Dear Church–Philippians 4:14-23

We have come to the final verses in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, and I think it’s important to note that Paul’s letter is just that. It was a letter to a church who partnered with him in ministry, who supported his work, who loved him, and whom Paul loved in return. His letter wasn’t divided into chapters and verses, it was one seamless letter which thanked them, and encouraged them to keep going after Christ.

The introduction to the book of Philippians in my Bible states it like this:

…as we read through the text we see that the crucial and urgent subject matter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians is the gospel. The apostle Paul is grateful for the Philippians “partnership in the gospel” (1:5, 4:15) and preoccupied with their continuous progress in faith/gospel (1:25). He is in chains for “defending  and confirming the gospel” (1:7, 1:16) though happy that his imprisonment serves “to advance the gospel” (1:12). Finally, in the key verse of the letter, which expresses the essence of his message, Paul exhorts the Philippians to live “in a  manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (1:27)…only as they manifest their heavenly citizenship will they be responsible earthly citizens….Two important parts of the letter exemplify the kind of life he envisions: the example of Christ, his obedience, humility and concern for others (2:1-18); and the example of Paul, who gladly lost everything in order to gain Christ (3:1-21)…. There is an important connection between  theology and ethics…which is seen in the close link that Paul makes between believers’ identity and their behavior. Their life in society should reflect their double citizenship (3:20)….Being a Christian is not about being religious. It is rather about being faithful to the one who was crucified and rose again and brought into being the new creation thus fulfilling God’s story to redeem the world, to bring peace and justice and love…

In the very first part of the letter, Paul prays that our love (agape) may abound more and more in knowledge an depth of insight, so that [we] may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ–to the glory and praise of God.” (1:9-11)

Pastor John highlighted some excellent points as he wrapped up this series. He said:

*Healthy churches don’t just happen–it’s an intentional choice to love Jesus and others well.

*Being a healthy church is about giving others a second chance because we’ve been given one.

*Church is about entering into the lives of others; as God gives to us, we give to others.

*Worship is loving God and letting it flow out to others so that we can connect them to God’s love.

*We lay our lives down, not because we are the Savior, but because we know Him.

*Ministry is living with the mindset of–how can I serve you, how can I connect with you, how can I pray for you, and the entire Church is part of this ministry.

None of this flows from obligation. It all flows from being filled with God’s agape love for those around us, which is impossible apart from us knowing His love personally, and in choosing to live life His way through the power of the Holy Spirit.

We have seen, as we’ve worked our way through Philippians, that the verses we pluck out of context to make them personal promises don’t actually hold up in light of Paul’s entire letter. A relationship with Jesus, salvation in Him, is very personal, but it is not about us–it’s about becoming part of The Church that exists to advance God’s kingdom of love peace, and the restoration and flourishing of all things, across the face of the globe.

Another verse that we’ve taken out of context and turned into a personal promise from Philippians is:

AND my God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus. (4:19)

I know that I’ve been guilty about claiming this promise for myself, without regard to the full context in which Paul wrote it. He is sharing his final thoughts before he closes his letter and he has just thanked the Philippians for sharing in his sufferings, for giving generously to him (even though they themselves were poor), for being an encouragement to him, and for partnering with him in advancing the good news of Jesus. He is letting them know that because of their generosity, he is amply supplied–that their generosity is a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice pleasing to God. AND my God will meet all your needs… They have met Paul’s needs; God will meet their needs.

Paul has leveraged his life to advance the kingdom of God. The Philippians were recipients of the message, took hold of the message, and have generously and sacrificially partnered with Paul in advancing the kingdom of God. They have sought God first…

As Pastor John was reading Philippians 4:19 , I heard Jesus’ words–Seek FIRST the Kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you. (Mt. 6:33). 

Jesus spoke those words in his sermon on the mount right after he told his listeners not to worry about what they will eat, what they will wear–that unbelievers make their lives about those things…but that we are to make our lives about the Kingdom, and God will take care of the rest.

Paul is commending the Philippians for their friendship and partnership with Him in sharing the gospel, acknowledging their sacrifice for the Kingdom and assuring them that in living with a God first mindset (not worrying about or chasing after the things of this world) that God will take care of them.

I believe this is what Jesus was teaching in the Lord’s Prayer. The prayer begins with acknowledging that God is Father of us all, that His name is most holy and set apart. Then comes the request–May your Kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. The prayer ends (in Matthew’s gospel)  with “Yours is the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory forever”.

Jesus mentions the Kingdom twice in this prayer, and sandwiched between those two mentions he teaches us to ask for God to supply our daily needs, to forgive us as we forgive others (we cannot love like Jesus and hold grudges against people), to not lead us into temptation, (which can lead us away from doing life His way), but to deliver us from evil–which is sometimes translated as the evil one.

