Philippians 3 Part 1–Bragging Rights

Paul was the super pharisee.  If one wanted a poster child for how to “do religion” Paul was easily that guy. He was circumcised, Part of the tribe of Benjamin, trained by Gamaliel the ultimate Rabbi.  He knew all the traditions, all the law and exactly what to do.  He attacked the Christians with zeal and complete abandon. Any Jewish leader would be proud of Paul’s record.  Paul, however, realized that it was not his knowledge or performance that made him righteous.  Paul went as far as to say that stuff was bio-waste compared to the surpassing greatness of Christ,  Paul no longer needed to flaunt a resume–He simply needed to trust God and allow God to transform him into the image of Christ.
 
We are the same.  We are not a product of our accomplishments.  We can never “DO” Christianity to a level that our actions bring us justification.  In fact, as Paul so elegantly articulated it, our efforts to earn salvation look, smell and feel like bio-waste! We need to know Christ! As we get to know him we quickly see that it is His grace and His mercy, not our background or performance that brings us salvation. If we will simply trust and follow His lead–He will restore our relationship with God, and he will prepare us for the journey that lies ahead.  In addition, the Lord will change our hearts and our desires to conform to His image.  There is simply no greater gift than the salvation we receive by trusting Christ alone.
 
God Bless You
 

Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reasons for such confidence.

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in[a] Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

Philippians 2 Part 1–Unity and A Like-Minded Church

Two of the greatest gifts Christians can give to God are the gifts of selflessness and unity.  Paul told the Philippians that nothing would bring Him more joy to have them be a church filled with selfless and unified folks.  He had the Philippians to look deep within themselves to find the selfless nature within.  In that, he called them to look to gain the same purpose.  Be of one mind. Act selflessly and consider others interests more important than their own. Sadly, none of those traits come naturally.  Paul knew that the church would need to look at Christ and his nature to discover the need to be selfless.
 
In our culture, it is the same. Like the church in Philippi, we are surrounded by a culture that screams individuality. It tells us to look out for old number 1. It breeds conflict and drives churches apart. That is why the call to unity is as critical today as it was in Paul’s day. The world would love to see the end of the church and its antiquated ways. The world hates to see selflessness. It loathes unity. Those things are boring and tend to bring folks together and make them stronger.  Both strength and unity allow the Church to grow and to give hope in an otherwise hopeless life.  Paul knew it then and we know now that the three great gifts from God are faith, hope, and love. If the church becomes selfless and unified, those gifts will flourish. If unity is absent, those gifts wither and die. We must, therefore, follow Paul’s lead and seek to live united and selfless lives.
 
God Bless You
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Philippians 1 Part 3–To Live is Christ and to Die is Gain

As Paul wrote the letter to the Philippians, He was in prison in Rome. He lived chained between two guards. The one-time world traveler now was awaiting his final fate from Rome. In the midst of the hopeless situation he faced, Paul was able to continue to preach the Gospel through his letters. What’s more, others were preaching the Gospel loudly and spreading the message even beyond where Paul had reached. But, at the end of the day, Paul knew that life on earth was not comparable to eternity in Heaven.   As he languished in prison;  beaten, broken and blind—Paul longed to be home with Lord.  Amazingly, it was that longing that drove Paul to preach the Gospel all day every day.
 
Paul, more than most, understood the deception of a rules-based religion. As a Jew of Jews, Paul learned from the best and performed religion as well as anyone. But, when he had his encounter with Christ, It changed Him. He realized he would never be worthy in his own power. He also learned that God’s grace was sufficient to meet his needs. From there, God brought him to a place that made him a true ambassador for God and showed him that Christ alone was all anyone needed to have a relationship with God.  Paul was driven to get that message out to everyone. So until God brought him home, Paul would spread that message to all who would listen and all who would read the letters he drafted.  Paul Had come to a place that valued Christ above all. So wherever he was Christ was the most important thing.
 
In our lives we have to come to a place where we also can say to live is Christ and to die is gain. Each of us faces trials of various types. In those trials, we can become distracted from what is important and what is not.  If we can move forward with a grateful heart and follow His leading, then no matter the circumstances we face our response can remain grateful and hopeful. Only with a grateful heart is this life bearable. Otherwise, we become like the Israelites in the desert;  complaining when God is in their presence literally dropping food from heaven each day.  Treasure the joys of our life here–but, know to live is Christ and to die is gain.
 
God Bless You

Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters,[b] that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard[c] and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.

15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this, I rejoice.

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.[d] 20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

Ephesians 6 Final–The Full Armor of God

Many Christians have heard of the full armor of God.  They know they have to rely upon God to stand firm in the spiritual war each of us as Christians face. Paul was speaking to the Ephesians using very culturally relevant terms. Rome was in its glory days,  the empire stretched around most of the known world. So, when Paul spoke of the full armor of God, it was not only easy for the people to visualize it, but it was equally easy to grasp its form and function. Paul wanted the people to consider how to be strong when support for the faith was so weak. He wanted them to consider their functions as The Lord’s warriors. He wanted them to remember it was not the Romans they were fighting, but Satan and his force of demons.  So Paul said, mount up, dress up and let’s go to war. 
 
