Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 16 January 2020

…as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. Philippians 2:16. (EHV).

On this Christian walk, one part of our reward is pride in what we’ve done.   Mind you, excessive or misplaced pride is destructive.  There are numerous verses throughout scripture that talk about how God hates our misplaced pride, how He will bring us low for it because it puts up a wall between Him and us.

That’s not what Paul was talking about here.

When you or I start with kindness, letting Jesus’ light shine through us, He is justifiably proud of us.   God IS proud of us when we follow Him closely, when we live the way He asks us to live.  It’s ok for us to feel the same way.

That’s how Paul felt about the Philippians.   He was proud of their faith, proud that they were taking what he had taught them about Jesus and put it into practice.   He was proud, satisfied to know God had let him to have a hand in bringing it about.  We don’t know if Paul ever made it back to Philippi; probably he didn’t.   So it made him feel happy to know that his friends kept up what he taught them.   That his legacy would endure.

It’s ok for us to feel the same way.   Just last weekend, I attended the 20th anniversary celebration of my daughter-in-law’s church.   Hope Fellowship has been around since 2000 when its (now senior) pastor moved here from Nashville to plant a new church.   It started in a day care center, later moved to an elementary school, then later, still, moved into its own large building.   An interesting side-note is that my own church, Water’s Edge, started in this exact same way in the exact same day care and school (not long after Hope moved out).

The Hope pastor, John McKinzie, reminisced about their first service, which had a good turnout of over 50 people.   Today, the church’s membership is in the thousands, spread over three campuses.   John spent much of the sermon reminiscing, talking about how God richly blessed the fellowship by bringing people and their talents to bear in spreading the Gospel.  You could tell from watching him that he felt proud at having had a hand in bringing it about.   That God had worked through him and the group he led to make it happen; to grow the faith.   To walk where Jesus led.

While we live here, we SHOULD feel proud to do our part in God’s kingdom work.   We should feel happy about it; it’s ok for us to boast in Christ about the good things He does in and through our lives.   Paul did; Paul would.

For further reading:  Proverbs 8:13, Isaiah 25:11, Philippians 2:17

Lord Jesus, I’m thankful and proud of what You do in remaking me and working through me!

Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 18 December 2019

For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have. Philippians 1:29-30. (EHV).

Was Paul one of these people who said “well, it’s good enough for me so it’s good enough for you?”   From these verses, it sure seems that way.   Paul was in intellectual living in a world where, like ours today, the intellect was daily confronted by the reality of brutish living.   Greece was the home of warriors and philosophers.   So was Rome.   So, in fact, was Jerusalem.  Paul had been educated as a Pharisee, and was taught the entirety of the Scriptures from boyhood.  Like other young Jewish men, he memorized them, took them to heart.  Later, as an adult, Paul zealously lived out the commands of the authorities in the synagogue.   Shut down “the Way” and get rid of anybody in your way.   He enthusiastically persecuted new Christians, even overseeing the murder of Stephen:   the first Christian martyr.  That all changed on a lonely desert road, where Paul learned how to stand up for Jesus.

Now enter his time in Philippi.   There Paul started the first Christian church on the European continent.   He cast out demons.   He preached Christ crucified to the mostly poor and merchant populations of that former Greek colony.  In doing so, he antagonized the powers-that-be who didn’t want to see their businesses or way of life altered.   All through this, Paul reasoned his way through, standing behind the truth that the Lord revealed to him and appealing to his friends and peers any way possible.

The payoff?   Pain and suffering.   Paul was ridiculed and scored:   things tough to bear for one who prided himself on his knowledge and God’s power through him.   By the time he got to writing these verses in Philippians, it would seem he was responding to his friends in Philippi, “well, if I have to suffer then you do, too.”   But read closer, especially in context of the verses around these, and you see that Paul isn’t saying this at all.  Instead, Paul is telling them, “rejoice in these sufferings.   Model me as I stand up for Jesus.”