That entire phrase is interesting…the Greek word “evil” used there has been translated as annoyances, hardships, something that causes pain and trouble, of a bad nature or condition, wickedness, or ethically bad. (Strongs).

James, in his book writes: but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed…(1:14). 

Is it possible that Jesus is saying–pray that your life will be all about living under God’s rule in His Kingdom doing His will so that His Kingdom can advance across the face of the globe to all people–don’t get distracted by going after your own “daily bread”, trust Him to provide for your needs as you seek His Kingdom first–Love others well, with God’s agape love-don’t hold grudges against people, and ask for God’s help to keep you strong when you are enticed to lose your way due to hardship, or your own desire to chase after other things–  God’s Kingdom is available to you, His power to carry out His will is available to you, and when you live this way His glory will be seen?

Is this what Paul is saying to the Philippians when he commends them for their partnership in making Jesus name known, in advancing the gospel of the Kingdom of God which is now available to everyone through Christ, and in seeking that Kingdom first? As they pour out their lives for God Paul assures them that God will supply all their needs….following that up with “To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

Dear Church, would the watching world say that our lives are defined by agape love, sacrificial living,  and supernatural power for the glory of God? Does the watching world want what we have? If yes, glory to God!  If no, are we willing to reboot and do this His way?

Lord Jesus-help us, the individuals who make up your Church,  seek Your kingdom first and trust you to take care of everything else, so that the world can know that You, Emmanuel, are here, and have come to deliver God’s love and life to them, right here, right now. Forgive us for living for ourselves and chasing after the things of this world. Holy Spirit, please empower us to live for the glory of God.

-Luanne

Luanne highlighted several points that Pastor John made in Sunday’s message. I want to highlight one more:

“Love like Jesus. Offer grace. Sacrifice self. Live like Jesus, in the power of Jesus.

Be. Like. Jesus.”

I love that Luanne mentioned that this book, Philippians, was written as one seamless letter in its original form. It wasn’t broken up by chapter and verse, or by headings and subtitles. It was a letter from a man to his friends who had been and still were faithfully supporting and encouraging him in his work. And the point I highlighted above? It is even more meaningful to me when I remember that this was a letter between friends.

Pastor John talked about the beauty of this friendship that Paul and the Philippians shared. He used the word Koinonia, which is an intimate, deep, communion between those who believe in Jesus; it is sharing and entering into the trouble and struggles of one another, coming alongside each other. Only the presence of Jesus can create these connections and bind hearts together this deeply. This is the relationship that existed between Paul and the church he was writing to. If you have experienced the joy of this kind of friendship, you know what a blessing it is.

With this in mind, read the point I highlighted above again… In a letter to his friends, the bottom line was clear. We have written about it every week of this series. It’s all about Jesus. We see it all over this letter. You may be thinking, “Okay, Laura. We get it. It’s about Jesus. Why is this such a big deal, again this week?” 

This is why it’s a big deal. Still. Again. Think about it… If you wrote a long letter to some of your closest friends, what would stand out? What would the bottom line be? What would be the undercurrent of your message? Maybe you’re not a letter writer. I am. And when I think about letters I’ve written to people I dearly love, I am fairly certain they don’t sound like Paul’s.

And they don’t have to.

I am not suggesting that the way we communicate with those we love should always, only be about Jesus. I am certainly not in favor of adapting a template that is modeled after the letters of Paul–I’m not in favor of templates at all, actually–for so many reasons. In fact, I’m not suggesting that we model anything after Paul. It’s not about Paul at all–except that Paul modeled his life after Jesus. And encouraged his friends to do the same. In his beautiful words, long-preserved, he encourages us to do the same thing, too.

I don’t believe Paul was trying to write something “churchy”and “religious”. His letter flowed from his heart of gratitude and love. That’s why it’s so beautiful. That’s why it matters that he kept bringing it back to Jesus over and over again–because he got it. He understood that real life is not about a list of dos and donts. It’s not about obligation or duty. It’s not about fear and shame and punishment. No, he had experienced something other. Something that changed everything. He had encountered Jesus and was filled with His love-a love that had to pour out because it was never meant to be hoarded as an individual gift, and because once you know that kind of love, you want everyone else to know it, too. He had an encounter with the Kingdom come, the Kingdom Luanne wrote about so poignantly above. And he believed that the Kingdom lived and breathed in the people around him. He was absolutely convinced of the power of Jesus and His Spirit among them. It was his reality. Jesus and His Kingdom were at the center of everything Paul believed and he longed for those he loved to know and remain in that truth. And so, when he wrote a letter to his friends, it was all about Jesus. Because nothing in his life was separate or disconnected from Jesus. Everything revolved around Him. He didn’t have to try to write something spiritual–he was living and breathing the Spirit in every moment. He didn’t have to muster up affectionate words–the Agape love of Jesus was flowing through him.

Luanne asked us, “Dear Church, would the watching world say that our lives are defined by agape love, sacrificial living, and supernatural power for the glory of God?” 

