We Are the Church

As a child, I was taught this rhyme. It went like this, “Here is the church. Here is the steeple. Open the doors and see all the people.” This rhyme involved your hands and fingers being used to display the people, steeple, etc. Maybe you remember this one or have taught your children?

That rhyme describes the church as a location or a building. Which is true. We can give a friend directions in finding where our church meets but this is just a location not a definition of the church.

I started a new series called Church Blueprint, my desire is to point out that the church is not a location but a people. Professor Gregg Allison defines the church as, “the people of God who have been saved through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ and have been incorporated into his body through baptism with the Holy Spirit.”

The church is the body of believers (Christians) coming together in a local gathering who are united in Christ. Even today, though we are not gathered together as we are different homes and jobs, we are still the church. 

When you leave your local congregation on Sunday morning, you are still the church.

When you wake up in morning you are still the church.  When you go shopping, you are the church.

We are the church!

I am so thankful for the church. Ultimately the church is the gospel made visible. May we be the visible representation of Jesus to the world, our community, and our neighbor!

Contentment in a Discontented World

Can we be content? Really! Can one really be content today?

We live in a world that seems to be discontent. There are reasons one can be discontent with conditions socially, politically, and even materialistically. Progression and reform are used intermittently to point to the need for change and that the mass is not content.

Wanting change and being content can be possible. One can desire justice and still be content with outlook. What I mean is that contentment points to something deeper inside us.

The Apostle Paul would say someone can be truly content. He wrote to the church Philippi, ” Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Phil 4:11 ESV).

Paul would emphatically say, “Yes, you can be content!”

What is it?

To be content can be defined as having a peaceful acceptance of where God has providentially placed you. Contentment is more than being at peace with what you have, it means that you rest in God’s sovereignty with his timing and where he has placed you.

The Apostle Paul points to content as something that has been learned (4:11). This was not learned by reading a book. He is pointing to learning from experience. One doesn’t have to read much of the New Testament to see that Paul faced quite a few difficulties (see 2 Cor. 11:24-28).

Contentment is Contrary to Us

By nature, we grumble and complain about things, some more than others. Paul continues to tell the Philippians that he not only learned to be content by experience, he knows the secret to it (Phil 4:15).

The secret to contentment is that it is not found in us. Discontentment is more up our alley. God does not like grumbling or complaining as we see from Israel’s wilderness journey (see Exodus 16 and Numbers 11). God actually called those who grumbled and complained rebels (Numbers 17:10).

This is serious! Our discontentment is really rebellion against God. Our discontentment questions God’s providence and provision. It rejects his sovereignty overall.

In fact, whenever we find ourselves grumbling and complaining (like Israel), that should be warning lights that we are not pursuing holiness.

If contentment is contrary to us, then how does one become content?

Contentment is Found in Christ

Paul learned how to be content because he experienced many different challenges but that is not how one becomes content. The secret to be content was not in himself but it was in the one who strengthens him (Phil 4:13).

Paul writes, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (4:13). This verse is well-known. The context reminds us that Paul was not flippantly shouting that he can do everything even unimaginable things. He was talking about enduring and being content in all circumstances because it is not in himself but in Christ.

This verse points to the strength that Paul has to do everything according to the will of God for the glory of God.

His contentment regardless of the situation was in Christ!

Can someone genuinely be content? Yes! They must find the riches that are in Christ, they are MORE than enough (Phil 4:19-20).

Reflection and Perspective

When it is the end of a year I like to take some time and reflect on all that transpired. This year for sure will go down as one to always remember. The danger is that we can reflect and have the wrong perspective. 

I am reminded of the prophet Habakkuk who was around during an interesting time in Judah’s history. He prayed for God to turn Judah’s spiritual heart around. They were neglecting God, worshipping false images, not taking care of the widows and orphans, and the list goes on. 

Continue reading “Reflection and Perspective”

Joyful Endurance

I have never tried to run a marathon and I don’t have a strong desire to do one in future. But like all sports, it requires one to build endurance.

Did you know as a Christian we need to have a spiritual type of endurance to finish well?

The Apostle Paul writes, “I press on towards the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:13). Paul was focused on Christ as he ran his race with endurance to the finish line. 

The word Paul uses for “press on” reflects complete concentration or focus. Just like an athlete competing where their focus is unbroken. They are not distracted with what is around them but their attention is solely on the prize of winning or completing.

It Matters How We Start and How We Run To the Finish Line

As a Christian it matters not only how we start the race, but how we run it so we can finish well. Like Paul, we must have this laser focus on what God has called us to do. What is that exactly? It is looking to Jesus, it is proclaiming the gospel, it is enduring in this life.

