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Posts from the ‘Letters to a Young Believer’ Category

27
Aug

An appropriate benediction

“Greet all the saints in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me send greetings. All the saints send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.”  (Philippians 4:20-23)

We can picture the Christian congregation in Philippi gathering around for a time of worship, eagerly soaking in the special letter written to them by the beloved Apostle Paul. His message of encouragement and uplifted spirit of rejoicing must have been an amazing experience.

Notice Paul not only calls the Christians in Phillipi saints, but also the believers in Rome. Even though Paul was a little disappointed in how some of the saints were responding, that still does not change their status. Saints in Christ Jesus are those who have been set apart as God’s children through God’s grace.

We also notice a reference to Caesar’s household. One may think that these may be slaves or servants. On the other hand, there is also a strong possibility that the Christian faith was slowly becoming a part of the high ranks of Roman officials.

It is by grace, God’s undeserved love that makes us Christians. No wonder we can rejoice through any circumstance that comes our way when we can be assured of our status before God, not by what we have done or what we are doing, but what God has already done for us. What an appropriate way for Paul to close a letter by reminding us that God’s grace is always with us.

23
Aug

A Fragrant Gift is One that is Prompted by Love

The Apostle Paul expressed love, care and concern for his former congregation while awaiting trial in Rom. Out of thanksgiving for the special relationship he had with each member, he pours out his heart in thanksgiving for the prayerful and financial support they have given him.

“Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need. Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (Philippians 4:14-20)

It’s nice to receive gifts, especially from people you know and care about. In Paul’s case, he appreciated the heart behind the gift.

A faithful heart, knowing he was the Lord’s servant and they were brothers and sisters in Christ, prompted and inspired their gift. Paul was overjoyed that the motivation behind the gift was not because of pity or guilt, but from a heart overflowing with the right spirit.

It is the same way when we give to the Lord out of a faithful and cheerful heart, not out of reluctance.  That is what makes the gift a “fragrant offering” to the Lord.

We note that the gifts that were sent from Epaphroditus were one of several that had come to Paul. They represented a consistent pattern of support. Gifts prompted by love are not a one-time gift, but a continuous flow whom God uses for His own purposes. Each gift is a sweet-smelling fragrance – an acceptable sacrifice that is prompted by the love and trust we have placed in our Almighty God. They are acceptable because of Christ’s work for us (1 Peter 2:5) and God’s work in us (Phil. 2:13).

We see one of many promises in that God will supply all of our needs, not as a wealthy person, but the riches of a sovereign God, the ruler of the universe, who cares deeply about his children and has limitless resources to supply our every need (physical, emotional, spiritual).

11
Aug

Paul’s Secret to be Content in Life

The Apostle Paul had a special relationship with the church in Philippi. He built that church up and many people came to the faith. In this portion of Paul’s letter to the Philippian church, he is acknowledging a gift that was given to him by the church, probably a gift of money. This gift brought him a special joy. Not in its monetary value, but in the care, love and concern behind it.

He reminded them that he is not relying on gifts to provide for his physical comfort because he had learned how to be content. He has known what it is like to be prosperous and what it is like to be in need. Since contentment can be so elusive to man, Paul calls it a “secret”.

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

Paul found the secret for contentment in life was in the source of strength found in Christ. He proclaims, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Whatever the Lord brought to in his life, the good and the bad, Paul was confident he can do it because by faith he was in Christ.

Jesus says, “Remain in me and I will remain in you.” (John 15:4) When Paul pleaded for strength and help to overcome painful trials, Jesus responded, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”(2 Cor. 12:9) Whatever happened to Paul, he was content because he knew that Christ was supplying his every need.

We can have this same assurance because we are also in Christ. He gives us strength to stand firm in this difficult world and to live out our lives for His glory.

The secret is in our weakness. When we are weak, than we are strong.

“Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”(2 Cor. 12:9-10)

How can we learn this secret?

Paul says that he has learned the secret to be content. The Greek word for “learn” could also mean “to acquire the habit” or “to understand.” As Paul put into practice what he had learned or received, he acquired the habit of being content. The Israelites were to hear God’s Word so they might “learn by practice” or “acquire the habit” of obeying God (Deut. 4:10, 5:1, 14:23).

A coach can devise plays in the locker room, give lectures on techniques, and plot out strategies, but the bottom line is that athletes need to go out and do it. Through practice, we can learn or acquire the habit of being able to do what the coach wants us to do.

