Tag Archives: Philippians

A Volkswagen Beetle and the Bible

In the midst of all the chaos, violence, partisanship, selfishness and crude cruelty in our society God has repeatedly put a verse in my mind. But I struggled with how to apply it – until now. This week God placed an innocuous experience from my life alongside the verse.

It occurred 49 years ago. Barb and I were on our honeymoon, headed from Michigan to Washington D.C. Our car was a Volkswagen Beetle. We had, of course, waxed the car so it would be a clean, bright shiny blue for the special occasion. What a great idea!

Then we placed a car top carrier on the roof to hold our luggage. Another great idea! But two great ideas don’t necessarily equate to a good idea. On the road to D.C. we discovered the carrier was slowly sliding backwards down the sloped roof and was about to slide down over the back window and slide completely off! Our solution?

We stopped and bought some clothesline and anchored the carrier by tying it to the front and back bumpers. While we drew a lot of funny glances along the way, it worked. The carrier held its place because it was firmly fixed, tied to a firm foundation.

This incident pointed to a valuable truth. To be firm, to be secure, to stay grounded in place one must be tied to a sure foundation. I now see why God keeps putting this verse before me. “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:11) God has been waiting for me to catch His mind and Spirit.

On one level, I truly believe that much of the chaos, violence, partisanship, selfishness and crude cruelty in our society would dissipate if more people would build their lives on a firm foundation. Then their actions would at least arise out of something solid and be consistent with their beliefs. We would still have disagreements but the selfish, knee-jerk, follow the crowd, listen to the media mentality would greatly lessen.

But for now I focus on another level. Those of us who believe in and serve Jesus Christ must be sure He – and He alone – is our foundation.

All of our decisions, actions, words and attitudes must flow from Him. Think, act, and speak like Jesus. As I observe life in the Body of Christ it too often saddens me – we react like those with no foundation. Our own thoughts, feelings, emotions, prejudices, likes and dislikes control what we say and how we say it. We, too, fall into the selfish, knee-jerk, follow the crowd, listen to the media mentality. Churches and denominations are torn apart. If we can’t do any better than this, how can we judge ‘all those other people’ out there?

Personally, I know Jesus is the foundation of my life. But I’ve had to admit that there have been times in the midst of our chaotic times that I have untied the ropes and slid backwards. My own thoughts, feelings, emotions, prejudices, likes and dislikes controlled what I said and how I said it. I’m grateful God was persistent and wouldn’t let me get away from this verse. I’ve asked Him to tie the ropes again and hold me to Him. It won’t solve all the issues or overcome all the problems – or even heal all the divisions. But if Christians get back to their foundation it will ratchet down the rhetoric, lessen the emotion, and place Jesus front and center. Then He becomes the focus for all around us. And He can do the solving and healing. Yes – there will be many who don’t want Jesus brought into it. But once He’s front and center, shining brightly through us, they can’t ignore Him. It may not always be easy, but we have a precious promise. The Apostle Paul said it well: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9 — Underlining mine)

What a difference that will make – for me, for you and for all around us.

Establishing Value

I had the privilege of preaching again this past Sunday. As I read the words of one of the scripture passages one verse leaped out at me. “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” (Galatians 5:15)

Wow! How relevant! I could easily and accurately apply these words to our societal and political milieu. And that’s tempting. But the reality is Paul wrote these words to a Christian congregation. So while they made have broader application, the primary message is for Christians. That’s sobering – and challenging.

In his letter to the Philippian church Paul went into more detail. He condemned biting and criticism: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3) Paul understood that our human tendency is to criticize others to make ourselves feel better and even superior. We do so because we fail to value others. The Bible is very clear on this issue. “Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him, speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you – who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 4:11-12)

Then there are Jesus’ pointed words in Matthew 7:1-5 – “Do not judge or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

Understanding that humility is not thinking less of ourselves but rather thinking more of others, Paul continued: “Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:4) Conflict often results from being insensitive to the needs of others, so Paul says we are to value, to relish consideration of others. We need to scope out and hone in on the needs of others. Our aim is always to zero in on ministering and serving.

Let me ask you something: Could you name the five greatest needs of your spouse? Your children? Your parents? Your coworkers? Your school mate? How considerate are you? Consider how Paul’s words are translated in The Message: “Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.”

