Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Pressing On for the Progress and Joy of Our Faith

In his letter to his friends in the church at Philippi, Paul was not only thanking them for their gift and love, but also addressing areas such as church unity, opposition to the gospel, and the day of Christ.  These topics are addressed throughout the letter.  However, Paul's addressing these topics are an aid for His accomplishing His greater goal for them in the writing of this letter, and that is their progress and joy in the faith.  We see this goal stated in Philippians 1:25, which is the key verse in this book.

Ever the teacher, ever the discipler (Matthew 28:19, Ephesians 4:11-13), ever the one concerned for the welfare of the church(es) (II Corinthians 11:28), Paul was not wasting this opportunity to build up and strengthen these brethren who were dear to him. Understanding this we can see how Paul goes about this through the instructions, admonitions, and examples he gives in this letter. What Paul does in this letter to move the Philippians forward in their faith is to lay out their responsibilities as believers alongside God's resources available to them.

As believers, God wants us to progress, advance, and go further in our faith; and as such we are responsible for our part, but at the same time the Lord knows that in and of ourselves we are not adequate for the task, so He must give us the resources to do what He has laid out for us to do (II Corinthians 3:5-6).   So let's look at both our responsibilities and our resource for progressing in our faith as Paul gives them in Philippians.

Our Responsibility
We progress and have joy in our faith:
1:5 by our participation in the gospel.
1:7 by our defending and confirming the gospel.
1:9 by our abounding more and more in love,
      but by a love that is guided by knowledge and discernment.
1:27 by conducting ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel.
1:27 by being unified in the cause of the gospel.
1:27 by standing firm with others.
1:27 by our striving for the faith of the gospel.
1:29 by our suffering for His sake.
2:3-5 by not being selfish or self-promoting.
         by our looking out for the interests of others.
         by having the same attitude as Christ.
2:12 by working out our salvation,
        with the understanding of our accountability
2:14 by not having a complaining or argumentative spirit.
2:16 by holding fast to the word.
2:17 by serving and sacrificing in our faith.
2:18 by sharing our joy with others,
        especially those going through trials.
2:19-30 by living in a way that is an example and encourages
             other Christians.
3:2 by being aware of those who would hinder us in our faith.
3:3 by putting no confidence in the flesh.
3:7-11 by not holding on to worldly possessions.
3:12-14 by pressing on.
             We press on:
             by always forgetting what lies behind.
             by continually reaching forward to what lies ahead.
3:14 by having an eternal perspective.
        We develop an eternal perspective:
         by keeping the ultimate goal in mind.
         by keeping the ultimate/eternal reality in mind.
3:15 by keeping the right attitude.
3:16 by not regressing in our faith.
3:17-19 by following the right examples.
3:20 by being mindful of our citizenship.
4:1 by standing firm in all these things.
4:4 by always rejoicing in the Lord.
4:5 by being exhibiting Christian kindness and charity with all men.
4:6 by not letting anxiety control us.
4:6 by having a robust prayer life.
4:6 by being thankful.
4:8 by training our mind to think properly.
4:9 by living out what we have learned to be true,
4:9 by living out what we have seen to be true.
4:15 by generously and sacrificially supporting the gospel.

Our Resources
We can progress in our faith because:
1:6 We have God Himself, as what God began, God will finish.
1:7 We have been made partakers of grace.
1:11 We are already filled with the fruit of the righteousness of Christ.
1:19 We have the provision of the Spirit of Christ.
2:1 We have the encouragement of Christ.
2:1 We have the consolation of love.
2:1 We have the fellowship of the Spirit.
2:1 We have the affection and compassion of Christ.
2:13 We have God working in us to accomplish His good pleasure.
2:16 We have the word of life.
2:19-30 We have the encouragement and example of others.
3:1 We have the safeguarding of the word.
3:12 We have been laid hold of by Christ Himself.
3:20 We have the knowledge of His returning for us.
4:7 Our heart and mind are guarded by the peace of God.
4:9 The God of peace, Himself, is with us.
4:13 We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.
4:19 We have a God who will supply all our needs,
        based on His riches.