When we examine the world “secret” we are given some more clues. The Greek word used by Paul could also mean “I have been initiated.” This word was used by Greek philosophers to describe that they are self-sufficient for all things or independent of external circumstances. This word was also used for the feeding of animals, so a fattened or satisfied animal was described this way.

Through Christ, Paul was initiated and learned the secret of contentment as a result of faith. Those outside of the faith are not initiated and do not know, nor understand the secrets behind this truth. As a result of this secret, Paul has the possession of the strength made possible to do all things that God wanted him to do as a result of his weakness.

Finally, we are reminded that we can do everything through Christ who gives us strength. The Greek word for “can do” means to be strong, able, forceful, or to prevail. It can also mean to use physical strength and strength to overcome. The word was used to describe an army who has the strength and ability to overcome another in battle. The Lord equips us to give us strength (Eph. 6:10-18) and it is the same strength that made the Old Testament heroes strong (Hebrews 11:34).

The secret to be content in life is found only be being in Christ. He provides all of our physical needs, but also provides the strength to overcome any obstacle. Our power is found in our weaknesses. We are granted the opportunity in our weaknesses that we cannot on our own obtain the life that we desire. When we finally realize that God can be fully trusted, fully accepting the promises of God, our life is transformed and we receive true peace and contentment.

8
Aug

Guarding our hearts under the protective custody of God’s peace

There is a peace that goes beyond understanding which can invade our hearts and minds with the Holy Spirit. We are encouraged to take the extra effort and time to guard our hearts and mind so we can be under the protective custody of God’s peace.

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9)

We need to go to great lengths to stand guard to what we allow to enter our thought-life. What we allow will be reflected in the words and actions we produce. I think of a soccer referee as an example. Their job is to monitor a game and blow a whistle if a person commits a foul or issue a yellow card to warn the player they are playing in an unacceptable fashion. Why do they do that? Why does a game even need a referee? They are protectors. They keep players on both teams in line. They protect the integrity of the game. Without them, a game could erupt into chaos.

Paul wants us to guard or “referee” our own lives and gives us a list of what we should strive to allow to enter our minds.

TRUE
Integrity, genuine, honesty, not vain or deceptive. Credible, reliable or valid.

Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” (John 14:6) A soldier who witnessed Jesus’ death on the cross and a soldier piercing the side of Jesus’ body with the spear gave a reliable testimony and so it was widely believed to be true (John 19:35). So, we are to think of things that are reliable and true, for it will give us peace. And it is God’s Word that is our primary source of what is true (“Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth –John 17:17), so we daily come to refresh our minds with truth.

NOBLE
The Greek word means respectable, dignity, or honorable. It can also mean good conduct and character.

We focus our attention on things worthy of honor or reverence, “as opposed to flippancy that lacks seriousness.”Honor is what makes a man or woman stand apart.

RIGHT
The word means just, upright, impartial, or fitting.

More often than not, the right way of doing things is the most difficult way. When all forces or opinions attempt to steer us to the easy way out, we are called upon to do things right, no matter how difficult or longer it may be. Besides, this is how we were made right with God. Jesus’ death on the cross was the most difficult and the only way for us to be made right. What is right according to God’s standards is spelled out clearly in the Bible for which we have no excuse for not knowing.

PURE
Modest, chaste, stainless, sincerity, things that encourage purity.

The hope we have in Christ purifies ourselves just as Christ is pure. (1 John 3:3)We are to remain undefiled from the affairs and philosophies of this world. The wisdom that comes from above is pure (James 3:17), thereby allowing us to express this wisdom in our thoughts and behavior.

LOVELY

Acceptable, pleasing, agreeable.

They are things that incite true love instead of erotic behavior. We guard our actions so they may be acceptable and agreeable in the eyes of God. When we consider things lovely to look at, they are warm and pleasing to the eye, thereby garnishing pleasant thoughts, not carnal or lustful ones. So should our mind’s eye strive to recall images that are lovely and pleasing to our spirit. It’s amazing how our mind works, especially for a young man. The image of a scantily clad woman can seer into our mind’s eye like a tattoo — never to go away no matter how hard we try to rub it out.

ADMIRABLE

Of good report, well spoken of, reputable, things attractive in moral character.

You have heard the phrase WWJD (What would Jesus do).In the same way, we can say WWJT (What would Jesus think).As we have respect for men or women who exhibit noble and admirable character, we can think of things that would project good character in our mind.

EXCELLENT

Virtue, perfection.

We have at our disposal a moral excellence that comes through exercising our faith in Christ through His Word. As God displays his excellence in his own glory and goodness, we can receive everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him. We can escape the corruption of this world that is caused by evil desires. As a result of this power at hand, we can make every effort to mature in the faith by exercising it in God’s Word (2 Peter 1:3-5).