OUR PATTERN IS JESUS CHRIST. The great preacher Harry Ironside put it poignantly. “The last word of this section is the keynote—“others.” This was the overpowering, dominating note in the life of our Lord on earth, and because of this He died. “He came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for”—others! He lived for others; He died for others. Selfishness He knew not. Unselfish devotion for the good of others summed up His whole life, and all in subjection to the Father’s will. For God, the Father Himself, lives, reverently be it said, for others. He finds His delight, His joy, in lavishing blessing on others. He pours His rain, and sends His sunshine upon the just and the unjust alike. He gave His Son for others; and having not withheld His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not with Him also freely give us all things?—we, who are included in the others for whom the Lord Jesus Christ endured so much. What wonder then that, if we would follow His steps, we find ourselves called upon to live for others, and even to lay down our lives for the brethren.” (1)

What would happen if we really valued others, did unto others as we would have them do unto us? What would our church, our families, our schools, our communities be like if we did to others what Jesus did to us? Just how are we to treat one another? The Bible points the way as it lists a multitude of “One Another’s.” LOVE one another. ACCEPT one another. SERVE one another in love. PRAY FOR one another. ENCOURAGE one another. FORGIVE one another. HONOR one another above yourself. AGREE WITH one another. BE KIND AND COMPASSIONATE TO one another.
BE DEVOTED TO one another in brotherly love. LIVE IN HARMONY WITH one another. BEAR WITH one another in love. CONFESS YOUR SINS TO one another. CARRY one another’s burdens. SUBMIT TO one another out of reverence for Christ. SPUR one another on towards love and good deeds. OFFER HOSPITALITY TO one another without grumbling. CLOTHE YOURSELVES WITH HUMILITY TOWARD one another. BE COMPETENT TO INSTRUCT one another. USE YOUR SPIRITUAL GIFTS TO SERVE one another. SPEAK TO one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. GREET one another with a holy kiss.

What would our church, our families, our schools, our communities be like if we diligently worked at establishing the value of others? It’s worth thinking about – and doing.

(1) Ironside, H. A. (1922). Notes on the Epistle to the Philippians (pp. 37–38). Loizeaux Brothers: Neptune, NJ.

Note: The substance of this blog comes from Pastor Curry’s sermon “United We Stand.” If interested in a copy or an mp3 contact [email protected]

The Right Altitude Makes All the Difference

I don’t fly on airplanes all that often, but I’ve flown enough to become familiar with the voice of the Pilot: “It’s going to be a bit choppy on our climb-out today, but we’re expecting it to be somewhat smoother when we reach our assigned altitude at 31,000 feet.” These words, of course, are meant to provide comfort and encouragement.

But not until I read a devotional by Norman Shawchuck (1) did a spiritual parallel come to mind: “When the turbulence is choppy, rise to your assigned altitude.” Norman points out that we were never promised a smooth flight through life but always have the option of moving up to our ‘assigned altitude.’

And what is our assigned altitude? Consider Ezekiel’s experience with the valley of dry bones (37:1-14). Here’s how it ends:

9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’ ” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.
11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.’ ”

Our higher assigned altitude is life in the Spirit. Paul later wrote (Rom. 8:4-9 NLT):

“5 Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. 6 So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. 7 For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. 8 That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God.
9 But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you.”

Life in the Spirit lifts us to a higher altitude of mind. And this higher assigned altitude is only a few thoughts away.

“4Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Phil. 4:4-9)

The next time you hit the turbulence of life remember: “When the turbulence is choppy, rise to  your assigned altitude.”

(1) A Guide to Prayer for All Who Seek God, Upper Room Books, 2006, p. 172

A Word About Tribulating

One of my favorite stories has a devout servant agonizing excessively over a certain experience. She was asked by her mistress, “Why do you agonize so long and so deeply over your misfortune? After all, you’re a Christian and you have the grace of God to help you over times like this.” The servant responded, “Well,

when the Lord sends me tribulation, I tribulate!” Boy does that ring a bell with me – I, too, have often tribulated. How about you? How do you handle the stress of life?