Paul’s life was. And his letter evidenced that. I think it was less “how to” and more “cause and effect”. His words overflowed from a heart completely convinced and compelled by the Love that had won his heart. And because it was the natural overflow of his heart, I don’t think he had to try to say things just right in his letter. I think he simply wrote what he knew to be true, and he believed that as his friends continued to experience the grace and love of Jesus, they would be completely overtaken by Him, too.

The other night in a prayer service, the man leading asked this question…

“How often do we miss God while we’re looking for truth?” (Pastor Beau Gamble)

There’s a lot to ponder within that question… But as it relates to what we’ve been studying together, this book called Philippians, I think I have an answer.

Every time–we’ll miss God every single time–if we’re looking for truth outside of the person of Jesus. I have read this book, Philippians, so many times. I have many of the individual verses memorized. But I’ve read it through lenses focused on personal promises, individual growth, shoulds and shouldn’ts. And somehow–even though we’ve spent the summer writing about how it all points to Jesus–I hadn’t seen it before. How did I miss it? How did I miss that this entire letter points to Jesus and becoming one with Him so as to become like Him and carry His love and His Kingdom to the world? How?

It’s easy to do if it’s all about us. If we’re looking for truth for ourselves, personal promises like Luanne wrote about, we run the risk of missing the point entirely. The point of not only this particular book, but the whole of Scripture... Jesus Himself. He is the point. Jesus. He even tells us in John 5:39-40, “You pore over the scriptures for you imagine that you will find eternal life in them. And all the time they give their testimony to me! But you are not willing to come to me to have real life!” (JB Phillips)

Thirteen messages that have covered four chapters of our Bible. And ultimately, they all point to the same thing. Jesus. Pastor John summed up the whole series in the quote I opened with:

“Love like Jesus. Offer grace. Sacrifice self. Live like Jesus, in the power of Jesus.

Be. Like. Jesus.”

Dear Church… this is really what it’s all about. Do we believe it? Do we believe it so deeply that our lives revolve around it? Around the person of Jesus and all of His ways? So much that if we wrote a letter to our closest friends, our love and intimacy with Jesus would be the undertone of every line–simply because it’s who we are?

Dear Church… it’s our turn. How, then, will we live?

–Laura

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Dear Church #12: Philippians 4:10-13

This week, we looked at a short passage in Philippians that contains one of the most frequently quoted verses in our Bible. I bet that if I gave you the first few words, you could complete the sentence without even having to think about it.

“I can do all things…”

You know what comes next, right?

“…through Christ who gives me strength.”

You have probably seen this verse on coffee mugs, greeting cards, calendars, bumper stickers, and beyond. It’s what we say and pray when “all things” includes something overwhelming that we don’t feel equipped to handle. This verse, though, like the rest of the Bible, was not written as a stand-alone thought. There is context around it. And that context is important.

I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:10-13, NIV)

The verse we quote so often actually comes at the end of our passage, and apart from the verses that preceed it, we have a tendency to make it into a personal, individual promise. We have to read it in context, without skipping over the familiar things, if we want to understand what Paul is telling the Church.

At the beginning of Sunday’s message, Pastor John asked us what we think “content” means. The assumed definition is “happy, peaceful, satisfied”, or something along those lines. And then he shared with us that, in this passage, it actually means a barrier/shelter against the wind. When we understand this definition and connect it to “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”, we find that the secret Paul is talking about here-the secret of contentment-is that we become the wind that pushes back the barriers.

If your Bible is anything like mine, you probably have notes at the bottom of the pages that add insight to the verses. My note for verse 12 says this:

“Union with the living, exalted Christ is the secret of being content and the source of Paul’s abiding strength.”

Upon first glance, the “secret” that Pastor John identified doesn’t line up with what the Bible translators came up with. But if we look beyond the words, I believe we’ll find that they actually are saying the same thing…

As individuals who have come to know Jesus under the banner of Western (and especially American) Christianity, we love the idea of Jesus being our refuge. We highlight verses that support that claim. So many of our worship songs reference Him as our shelter, fortress, refuge, hiding place, etc…

And He is. He is our shelter. 2 Corinthians 12:9 in the Amplified Bible, Classic Edition says this:

But He said to me, My grace (My favor and loving-kindness and mercy) is enough for you [sufficient against any danger and enables you to bear the trouble manfully]; for My strength and power are made perfect (fulfilled and completed) and show themselves most effective in [your] weakness. Therefore, I will all the more gladly glory in my weaknesses and infirmities, that the strength and power of Christ (the Messiah) may rest (yes, may pitch a tent over and dwell) upon me!

Clearly, Jesus is our covering, and we can absolutely take refuge in Him.