Stand up for Jesus and rejoice when you lose your job because you won’t do something repugnant.   Stand up for Jesus and rejoice when your old friends reject you because you won’t go down those same old roads.   Stand up for Jesus and rejoice when the knock on the door comes, the tap on the shoulder is felt, or you’re led away.   You’re in His company and that of a man named Paul who had to learn how to stand.

For further reading:  Acts 16:19-40, 1 Thessalonians 2:2, Hebrews 10:32, Philippians 2:1.

Lord Jesus, I don’t want suffering.   I really don’t.   But when it comes because of standing for You, I welcome it.   Praise be to You.

Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 12 December 2019

Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me. Philippians 1:25-26. (EHV).

Paul never undersold his talents.   Indeed, here in Philippians (and in his other books as well), Paul expresses confidence in his abilities and especially in his faith.   That’s the key, you see:   confidence in faith.  Paul is convinced that his mission on earth is to express Jesus boldly to others; that others are built up to do the same through this ministry.   That is borne out by the fact that he started a number of successful churches, that the faith spread exponentially and quickly during his lifetime in the areas where he worked, and by the fact that his writings have endured as the backbone of Christian evangelical practice for two thousand years.   God blesses each of us with talents.   He richly blessed Paul with the talent to evangelize.

It came from Jesus’ Spirit filling Paul with a heart to serve.  As a zealous Pharisee, Paul eagerly served the Jewish faith even to the point of persecuting Christians.   When Christ converted him, Paul’s outlook changed and he threw his talents into building up Jesus to a skeptical world (one that was understandably skeptical about him).   We have all benefitted from that because of how Paul’s ministry served us with examples of how to ‘do ministry.’  Why?

So that Christ Jesus will abound because of him.   So that Christ Jesus will abound because of us, because of the lives we live and the things we do.   So that Christ will abound.

Think about that:   we do what we do so that Christ will abound, so that Christ will increase, so that Christ will become known to billions who don’t know Him.   Muslims, atheists, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Communists, and even Joel Osteen:  all people who don’t know about Jesus or reject Him get another look at Him when we live out our lives in faith.   It’s not to convince them:   it’s to share Jesus so that His Spirit can do the work through us.   We’re just supposed to live godly lives and share honestly.   We’re just supposed to have confidence to do that in the way Paul had confidence.

Look at yourself in the mirror today and tell yourself about the talents you have.   Maybe it’s speaking, or managing, or coding, or following.   Singing, dancing, bartending, writing; fixing cars, working the line, bagging groceries, working in the White House:  do what God gave you the ability to do for HIS glory.   Be confident in that, confidently share Him as you do, then get out of the way to watch Him work.

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 16:13, Ephesians 4:1, Jude 3, Philippians 1:27

Lord Jesus, thank You for the abilities You gave to me.   Help me to use them to confidently share You today.

Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 26 November 2019

It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. Philippians 1:15. (EHV).

Tell me:   how do you feel about others who have what you don’t?

A few days ago we talked about boldness, about how faith in Jesus makes one bold.   I think it’s because He gives us peace, removing the unconscious ‘need’ to be right or to worry or to control.   Jesus’ peace changes all that, and when those changes happen, our energies are freed up for other things.

Like boldness.   Paul was in chains, literally living imprisoned for his faith in Christ.   He had stood up for Jesus in front of Jews who wanted him arrested, beaten, and killed.   That almost happened until Paul spoke up and reminded the crowd that he was a Roman citizen.   As such, he was accorded rights and privileges to appeal his case directly to Rome.   While awaiting his audience, Paul remained in custody.   That meant he was, most likely, living chained to a wall or someone else or something static most of the time.

Tell me:   would you envy someone who was in jail?   Or would you envy them for the fame that landed them there?   Some might say it was infamy, actually.   But Paul was famous in the Christian world.   He was the Pharisee who had converted, who became a follower of Jesus after a mystical encounter in the Syrian desert.  Paul was the missionary who started churches all over Asia Minor, then mentored hundreds, maybe thousands, of new believers.