1st Belt of truth–the utility belt that holds everything together and carries the weapons. Truth does that! you can attack supposition and speculation, but, truth stands on its own and can hold everything else in place!
2nd Breast Plate of righteousness–It is hard to come at someone head-on with accusation and grumbling if they remain above reproach. Take your best shots and righteousness wins out.
3rd Feet fitted with the readiness of the Gospel–In a word, you are given the message of Salvation and nothing will keep you from stepping out, no finer shoe, no more impervious sole than the true message of salvation.
4th Shield of faith–Sometimes you have to move forward without being able to see what is ahead. Faith is that shield that blocks the enemy’s deadly shots and allows forward motion in extreme situations!!!
5th Helmet of Salvation–Our salvation protects the very most important part of us–our Minds (Hearts in Jewish culture). It is the helmet to protect against fear, hate, lies, and evil. We can never forget it is a gift, not an earned commodity. it is the critical piece of armor!
6th Sword of the Spirit–God’s word. It was the weapon Satan twisted to strike God’s people down from the famous line in the Garden, “Did God really say you would die?” God’s word is more powerful than a two-edged sword. It truly cuts to the heart of things. Jesus wielded it masterfully as the enemy tempted him in the desert. He was an artist as he fenced with the religious leaders. He changed the world from a sermon on the mount and set into play the restoration of mankind with the great commission. It is a masterful love letter that has drawn men back from a hopeless end and into a journey of peace and purpose. We must learn to wield it with the confidence and artfulness that our Lord intended. We study and rest in its truth. Then we can truly battle the forces that would destroy us.
 
The Full Armor of God is all we need to stand firm in this life and battle our way along until He calls us home or returns for us! Thanks, Lord for your protection, provision, and preparation of us, your children, to face the battles you have set before us!
 
God Bless You

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

Ephesians 5 Part 2–You Gotta Serve Somebody

Bob Dylan produced an album in the late 1970s that was a tribute to his recent conversion to Christianity.  The album was called “Slow Train Coming” one song that became very popular at the time was called “You Gotta Serve Somebody!” As a young teenager, that song stuck with me.  The reality is that we do have to serve somebody.  That is what Paul was reminding the Ephesians in this chapter.  Paul laid it out. Live as children of the light. Live as though all things we do and say will be held up to the light for all to see.  Do not be drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit. Live as wise people, not like those who are unwise. Paul could not have been more direct.
 
In our times, each day we still get to choose how we live.  We control our choices, our attitudes, and our lifestyles.  We can live secret lives, do shameful acts and think like this is all there is. But, as Bob Dylan so aptly said, “It may be the devil, or it may be the Lord, but, you gotta serve somebody!” Paul encourages us to serve God, Live as if we are living in the light, walking in public. He encourages us to be filled with His spirit–not the world’s cheap substitutes! We need to live our lives in a manner that is worthy of the Gospel. If we will, we will taste the fruit of freedom and will have love, Joy Peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. A life led by God’s Holy Spirit will bring freedom and purpose. One that has meaning and leaves a legacy! No matter, what we choose, however, in the end, You Gotta Serve Somebody!
 
God Bless You

Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13 But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.14 This is why it is said:

“Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Corinthians 13–Paul’s Final Message

Paul’s last message to the Corinthians was simply to take a good long look at themselves. They needed to check their hearts and lives and make sure they were walking with the Lord.  Paul was coming back for a third visit and when he did, he wanted it to be a time of celebration and encouragement not one of discipline and sadness.  Paul loved the Corinthian Church.  It was never his intention to make them not want him around. Like a parent, Paul simply wanted the best for them.  So as a parting word, Paul reminded them to put their house in order so his visit would be a pleasant one.
 
God tells us the same thing. He loves us. He simply asks that we examine our hearts and lives and put things in order so that our time with Him would be times of encouragement and joy.  We can always improve. We need to live lives that are full of grace and humility–simply following and becoming more like Christ. God loves us.  He simply wants to complete us, prepare us and bless us. Help me, Lord to live in a manner that allows You to complete Your plan in my life.
 
God Bless You

This will be my third visit to you. “Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”[a] I already gave you a warning when I was with you the second time. I now repeat it while absent: On my return, I will not spare those who sinned earlier or any of the others, since you are demanding proof that Christ is speaking through me. He is not weak in dealing with you but is powerful among you. For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power, we will live with him in our dealing with you.

Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test. Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong—not so that people will see that we have stood the test but so that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed. For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong; and our prayer is that you may be fully restored. 10 This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority—the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down.

2 Corinthians 12–God’s Grace Is Sufficient and Made Perfect in Our Weakness

Paul was trying to make a point.  The Corinthians were looking for a RockStar Preacher.  They wanted flash, Charisma and Dashing good looks would be a nice touch as well.  It was the same attitude the Israelites had about wanting a king.  God gave them Saul, the RockStar King and he nearly destroyed Israel. When he put David on the throne, however, Israel saw unity, peace, and prosperity. God looks at the heart. Paul was an apostle that loved God and wanted nothing more than to share the Gospel of that love to any and all who would listen.  In the midst of that discussion, however, Paul speaks of his vision of Heaven and his thorn in the flesh.  God took Paul to the highest heights; but, then left him with a weakness he could not overcome.  Paul begged God to take away the weakness, but God told him that His grace was sufficient and his power was made perfect in weakness. So Paul was determined to celebrate his weakness; since he knew God was in it.
 
In our lives, we work to honor God and live lives that seem amazing. Still, there are things that are far less than desirable that drive us crazy.  We cry out to God to take them away but, as with Paul, God reminds us that His power is made perfect in our weakness.  He also reminds us that His grace is sufficient to meet our needs–even in our weakness.  Like Paul, it is not always the answer we wish to hear, but, it is the truth. We must cling to God’s grace and allow Him to lead His way and simply follow and trust Him. On most days, we can accept that His grace is sufficient, but on the rest, it drives us to our knees. From there, we have no other choice than to simply pray and allow the Lord to prepare us, protect us, and provide for our needs.
 
God Bless You

I I I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows.And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan,to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.10 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.