Was blind, but now I see.

4 : 4 April 2005




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Copyright for the journal © 2005
M. S. Thirumalai

Pastor Dave Strem with James Skeen


Philippians 1:27: Living Worthy of the Good News
Philippians 2:1-17: Shining Brightly for Christ
Philippians 2:9-13: Live with Heaven in Mind
Philippians 2:19-30: Friendship
Philippians 3:1-9: Lose Your Religion

*** *** ***


The contents of this booklet is based and built on a series Pastor Dave Strem preached on the book of Philippians. This is booklet 1 of 4.

The goal of converting the messages into written form is to give the truths contained within a more durable form. Written form also allows the reader more time to reflect, ponder, and do personal research. This is difficult to accomplish amid a flowing sermon. Our prayer is that the Holy Spirit will use this medium to continue to impact hearts and lives.

Malachi teaches us what kind of attitude God is looking for in His people. Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament. It is God's last words of special revelation until New Testament times. After all the laws, battles, and hardships are endured, listen to what he says concerning those who love and care about God.

"Then those who feared the Lord spoke with each other, and the Lord listened to what they said. In his presence, a scroll of remembrance was written to record the names of those who feared him and loved to think about him. 'They will be my people,' says the Lord Almighty. 'On the day when I act, they will be my own special treasure. I will spare them as a father spares an obedient and dutiful child.'" (3:16-17)

Good Christian literature helps us to think about, or contemplate, God. And that is the ultimate goal of this booklet. Trinity Evangelical Free Church wants you to "Grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ." We hope and pray that the lessons contained within this booklet will help you in that noble endeavor.

Please receive this booklet in the humble spirit in which it is given. Read, learn, and go forth with God!

Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and forever. 2 Peter 3:18


Philippians 1:27: Living Worthy of the Good News

Where do you stand spiritually? Where are you with God? Where do you stand on His chart? How do you measure that? When gauging physical health, you may put a hand on the forehead and feel for a fever or look at a thermometer. But how do we gauge spiritual health?

There are three usual ways that we measure spiritual health and all three lead to faulty diagnosis. The first way is we look at others around us and compare ourselves to them. "Well, I'm doing as good as they are. I'm doing as much as they are." The unfortunate thing is that God does not grade on a curve. And if you are hanging around with a bunch of spiritual losers, you will look as good as they are. But does not that also make you a spiritual loser?

Some of the most successful people using the world's definition of success-money, power, and status-are spiritually dead or very anemic. They do not have a place for God or His ways in their busy lives. But in the thinking of many, money, power, and status are signs that God is blessing them. They suppose that "gain is godliness." In other words, the more material possessions and status one has the greater the assumed blessing of God is on that person. It can be very deceiving to use this criteria. Some of the godliest people in the bible had little wealth. Human comparison is not a good way to measure spiritual life and vitality.

Another faulty way to measure spiritual health is to compare oneself to the rules and commands used by those you hang around with, maybe even attend church with, maybe even the Ten Commandments. The folly is apparent when we realize the standards we follow are human inventions and traditions. Just look at the Pharisaic leadership that eventually consented to murdering Jesus because He was a threat to their status and religion. Jesus reserved His harshest criticism for these men. But what if we are trying to follow legitimate biblical standards and commands, like the Ten Commandments? That seems like a safe way to figure it out, doesn't it? "Well, I have not killed anyone this week, so I am doing good there. I got one point. I am not cheating on my wife right now, so I am 'ok' there, and I have not told any lies to get anyone else in trouble. Ummm, I must be doing well."

The problem with measuring yourself by those kinds of standards is that you start focusing on those standards as your measuring stick for spiritual health. The Pharisees were considered by many to be what Judaism was all about, the finest examples of their religious history. By keeping the religious rules they were recognized as spiritually superior and good. In the eyes of others also trying to keep these rules and commands they were good and uncommonly righteous. But Jesus actually said they were children of the devil. Being a Christian is not about being 'good' at keeping rules and regulations. Do not misunderstand me. It is right to be good. I want to be good. Katie wants me to be good. I want my kids to be good. God wants me to be a good person. But as we will see, God has a different view of what it means to be 'good'. Using rule keeping as our standard, we can conclude that being a Christian is not about being 'good', it is about being good for something. It does not stop with just obeying all the rules.

A third faulty way to measure oneself is by having an erroneous view of grace. "I am saved, I have my eternal salvation taken care of, all my sins from the past are taken care of, all my sins from the future are taken care of, I am saved, I am saved, I am saved. This is wonderful. This is great. And so what if I have crossed the line, I am forgiven." Paul encountered people with this view and he corrected them. "Shall I continue to sin so that grace can abound?" The answer is an emphatic, "No!" It is a drastic spiritual error to interpret God's grace offered through Christ Jesus as a license for indulging sinful desires. "I am forgiven anyway, and it does make me feel good, so why not?" Christian salvation is not just about escaping hell and a Christless eternity, but it also involves becoming like Jesus Christ. In other words, salvation is much more about acquiring positive aspects than escaping the negative. Escaping hell is escaping the negative. Growing in our love for God through Christ and doing His work are the positives salvation was designed to produce. Do not use God's grace to excuse your sin!

If the above three measuring rods lead us in a wrong direction, then how are we to examine ourselves. How we measure ourselves is not nearly as important as how God measures us. If God was to ask you the question, "How are you doing?", what would you say? You know you cannot snow Him. You end up saying, "Well, why don't you tell me?" He is the one who knows and He knows us better than we know ourselves. How does God measure us? How does God measure our spiritual health? That is the question the remaining portion of this paper will address.

Open your Bibles to Philippians chapter one. We are going to look at verse 27. Paul paints a clear picture of what spiritual health looks like. "Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit. Contending as one man for the faith of the gospel." To help us understand the central message in this verse we need to take out the subordinate clauses and see what we have remaining. What remains follows: "Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Stand firm in one spirit contending as one man for the faith of the gospel."

Paul uses very specific words that give a vivid picture of how we are measured. Translating this central message in the Greek we end up with: "Live consistent with the Good News of Jesus Christ, committed and focused as a united team bringing others to a living faith in Him." Using this verse as our core starting point, we can see that God measures us in three areas of life. First, He measures us by our relationship with Him. Second, He measures us by our relationship to the body of Christ, to other believers. And thirdly, He measures us based upon our relationship with our neighbors, friends, and others outside the body of Christ.

Let us start off with the first sentence because the first sentence talks about our relationship with Him. The first word with significance is the word "live." The word that Paul uses for "live" is "politic." Paul is essentially saying, "Politic consistent with the Good News of Jesus Christ." This is an election year and we have had more politics than we want to have but Paul's use of the word does not have the negative connotations we give it today.

Just the mention of the word "politics" suggests lying and scheming to gain office. You know why? Because politicians tend to say what they want to do, not necessarily what they will be able to do. They promise to do more than they are actually able to accomplish. They have desires to fix this and fix that but when they gain office they learn they cannot fix them all and much of it ends up being a big hairball. They cannot get through them the way they thought they could. And to avoid scrutiny and criticism many maneuver and scheme behind the scenes. Paul uses the word in describing everyday behaviors not in any way related to political office. He is literally telling them to be citizens of their community with behavior characterized by the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Let me explain what I mean. You are all losers. Like that? You are all losers. You all do not measure up to God's standard. You all will blow it a number of times, a number of ways this next week. But God says, "I want to be with you and help you to become spiritual winners." Jesus says, "Abide in me and you will bear much fruit. You cannot do anything on your own, but together we can do some great things."