BUT… When we stay inside the tent too long, it becomes a prison that keeps us from becoming His “Kingdom come”. We get focused on ourselves, and on our blessings–so much so that blessing–which means a special or undeserved favor or gift–becomes our expectation, rather than something we are humbled by and grateful for. We crave the happy, peaceful definition of content, and all that matters to us is our own satisfaction. Staying locked inside the shelter may keep us safe… but it also keeps us selfish, silent, and still. We may think we’re satisfied in this space, but if we stay there, we will never experience the God of the impossible in our midst. We won’t see the bread multiplied. We can’t walk on the water. We can’t hear the Kingdom singing. We won’t taste the water-made-wine.And we’ll never know the thrill of sharing the gift we’ve been given with others. Hiding in the shelter makes us apathetic and unaware of the world around us.

We all experience seasons when we need the shelter of Jesus. Sometimes, we need Him to “pitch a tent over us” so we can hide in Him. Here’s the thing, though… this is why Pastor John & the Bible translators are both right in their interpretation of what the secret to contentment is:

We can be “hidden” in Christ, in the shelter that is Him, and simultaneously be (through  Him, by His power) the wind that pushes back the barriers. In fact, we MUST be hidden in Christ, in our union with Him, to successfully push against the strongholds of this world.

The Message words verse 13 this way: I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. (emphasis mine)

Remember, the Bible notes say, “Union with the living, exalted Christ is the secret of being content…” Union is an intimate word. And I love that the Message uses the words “in the One”. We must be in Him, and He in us, to be content. I agree with the notes.

But, what does us being in Christ and He in us really mean? I don’t think it means we get to live a quiet, happy, little (and it would be little…) life with our safe and protective personal Jesus. Nope. Pretty sure that’s not it.

I believe it means our life will be joined with His. That we die to self and are raised to life in Him. That His life begins to manifest itself through us as we live and move and have our being through Him. I think it means our perspective on what blessing means changes and we begin to believe that the “blessed” are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who hunger and thirst for justice, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and the persecuted. It means we are given a heart of flesh that, like the Jesus living within us, sees and moves toward the marginalized and the oppressed, the overlooked and impoverished, and loves them with the love we’ve received. A love that touches, comes alongside, listens, and leverages the abundance we’ve received on behalf of those who have not.

Union with Jesus means that we have the opportunity to experience the love and protection of being in the shelter of Him and at the same time extend that love and protection to those around us. Living this way means challenging the systems and structures that create barriers that keep some people from flourishing. Jesus pushed back against the systems and structures, the stereotypes and supposed roles of His time for the sake of people He loves who bear the Image of God–and He has entrusted us with the same mission. Part of His Kingdom coming on earth as it is in Heaven is absolutely becoming the wind that pushes back the barriers. We can’t be united with our Jesus and moving with Him, through His power alive in us, without joining Him in pushing back the strongholds that are keeping people in prison.

So I agree with John, too. I believe both statements ring true, and we can’t really have one without the other. We cannot become the wind that pushes back the barriers without the life of Jesus living within us. And we can’t be united, one, with Jesus and not move with Him. If we are one, we go where He goes. He goes where we go. The wind moves, and it knocks down strongholds.

Maybe the first stronghold we need to join Him in knocking down is the one we’re hiding in. So that we can carry the Jesus that is living in us and through us to the world He loves that needs what we’ve been hoarding for ourselves…

–Laura

Laura wrote: We cannot become the wind that pushes back the barriers without the life of Jesus living within us. And we can’t be united, one, with Jesus and not move with Him. If we are one, we go where He goes. He goes where we go. The wind moves, and it knocks down strongholds.

So, my question is, are we living like this? Are we seeing the power of God move in and around us? Are we experiencing His power moving through The Church (that’s us) that Jesus said the gates of hell will not prevail against? Which kingdom do we believe is stronger? The kingdom of this world-or the Kingdom of God? What we believe is what we live. Therefore, the way that Paul ends this paragraph is hugely important.

Different translations of the Bible highlight different elements from the Greek, so I’ve written out a few versions of Philippians 4:13  for you to ponder the various nuances (bold print mine):

I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.” NIV.

 “I can do all things through Him who gives me power.” Complete Jewish Bible ”

…for I can do everything God asks me to with the help of Christ who gives me the strength and power.” Living Bible

I have the strength for everything through Him who empowers me.” New American Standard

I am ready for anything through the strength of the one who lives within me.” J.B. Phillips.

I can do all thing [which He has called me to do] through Him who strengthens and empowers me [to fulfill His purpose–I am self-sufficient in Christ’s sufficiency; I am ready for anything and equal to anything through Him who infuses me with inner strength and confident peace.] Amplified.

The secret that Paul has learned begins with a mindset of belief. I can is a mindset; do implies action; through takes us from one place to another, and all of this implies that Paul is part of, (and that we are part of) the ongoing, moving, active, advancing Kingdom of heaven coming on earth–not in our own strength, but in His.