PRAISEWORTHY

Commendation, public approval and recognition.

As we strive to gain praise and recognition from others, we yearn for that time on Judgment Day when we will receive praise from God (1 Corinthians 4:5).How will our thought life bring us praise on that day?

How can we guard our minds in the television shows, videos or movies that we choose to watch, the books or magazines we read, or the video games we play? If we analyze most of the televisions shows that are being broadcast today, we can tell they are designed to charge the flesh with the currents of lust, fame and fortune. We can admit and confess that we are attracted to them like moths to a light. This is the battleground. This is the competition. We must strive to defeat the onslaught of arrows that we see and hear targeting our sinful nature.

Furthermore, there is a whole other element to contend with. Peer pressure. We want to fit in. We want to be liked. How can you withstand the stares of disbelief when confronted by a peer that you haven’t watched a particular show, listened to a particular song, or played a particular video game. These arrows are the most difficult to fend off, especially on a college campus or living on your own as an adult.

How do we get better at playing the piano, building a chair or making free throws? We practice and practice. As a result of practicing, we get better and better. Paul tells us that as we practice or do the things that we have learned and received from Paul, than we will receive the peace of God that transcends all understanding. As we follow and put into practice the examples of Christian pastors, teachers, family or friends, we will enjoy the presence of the God of peace in our lives. We receive a peace knowing that you are a child of God, loved dearly by him no matter what. A peace that is not dependent on what others might think of you. A peace that allows you to stand firm, to run the race set before you, to finish and claim the prize and receive the crown of glory for those who remain faithful to the end.

6
Aug

A remedy for those times when we are feeling anxious

Is your life right now characterized as being anxious?

I have many positive and fond memories of being a graduate student. My wife and I lived in a small apartment in student housing. I recall enjoying my classes and the professors, teaching tennis and golf, playing golf often with my wife, and enjoying the nice weather of Albuquerque.

During this time, I kept a daily journal. Several years later after graduation, I happened to run across my journal and was expecting to see many entries about my enjoyment of life as a graduate student. Much to my surprise, the vast majority of my entries were anything but peace, rejoicing and contentment.

They were, “O Lord, hear my prayer (regarding my future).” “PleaseLord, help me, I am lost.” I couldn’t believe it! It was both embarrassing and humbling. Where was my faith and trust in the Lord? It revealed to me that I was allowing circumstances, anxiety and worry to dominate my present.

Now, as I look back, I can clearly see how the Lord took good care of us, guided us, and blessed us more than we could ever imagine. Not that life was easy, but I have the advantage of looking back and seeing the evidence of how much the Lord is in control.

The Apostle Paul reflected and encouraged the church in Philippi to not be anxious by writing,

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”(Phil. 4:6)

Why does Paul encourage us not to be anxious? Worry is a sin because it displays a lack of trust in God. This is especially true over things we have no control over. With a child-like trust, we can turn over our concerns into our Lord’s hands. We can place our little hand into his and trust that our Father will provide.

Yes, it is good to make plans. Ultimately, however, the outcome of our plans is in the Lord’s hands. As a result, Paul tells us to stop worrying about the affairs of the world, but utilize the power of prayer as a means to overcome anxiety and worry.

Prayer is a means to give us confidence and peace that God is working out all things for good, even when he says no to my prayer. Faith and trust becomes the critical element of being sure in what we hope and pray for and certain of what we do not see. With a spirit of gentleness and rejoicing, we can truly pray with thanksgiving as we bring our requests to God. As a result of prayer, we can find peace.

Paul continues to write,

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”(Phil. 4:7)

Peace can be so elusive. It is the opposite of anxiety. It is a type of inner peace that knows that our sins are forgiven. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”(John 14:27)

Paul also wrote, “Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”(Romans 5:1)This is a peace that gives us a true rest as a result of trusting fully that God is taking care of us.

So often, people will look to the world to bring them peace. If only I were rich. If only I were famous. If only I held this job. If only I were a somebody, then I would have peace.

Our world cannot offer the peace that can truly satisfy a man’s soul. This peace can only come from God. He is the originator of peace which can only be received by grace. It is God’s peace, which goes beyond our human understanding that will guard, like a soldier, our hearts and minds.

As Christ dwells in our hearts through faith, we may have power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ. To know this love surpasses knowledge itself for it cannot be completely known (Ephesians 3:17-19). It is a love Christ has for us that goes beyond our understanding.

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