Jesus has hopes and dreams for us that we can be better than we are because He has committed Himself to us. I am better than I am because I am married to Katie. Katie makes me a better man. She calls out the best in me. She inspires the best in me, to be better than I normally would. I do not do some things that I would want to do, that I would naturally do, because I am married to Katie and it would be inconsistent with the husband that I want to be for Katie. The same goes for our spiritual lives. We deny ourselves certain things and actions because it is not consistent with who we want to be for God, with who we want to be as a Christian, a husband, a wife, child, or parent. It may not even be something obviously sinful. It is just not the best for what we want to become. And Paul says with one phrase the standard we are to live up to-"the Good News of Jesus Christ."

The word "politic" is teamed up with the word "consistent," which means "one and only." Paul is telling us to live consistent with the one and only Good News of Jesus Christ. This last week we had to get new tires put on Katie's car. But before I purchased the tires I checked the alignment to make sure the tires were not wearing, were not scrubbing, wearing out improperly. If the two front tires are not aligned to go straight, what will happen to them? You are going to be buying a new set of tires in six months, right? The car is out of control, it is harder to steer, and the suspension does not work the way it was designed to work. It messes up a lot of things. The car actually 'wants' to go in a different direction than you want. The end result is worn out tires.

Paul is telling us to align our hearts with God, with the Good News of Jesus Christ. To align our hearts with God means that we are responsive to His leading. God wants to take you places and show you things. "Oh, you have to see this." And so He turns His wheel this way and if we are not aligned with Him we start scrubbing and wearing down. We try to head off in a wrong direction. We fight His lead in our lives. God wants to lead you and you fight against Him. It is much better to be sensitive to His leading. "Lord, what do you want me to do? How do you want me to feel? How do you want me to respond to this situation? Lord, do you want me to follow this or just let it go? Lord, I want to go where you want me to go so I want my heart aligned with your heart."

Growing up, the message I always heard in churches we attended was to live consistent with all the rules. This makes one good. Be consistent with Old Testament rules and regulations. But here Paul says, live consistent with the Good News of Jesus, with the gospel of Christ. What is the gospel of Christ? Many of us would easily understand if it said, "live consistent with the Ten Commandments" because those are rules. We are used to having a list, a checklist of all the things we need to do. But here it says, "live consistent with the Good News of Jesus, with the gospel." What is the gospel of Jesus? Most of you learned it when you were in third grade Sunday School. "For God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him, should not perish but have everlasting life." What is the principle element of the gospel of Christ? What is the principle element of John 3:16? God's love! His passionate love for you and me shown by the gift of His Son for us. He does not want you to perish but have everlasting life. He wants us to have life and not perish in our sin. It is with this great love we are to live consistent with. Paul tells us to live consistent with the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Many times people see Christians as miserable, depressed, burdened people. But Jesus came to bring us freedom. The gospel should bring spiritual and moral freedom. Without the grace of God, where would you be in your life? Without the grace of God, where would you be? You would have no hope for eternity. You would have no eternal purpose in life. You would just be living to die. Just waiting until death overtakes you. Jesus came to bring the Good News that this life is not all there is. That God's forgiveness is available to all who repent and want to follow Jesus Christ. Celebrate God in your life. Live consistent with the Good News. Let the Good News shine through your life. That is how we are to relate to God. That is how He measures us. Are we being better than we naturally would be because we are teamed up with Him? Is our heart aligned with Him relationally and can we celebrate God and His Good News? It is this that we are to live consistent with.

Secondly, we are measured by our commitment and focus as a united team in proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ. You are measured based upon your relationship with other believers. He calls us a body. It means we are to have interaction with each other, we are to depend on one another. The word "committed" literally means "staked down." The picture is that we are anchored and holding on to each other. You have seen all kinds of trees blow over this last two weeks. Trees uprooted and just flopping over. Can you see the same kind of thing happening in the lives of men and women? Lives being uprooted and falling over. To avoid this "fallenness" we are to be "staked down" to one another, standing strong as the winds of life blow on us.

Did you ever notice that you rarely see a tree that is in the middle of the forest fall down? We saw trees falling down all around this place but you usually do not see trees fall down that are in the middle of a forest, surrounded by other trees. Why? Because they strengthen and help each other. They break the wind for each other. They share the load. And literally the roots of those trees grow together so that when one starts to be uprooted, the roots of another pull it down. The roots hold each other tight. "Staked down." In your own life, there are others around you that you know that may have started to lean and your role before God is to be the root to help them hold on. The storm is going to pass. It may have been blowing for a long time, but it will pass. Hold on to your family and friends. Strengthen them amid the storms of life.

After "commitment" the verse continues with "and focused." To be focused means living on purpose. You have a reason for who you are and what you are doing. Living on purpose. Focused as a united team. As a church, our official purpose is equipping believers for worldwide ministry because we believe there is more to being a Christian than being saved. It is being a follower of Jesus Christ--to have your heart united with His and joining with other followers in proclaiming the Good News. On purpose we are to join together to declare the Good News to others around us.

"As a united team." What does that mean? In the Greek it is the word "sunathlountes." "Sun" means "with" or "together" and "athloutes." Know what "athloutes" means? It means striving. "Sunathlountes" literally means "striving together" or "striving with." You saw the Olympics sometime ago. It is drawing the literal picture of a team working together. Of, if you will, like a relay team or rowing team where each member does his or her part to accomplish the goal.

In this church, we have a lot of rowing teams. We have a worship rowing team that works together every week. We have a children's ministry rowing team. We have a youth ministry rowing team. We have all kinds of small groups and ABFs (adult bible fellowships) that are all rowing in the same direction. That is "sunathlountes." That is a united team all going in the same direction with a common goal.

We are measured by our joint unity, by our connectedness, and by doing and living together in accordance with the Good News of Jesus Christ. You can be a Christian, you can be saved and not be part of a church. But God measures you, God calls you to be part of a local fellowship of believers so that you can be strengthened, so that you can grow, and so that you can strengthen and help others to grow. Each of you has been given spiritual gifts to use for that purpose. That is what we are about, and you can be at this church, you can be someplace else, but you need to be in a fellowship of believers somewhere. You might say, "Well, I do not like those people or those people." It is not a question of whether you like them or not. It is God's command to join a church, a fellowship of believers, because they will strengthen your life and you can strengthen theirs. We are all in this together.

And then thirdly, you are measured by your relationship to those outside the body of Christ. You are called and held accountable for your relationship with them, bringing others to a living faith in Him. I know most of you do not want to hear this point. You are called by God to share your faith with others. How did you come to Jesus? It probably came about because some regular people either brought you to church or shared Jesus with you. God does this work through normal, everyday people.

Last year we had a young man start coming to play with one of our youth worship bands. He was not a Christian, but he came because he liked the music and wanted to play with them. He came to Christ because of it. Then, because it seemed like a good thing, he liked it, he told his mom about it and she started coming and she received Jesus two months ago. She died last Friday. Just in time. This young man is not a Bible scholar. He does not know a lot of the doctrines of the church but who cares? Yes, it is important to know God's word so that Satan cannot deceive us, but it is much more important to know the One whom the word talks about and points us to.

This young man knew that Jesus is real and that God is life and he told his mother about it. That made the difference. Is it hard? Oh, you better believe it is hard to tell your mom about Jesus, to tell your parents about Christ, to talk to anyone in your family, to talk to your friends. It is hard because it is so important and there is a spiritual battle going on. There is a race for the spirits, for the souls of those around you. And some of you are sitting on the bench watching them go by. We are not called to be spectators. We are called to be "sunathloutes," co-workers in spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ.