What Paul is laying out for us to see in this book, is the working of man and the working of God in the spiritual life.  How they work together is a bit of a mystery, as God has not given us a formula to follow, but principles to be lived out.  It is in our going and our doing that the grace and power of God meet us and work through us.  It is in our obedience that we tap into the resources of God.  It is in our working out what the Lord has worked within that we appropriate all the means He has made available to us to accomplish His will in our life.

So today, my friends, let us progress, let us advance, let us press on in our faith, for He will meet us there in the midst of our going and doing.


Monday, January 28, 2013

Joy in the Faith

Your joy in the faith will be in direct
proportion to the obedience of your faith.
As sin will always rob you of your joy.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Pressing On Toward the Goal

I press on toward the goal for the
prize of the upward call of God
in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:14

Since the Lord is at hand, the present duty of each Christian is to live in His likeness, to make urgent progress in holiness so as to have a harvest of righteousness ready for Him, and to long to bring others to faith so that they may be glad together before His throne.

Alec Motyer
The Message of Philippians
Page 22

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Pastor's Personal Life

Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching;
persevere in these things, for as you do this will ensure
salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.
I Timothy 4:16

Pastors, when you pray for your people, pray for yourself as well.  Your prayers for the people under your watchcare should include you as well.  Yes, we are shepherd's of the flock that the Lord has assigned to us; but we are undershepherds who have been called out from among the sheep to shepherd the sheep, so we share the same weaknesses and proclivities that our people do.  So the admonition to pay close attention to himself that Paul gave Timothy goes for us as well.

Paul was not telling Timothy to be self-absorbed or narcissistic, but to be self-aware.  It was a warning to be on the look out for his own spiritual well being, to be on guard for his own holiness, to be sensitive to his own weaknesses.  He was telling Timothy not to be so focused on those he was ministering to, so as to miss his own sin.  

Our personal holiness not only affects us, but it affects our ministry as well.  It affects those to whom we minister, and those whom we lead.  The leaven that begins with us can affect the whole flock, and can have a ripple effect into the broader church.  This is another area that James 3:1 speaks to.  

So how do you watch over yourself?  Here are a few ways.

1.  Pray for yourself, just like you pray for your people.  Pray for discernment.  Pray for sensitivity to sin.  Pray for protection from temptation.  Pray that evil will not ensnare you.  Pray for your own spiritual growth and your own spiritual needs.  

2. Don't become enamored with your own holiness, or think that you are above sin.  The admonition that he who stands should take heed lest he fall is particularly applicable to pastors.  Humility regarding our own spiritual condition is a safeguard here, which means you must never think you are above temptation, never think certain sins will have no draw upon your flesh.  

3.  Never become content with where you are spiritually, never think you have arrived spiritually, but seek to be constantly growing.  A growing faith is a flourishing faith, and a flourishing faith is more sensitive to sin, and therefore less prone to fall prey to temptation.

4.  Stay fresh in the word, so that the word will stay fresh in you.  The continual treasuring up of the word in our heart, the continual exposure to the word provides a protective shield for our heart and mind against sin.

5. Be on your guard, and be aware of the schemes of the enemy.  He is constantly on the look out for whom he can devour, whom he can cause to fall, so we must be constantly vigilant against his wiles.  Do not let yourself be put into situations where temptation will lurk.  Part of praying that you will not be led into temptation is the realization of the areas in which you can be tempted.

Fellow pastors, the bar is set high for us because the spiritual stakes are so high, not only for us, but for those the Lord has assigned to our care.  So let us be diligent in our own spiritual life so that the example we set will be equal to the word we preach.