Tell me now:   would that make you envious?   If you were a contemporary of Paul’s, or a Jew, would you be jealous of the following this unlikely apostle had been given?   Would you be envious of his gifts, of his personal history with Jesus, of his influence both with Jesus’ apostles AND all those new converts?   Paul was indeed confident and bold in his faith; would that make someone else jealous?   You know the answer.

Just like you know the flip side of that envy.  The same people who would envy Paul all these things could easily choose to celebrate them instead.   They could easily choose to be thankful God would pour out His grace into this man and his friends.   They could choose to follow his example and be glad to know such a strong mentor and leader.   They could choose boldness.

Faith can find us either jealous or grateful.  Me and you, we aren’t much different from those people who lived back in Paul’s time.   We feel the same emotions because we are human and we follow the same Jesus Paul followed.  Paul was bold; perhaps you or I are as well in our own ways.   Tell me:   how will you boldly follow Jesus today?

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 1:8, Philippians 1:16

King Jesus, convict me of my envy and grant me Your peace and boldness to overcome it.

Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 25 November 2019

And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear. Philippians 1:14. (EHV).

Here’s that why behind the what again.   In the previous verses, Paul said that his bad thing – being imprisoned, in chains, for the gospel – turned out to be a good thing because the Gospel spread.  The reason why that’s a good thing is that people see what true believers are willing to endure for faith in Jesus and then they, themselves, become more confident in their own faith and bold to share it without fear.

Have you considered that the biggest Christian nation on earth – the nation with the most believers in Jesus by population – is the United States?   And that the one place where it should NOT grow (because the government there is atheist, Communist, and hostile to God in all ways) is the People’s Republic of China?   According to Pew Research, in the USA there are 248 million Christians; that’s approximately 75% of the population.   In the USA, for the moment, people are mostly free to exercise any religion they want, especially Christianity.   There are dozens of denominations; there are services and practices for any comfort level in the faith.   Think of that:  248 million people saying they believe in Christ crucified.   And yet that number is actually declining.

Then consider the People’s Republic where, according to billionbibles.org, there may be as many as 234 million Christians.   Out of a current estimated population of 1.435 billion Chinese, this means that 16% of the Chinese population professes to believe in Jesus Christ.   If their faith is discovered, Christians in China are likely to be persecuted in one way or another, either by forced silence or actual imprisonment.   Untold thousands have been sent to Chinese gulags and no accurate number is really known how many have been executed for being Christian.   Yet the faith is growing.

In North Korea, Afghanistan, Iran, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates and Yemen it is a death penalty offense to say you believe in Jesus Christ.   And people do it anyway.   Just in those countries, thousands of people do it anyway.

Because watching someone be persecuted, lightly or harshly, may just spur you to think more about your own faith.   It may spur you to profess truths you hadn’t seriously considered.   It might just make you think in different ways.  The same “why” that explains why first century believers were strengthened by Paul’s persecution explains the things happening in our world today.   The Gospel can’t be contained by puny human methods, and where it is actively denied in the dark a tiny light can shine all that much brighter.

For further reading:  Acts 4:29, Acts 21:33, Philippians 1:15

Lord Jesus, where I’m stumbling in dark failure to share You where I am, teach me to shine so that others may benefit.

Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 19 November 2019

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.  Philippians 1:9-11. (EHV).

Interviewers used to ask Billy Graham what he wanted to hear from Jesus after he died.  (To paraphrase) Rev Graham would respond, “I’d like to hear ‘well done good and faithful servant’ but I don’t think I will.”   Graham would then go on to recount all the ways he felt he had failed the Lord.  Very poignant but powerful.

And then there is the story that I read this past weekend of the man from the Netherlands who rescued Jewish children from Nazi custody.  Without notice, he would occasionally walk children out of the building where Nazi occupiers were holding the children before shipping them off to death camps.   He simply walked them out when the Germans weren’t looking.  The interviewer asked the man if he ever thought about the children he had saved.   (Again, to paraphrase) “No, not much,” he replied, “but I often think about the thousands that I didn’t.”