This lady who accepted Christ saw a difference in her son. It was a living faith. It was not that he explained the great doctrines of the church to her. He explained the person of Jesus to her. It was his living faith that makes the difference. Life lived is more important than words. It is not your education, it is your experience with Him that matters most. Tell them your story. Tell them where you have been. Tell them what God has done for you. Tell them the real difference Jesus has made in your life and how you have learned to trust Him. Your life speaks louder than your words. You can say all the right things, but if you do not have the life that backs it up, they will walk away from you. People are hungry for a real faith and a real God that makes a real difference in the lives of real people. Bring others to a living faith in Him, not to a religion, but to a relationship with the Father. Do not lead them to church, lead them to God.

Jesus taught us to pray, "Our Father, who art in heaven." He wants us to have a relationship with God. He did not lead the people to the temple or the sanctuary. He met them at these places but then He introduced them to His Father. We are called to do the same thing. How you doing? Are you living consistent with the Good News of Jesus Christ-consistent with who He is and what He has done. You want to do better? You do not have to read Shaeffer's systematic theology. What you have to do is talk to God and reflect on His word. Talk to God and reflect on what He has for you. As you grow healthier, we grow healthier. That is how the body of Christ prospers.


Philippians 2:1-17: Shining Brightly for Christ

Amid the struggles, amid the winds of the world around us, life can sometimes be more than we feel we can bear. Things go on in the world that cause us to question if we can ourselves go on. The winds of the world blow at us and our spiritual flame flickers like an unprotected candle.

You could be sitting in your office on Thursday morning and you get a call from your doctor. He says, "I need to see you this afternoon. Can you come in at 2:00? You'd better bring your wife." Oh, boy! Or, it might not be a call about you. Maybe a call from a doctor about your mom or your dad saying, "We need to talk. We need to make some decisions. We've got some tough choices ahead." And you know the future may be pretty difficult. If you are a guy, you feel like you are going to end up being the major caregiver to your mother or father. And you are more equipped to build an engine than to take care of somebody. How are you going to do it? How can you cope? How is it going to work? The storms blow and you do not know if you can make it.

Or, you are sitting at the kitchen table and you are going over all the list of bills and wondering, where did they all come from? Where does it all go?

I make a good living and it is gone before I even get to the bottom of the envelopes. I know my kids are getting big. They are eating a lot and yeah, that is probably part of where it goes. Food bills are horrendous, but boy, they are getting to the point where they are going to be driving pretty soon. They will need a car and then they are going to be getting ready for college and I have got a college fund set up, but it is a drop in the bucket compared to what they are probably going to need. And I want to keep on tithing or I have been feeling like, you know, God, I really want to give back to you what I owe you. I'd rather live on 90 percent of what You give me with You than live on 100 percent by myself. I need Your help, Lord. But Lord, I don't know how I can do it.

It just seems like too much. And the financial pressures start to blow.

I want you to see that when the winds of the world begin to blow, if you are a born-again Christian, you are not a candle in the wind. We are more like hurricane lamps that have an external source of power, the oil, and a shield to protect the flame. The flame in a hurricane lamp will shine continuously as long as the oil never runs out. This is what your life is designed to be. Jesus said he would never leave you nor forsake you. Your spiritual source of life will always be with you.

Open your Bibles to Philippians 2. The beginning verses are commonly interpreted to be primarily about the unity of the church. But that is not the main focus. I will explain. It starts off: "If you have an encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship of the spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose." That sounds like the church, doesn't it? Paul is not teaching primarily about church unity.

The very first word in this passage in the Greek is not the "if" but a word that means "therefore." The simple adage that pastors are taught in seminary is that a "therefore" is there for a reason. You have to study the whole passage, the whole chapter in context in order to rightly interpret it. It says in verse one: "If you have any encouragement from being united in Christ or being in Christ." What does that mean? It means that your life is already reserved in heaven with Christ. He has your name written, if you are a Christian by choice, in the Book of Life. It is guaranteed. It is as certain as gravity. Your security is based upon the promise of God. The winds of the world can blow as much as they want, they cannot blow you out. You have a certain future. That is why Christ says, "Set your mind on things that are above."

Secondly, it says, "If you have any comfort from his love." He wants your best and you need to know that you have a lover. That is a word that is not used often in churches, at least not in a positive sense, but I want to redeem it. A true lover signifies someone who is totally devoted to you, who will go beyond all bounds to have a healthy relationship with you. You have such a lover in Christ. You have a lover who is passionate about you, who died and suffered for you. The world's version of a 'lover' falls far short of this definition. When someone says they have a "lover" in this world they usually mean someone they are having regular sexual relations with that is not their husband or wife.

The world has perverted the true view of what a lover is. It is a view that is shallow and narrow. It makes fornication sound legitimate. A person can have many such "lovers" by this worldly definition and not feel guilty about it because they are "lovers" and not "illicit sexual partners", as they should be viewed. God thinks you are important. You have a lover in God. Not simply someone who wants to have pleasurable experiences with you, but someone who is passionate about your total well-being. Christ is someone who proved Himself to be your true lover. He is concerned for your eternal well-being. He wants to have a clean and holy relationship with you, a relationship that will make you a better person, a person more able to love others through Him.

Then thirdly, "If you have any fellowship with the spirit" teaches us that we have a partner in this life. You are not left alone to live according to a standard of rules and regulations with orders to do your best and then stand before God and see how you measure up with your life is over. You are not alone in your walk with Christ. The Holy Spirit is there to guide, to strengthen, to help. He is called the "Spirit of Consolation," the "Spirit of Comfort," the "Spirit of Truth." He is there to guide you, to help you, to assist you in your life. You have a spiritual partner. You are not alone. The ministry of the Spirit of God is to draw and form you to have a better relationship with God through Jesus Christ. It is not to make you good enough to earn heaven. Heaven is not a reward, it is a place God has prepared for all those who love Him and want to be with Him! Understanding this difference is important to understanding what the Christian life is all about, what the "fellowship of the spirit" is all about!

And then fourthly, "…if you have tenderness and compassion." These two words basically describe our innermost feelings. Literally, the root words refer to your spleen and your intestines. That does not sound too romantic or emotionally appealing, but I want you to understand why these words are used to describe emotional feelings. How do you feel when you get that phone call from the doctor? How do you feel when someone backstabs you? Where do you feel it? You feel it in your 'guts', don't you? They saw this area as the center of our passions, of our emotions, because that is where we 'feel' it.

Life is precious. Our emotions connect us to the world around us. They are what make us feel alive, good or bad. Your emotions are the connection between you and someone else. How we think and what we value inform our emotions. Two people can have different emotional responses to the same situation because they interpret it differently. Paul wants our emotional responses to be guided and characterized by "tenderness and compassion." This does not mean we excuse sin or wrong doing in order to be "accepting" and "tolerant." But it does mean we are to first view people through lenses of tenderness and compassion before we tell them to go and "sin no more," as our Lord told the adulterous woman in John 8:10-11.

Verse 2 says: "Then make my joy complete." How? By being "likeminded." My first question is, like what? Commonly, many think that this refers to each other. That does not work, folks. We are not like-minded and will never think totally alike. There are about 500 people that attend Trinity and few think alike on all issues. Paul is not calling us to be robots and blindly follow some leader or teacher in order to achieve absolute doctrinal unity, nor is that a desirable thing. Then what is he saying? If we are not to think exactly like each other, who we supposed to think like? Go back to verse 1 and look forward to verse 5. They will tell you. Think like Christ! As you think like Christ and I think like Christ, then our thinking becomes more alike. And as we think more alike the unity within the church grows.