 

 

The Apostle Paul handled it this way: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”. (Philippians 4:4) It’s important to know that Paul was in prison awaiting a verdict on his life – if ever he had a right to be stressed out, this was it. Yet 17 times in this letter he mentions rejoicing and joy. There are no loopholes or escape clauses here – just always rejoice. Look at your circumstances and shout a defiant “Nevertheless!”. “Nevertheless, ‘Rejoice.’” The truth is our circumstances need not determine the condition of our hearts.

Rather our hearts can be conditioned by a relationship: Paul says to rejoice “in the Lord.” Rejoice because of what Jesus has done and is doing for you. Never forget that “The Lord is near (at hand.)” Think of a classroom of students. The teacher goes out of the room and remains out for some time. Chances are the atmosphere of the classroom in her absence is different than when she is present. Her presence changes everything. So with Jesus – His presence changes everything. And He is not a teacher standing by us – rather He is the Creator of the world who came to earth to be with us and who holds all things together (Colossians 1:17). No matter what we’re going through, no matter how heavy the load, no matter how hard we’re tribulating, we are not alone. Jesus is at hand, ready to help us.

In light of this, says Paul, “Do not be anxious about anything…” The Greek word for ‘worry’ means to tear apart, to distract, to come apart at the seams of a garment. The Latin word for ‘worry’ suggests a violent agitation and turmoil inside a person. The Anglo-Saxon word describes a power gripping a man by the throat. Get the picture? Anxiety and worry tear us apart, create inner turmoil, and grab us by the throat. The reality is anxiety and stress have adverse effects on our muscles, heart rate, blood vessels, and our glands. It is, therefore, important to live by the principle, “Do not be anxious about anything…” It’s a choice we make. Since the Lord is at hand, and since all things hold together in Him, we can release ourselves from the compulsion to tackle our circumstances by ourselves.

I appreciate how a poet penned it:

“Don’t you trouble trouble Till troubles trouble you,
Don’t you look for trouble; Let trouble look for you…
Don’t you borrow sorrow You’ll surely have your share.
He who dreams of sorrow Will find that sorrow’s there…
Don’t you hurry worry By worrying lest it come.
To flurry is to worry, ‘Twill miss you if you’re mum…
If care you’ve got to carry Wait till ‘tis at the door;
For he who runs to meet it Takes up the load before…
If minding will not mend it, Then better not to mind;
The best thing is to end it – Just leave it all behind…
Who feareth hath forsaken The Heavenly Father’s side;
What He hath undertaken He surely will provide…
The very birds reprove thee With all their happy song;
The very flowers teach thee That fretting is a wrong…
’Cheer up,’ the sparrow chirpeth, ‘Thy Father feedeth me;
Think how much more He careth, O lonely child, for thee.’…
’Fear not,’ the flowers whisper; ‘Since thus he hath arrayed
The buttercup and daisy, How canst thou be afraid?’…
Then don’t you trouble trouble, Till trouble troubles you;
You’ll only double trouble, And trouble others too.” (1)

Tribulate or rejoice – the choice is yours! (2)

(1) Quoted by Roy L. Laurin in Life Established: A Devotional Exposition of the Epistle to the Colossians, Van Kampen Press, Wheaton, IL., © 1948 by Van Kampen Press, p. 46-47

(2This Blog comes from a sermon by Pastor Curry, “Living a Joy-full Life: Control Your Stress” based on Philippians 4:1-9.

An Amazing Health Benefit

It’s not a coincidence that within a couple of weeks I read two unrelated yet related articles.

The first was titled Thankfulness Protects Against PTSD. (1) It reported on research that shows thankfulness and gratitude are often one of the responses to tragedy – that in the aftermath of tragedy gratitude helps us grow. “The results of the study showed that the individuals who already had higher levels of gratitude before the shooting were better able to turn their post-traumatic stress into growth. This is actually quite profound. It suggests that if we can help ourselves and others feel more grateful on a daily basis, we can actually prime ourselves to handle the trauma that life will inevitably bring.”

Researchers briefly listed two implications. One is that building gratitude is often an overlooked component of therapy. “Furthermore, findings indicate that mental health professionals should also consider post trauma interventions targeted at enhancing gratitude, thus helping trauma exposed individuals adopt a new, more adaptive perspective regarding their experience, further leading to PTG and positive outcomes in spite of trauma.”

The second is “The church as a whole could also play a part in building a greater communal sense of thankfulness.”

