joy was in his focus on the gospel, so this same focus allows him to transcend the opinions and actions of others.  Rather than worrying over them himself, he entrusts them to God — giving thanks, in joy, that the gospel is being spread.  By whom, and in what methods, is irrelevant.

How can we achieve this same disregard for the spiteful opinions of others?  While we should remain conscious of how we represent Christ, and be willing to accept the rebuke of other Christians, concerning ourselves with what others think is a distraction to our ultimate purpose.  Satan would like nothing better than to keep the focus off spreading the gospel and on the destruction of our ‘reputations’.  The truth is, what others think and say can either be proven or disproven by our actions.  Arguing about it just increases their motivation to spite and slander.

Our pride tells us to defend ourselves, to react in anger or indignation.  God commands us to love our enemies, and do good to those who persecute us.  Paul says nothing of the other preachers other than that he is glad the gospel is being spread, even if the motive for spreading it may be misplaced.  This is the attitude we should strive to attain.  This gives us that same blessed freedom that enabled Paul to find joy not only in trial, but in spite of the opinions and thoughts of others.

“Fret not yourself because of evildoers, and be not envious of the wicked, for the evil man has no future; the lamp of the wicked will be put out… Do not say, “I will do to him as he has done to me; I will pay the man back for what he has done.”  (Prov. 24:19-20, 29)

To Think About

  • Do the opinions/thoughts of others cause you worry? Why or why not?
  • What are ways you can find stability in Christ rather than in others’ opinions?
  • How could pride be influencing your decisions, through a focus on your own reputation?

Gospel of Joy

In my study of Philippians I have been carefully looking at each paragraph of Paul’s letter, written during his imprisonment in Rome.  This morning as I read Philippians 1:12-14, I wondered at what he had to say to the blossoming church in Philippi:

“I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.  And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”

Here is Paul, a shipwrecked prisoner carted around with the Roman army for two years, before being placed under house arrest in Rome.  Here is a man who has every reason to complain, lament, and wonder at his circumstances, and yet he says “what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.”  How can he be so accepting, so content, while in chains? 

What stood out to me most in this paragraph is Paul’s lack of regard for, or mention of, himself.  He does not speak of his back pain from sitting on the hard floor of a cell, nor does he worry over the progress of the ministry without his influence.  To the contrary, the previous paragraph (verses 3-11) details the depth of Paul’s love and pride in the Philippian church in his praise of their faithfulness.   Paul’s mind is not fixed on his circumstances but on the mission of spreading the gospel.

Paul’s acceptance and contentment, and his consequential joy, came from the source of his dependance.  If Paul drew his happiness, resilience, or depth from wealth, position, status or any worldly thing, he would never have remained effective and joyful throughout his life in the ministry.  He rarely had extra money, he was never in one place long, the Jews had rejected him and Rome imprisoned him.  Paul’s joy had another source.

The focus of Paul’s life was to spread the gospel.  This purpose was his passion and the motivation for everything he did.  How do you think the entire imperial guard learned of Christ?  Certainly not by Paul pouting in his cell.  As John MacArthur wrote in a sermon on this passage, every six hours Paul had a different guard chained to him in his room.  Thus, every six hours he had another ‘captive’ to witness to!

As young women we can construct an idea that since we aren’t pastors, evangelists, or ministers that spreading the gospel is not our calling.  This is untrue.  It is the calling of every living Christian to spread the ‘good news’!  And if you really believe it, really love it, and really live it, telling others will come naturally — just as it did with Paul.  When the word of God, and His goodness, is our joy, nothing can take it away:  even the worst of circumstances.

“But the one who endures to the end will be saved.  And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”  (Matt. 24:13-14)

To Think About

  • What is the source of your joy? How does it influence your actions in difficult circumstances?
  • Do you view spreading the gospel as an essential part of being a Christian?  Why or why not?
  • How is Paul’s example of joy in trial applicable to you today?

When the Sun is Shining

Learning to praise God in the storms of life is one of the harder disciplines to learn as a Christian, but for many of us, there is one harder still:  it is learning to acknowledge Him when all is well.  Trials teach us dependancy on God.  It is during those times that we run to Him, needy of his support and comfort.  Yet how soon we can forget this need when all things are going our way! 

Pain has an effect on our character that forces us to turn to a strength outside ourselves.  However, when pain passes by, we can become immune to what once gave us an urgency for Christ.  We can grow cold and self-sufficient.  It is necessary for our dependancy on God to be not determined by our circumstances, but by our faith in His good will for our lives.