Paul says in verse 5: "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus." The question immediately comes to one, what mind? I believe "this mind" refers both backward and forward in this passage. It is the central hinge on which the entire passage turns. It refers back to the "lowliness of mind" of verse 3 and refers ahead to the concrete object lesson of Christ's humble life, described in verses 6-8. Our thinking, our mindset should be the same as Christ Jesus. To have, what I call, a Christ-ian mindset, a Christ-like mindset. We are to have His perspective life, His viewpoint about who we are, who God is, and how we are supposed to be living in this world.

Look at verse 6. "Who, being the very nature of God did not consider equality with God something to be grasped." Why was He willing to give up His heavenly experience and divine prerogatives, advantages, for a human experience that included suffering, heartache, and death? He did it because He had to become human to demonstrate His great love for you and for me. It is in becoming human that the depths of His love can most be seen. Without the life and work of Christ, the greatest of God's love would be unknown to us. He did not just yell down to us, "Hey, you guys. I love you." Those are just words. It was in Jesus Christ that we see God's true character and love. You have a lover in Christ and He calls you to reflect that love to others. "In as much as you have done this to the least of these my brethren you have done it to me." First John tells us, "Beloved, because God has so loved us, we ought to love one another." Because we are beloved, we are to be a lover of those around us in the same holy, true way. And as we do, we have Someone that will sculpt our souls to be more like Christ.

The first verse uses the Greek word "pnuma" for "spirit" to mean the Spirit of God. In verse 2, the word is "psyche." It refers to our innermost being, our souls. It is telling us to have the same psyche--the same character, the same general personality of being fellow lovers of Christ working together with one heart and purpose. Amid the diversity of precious differences between us there is to be a general core Christ-ian character, Christ-ian personality that unites us in a common goal and purpose.

Look at verse 7. It says, "He made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant." His character resulted in servant-like behavior. He came and lived to serve the needs of others. Paul exhorts us to let this One sculpt our souls. It is like taking a lump of clay and forming and molding it until you make something beautiful. You may think, "Well, there is a lot of junk on my outside and I am not sure there can be anything beautiful inside." You underestimate the power of God. It does not matter how old or how young, how short or how tall, how skinny or how full you are, God sees beauty and will sculpt your character into something that will shine with a spiritual and moral beauty that will benefit those around you, if you let Him.

Verse 8 tells us about Christ's obedience attitude. "He became obedient to death, even death on the cross." He came and lived His life on purpose. You are called to live for Him. A long time ago I was told that we are called by Christ to be living sacrifices and the problem with a living sacrifice is it can always crawls off the altar. We let ourselves be distracted and we pull away from what He wants to do in and through our lives. He calls us to live for Him, to live a life on purpose, with determination. Verses 12-16 expand on this theme.

Verse 12 says: "Therefore, as a basis of everything I've said so far, therefore my dear friends as you have always obeyed not only my presence but now much more my absence, continue to work out your salvation in fear and trembling." This verse is not saying that we earn our salvation. It is telling us to work out what has been put in us. Your future is secure. He wants you to let it out for others to see, to experience, to recognize its reality so that they will want it also. So they will say, "I want what they have. I want to know a God who can make a real difference in my life."

To "work out your salvation in fear and trembling" means to take your Christian life seriously. Your life matters to God. What you do with it matters to God. It is serious business. It is important. You may feel like the goal of your life is just to get through it and then die. Just get through one more struggle as things keep on blowing your life around, just whipped here and whipped there. The goal of your life is to be steadfast before God and to bring His light to others. The verse continues, "For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose." Do the people around you have any idea that God is working on you? Do they see any difference? Do they sense that there is a presence in your life?

It goes on in verse 14. "Do everything without complaining or arguing." Living as a Christian is going to be hard because it is worth doing. For way too long some of you have been doing nothing hard, just getting along, just going through little battles here and there. It is time for some of you to do something hard, to take some steps to grow in your walk with Christ, to grow in your witness before others, to truly be a disciple following Jesus rather than part of the crowd saying, "Go get 'em, team." It is time to step up for Christ and get involved!

And then he goes on and concludes, "Do everything without complaining and arguing so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation in which you. . ." It is saying you are to be different from the crookedness and perversity that surround you. It says that you were created to be like shining stars as you hold out the word of life. In the morning when I walk out of the garage to get in my car, I look at the stars and they shine bright against a black, otherwise empty sky. Where there seems to be nothing, then there is star, star, star. In your world there are people all around you in the middle of nothing and you are called to be the star, to let a little of the light of Christ shine through your life to make a difference to them.

God loves you. But He also loves your neighbor and your work partner and your classmate who do not know Him yet. You are loved, but your Father loves your brother as well and calls for you to be the one to speak, to make a difference, to let him know that it is real and you can do it if you are willing to shine for Him. Are you shining for Him? The more you try and burn for you, the more you burn down and soon out. But if you shine for Him, He has promised to be with you. There are going to be battles. Spiritual and moral darkness will not accept your presence without a fight. Paul tells us in verse 17 to "hold tightly to the word of life" and be "faithful in our service" toward God. If we do these things, not only will we become more like Jesus Christ, but we will make an eternal difference to those who will also hear His voice!


Philippians 2:9-13: Live with Heaven in Mind

When it looks like the curtain has come down on a tragedy and tears are running down your face because you do not like what is happening, I want you to know that instead of the lights going out, God raises the curtain again because it is not over. God sets the stage for a brand new scene that causes the audience to erupt into praise and shouts of joy. Open your Bibles to Philippians chapter two. We are going to look at God's instructions of how to get good out of bad situations. Philippians 2 shows us how to snatch victory out of the hands of defeat. As Yogi Berra said, "It ain't over until it's over" and you need to realize that God is the one who says when it is over.

Philippians 2:8 says: "Jesus humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on the cross. Therefore, because he humbled himself, obeyed and died on the cross, God exalted him to the highest place and game him the name that is above every name. That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the father. Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence but now much more in my absence, continue to work out you salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose." As we look around our problem infested world, it may look like death and evil win, but there is more to the story. And if you miss it, you miss the purpose, direction, and hope that God wants to give your life. Not just at the end, but through each and every day as you walk toward that end.

Verse 9 says: "Therefore God exalted Christ to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every other name." In the life of Jesus, it looked like Satan and death won. If you saw the movie "The Passion," do you remember how you felt as Jesus suffered and then gave up His last breath on the cross? Do you remember the look on Satan's face, the smirk? The smile that says "I have got you now!" His victory dance was short-lived because death was swallowed up in victory--both in the resurrection of Christ and also in the ascension of Christ where Jesus was seated at the right hand of God the Father. God the Father exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is better than any other name. The two phrases "the highest place" and "the name above every other name" means that He has been given total authority.

The word for "Lord" means master, supreme ruler, the one who has total authority. He is Lord of all creation. He demonstrated His care and dedication to us and He is entrusted with power and authority. It says: "Therefore, Jesus earned the Father's reward by his self-sacrifice and humility in obedience." It did not end at the cross for Jesus and you need to remember it does not end with the grave for you.

First Thessalonians tells us clearly: "For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a trumpet call of God and the dead in Christ will rise first and then after that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with him in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and so we shall be with the Lord forever." When it looks like it is over, God sets the final stage. Keep heaven in mind. There is another scene that we do not see played out during our lifetime. It goes beyond what we can see. It is described for us in Revelation chapter 21.

It says:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth for the first heaven and earth had passed away. I saw the holy city, the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven prepared as a bride, beautiful for her husband. And I heard a loud voice of the throne saying, now the dwelling of God is with men and he will live with them and they will be his people and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eye. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain for the old order of things is passed away.