Church, let us run this Christian race well. The only way we can endure is because Jesus endured for us.  The author of Hebrews writes, “Let us run this race with endurance that is set before us,  looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Though it is is Hard- It is one of Joy

It is my prayer for you and for me that we would joyful endure until the end where the Father will say, “Well done my good and faithful servant” (Matt 25:23).

Yes, the Christian will face troubles and trials. Yes, it will be moments of affliction (1 Peter 4:12; 2 Cor 4:17-18). But, there is joy (James 1:2-4)! This joy is found in Christ. This joy is given by the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). This joy is eternal and supernatural. This joy endures until the very end!

I would rather go through the afflictions of this world as I know the joys of Christ than to be untouched from affliction while missing the riches that are found in Christ. That is true misery.

Side by Side

Many years ago my wife and I went on a little kayak adventure in Hawaii for our honeymoon. Before we left to get to our guide the instructor gave instructions on how to hold the paddle, how to paddle, and for those who are sharing a kayak how to row together. He said, “this is called the divorce maker for some.”

Alyssa and I kind of gave an awkward laugh and off we went. It was beautiful! Sea turtles, tropical fish, eating pineapple on a secluded sandy beach. It was time to head back to where we started but the weather changed. It was windy, the water became really choppy and it was tough going. The instructor even said if he knew it was going to be this bad we wouldn’t have gone out!

We quickly learned what the instructor meant when he called the tandem kayakers divorce makers. We were striving to make headway against the wind but we kept hitting our paddles together. I quickly was getting frustrated and my new bride saw it.

We finally got back, tired, seeking forgiveness from one another, and so relieved that it was over. It was a trip that left a mark on us as it was many years before we went kayaking again.

I share this illustration to show that in the same way for the church that there can be a lot of gospel work but if we are not working in unity- we are just like Alyssa and I working hard but not getting very far in the kayak. You can actually start working against each other. 

Striving

The Apostle Paul writes to the church in Philippi to stress the importance of unity, “with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (Phil 1:27). Unity was something that Paul addresses a few times in this short letter (1:27; 2:1-4; 4:2-3).

The word that Paul uses for striving would be used similar to an athlete, especially wrestling, where one is straining or working hard to win. Instead of wrestling against one another, the Christian strives together.

Christians have the same task- making disciples (Matt. 28:19).

Christians strive together against sin and the devil (Eph. 6:12).

Christians strive together to be gospel lights to this world (Matt 5:14-16).

Already United

Paul wasn’t telling the church to do the work to be united. Because of Jesus, believers are already united together (Rom. 12:5). So in one sense he was saying, remember that you are one in Christ so strive together in unity!

Christian, remember that you are already united because of Christ. Guard that unity. Since the times are so turbulent, even more so, we need to guard our unity. Jesus is greater and bigger than our political affiliations. Jesus is greater than anything we have uncommon with one another. Let us remember that!

Busy Striving Together and Not Bickering At One Another

There seems to be a lot of bickering among Christians, especially on social media these days. What is being bickered seems so small in comparison to kingdom concerns. My hope and prayer for our church is that we will be busy striving together where we won’t have time to bicker at one another.

Waiting in Anticipation!

I don’t know why but I get excited waiting for a package that I already know is coming. I check the tracking number, I double check on it’s arrival date and you know what? When it comes I get still get excited and somewhat surprised though I know it was coming.

What do you get excited about that is coming your way? Maybe it is the holidays and spending some time with family that you have not seen in a while. Maybe it is finishing a project or anticipating that tax return. You know they may be around the corner and you can’t wait! There is something even greater that one can anticipate. That is what Jesus is doing in you and through.

The Apostle Paul was in prison and he knew a trial before Caesar would take place. He knew death could be on the horizon for him. Yet, we see Paul writing to the church in Philippi that he was anticipating something else.

He writes, “it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death” (Philippians 1:20).

Straining the Neck Forward

What was Paul eagerly expecting? That phrase means to strain one’s neck forward in anticipation. Like a child excitedly waiting for something to come Paul was eager too. Paul knew one of two things would happen, death or life. He was eager in how he would finish regardless.

It was like a student prepared for a test, saying, “Bring it on.” Paul did not want to be ashamed of Christ. He even wrote in another place, “I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). He was hopeful of finishing well whether it was his time in prison or his time on earth.

Do You Eagerly Expect to Not Be Ashamed?

I wonder why as Paul was already so bold that he needed to include this verse. He already proved that he was not ashamed. But I also know he was human. And, humans are prone to fail in times of sorrow, hurt, and strife. He may have seen his weakness and didn’t want to cave under the pressure. He may have felt lonely at times and he could have not been strong and maybe even ashamed of the gospel.