Winter last a long time here in Michigan, and when it is over there is a rejoicing equalled only by the saints on the day of Christ’s return!  In the warmth of summer the long, dreary days of winter are forgotten.  Summer doesn’t last long, though.  Michiganders never forget that winter is coming back around.  So during the summertime, we prepare for the winter to come.  How foolish would it be if we sold our snowblowers because it was July, and we didn’t need them?  We would not be ready for the trial ahead.

Likewise, we must never forget the storms of life when it seems we are floating down the Lazy River in an inner tube of happy circumstances.  This is the time to prepare and remember:  to get ready for what may be ahead, and to remember God’s faithfulness in the past.  He isn’t there to be used and forgotten.  He is there to be our center no matter what life brings to us.

“Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life.  Make them known to your children and your children’s children… [that the Lord said] ‘Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on earth, and that they may teach their children so.'”  (Deut. 4:9-10)

To Think About

  • What are your present circumstances?  Where have you fit God in those circumstances?
  • Have you forgotten God’s faithfulness in a time when the “wind is going your way”?
  • Make a list of things that may be taking priority over God in your life.  What can you change to re-order these things?

Lord, Only You Can Change Me

“Why? Why did I do it again?  Why do I fail You every time?” It seems that those words have filled my prayers more often than not.  I thought I was strong in one area, only to give in to temptation as soon as it tipped its cap my direction.  Frustration and tears were my constant companions during my time with God in the morning.  The condemning words of John 14:15 rang in my ears:  “If you love me, you will obey what I command.”  Did I really love God at all?

The doubt that crept into my soul was not conviction, though at the time that is what I considered it to be.  My guilt over sin brought me to repentance, but the fact that I failed in those areas again caused me to wonder if I had really been sorry in the first place.  Yet I knew in my heart that I hated the sin — and that I had truly repented to God.  I would be fine… until the temptation came again and I gave in. 

Guilt leads to repentance, but my failure and consequential remorse never seemed to go away.  I was in a circle of fail-repent-doubt-fail that never seemed to end.  It wasn’t until I read the words of Hannah Whitall Smith, in her book The Christian’s Secret to a Happy Life, that I understood where I was going wrong in my relationship with God. 

Hannah Smith wrote an entire chapter on ‘Failure’, and as I read it, I was astounded at what I read.  Failure will come, she said, and when it does, repent in earnest and then get up.  “But isn’t that impertinent?” I wondered to myself.  Hannah confronted that thought right away with an illustration:

If you were a mother, and you had a daughter who disobeyed you but came to you repentant of her deed, would you not forgive her?  Then when you had forgiven her earnest repentance, what would you think if sat on the sofa, still crying, because she didn’t believe you had really forgiven her?  Her lack of faith would be the cause of her own pain. 

The only way to conquer, Hannah wrote, is to “get up off your face” and walk in victory.  Christ has promised if you confess your sins, He is faithful and just to forgive you and cleanse you of all unrighteousness (1 Jn. 1:9).  In my quest to not be “impertinent” I was slapping the face of the God who forgave me when I asked.  In my hopes to avoid “ungratefulness” I doubted the sacrifice He made on the cross.

The root of my problem, then, was striving to change myself into the image of God. I was doing things on my own, even though it seemed that I was doing them for God.  I missed the entire point of repentance to God:  He will change me, if I believe Him.  That is true surrender.  That is a repentant heart.

The Lord is One?

“The Scripture tells us, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one.” And you are the compassionate and merciful one. And you are loving to everyone you have made.” 

Many of you know that Rick Warren is the author of the acclaimed Purpose Driven Life, and is also the pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California.  His book has taken the evangelical Christian community by storm and is used in thousands of churches nationwide.  His  influence in the Christian community is most likely the determining factor in President Obama’s choice of him to give the opening prayer at the ceremony today.  It was a very wise move for our new leader — a choice that supports his all-inclusive platform right off the bat.  For a liberal Democrat to choose a conservative, anti-gay, evangelical pastor to give a prayer is certainly a bold step.  I think we will find this ‘boldness’ even more evident as time goes on.

Rick Warren’s prayer was above reproach in my assessment by Biblical standards.  My greatest qualm was that he would not finish the prayer in Jesus’ name — a hope of many of the leftists present at the inauguration.  Unfortunately for them, they heard four different versions of Christ’s title before the Amen — so if they happened to be bilingual, they were doubly blessed. 

I watched a heated debate on C-SPAN among a feminist liberal, a tolerant Democrat and what seemed to be a Republican (can’t really tell; I forgot my microscope) and the outcry against Rick Warren’s then-pending prayer was of high velocity and vitriol.  The greatest contention was that Rick Warren was ‘intolerant’ of gays, using a religious platform to support this view.  For Obama to invite such a man to pray at his inauguration seemed like a ‘mistake’, for it undermines the very people who so wholeheartedly support him. 