Monday, January 21, 2013

Christ, Our Great High Priest

Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood,
He Himself likewise also partook of the same...
Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren 
in all things, so that He might become a merciful
and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God...
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who
has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God...
For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize
with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted 
in all things as we are, yet without sin.
Hebrews 2:14, 17; 4:14-15

The beauty of Jesus Christ being our high priest before God, is that He came down and took our flesh upon Himself, and in so doing was tempted in every way, just as we are tempted.  From that perspective He operates as our intercessor before God because He can fully identify and sympathize with the yearnings and temptations of the flesh.  Now, of course, He did not succumb to the temptations, but He was tempted none the less.  So when He intercedes with God for us, when He pleads our cause before God, He does so from a position of familiarity and understanding of just what it is like to be in a body of flesh.  He intercedes with insight gained from living amongst us, and sharing our human condition.

Yes, He is our Savior, but once He becomes our Savior, He then assumes the role of our Advocate before God (I John 2:1), and what a role that is.  We know from Scripture that Satan is our adversary, and part of what he does as our adversary is accuse us (Christians) night and day before God (Revelation 12:10), and he certainly has enough ammunition to use against us as none of us is without sin (Ecclesiates 7:20, I John 1:8-10, James 1:21, 3:2, Romans 7:17-21); but for every accusation we have an Advocate (I John 2:1) who intercedes vigorously for us based on His death for our sin, His paying the penalty for that sin, His blood being shed for that sin; and that His death is the propitiation (satisfaction of the holy wrath and satisfaction of the justice of God) against that sin (Jeremiah 50:34, Micah 7:9).  His sacrifice and its accompanying propitiation is not just an adequate defense, but is an overwhelming defense, an impenetrable defense against all the accusations of the enemy.  

As our high priest, Christ knows and cares.  As our high priest, Christ is capable and qualified. As our high priest, Christ is indefeatable.  So don't let the guilt of your sin keep you from coming to God; and once you have come to Him, don't let the accusations and incrimination of the enemy weigh you down because Christ has vigorously pleaded your case and defended you, and therefore there is no longer any condemnation from God upon you (Romans 8:1).  

Praise be to God for His wondrous salvation and all of its benefits to men.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Being Holy, Walking Humbly

To be holy before God, 
you must walk humbly with God.
Micah 6:8
Numbers 12:3
Philippians 2:5-8
I Peter 5:6

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Another Reason for Expository Preaching

When you preach sequentially and expositorially, 
you expose your people to the whole mind of God, 
and feed them with the whole counsel of God.  

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Thinking About God

...the most significant factor in the life
of God's people is how they think about
God; and how we think about God is 
profoundly influenced by our proclamation
of God in worship and our acclamation 
of Him in praise.

Sinclair Ferguson
A Heart for God
Page 115

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Direction of Our Walk

In Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians Paul talks about our walk as Christians and non-Christians.  I really like this metaphor of life because it speaks to me of direction.  And in our life we are walking in one of two directions.  We are either walking toward Christ, or we are walking away from Christ.  We are walking toward the Light or we are walking away from it.

Those who are not seeking God are walking further and further away from Christ.  Just follow the downward march of depravity in Romans 1 to see how they walk further and further away from Christ in their heart and mind.  And Paul also tells us in Philippians 3 that many walk as enemies of Christ and His cross, whose god is their appetite, for whom shame is their glory, who set their minds on earthly things, whose end is destruction.  These people can walk so far away from Christ that the light that is in them becomes darkness.  

Christ has told us that no one comes to Father except through Him.  So those who have sought after God and found God, have not only walked toward Christ, but have walked into Christ.  And the further they walk into Christ, the more deeply they abide in Christ, the more fully they experience Christ, and the more complete in Christ they become.  In Colossians 3 Paul tells us the Christian walks toward Christ by fixing his gaze upon Jesus, seeking the things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God, and sets his mind on the things of Christ and not the things of this earth.  

So what about you, my friend?  What direction is your walk taking you?  Are you walking toward Christ or away from Christ?  Are you becoming more like Christ or are you becoming darker on the inside?  If you will but walk toward Christ He will greet you with open arms and the entrance to heaven will be abundantly supplied to you.  What direction will you take?  Choose this day the direction that leads to life!