There is a new stage, a new scene. It is not over yet. When it looks like it is over, God sets the final scene. So keep heaven in mind! Live like you are a future citizen of heaven, not as one who invests everything he or she has in the here and now with no thought toward the implications of the eternal future that is in God's control.

Jesus Himself promised, "If I go and prepare a place for you, I will certainly come back and take you to be with me that you might be where I am. That you and I and the Father might be one." Second Timothy says it clearly. "Jesus, our Savior, has destroyed death revealing real life here and now as well as an immortal future life in eternity." Do not be short-sighted in life. There is more than the here and now that you see. Keep heaven in mind!

Secondly, when it looks like it is all over, you need to remember that Jesus is in control. Verse 10: "That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven, on earth and even under the earth. Every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord." Every being will acknowledge it, but many will not accept it and be at peace with it. The Father demonstrated His great love for us that He sent us His beloved Son. And His Son demonstrated His great worthiness and great love for us by giving His life for us. Therefore, the Father gave Him the keys to all of His creation. He is essentially saying, "You are worthy of caring for it. I trust you to use your authority effectively." Satan would not use such authority for the greater good. Satan would use it for his own glory. We would use it for our own aggrandizement. But Jesus used it as a service opportunity to demonstrate God's love and mercy.

Inspired by the Holy Spirit in Acts chapter 2, Peter recognized the supreme position given Jesus Christ. When the church was just getting started in the immediate days after Jesus' ascension, Peter went to those who crucified Jesus and told them, "God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ." Ephesians makes it very clear. "God placed all things under his feet." And Revelation paints a vivid picture. "Then I heard the voice of a hundred million angels singing, worthy is the Lamb who is slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory. Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and all the sea and all that is in them singing, to him be praise and honor and glory forever and forever." God has placed Jesus in control. He has been given the power to control because He has the character that makes Him worthy of the Father's trust.

Jesus said in John 14 that He has prepared a place for you. It is not over until you are there. He said, "Do not worry. I will return for you. You can count on it." Jesus promised that He will return to earth to distribute justice and rule in a righteous manner. Death does not end it for us. You can trust in His promises concerning your future. He is worthy of our trust. Living with heaven in mind will give your life and death special meaning.

Thirdly, we are not alone. Verse 12 says, "Therefore, continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose." Did you catch that? God is at work in you. The Almighty Creator, the Designer, the Sustainer of the universe is actively involved in shaping your attitudes, inspiring your actions and guiding your thought process; but never without your participation. The God of the universe wants to be involved in your life and the decisions you make. That should take your breath away.

You have the Almighty God, the Controller, the Wise One, the One who has the power and strength and love for your life saying, "I am here to help. I want to be involved in your life. I want to give you what you need to get you through this next week. I want to help you with those temptations you are facing. I want to be with you when you talk to that man because you are going to need all the patience you can muster, and more." He is there to be with us and that should take our breath away. Verse 12 says, "…with fear and trembling." Fear and trembling simply means that you are to take it seriously, with respect and passion, to hunger for, to long for, to know that He is there to work with you in what He is trying to do in you.

The question is, "Will you work with Him?" He wants to work on you, but He will not work on you, will not work in you without you working on you. We all say that we want God to work in us, to fix us. "Lord, will you just do that for me, take that, give me more patience." And God says, "I'll give you more patience, but there is only one way to get patience. You are going to go through some hard things and then as you go through them, I will strengthen you and you will grow patience." "Lord, give me more faith." You will be faced with challenges that will test your belief in God. Without that test, without that challenge, there is no need for faith. God will grow it in you. God wants to work on you and work in you. He is with you. You are not alone and that is why He says to work out your salvation as God works in you.

Many think that salvation refers only to what happens to us after we die physically. Although it does refer to this truth it entails so much more. Ephesians 2:10 says: "…you are created as his workmanship for good works to be active as he leads which he has predestined from eternity past." He has designed you for good works and He participates in your life to encourage those good works to come out of your heart and into the lives of those around you.

Some people practice piano for years and years and never play anyplace except in their living room for themselves. God wants you to let it out. Let that musical gift be a blessing to somebody else. Let out what God has put in you. God wants to put good things in you so you will let it out and be a blessing to others around you. Some of you do not want to grow anymore. "Every time you talk about growing it gets hard and my life is hard enough right now." The reason it is hard is because God loves you and He wants the best for you, not as the materialistic world we live in counts "best," but best from an eternal, spiritual perspective. Let me say this. When you are healthy, wealthy, and self-sufficient you do not think you need God. When you think you have all the answers, God is not in the forefront of your mind. You think about the next football game. "Is it time to trade in a car?" "You know, that flowerbed out in front of the house needs to at least get petunias in it this season." These concerns define your life. You have no time or interest in considering the things of God. Is it any surprise that God allows problems to come into our lives if that is what it takes to get our attention?

This earthly life is designed to include troublesome times because we need to be reminded that this world is the not the end, that it is only temporary. Jesus promised that we will always have troubles. The world will bring troubles into our lives. It is not God, it is the world itself that brings many of these troubles into our lives. "But take heart, I have overcome the world," Jesus said. God is invested in your life. You are not alone. God wants to work in and through you.

When it looks like it is over, realize that actually it is just getting started. When your earthly life ends, realize, it is just beginning. Al mentioned Larry Peter. This blessed brother is struggling to breathe. His lungs can barely take in oxygen. He can hardly see anything. He can hardly hear. But soon his life is going to begin. Soon he is going to be taking a deep breath right beside his Savior. He is going to look across the valley of the shadow of death and see those little wildflowers growing on the hill on the far side and see every petal on them. He is going to hear the whisper of his Lord's voice in his ear. "Well done, good and faithful servant." Larry's life is getting ready to begin. It is getting ready to start for eternity.

In the days and weeks and the months that God gives you, will they count for anything, or are you just marking time in your life until you are resting in a pine box? Will the days He gives you amount to anything? If you let Him work in you and then work through you to touch others around you, your life will count for something in God's eyes. God has great things planned for your life, but you have to let Him in. You have to invite Him. That starts the whole process. Until then, you are trying to do it on your own.

Somebody e-mailed me a picture this last week. When the hurricanes were blowing, there were all kinds of billboards blown down. But one of them on Sand Lake Road in Orlando, stood strong but had its message changed. The high winds blew several of the outer layers away to reveal an old sign that was covered over quite some time ago. Remember a couple years ago when they had all those black signs with white letters that were purchased by Christians. "Don't make me come down there and talk to you. God." "Got Faith?" Those type of signs. The people sponsoring these signs ran out of money so they have not been seen for quite a while. And then during the latest hurricane, one of the messages was revealed. It said: "We need to talk. God." Was this just a coincidence, that it ripped away several other signs to reveal this particular message? Can God make it any clearer? What does He have to do? Give you a sign? Yeah. We laugh and think it is cute. Do you realize God wants to talk to you? Do you realize God wants to hear from you? Will you listen to Him? Will you allow Him to work in your life?


Philippians 2:19-30: Friendship

On the night that Jesus was betrayed, He looked around that group of men and made a startling statement. He said, "I no longer call you servants, now I call you friends." He did not look upon them as ones who were following Him out of obligation, out of compulsion, out of fear of punishment, but individuals with free choice who choose to align their heart with the Father's heart. Here and now and also forever. "I no longer call you servants. I call you friends."