The second article which grabbed my attention was titled Research Shows That Physically Complaining Rewires Your Brain To Be Depressed And Anxious. (2) “According to Clemson University Professor of Psychology, Dr. Robin Kowalski, everyone complains from time to time, but should try to minimize it as much as possible. Bouts of negativity are normal and encouraged to reset our systems. But what you want to be mindful of, is if you are being excessively negative. Remember this: negativity breeds negativity…Negativity Rewires Your Brain…Donald Hebb, a Neuropsychologist, hypothesized that neurons which fire together, wire together. Meaning groups of neurons connect in our brain as a result of particular life experiences…Whenever we think a thought or have a feeling or physical sensation, thousands of neurons are triggered and form an internal neural network. The brain learns to trigger the same neurons with repetitive thinking. That said, we become what we think and say. If you focus on feelings / thoughts of criticism, worry, and victimization, it is much easier for your brain to call those things to the surface. This can lead to serious depression and anxiety.”

The article then lists ‘4 Tricks to Avoid Negativity.’ First on the list is “Show thanks: Even for the little things.” Which, of course, sent my mind back to the first article. The common link: Thankfulness is good for our health. I believe the authors of The Heidelberg Catechism knew this truth. They divided their Christian doctrine into three successive sections: Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude. They believed that once we understand our guilt and the grace of God through Jesus Christ we are empowered to live a life of thankfulness. And what are the components of this thankful living? In this section they included the 10 commandments (not as law but as an expression of thanks) and the Lord’s Prayer. In other words, to develop thankful living live life as God designed it.

The apostle Paul grasped it as well. He wrote, ”Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:4-9) What more can I say?

(1) CT online 8-11-17 – (2) www.healthspiritbody.com/complaining-causes-depression-anxiety 

 

Thoughts on Sainthood

I was recently part of a conversation about ‘true saints.’ We acknowledged the fact that for most people, the term ‘saint’ brings to mind either people who are dead or who are alive but are very special because of their deep faith. It got me thinking about the richness of sainthood but also about the lack of understanding of sainthood. Unfortunately that lack of understanding leads to anemic living. That’s why I love the way the apostle Paul begins his letter to the church at Philippi.

“Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:…” (Philippians 1:1 RSV).  Paul is writing to the saints in Philippi – to all the believers in Philippi. The truth is if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you are a saint. If you have received Jesus Christ as your Savior and accepted Him as Lord of your life, you are a saint. True sainthood is an assigned designation not an achieved status. It is given, not earned. It is a status for the living not for the dead. When you come to believe in Jesus Christ, you are given the destiny and dignity of being a saint.

And that empowers you vibrant living. It means you are assigned, designated, set apart to glorify Jesus. You simply need to be who you are. In the Old Testament God designated certain things and places as ‘holy’, meaning they were to be used only in sacred ways and for sacred purposes. In the New Testament God designated people as ‘holy’, to live in a sacred way and to be used for sacred purposes. Paul says your permanent address is in Christ Jesus. Your zip code may be Philippi, Corinth, New York City, South Haven, Kalamazoo, or Chicago…it may not be next year what it is today. But your permanent address is in Christ Jesus – it never changes. No matter where you live or how popular you are or are not, you are rooted in Jesus Christ and your identity comes from Him.

It also means you are special and valuable, because God has chosen to have his Son Jesus shine through you. It’s said pictorially in a little poem entitled ‘What Is A Saint?’

“What is a saint?” the youngster asked; So his parents set out to explain.
By describing Saint Francis, and Bernadette They attempted to make it plain.
They told of Matthew, Mark and Luke, and ended with John and Paul;
But the boy just couldn’t relate to this and didn’t grasp it at all.
Then the parents went to their church and showed him The stained glass windows there; The faces of the elect shone out As they preached or knelt in prayer.
The boy was asked if he understood, And he said, “I think I do;
From what I’ve seen, I’d say a saint Is a person the light shines through.”

]

No matter what others say or think, you are holy, you belong to Jesus Christ and He is wanting to shine His light through you.

I wonder – what if we were all more ‘saintly’ in our living, being the special persons we are. What difference would it make in our lives – and in the lives of those around us – and in our communities – and in our world? I encourage you to embrace your position and identity as a saint – let His light shine through you.