Many of us in this western American culture were taught that our relationship with Jesus is all about us-personal, private. Like Laura wrote above–I don’t believe we can come to that conclusion if we take off our cultural lenses and ask the Holy Spirit to give us fresh perspective as we read scripture. When we come into a relationship with Jesus, it is extremely personal. We fall in love with this precious Savior who gave everything and suffered much so that we can live in Him and He in us–so that we can know the love of God the Father, and so we can experience the power to carry out the will of God because of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

I can do…through Him…who empowers is all about His Kingdom. Pastor John highlighted the story of the the rich young man who came to Jesus (Mark 10:17-27) who wanted to know what he must do to inherit eternal life. The young man told Jesus that he had kept all of the commandments. Mark tells us that Jesus felt love for him, so He told him that He lacked one thing—Jesus told him to go and sell all he possessed, give it away to the poor, gain treasure in heaven by doing this, and follow Jesus. The young man went away sad–the New American Standard Version says that he felt grief–and he walked away, because he had much wealth. He responded to the extreme invitation of Jesus with an “I can’t” mindset.

The grieved young man wanted his religion to be about himself and his behavior. Jesus was teaching him that in His kingdom his religion was to be about others. Jesus own brother writes in his book “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” James 1:27 NLT  (Religion is the outward actions that reflect the inner work of Christ in you.). We think of being corrupted by the world as wild partying and sex, however, the rich young man shows us that being corrupted by the world can include being a “good” person, but holding wealth too tightly.

Paul writes that even when he is well fed, even when he has plenty he relies on the power of Jesus who empowers him to carry out the will of God.  Our stuff can become our prison. We must hold all worldly possessions loosely and acknowledge that it is all God’s and He can do with it whatever He wants. It’s not easy, given the way our culture has discipled us, but Jesus, when talking to His disciples about His encounter with the rich young man acknowledges that His way of life is hard, but that nothing is impossible with God. If we believe that nothing is impossible with God, then we believe I can do all things through Christ….because they are the same thought.

And our I can do is all about being the answer to “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done right here on earth as it is being done in heaven.  God’s Kingdom comes when we are living in the power of the Holy Spirit and carrying out the will of God. (Just a hint…His will has nothing to do with us being mean or hateful to anyone, it has nothing to do with placing inscribed Bible passages in public places, it has nothing to do with political parties–it has everything to do with loving others, with sharing our lives, and with pushing back the kingdom of this world with kindness, grace and Christlike love.)

So, where does this power come from?  Jesus ends the Lord’s Prayer  with “Yours is the Kingdom, Yours is the power, Yours is the glory forever. Amen”. 

The Kingdom…God’s life, God’s presence, God’s rule, God’s ways, God’s will, God’s love,  God’s power right here, right now- (This is eternal life, that they know you the one true God, and Jesus who you have sent. John 17:3).

The Power…the energy, the strength for all of this to happen belongs to God–and He shares it with us through the Holy Spirit. Paul tells us in Romans 8:11 that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead lives in us. He prays in Ephesians 1:19 for us to understand the incredible power that is available to us who believe. Peter tells us that God’s divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness. (2 Peter 1:3). You all, we have more than we need to carry out the mission of Christ. Do we believe it?

Last week I was preparing for a devotion and was digging into kingdom, power, and glory. Believing what the New Testament says about Jesus making all things, that without Him nothing was made, that in Him all things hold together, and that the visible world points to the invisible reality of His kingdom, I read some science journals and textbooks.  I learned way too much to write about it all here, but I was fascinated by a couple of things.

One: The air (in us/around us) is made up of gasses one of which is oxygen.  Humans need oxygen to live. We breathe it into our lungs where it gets in our bloodstream and goes to every part of our body. Oxygen infuses our muscles with the ability to exert the energy they need to carry out every movement we make. Every blink of the eye, every pump of the heart, every intentional movement…all oxygen in the blood infused.  We don’t exhale oxygen, we exhale carbon dioxide that the plants need to take in so that they can produce the oxygen that we need. Nothing is static, everything is dynamic–there is a whole lot going on all the time that we take for granted. There is no such thing as an “empty glass”. It’s full of moving gasses that are keeping us alive individually and are shared by all of us. If you are like me, you don’t pay much attention to the miracle that is happening in and around us all the time, but this all the time miracle is the physical world pointing to the realities of the very real spiritual world that is dynamic in and around us all the time.