We are going to focus on real friendship. It is the ability to tie lives and hearts together in a way that they beat together after the same cares and concerns. Jesus said, "I call you friends." We are going to look at the friendship exemplified by two men who traveled across Europe to Rome to live with Paul in his confinement. We are going to look at the qualities of friendship that they exhibited because they will show us how Jesus is our friend, what He does for us. It will challenge you to consider your friendship with Jesus. Can you rightfully call Jesus your friend? He is a friend to you, but are you a friend to Him? That is what we are going to look at in Philippians 2:19-30.

In Philippians 2:19-30 we see three genuine traits of real friendship. First we are going to look at Timothy and then we are going to look at Apophroditus. In verse 19 we read. "I hope in the Lord to send Timothy to you soon that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself because as a son with his father has served me in the work of the gospel. I hope therefore to send him to you. As soon as I see how things go with me and I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon." This is Timothy, Paul's best friend.

And then Paul talks about Epaphroditus. Epaphroditus is one of those strange names. Anybody here know an Epaphroditus? It is one of those strange names that you would have a hard time talking to him all day long calling him Epaphroditus. "Epaphroditus, would you pass the salt?" "Epaphroditus, will you go get the. . ..?" Pretty soon you would start saying something else. Kind of like Theodore. It usually gets shortened to Theo and so I am going to refer to Epaphroditus as a friend would and call him EP. EP, Epaphroditus from Philippi. He is a friend of the Philippians that has come to see Paul and help him in any way he can. Look what it says in verse 25. "But I think it is necessary to send back to you EP my brother, a fellow worker, a fellow soldier who is also your messenger who you sent to take care of my needs. For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard that he was ill. Indeed he was ill and almost died but God had mercy on him and not on him only but also on me to spare me sorrow upon sorrow. Therefore, I am all the more eager to send him so that when you see him again, you may be glad and I may have less anxiety. Welcome him in the Lord with great joy and honor men like him because he almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for the help that you could not give me."

In both of these men we see the first quality of real friendship. It is someone who cares about your concerns. Someone who cares about your welfare. It says, "I have no one else like him who has a genuine interest in your welfare." Now we contrast that to what he said in verses 16-17 of chapter one, "There are those who preach Christ out of selfish ambition, doing it for their own glory, doing it for their own reputation." But Timothy, in contrast, has a genuine interest in helping the Philippians on Paul's behalf. He is doing it for the right reason. The word he uses for being like-minded, "I have no one else like him," is the word that means having the same breath. It is to have the same purpose, the same focus, seeing things the same way. "I have no one else like him. He has been with me now for ten years. When I was shipped off to jail, he came on his own and met me here in Rome to care for my needs. I have no one else like him. He cares for me." It is not a slam or putdown on Epaphroditus because EP is not his friend first, he is the Philippians' friend. He belongs to them. He came to help Paul. So EP is the Philippians' friend. Timothy is Paul's friend. He has genuine interest. He cares for them in distinct ways.

Secondly, a real friend is someone who helps when you need a hand. Someone who is there when you need someone to come alongside you. In verse 22, he essentially says, "Timothy has served with me in the work. He served side-by-side with me. He has worked hand-in-hand with me. I have seen his work ethic. I have seen his passion. I see his diligence. He comes alongside and helps whenever I have needed help." Then in verse 25 we have EP. It says, "EP, my fellow worker, my brother, my fellow soldier." He is also the one who has come alongside him on behalf of the Philippians to help.

Then thirdly, a real friend is someone who does what you cannot do on your own. Notice that EP came from Philippi on behalf of all the Philippians and Paul says in verse 23, "I hope to send Timothy to you until I can come myself. I trust him. He is trustworthy." A friend will come and do what you cannot do yourself. He is likeminded. "He has proven his faithfulness to you that he cares about you. I hope to send him to you until I can come myself in the same way you sent EP to come and take care of my needs. Indeed he worked so hard at it to your credit, he worked so hard at it he became sick unto death. He almost worked himself to death but God spared his life so that you would not be worried and I would not have sorrow upon sorrow." A real friend is someone that you can count on. It is someone that cares about your concerns. It is someone that helps when you need a hand. It is someone who does what you cannot do by yourself.

A friendship grows as we spend time together pursuing common interests. We need friends. Friends are what we are designed by God to have. We are social beings. We need someone who cares about us. We need someone, at times, to do things for us. But the most important reason we need friends, the reason you need friends the most, is that you cannot be a Christian without friends. God calls you to serve, to love one another. We are told to encourage one another, to carry one another's burdens, to edify or build up one another. How can you encourage someone if you do not know what discourages them? How can you carry their burdens if you do not know what their burdens are? How can you build someone up if you do not know what is tearing them down? God has put us in relationships with friends to give us opportunity to grow our character and to serve. He has put us in relationships to grow us, to make us, to allow us to become Christ-like. We need friends for our own needs, but we need friends to meet their needs so that we can grow in Christlikeness.

Church is the training ground for friendships and relationships that then branch out beyond this fellowship to those around us in the world to reach them with the truth and the love of Jesus Christ. Jesus says, "I call you friends." He has come to care about your concerns. He has come to help you when you need help. And also, He comes to do what we cannot do ourselves. He came to redeem us from our sin. He came to restore our relationship to God. He came to guide us through life when we do not know which way to turn. But how about the other side? How is your friendship with God? Do you care about His concerns? Do you take interest in what He is interested in?

Notice what Paul said about Timothy. "He takes genuine interest in your welfare." Many take interest in only their own concerns, but Timothy took a genuine interest in the welfare of the Philippians. In verses 3 and 4 just before he said, "do nothing of selfish ambition or vain conceit but in humility consider others better than yourself. Each of you should look not only to your own interest, but also to the interest of others." Now when you look to the interest of others, two interesting things happen.

Number one, you build a relationship of care, of give and take so that you will have an investment, you will have a relationship with someone that can come along your side when you need a friend. But more liberating than this is when you start looking at other people's problems, taking your focus off yourself. When we do this God starts taking care of our problems. Your problems seem to go away. They seem to dissolve and become less important to you. Do you care about His concerns? Do you put His priorities above your own or are you looking only after your own interests?

Secondly, do you help when Jesus needs help? Do you team with Jesus? Do you team with others who are trying to serve Christ in helpful ways? We have all got buddies. We have fishing buddies, we have biking buddies, we have golfing buddies, we have shopping buddies. We have racing buddies, but do you buddy with people who want to further the cause of Christ? Are you teaming up with someone who wants to do something for God, who wants to see some lives changed? You can keep them going. God puts us in relationships to support and strengthen each other. That is why we are called the body of Christ, to strengthen and encourage each other to do our part. We do not have to do it all ourselves. But together strengthening and helping we do what we are able to do. It makes a tremendous difference to us when someone is able to do what we cannot do alone.

And then thirdly, do you do what He wants done? Do you follow His commands? Do you follow, care about what He wants accomplished in this world? He has a dream, a hope for your neighbor, for the kid in your class that nobody likes, for the overworked employee at the supermarket who could use a word of encouragement. He has a dream and a hope and He wants someone to speak just a word of encouragement, to share the love of Christ with them. Are you willing to be there? Will you own that priority? Will you do what He wants done?

This is not a new concept. Isaiah in Isaiah chapter 58 said, "If you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness and your night will become like noon day. The Lord will guide you always and He will satisfy your needs and strengthen your frame." You can focus on your own priorities. You can care only about yourself. You can take care of doing what you want to do for you. But is it not better to do what God says and let Him do for you what He wants to do? To have Him do, to have Him strengthen your frame, have Him satisfy your needs. As He sees you stop looking at the mirror, looking at others and caring for others, He will make your paths straight. That is His promise. He will strengthen you. He will guide you. He will give you the light to get through it. You do not have to do it alone. But the more you look in the mirror, the more you focus only on your own problems.