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Church Growth Epiphany

In our country, there seems to be a preoccupation with youth, in most every area.  Marketers and marketing organizations hone in on the under 40 age group like a bee on pollen.  If you doubt it look at all the magazine ads and the age of the actors in the commercials on television.  However, it seems there has been a recent epiphany in the marketing world as they have discovered that older people buy stuff too, and there seems to be the start of a paradigm shift in the focus of marketers.

Well, the church culture has not been much different either.  So much pub (publicity) has been directed at many of the young guns in evangelicalism, and the numbers and ministry growth that some have achieved.  Many of the Christian conferences will highlight these younger men, and I have read some articles that said if you don't get these younger guys as speakers at your conference,  you won't have any drawing power.  Now this is not to detract from them, or to denigrate them in any way, as I think what many of them are doing is great; not only great for the kingdom in expanding its reach, but also in the area of encouraging many other younger pastors; and there are several whom I enjoy listening to and benefit from.  But before we get too far into the exaltation of all things younger, hipper, with skinny jeans, casual attire, funky hair and cooler flair, and overuse of the words relevant, authentic, and missional, we need to take a look at some statistics that have come to light.

 In this link, Who Pastor's Growing Churches? , Cynthia Woolever provides statistics that show the largest number of growing churches have pastors that are ages 51-60 (46%) and the second largest group of growing churches have pastors 61+ (24%).  The two age groups under age 50 only account for 30% of the growing churches.  I know one pastor in his 70s who has stated that the majority of the people joining his church are age 35 and under.  Now obviously there are several factors that play into these statistics, but even with other variables, there seems to be an overwhelming disparity between churches pastored by those over 50 versus those under 50.

Maybe this should be an epiphany for us in evangelicalism.  Maybe it should shift our paradigm a little...or a lot.  There has also been recent research done in which non-church goers were surveyed, and the response from them indicated that if they were to consider going to church, they wanted the church to look like a church and feel like a church.  This might be a reach, but maybe these same people want the pastor to look  and act like a pastor as well.

I think that those in the world expect the church to be different, and, in fact, know that it should be different.  So to attract more people, maybe we should stop trying to look and act and sound like the world.  Maybe when coming to church, the unchurched don't need it to be a seamless experience, but need to experience the difference.  Maybe being overwhelmed with the Biblical vernacular is good.  Maybe having an atmosphere that says they are coming before a transcendant Being is good.  Maybe a service that leaves them with a sense of accountability to that Being is even better.  Maybe being around a group of people that enjoy and celebrate and make no apologies for that difference would add to its legitimacy.  Maybe this is what the churches pastored by these older guys are offering, as the churches they pastor are not typically into the latest and greatest.   Maybe what the church needs to be is what it has always been....a different place, a safe haven, a place of mutual accountability and mutual encouragement, a place that knows its place before both God and men.

Just some food for thought as we move into the new year.


Monday, January 07, 2013

What Makes the Church the Church

What makes the church the church?  It is the same thing that makes me a Christian, and the same thing that makes you a Christian.  Christ in me, and Christ in you.  Christ is only present in His church, His called out ones, the ones who bear His name and who are being transformed into His image.  He does not abide in the world, but is present in the the world through His church..  So when we are gathered together to meet corporately, what then makes the church the church?  What should stand out about the gathering?  It is the presence of Christ.  So no matter the music or the dress, whether high church or low church, city church or cowboy church, African or Asian or American church, we should experience the presence of Christ.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Wait On the Lord

"Wait on the Lord" is a constant refrain in the Psalms, 
and it is a necessary word, for God often keeps us
waiting.  He is not in such a hurry as we are, and it
is not His way to give more light on the future than 
we need for action in the present, or to guide us more
than one step at a time.  When in doubt, do nothing, 
but continue to wait on God.  When action is needed
light will come.

J I Packer
Knowing God
Pages 238-239