Two: Our earth is able to sustain life because of energy that comes from the sun. Without the sun, everything dies. We don’t produce the energy that comes from the sun…as a matter of fact, I read in two different science books/articles that energy can’t be created and it can’t be destroyed, but it can be lost. If we don’t eat for a few days, we lose energy, but the potential to regain that lost energy is always available as soon as we fuel our bodies with food. Our cars don’t go anywhere if they have no fuel. The potential for the car to go is still available as soon as it gets the fuel it needs. God has given us the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the power of God working in us. Power, strength, energy—these are all synonyms. So, the power, the energy, the strength of God is available to us at all times. We can’t create it, we can’t destroy it, but we can lose it. Paul warns us not to quench the Holy Spirit. He encourages us to “be filled” with the Holy  Spirit, which implies action. We must spend time in the presence of God to have the Holy Spirit fuel that we need to carry the heart of God, the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control), the message of Jesus, to the world, so that His kingdom of life, light, and love will advance one person at a time across the face of the globe.

Air, energy from the sun–in us, around us all the time giving us what we need for life. God–Father, Son, Spirit–in us, around us, all the time giving us what we need for His life to be lived through us.

In Him, you have all you need to carry this out. Do you believe it?

I can do all thing [which He has called me to do] through Him who strengthens and empowers me [to fulfill His purpose…I am ready for anything and equal to anything through Him who infuses me with inner strength and confident peace. Phil. 4:13 (Amp).

-Luanne

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Dear Church–Philippians 4:8-9

Finally, believers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable and worthy of respect, whatever is right and confirmed by God’s word, whatever is pure and wholesome, whatever is lovely and brings peace, whatever is admirable and of good repute; if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think continually on these things [center your mind on them, and implant them in your heart], and the God [who is the source] of peace and well-being will be with you.  (Phil. 4:8-9 Amplified)

As I typed out the scripture above, I could feel within myself a deep longing to do better about living with the mindset that Paul is encouraging in those verses, and a deep desire to see the followers of Christ, the Church,  live like that. Our actions flow from our minds.  Taking our thoughts captive, renewing our minds, having the mind of Christ–these are all concepts that we are encouraged to put into practice, and we have the Holy Spirit living in us who truly does give us the power (the energy) that we need to live godly lives. But man–the mind is a battlefield!

In preparing for his sermon, Pastor John did a Google search and typed in the words: “Why are Christians so…”  The responses that come up are: mean, judgmental, miserable, intolerant…, yet Jesus said that his followers will be known by our love. What has happened? How did we get so off track-and what can we do to get back?

I think it’s super important that we each pay close attention to the voices that we are allowing to “disciple” us. To be discipled means to be taught. To be a disciple of someone means that you learn from them, that you model what they do. I’m afraid that in this culture of constant chatter, constant noise, constant opinions, choosing sides, etc….we are quickly digressing.

The Apostle Paul encourages us to be discipled by him when he writes: The things which you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things [in daily life], and he tells us that the result will be the peace of God in our lives. When the peace of God rules in our lives, our mindset–our heartset becomes about the flourishing of others, and, as Jesus said in his sermon on the mount–the peacemakers will be blessed by being called–or recognized as children of God. (Mt. 5:9)

Pastor John pointed out something that has frustrated me for quite some time which I believe has led to our meanness, our misery, our judgmental attitudes and our intolerance. Somehow in our individualistic western mindset we have made Christianity about “self” rather than about building God’s kingdom. We’ve made personal salvation the main point–when personal salvation, or entering into a relationship with Jesus is the beginning point–the new birth that leads to a new way of life that is completely others focused. It is impossible to read Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and the book of Acts and come to the conclusion that the ministry of Jesus is about self. The ministry of Jesus is about God’s kingdom coming and His will being done on earth as it is in heaven…and we’re the plan.

Yes–it all starts at the cross. Without the cross, we have no hope for a relationship with God. But there is a cross, and it not only reminds us of the death and resurrection of Jesus, it is also a reminder of how we are to live in complete and total surrender to God.

Pastor John gave us three very practical ways to look at the cross:

  1. As a plus sign. In mathematical equations, the plus sign indicates things that are added. There is tremendous personal benefit in coming into a relationship with Jesus–no doubt about that. Jesus adds incomparably more to our lives than I think we can even fully recognize.  But the plus sign also serves as a reminder that we are to be about the business of bringing God’s peace, love, and message of His grace to those around us. His heart is for everyone to know about the life that He offers through Christ.
  2. As a minus sign.  Picture the crossbar as a minus sign (a takeaway), and the vertical  bar as the letter “I”.  If I take myself and my will out of the equation so that God’s will can be done in me and through me, I am much more inclined to be the light of the world and salt of the earth that Jesus said I would be. When I’m not worried about or focused on myself, I am much more inclined to lift Him up, and He said that when we lift Him up, He will draw all people to Himself.
  3. Picture the vertical bar as the symbol that God has raised us up to a place we could never be on our own, and the crossbar as the reminder to reach out beyond ourselves to others.