The hilarity of this, to me, is that as much as the liberals love their leader many don’t even understand his tactics in asking Warren to pray.  They proclaim “oneness” while immediately turning around to tolerantly exclude any semblance of Christianity from their presence.  President Obama has more smarts than those who voted him in, which is extremely fortunate for the nation in one sense while extremely unfortunate, and unnerving, in another. 

We shall see if the evangelicals are wooed by our new president’s open arms, or if they will stay devoted to their first love.  I just hope Rick Warren isn’t the matchmaker in between.

First Priority

Love, genuine love, is not a feeling.  I have said this before, and I must say it again — not only for my readers, but also for myself.  Love is greater than emotion:  it is the choice from which our feelings will follow.  When I think of love, my mind pictures romance.  Yet romance by itself is only one small part of love.  Love is at heart a practical discipline. Practical, in that it is practiced, and a discipline in that it requires us to push ourselves in order to maintain it.

When we say we ‘love’ someone, we may mean it, but whether we truly love them is proven by our actions over time.  Love is an effort, not an accident.  This is why ‘love at first sight’ is not possible — that is attraction.  So no matter what we hear about love in the songs and movies, true love is nothing like those descriptions. 

I hear people speak of how much they ‘love God’ quite often.  I hear the ‘love of God’ preached even more often.  It makes me ask the question:  do most people even know what love is?  Think of the world’s definition of love.  To our society, love is (to put it as tactfully as possible) based on physical interaction alone.  It is based on conversation, personality and instant gratification.  When this ‘love’ no longer satisfies, or necessitates an effort, the participating parties go their separate ways.  With people so saturated in this mentality toward love, how will they ‘love’ God?  Most likely the same way:  based on feeling, condition and instant gratification. 

Due to society’s deluded perception of love, they treat God’s love in the same way they treat their relationships: as temporary and ‘replacable’.  Due to that same misconception, they also have trouble believing God when he says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.”  (Jer. 31:3, ESV)  These days that kind of love doesn’t seem to exist.  In a seeing-is-believing world, people often give up on faith and settle for feeling instead.

God calls us to a different kind of love.  It’s the kind of love He had for us, when, despite scorn and beatings, and a horrific death, He died so we could be His.  He calls us to the love based on effort and action, founded on choice and courage, and grounded in faith and freedom. 

This kind of love doesn’t just happen.  Sometimes our feelings will sway us to take the easy way.  But His voice calls out, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”  (Matt. 6:33)  He must be First Priority to remain First Love; and when He is First Love, He will also be First Priority.

First Love

Some mornings I wake up happy, not knowing exactly why.  Then, as my eyes adjust to the light, I remember some wonderful thing that is happening that day, and excitedly I leap out of bed.  I have heard that’s how it is with first time love.  You wake up knowing your sweetheart is yours, forever, and it’s just the thing that makes the morning cheerful. 

When I was first saved, that’s how it was for me.  I’d wake up thinking, “Why do I feel like something is about to happen?  Oh yes, Jesus!”  As time goes on though, and as we hear the same messages and sermons, and sing the same songs, our faith fades from initial devotion to duty.  Duty turns to drudgery.  When life becomes a drudgery, we no longer act out of love.

God had something to say about this topic in Revelation 2:4-5:  “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.  Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.”  (ESV)

How do we keep the first love burning?  How do we keep it fresh in our hearts, never letting it burn out to duty or become the sullen ember of monotony?  We cannot depend on emotion because love is not dependent on how we feel.  Love dictates emotion.  We must be so dedicated to Christ that our love of Him changes how we think, act and feel.  When He is our first love, all other loves automatically take second place.

A bride does not keep former boyfriends around ‘just for fun’ in case her husband gets boring.  He is her first and only love — no matter what the distractions.  Out of her love of him she eliminates the other distractions, so that her emotions remain fixed where they belong.  Can we do this with our relationship with God?  What must go in order to keep Him as our first priority?

Perhaps you don’t feel loved, so you think you aren’t.  Perhaps you have tried to fill that need for love with other people, only to be frustrated when they fail you.  Maybe you’ve tried to fill the gap with material things or money.  “I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me.  I said, “Here am I, here am I”…”  (Is. 65:1)  No matter how much you ‘look for love in all the wrong places’ you won’t find the love that fulfills. 

Here is the truth:  “Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand.  You guide me with your counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.  Whom have I in heaven but you?  And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”  (Ps. 73:23-26) 

His is a love everlasting, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.  Let Him be your beginning, and He will make your life beautiful to the end.