It’s those times you snap at your kids.   It’s the time you spend looking at panty pictures on the internet.   It’s the years you’ve padded your expense reports.   It’s the grudge against the kid who bullied you in eighth grade.   It’s that last time you had an argument with your spouse.  There are thousands of ways we fail the Lord, misusing gifts He has given us.   Or His name, or the fruits of His Spirit.   If salvation is left up to us doing things to please the Lord, well, we’re finished.   Toast; hopeless; put a fork in us because we’re done.  Maybe Billy Graham was right:   even when I’ve done good things, I don’t think Jesus will tell me “well done” because there are just too many other times I must have really pissed Him off.

Yep:   it’s a good thing salvation isn’t left up to us.   We wouldn’t measure up.   It’s a good thing that God doesn’t think that way.   It’s a good thing that God operates on the level Paul was praying for.   It’s a good thing that God allows us to discern what is pure and blameless so that we might know conscience and repentance.   More than that, it’s an even better thing that Jesus sees us as His beloved instead of filthy sinners; that He sees us as blameless because He made us blameless when He bled, died, and rose for us.

Someday I’ll ask Billy Graham what Jesus said to him.   I’m betting it wasn’t what he expected.

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 1:8, 1 Thessalonians 3:12, Philippians 1:13

Lord Jesus, all praise and thanks to You for making us discerning and blameless.

Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 18 November 2019

God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.  Philippians 1:8. (EHV).

This is a pretty bold statement.   It’s another proclamation demonstrating that either Paul is faithful or he’s the most arrogant jerk in antiquity.   Paul doesn’t rely on just his own words or even the testimony of his friends to prove that he loves the Philippians.   No, Paul calls in God Himself, Jesus Himself, Holy Spirit Himself, to witness about how Paul reveres his friends in Philippi.  If you read Romans 1:9, he said something similar there.

Either Paul is a lying piece of work or he really does love the Philippians.   Either his words are lies or they are truth.  Given the impact of them for the last two thousand years, it seems pretty evident they were true.   More important, given that God Himself grew the faith from a Mediterranean Jewish sect into the most powerful ideology in history, Paul’s words must be true.

Not only, but it’s REALLY bold to say you love someone as much as Jesus does.   Have you (or me or Paul) ever been willing to die for all of humanity?  Jesus was.   Have you (or me or Paul or Pope Francis or Billy Graham or your sainted grandmother or mine) ever lived your whole human life knowing an excruciating, humiliating, soul-crushing execution awaited you at the end, and yet you willfully, even joyfully, boldly lived it anyway?   Jesus did.

You get the picture.   Jesus lived a truly bold life, both bold in challenging temporal authorities of His day and bold in translating the true meaning of God’s love and His law to a world that hated Him for doing it.  Paul trusted Jesus completely, fully, in every way, so Paul felt bold enough to say “go ask Jesus.   He’ll tell you the same thing.”   You’d have to be either crazy or brutally honest to do that.   I’m siding on thinking Paul was honest.   Because Jesus is honest.

Because Jesus is bold.

The media today is aflame with the news about Kanye West and Joel Osteen hosting a joint worship service yesterday.    Say what you will about either man yet one thing remains:   Jesus was boldly proclaimed.   Christ crucified was shared with thousands.   Jesus was there in Spirit, loving and moving in that crowd.  We can be skeptical of Osteen’s & West’s motives in this huge production number but, boldly said, that doesn’t really mean anything.   What does mean something is that Jesus was boldly shared.   Out of the thousands who participated, who knows how many received Christ?  Some surely went home and gave up on the message, but some didn’t.   Some, maybe even a great many, opened their hearts and let Jesus’ Spirit in.   All because of two men boldly proclaiming Jesus is Lord.

Because Paul was bold.   Because Jesus is bold.  It’s bold to believe.

For further reading:  Romans 1:9, Philippians 1:9

All praise to You, Lord, for Your loving boldness and bold love!