Pastor John shared with us the results of a study put out by the Center for Attitudinal Healing that stated all conflict begins with a mindset of “lack”; focusing on what we don’t have and allowing our thoughts to be obsessed over how to get what we don’t have. As I began to ponder that thought I saw a great deal of truth in it. Becoming aware can help a great deal. When we begin to feel angsty inside, rather than lashing out and reacting, can we begin to sit in that angst and get to the bottom of what it is that we think we lack?  Is it God’s love? Is it honor? Is it respect? Is it material goods? Is it a certain talent?  Is it political power and persuasion? Is it fairness? Is it inner peace? Is it not getting our way? What is it?  If we don’t figure this out, it will lead us to anger, bitterness, and conflict. Every war ever fought–whether a personal internal war, a domestic war, a cultural war, or war on a global scale is about someone trying to gain what they “lack”–whether lands, or power, or the obliteration or oppression of an entire people group so that the “conqueror” can have dominion and supremacy, or (on a much smaller scale) control over the remote control, a mindset of lack has led to it. Think about it…

This same Center for Attitudinal Healing said that the solution to conflict-the pathway to peace- is to learn to love others well, and to receive the love that is extended to you.   The Center for Attitudinal Healing is not a Christian Center–they are secular, yet their approach sounds just like Jesus.

Does it work? This week I read an article on nbcnews.com about a former white supremacist, former grand dragon in the KKK, former Nazi,  who was part of the Unite the Right Charlottesville march last year, but whose life has changed completely because of a woman of color who offered kindness to him as he was struggling from heat exhaustion at that rally. Her kindness began to change the narrative in his head, which led to him begin having conversations with an African-American neighbor, who just so happened to be a pastor–resulting in this former white supremacist coming into a relationship with Christ in an African American church. He was baptized in that church, he belongs to that church, and is now telling those who he used to recruit to get out of the business of hate–that it will ruin their lives. (Ex-KKK member denounces hate groups one year after rallying in Charlottesville  nbcnews.com). Love works–just like Jesus said that it would.

So, what does all of this have to do with this week’s verses? Everything.

In every situation, are we (am I/are you)  willing to have the mind of Christ? Are we willing to renew our minds and think with the mind of the Spirit rather than the mind of the flesh? Are we willing to pause, get our thoughts under control, examine what’s going on under the surface, surrender our wills to God’s greater will and purpose, and “be the change that we want to see in the world”? Are we willing to keep our minds focused on the things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy?  Are we willing to put into practice the things that Paul is encouraging the Church to put into practice in his letter? If so, the peace–the shalom of God– will be with us and will naturally spill out to all of those around us-leading to their flourishing in all ways, and we will be known as Jesus’ followers by our love. His way is always the better way, and to know His way means to know Him- our true, noble, righteous, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy Savior.

–Luanne

We’ve said it over and over again since we began this series in Philippians: It is all about Jesus. And this week is no exception. Paul is writing to the church and exhorting them (and us) to think rightly so that God and His peace would be with them. Our passage, these two short verses, do not directly reference Jesus. But marinating in the words reveals what we have seen repeatedly in this letter–it all revolves around Jesus. Let’s look at the words Paul uses to tell the Church what to think on:

“…whatever is true, whatever is honorable and worthy of respect, whatever is right and confirmed by God’s word, whatever is pure and wholesome, whatever is lovely and brings peace, whatever is admirable and of good repute; if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise…”

True. Honorable. Worthy of respect. Right. Confirmed by God’s word. Pure. Wholesome. Lovely. Peace-bringing. Admirable. Of good repute. Excellent. Worthy of praise.

What do these words describe? I could use the word honorable to describe my husband. I might say the fresh snow is pure white, or use it in reference to the water in a mountain lake. I could call food or old T.V. shows wholesome. There are MANY things I call lovely–skyscapes, butterflies, flowers, birds, my dear friend who wrote the first half of this post… peace is used frequently and in a variety of contexts. We can call hard work admirable, and use the descriptor of good repute in reference to candidates we are backing. Excellent is used often in the world of academia as well as in athletics. Worthy of praise is less often used than the others, but we could find areas where it, too, could apply.

But can you think of one thing that all of these words together describe? One thing that fully embodies the meanings of each adjective?

I can. In fact, I can think of two…

Jesus.

And us, the Church, when we’re living in the fullness of His life in us.

These words do describe the things I mentioned above. But none of those things, on their own, fully embody the meaning of the word used to describe them. At least not when held up to the standard of Jesus himself.

So, without overreaching or hypothesizing too much, I think it’s fairly safe to say that when Paul told the Church to “think on these things”, he was encouraging them to keep their minds trained on the life, ways, and person of Jesus. Pastor John mentioned that Paul didn’t go into the meanings of the words he chose. He didn’t explain what he meant.  He wrote the words and moved on. Maybe that’s because if we know the real Jesus, we already have the most complete picture of what these words mean. Maybe his readers knew that. Because he goes on to say  “Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing.” (vs. 9a, NLT) What did the church at Philippi (and what do we…) learn, receive from, hear and see Paul doing? Ultimately, what Paul modeled was what being a disciple looks and sounds like. He taught and gave what he learned and received from the person and ways of Jesus. The words he wrote in his letters are sometimes difficult to understand and to swallow, and we read things in them that appear to contradict each other–he was human, after all, and his work is most likely not without its flaws. He knew this about himself–he understood his own humanity, his own brokenness. And so he did two distinct things: He pointed his readers always to Jesus himself as the authority and standard. And–and it’s a big and–he had the audacity to imply that we, the Church, could actually live up to the standards of Christ, by the power of the Spirit at work within us. NOT by striving or trying harder to achieve all that we aren’t. But by accessing the power (energy) of the Spirit.