The more you look at yourself, the more self-centered you become. The more you look at yourself, the more you start thinking, "Well, what is in it for me." "This is my deal." "What am I getting out of church?" "What am I getting out of this time together?" "What am I getting out of this relationship?" "What am I getting out of this marriage?" "What am I getting out of this friendship?" "I am not getting enough. I am going to back away." And God says, "I was trying to grow you. You had a great opportunity. This was a perfect environment for you to learn patience, peace, and trust in me and you just walked away from it." God wants to grow you. God has a dream for your character, for your personality. He said, "I call you friends." Can you call yourself a friend of God?


Philippians 3:1-9: Lose Your Religion

If you know much about me at all, you know that I love to drive. Perhaps I enjoy it too much. I get a great deal of satisfaction carving through a set of s-curves especially if they are banked. There is a sense of oneness with man and machine that I enjoy, that sense of connectedness. I do this and it does that. I even enjoy it when problems arise because now there is a challenge, now there is something to fix to get back on the road. But some of you do not enjoy driving. For some of you, driving is a chore. It becomes an intrusion into your life. You spend way too much time, you feel, stuck behind the wheel when there are so many other things you would rather do. It is an intrusion into your life. Others of you do not enjoy driving because it seems like there is always someone there with you telling you what you did wrong and where you need to go. Having a backseat driver with you can suck the joy out of driving. And others of you have had some experiences that have taught you how easily things can get out of control, especially when it is wet or dark. All these cars zooming along and drivers not paying attention to what they are doing, talking on the cell phone, kids misbehaving in the backseat.

These same type of problems arise in our spiritual lives and can suck the joy out of your faith and your relationship with God. If you have someone always picking at you, telling you what you are doing wrong and backseat driving your spiritual walk, it will suck the joy right out of it. If coming on Sunday morning or getting together on Wednesday night for shepherding group or coming to ABF on Sunday morning seems like an intrusion into your schedule because there are other things you would rather be doing ("Look, it is perfect weather for nine holes. What am I doing here?"), it will suck the joy right out of your faith.

I want you to consider, is your spiritual walk characterized by joy? If it is not, then you need to make a change. God intended for your relationship with Him to be characterized by joy. The third chapter of Philippians gives us some safeguards that Paul has given us to protect our joy because he wants us to have joy. There are hazards and roadblocks in this world that will suck it out of our lives. Philippians chapter three talks about a need for you to lose your religion in order to get something better. I am talking about changing your belief system, the things upon which your faith is based, the attitude, the operations which guide your life and your walk with Christ. But before we read Philippians chapter three, I want to stress that the joy Paul is talking about is much different than merely satisfying our fleshly desires and wants. It is not the mere satisfaction of fleshly longing. It is not simply having a good time. Paul is talking about something much more deep-seated and spiritually focused.

Philippians chapter three beginning at verse one: "Finally, my brother rejoice in the Lord." He repeats this throughout the book of Philippians. Philippians is a book designed to help us achieve joy in our walks with Christ. So he is telling you again to rejoice in the Lord, to have a sense of joy. He says, "it is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again because it is a safeguard to you." Paul wants to safeguard our joy because there are all kinds of things that will try to pull it away from us. God wants us to have joy in knowing Him and walking with Him so He says in verse two, "Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh." For us, dogs are something we speak of kindly. But in those days, dogs were scavengers. They were viewed as we would view a pack of wolves. Hyenas that would roam the land preying on the weak and the helpless and that is what these men were doing. Preying on new and weak believers casting doubt upon the genuineness of their faith and robbing them of their joy.

It says in verse three, "For it is we, not them, in contrast, who are the circumcision. It is we who worship the spirit of God, who glorify Christ Jesus and who put no confidence in the flesh. Although I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reason to put confidence in the flesh, I have more." That seems like an arrogant statement by Paul. An arrogant statement that says, "I have done everything right by the flesh. Everything a man can do right, I have done." But Paul was not arrogant, he was telling the facts of his life. He lists his achievements for us. "I was circumcised on the eighth day, I was of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews. In regard to the law, I am a Pharisee. In regard to zeal, I persecuted the church. In terms of legalistic righteousness, I am faultless. But, whatever was to my profit, for all the good that was, for all it counts for, I now consider it loss or nothing, worthless. In fact, worse than worthless. It took me away from the truth. Much more I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord for whose sake I have lost all those things. I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ and be found in him not having the righteousness of my own that comes from the law but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness that comes through God and by faith." Paul tells us that we need to lose our religion.

Religion is humankind's system of defining God and what God has said, of doing good, being punished for bad. It is a system that is based upon rewards or punishment for our actions. We need to lose our religion because we do not need it.

Look at verse three. "…rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh." He explains further in the book of Romans that true circumcision, that thing which set the Jews apart, that physical sign that set the Jews apart, was only an outward semblance of a real difference. He said in Romans 2:29 that true circumcision is done in the heart by the Spirit. It is not mere cutting of the flesh that pleases God but a reborn heart that matters. Remember when Jesus met the woman at the well? The woman said, "Master, I perceive that you are a teacher and we Samaritans, all of our fathers, have worshipped here on this mountain, but you and the Jews say that we need to worship in Jerusalem. Are we ok? Are they right, are we wrong, are they wrong? Where do we stand?" And Jesus said with a smile, "There will come a day, and that day is today, when you will not be worshipping God here or worshipping God there, but those who worship the Father will worship him in spirit and in truth."

It is not a physical place that matters in worship. It is the heart that matters. You have not worshipped by simply sitting in church no more than the Jews worshipped by being in Jerusalem or the Pharisees worshipped by being on Mt. Gerazim. They stood there, but worship is from the heart and with honesty, with humility, with openness before God. If during the worship time, if during the song time your heart was open to God, you worshipped in spirit and truth. Whether you sang or not, whether you made a noise with your mouth is frankly, irrelevant. What was your heart doing when this was going on? Were you lifting your spirit to Him? Were you saying, "Lord, you are faithful. Lord, I need the strength you have for me today. I want the hope you have for tomorrow. Lord, you have done it for centuries for other people, I want you to do it for me. Lord, I long for a relationship with you." That is worship. If your heart is doing that, that is worshipping in spirit and in truth. You do not need Jerusalem. You do not need Mt. Gerazim. You need spirit and truth.

If anyone was capable of earning his salvation it was Paul. In Philippians 3:5-6, Paul lists his religious credentials. "For I was circumcised when I was eight days old, having been born into a pure-blooded Jewish family that is a branch of the tribe of Benjamin. So I am a real Jew if there ever was one! What's more, I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. And zealous? Yes, in fact, I harshly persecuted the church. And I obeyed the Jewish law so carefully that I was never accused of any fault." It was not by chance that God chose Paul as His apostle. He was doing everything correct according to his religion and we needed to have that example to know that he still did not cut it. He followed all the traditions. He was as kosher as a Nathan's hot dog.

Everything about him, everything he was supposed to be doing he did. When he was supposed to go to the synagogue, he was there. When he was supposed to say a prayer, he would say the prayer. He knew all the things to do in the right order. "I was of the people of Israel. I was of the chosen people, the covenant people, the people of promise." He was of Israel. They were the covenant people. "I was of the people that were chosen by God, the favored people by God, the people whom God promised would have this land. I am of the tribe of Benjamin." Benjamin is the tribe in which the capital, Jerusalem, resides. God chose the land of Benjamin to plant the capital--Jerusalem. It was this tribe from which the first king of all Israel was chosen. It stood with Judah against all the other tribes who departed to form a different nation founded on a corrupted form of the original Jewish religion. Paul's physical heritage was the best.