I also believe that “these things” include one another, when we’re operating out of the mind of Christ. We don’t think of one another this way if we’re operating out of our self-focused mindsets of lack. But if we understand the ways of the Kingdom, the life and character of Jesus, his way of abundant love that is available to us, then what we see when we look at each other is the Imago Dei. The image of God in each one, our shared humanity, made beautiful in the Agape love of Christ.

Luanne wrote above, “It is impossible to read Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and the book of Acts and come to the conclusion that the ministry of Jesus is about self. The ministry of Jesus is about God’s kingdom coming and His will being done on earth as it is in heaven…”

None of us could refute that statement. It truly is impossible to come to the conclusion that the ministry of Jesus is about self if we actually read these accounts of his life. Nothing that Jesus said, did, or taught is responsible for the self-absorbed, I want more, individualistic “faith” many of us find ourselves trapped in today. In fact, it is precisely because we have ignored (if we’ve read them at all) the words and life of Jesus that we find the Church in the condition she is in today… full of people the world around us identify as “mean, judgmental, miserable, intolerant…”

We wonder why our lives are filled with conflict and chaos and we long for the peace we hear preached from the pulpit, the peace that Paul writes about at the end of our passage. He tells us to think on “these things”, to put into practice what we’ve heard and seen. And, “Then the God of peace will be with you.” (vs. 9b, NLT)

Remember when I said that the whole passage points us to Jesus? These final words are no different. If we read these verses and don’t pause to ponder their deeper meaning, we can read these two verses through an “If this, then that” filter. It sounds like cause and effect. Do this, think on these things, act this way–and then you’ll have the peace of God with you. I believe it’s a bit more nuanced than that…

In Ephesians, Paul writes these words:

For he himself is our peace… (Eph. 2:14a)

This verse has been a favorite of mine for many years because it always reminds me that peace isn’t a thing, or even a state of being. Peace is a person–the person of Jesus. He, Jesus, is our peace. He doesn’t give us peace. He IS peace. If we have Him (and He is accessible to any and all who desire to know Him–this has nothing to do with church and everything to do with relationship), then we have peace. Period.

So what does this verse mean then? And what about all the times we feel like peace is beyond our reach, even though we know Jesus?

I think, like many things we write about, this has a lot to do with choice. I can have a refrigerator full of food, but if I never open the door and take out food to eat, I’m going to feel hungry despite the fullness that is available. In regard to peace though, the study that John presented to us, that Luanne referred to, better shows us why we often find ourselves peace-less.

It is all about the mindset we choose. Do we choose lack? Or love? Is there never enough? Or is there abundance? Jesus, if we know Him, is always with us. His life lives in us. We always have Him–and He IS our peace. But the thing about the life of Jesus within us is that it’s like a faucet. The supply of water is no less present in a faucet that is turned off versus one that is on. But the water only flows when the faucet is open. And do you know the quickest way to turn off the water of Jesus’ life within you? Get focused on yourself. Because self-focused living is completely contrary to Kingdom living. It is impossible to experience the peace, the Shalom, the setting-all-things-right life of Jesus while focused on self. When the secular study declared that giving and receiving love is the pathway to peace, they hit on the central principle of the Kingdom, the only standard that mattered to Jesus and His ministry because everything else flows from it: Love God (which is impossible without learning to receive the love He has for you); Love your neighbor (Everyone. ALL people, everywhere–including yourself)Giving and receiving love is the opposite of living a life focused on self. And it is the only way to access the peace of Jesus that is always living within us. The well of peace does not run dry because it’s full of the eternal, unending, forever-flowing living water that is Jesus himself.

I don’t mean to diminish or minimize the letter to the Philippians by repeatedly stating that it’s all about Jesus. In fact, the opposite is true. Jesus is everywhere, if we’ll only look. And He is the authority, the rock, the foundation, that the Bible and every other created thing is built upon. Seeing how every word Paul wrote is made complete in the person of Jesus expands my heart and my mind, as well as my view of scripture–because I’m finding Him there. I hope it does the same for you, as we continue to dive into the depths together.

This week, think on “these things”: Jesus—in all of His beautifully simple complexity, and those all around you who bear His image and inhale and exhale His Life. As you do, love will replace the mindset of lack, and Peace will overflow…

–Laura

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