Paul could say: "Everyone respected me. My mom would say, 'my son is a Pharisee,' with pride. And as for zeal, I persecuted the church. I was passionate for God. There is nothing that could stand between me and what I would do for my God. I would follow His decrees to the letter. I would consent to have people killed for defiling the name of God. I persecuted the church because I thought they were corrupting the name of Yahweh by saying that Jesus was Yahweh, God's Son, which was blasphemy to me. And finally, with regard to legalistic righteousness, I was faultless. I was blameless. I had no human accusers."

Paul did not say, regarding sin, "I was sinless" because there was sin in Paul's life. There was pride; there was arrogance; there was hatred. But no one else could see that. Blameless in this passage means that no one could blame him of violating the laws and traditions. Faultless means that no one could find fault in the things he was doing. Other people could not see his heart but God saw it. Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus and said, "Saul, why are you persecuting me?" He was named after the first king of Israel. His mother was very proud of that. And then God changed his name from Saul to Paul, which means "little, diminished." Little Paul, little Pablo. And that is when Paul became great. Lose your religion because religion like this is based upon your lineage, who you are related to, where you are raised. Are you better than someone else because of the color of your skin or the language you speak or the nation in which you were born?

Religion is also based upon achievements. Jesus saw the people of Israel who were boasting, "I am of Abraham. I am Abraham's son," and basically said, "Big deal! God could raise up children of Abraham from these rocks sitting on the side of the road. You think that makes you something? You are just a stone in God's sight. You are a dead stone in God's sight." He saw their behavior, saw their actions and said, "You worship in vain, in emptiness. Your teachings are but rules taught by men. They let go of the commands of God. They abandon the commands of God. They let go of them and instead hold on to the traditions of men. You are sacrificing God's rules, God's guidelines for man's traditions." Jesus saw their achievements and said, "Do you remember the prophet Isaiah? He was right in what he said about you. Isaiah said you are hypocrites. You honor me with your lips, but your hearts are far from me." Religion will make you dead as stones. It will tie you to traditions rather than tying you to God. It will leave you heartless. No passion, no joy. And so Paul says, "Lose your religion. Find something better."

Verse 7 says, "But whatever was my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. As good as I was, my resume was perfect. But now it means nothing compared with what Christ has done and who Christ is in my life. What is more, I now consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord." Everyone knew Jesus as a man in that day. No one denied that Jesus lived and died. They knew him as a man. They knew he had friends. They knew he had disciples. Jesus, the person, the man that people loved, that people cared for, that people now were dying for. But Jesus was more than a friend to Paul. Christ Jesus was his Lord and Savior. "That I know Christ Jesus as my Lord, as the one who has control, who has power. And I consider all those other things as rubbish, that I might gain Christ."

And then verse 9, "…and be found in him not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is found, that which is through faith in Christ." The righteousness that comes from God and that is worked out in our lives occurs as we walk by faith. He is justified and we are justified because of the purposely shed blood of Jesus Christ on our behalf. "To know Christ" and "to gain Christ" are in the active voice. But being "found in Him" is passive. Ultimately, our salvation is a gift of God. As we find ourselves in Christ we are to seek to know Him better. To know Christ is to have a personal relationship with Him. It is to walk with Him on a daily basis, conscious of His presence, living as though He were with you at all times.

Are you walking with Jesus or are you living by a set of standards and rules? I keep something in my office to remind me of how joy can be sapped from us. It is the 1993 Vehicle Code. It is quite large. There are no pictures. It is all fine print and subparagraphed. How would you like to learn to drive with your father sitting with this book in his lap as you get ready to turn the key for the first time? "Let me turn to page one," he says. God help you. It would suck the joy right out of driving. Most of you did not learn to drive that way. You learned maybe like I did, sitting in my father's lap driving an old International tractor or when you get older driving a truck off road or a boat. Most of us learn to drive by watching how it is done. Doing it with somebody else who gives you just a little bit of learning at a time. Jesus invites you to walk in relationship with Him rather than just living by rules and regulations. Regulations without Christ will kill the joy in your life.

Consider as you go through your day that Jesus is with you. "Lord, how do you want me to respond to this situation? What would you have me do? Turn away? Say something? Go off and do something else? Make a difference here. Lord, what would you have me do? We are in this together, Lord, direct me and guide me. Tell me when I need to turn. Show me." Learn to walk in relationship with Him, not by mere regulations.

Secondly, obey for completion not out of compulsion. I think you know what I mean by "compulsion." It means doing something because we have to not because we want to. "I have to" lasts about as long as the person who is going to punish you is watching. How do you respond when you see a radar car ahead of you? And how do you respond after you get past it? Listen carefully to what James said. "Patiently work through the challenges you face because amid them God is building a perfect and complete character." If you are like me, when a trial or temptation comes up, you groan. "Oh, no." Kind of like a kid who gets homework in class. "Oh, I thought she was going to forget." But realize, that teacher gave you homework because she wants you to learn. That teacher wants you to understand. And she wants you to get it not simply so you will get a good grade, but so you will understand it because tomorrow you have to learn something else that builds on top of that. We get trials and we say, "Oh, Lord, why did this happen to me? Lord, get me out of this one." Or, we look for the escape, to get out of them, when God wants to build our character through these trials. He wants to complete us in our walk with Christ.

Thirdly, work in partnership, not in isolation. The wonderful thing about establishing a relationship with Christ is that where He leads, He provides. He will give you the resources, the strength to accomplish everything He has required you to do. So do not try and do it alone. Do not be like Paul was before His conversion. Jesus said, "I will send you the Spirit to live within you and be your guide. I will not abandon you." Do not go it alone. Do it in partnership with God and also with others in the body of Christ.

A long, long time ago, just after Katie graduated from high school, she got a little yellow Volkswagon bug. They were fun cars. This one had nice chrome wheels, sat nice and low, it was just right. But the trouble was, it had a stick shift and Katie was a great driver, but she had never learned to use the clutch and the shifter. Being her best friend and the love of her life, I was going to teach her. Anybody else ever do that and regret it? I told her everything she needed to do and then I told her everything she needed to do and I told her what she needed to do five times. After the fifth time, I got out of the car and sat on the curb of the parking lot and watched her the first time she tried to do it without me in the car. She did not need a critic, she did not need someone badgering, watching over her shoulder. She just needed a calm, relaxed encourager that believed in her. It is the same way with our spiritual walk. Someone who is willing to let you fail while still accepting you is much better than a backseat critic. Never accept immoral behavior but in the many areas of life that are morally neutral be an encourager not a critic! Be that person's partner in accomplishing the goal not a criticizing obstacle.

Finally, remember that the Christian life is about building your life with Christ, not building a resume. Build a relationship with Him now and He will hold His arms to you and say, "There is my friend" and I will say, "There is my buddy. There is the one who saw me through all these things." Build a life with Christ, not a resume. Paul was building the best resume that could be built and he said it was garbage, actually worse than garbage because it was a distraction from what God really wanted for him. Do you have joy? Is there a sense of joy in your walk with Christ? Is it an adventure? Or, do you consider God an intrusion into your life?




James Skeen

Sharing Your Faith with a Buddhist, a book on evangelism by M. S. Thirumalai

Short Term Missions, a book by Roger Peterson, et al.

Solitary Poet, Poems of Reflection by Stan Schmidt.

Sharing Your Faith with Hindus by M. S. Thirumalai.

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