I don’t know why he did, but I am thankful that he included this in the letter. I am weak. I am prone to fail too and in some ways I do. There are moments that I am bold and other times maybe even ashamed. I am not even in prison for my faith and yet I am fail over and over. It should be the believers prayer like Paul that we can eagerly expect whatever happens down the road that we can go forward with full courage not being ashamed of the gospel. I am weak but he is strong and it is by his grace that I continue on with eager expectation (2 Cor. 12:9-10).

Influential: Who Follows You

In 1839 James Harris and John Williams from the London Mission Society in 1839 were killed and eaten by the Cannibals in the South Pacific islands. We may not be familiar with their names but they paved the way for John G. Paton. He would later write, “Thus the New Hebrides baptized with the blood of martyrs; and Christ thereby told the whole Christian world that he claimed these islands as his own.”

John G. Paton at the age of 33 landed on the island of Tann in 1858 just shy of 20 years from the death of James and John. John was called the South Pacific and could not shake that there were lost souls in need of the gospel.

John left a fruitful ministry in the city of Glasgow, Scotland knowing God was leading him to the mission field of Vanuatu. He was confronted by an older gentlemen, Mr. Dickson, that was part of this ministry and was wondering why he would leave such a ministry and take such a risk.

Mr. Dickson exploded out loud to John, “The cannibals, you will be eaten by cannibals!”

John responded to Mr. Dickson,

You are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by Cannibals or by worms.

200 years after the death of John Paton 92% of the people of Vanuatu identify as Christian.

God Uses All Circumstances for His Glory

James Harris and John Williams were used to stir something in John Paton whom God used in the South Pacific. They gave their lives for the sake of the gospel which was also used to influence John and others.

In a similar way the Apostle Paul was in prison and in chains yet he wrote to the Philippian church that all that he was going through was for the advancement of the gospel (Phil 1:12). Though he was chained he saw God use his imprisonment for God’s glory. Paul writes, And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (1:14 ESV).

The brothers were not afraid though Paul was imprisoned for his faith, instead they were emboldened. Paul had an understanding that God uses all circumstances for his glory.

This is the gospel going out. It is almost like multiplication. Some may be pioneers in a certain area of gospel ministry but their influence impacts many.

Who Do you Influence?

A couple of times Paul encouraged the church to imitate him (1 Cor. 4:16; 11:1). This was not in boasting of his character. He was pointing to the one who influences him, Jesus. Jesus is the one he strived to imitate after and so the church would do the same.

We may not know the impact we have in the life of others. We may not know who is watching us. May we live in such a way that points people to Jesus.

John Williams and James Harris influenced Paton and others by their life of counting the cost and giving of their lives for the gospel. They were not alive to see the fruit of their ministry well at least this side of eternity.

May we all live faithfully and trust the Lord in what he is doing!

Love Like Blackberries

Everything is green in Washington, granted their annual rainfall is almost 35 inches! Coming from Southern California it is almost like seeing things for the first time. Things are green and grow in plenty. One of those plants that grows in plenty is the blackberry. It is more of a nuisance than anything because it is everywhere and It grows like a weed here.

In the back of our property there are some blackberry bushes that have crept in and before we moved in were taken care of. They were cut down and even sprayed. As I went around the property they have grown back and if not taken care of will again become overbearing.

Though I am painting the negative of blackberries, I am wanting to highlight in the positive how this is connected to love. The Apostle Paul prayed for the church in Philippi that their love would would abound more and more (Phil 1:9).

Our Love Grows

Like blackberries which can grow quite crazy as a believer we should desire for our love grow as well. How does this happen? First, Pau’s prayer was that the church’s love would grow more for Jesus and others.

In another letter to a different church he prays, “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love,  may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth,  and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:17-19 ESV).

Paul’s prayer was that was one contemplates and experiences the love of Christ which we can never fully fathom yet we would grow in it. To put it another way, the more I bask in the love of Christ the more I grow in the love of Christ. I will never fully comprehend on this side of eternity but I can grow in understanding day by day.

As our love grows in reflection of Jesus Christ’s love we then can grow in our love towards others. Pastor and author Steven Lawsons said, “The greatest petition we can bring before God on behalf of other Christians is that they would deepen in their love for him and for others…Where the love of the brethren grows, the church is most like heaven and becomes attractive to the world.”

Full But Never Full

I am filled with the love of Christ as that was poured out through his perfect and sinless life, his sacrificial death, and his glorious resurrection. Though I am filled I am never full because I am daily being filled and filled again of his love.

Paul was pointing out to this fact as he prayed for the church’s love to abound more and more. They are filled but never full as they experience and know Christ’s love each day. As blackberries grow and it seems like nothing can stop them, may our love which is founded in Christ continue to grow despite opposition or hardships.

The Birth of Joy

Where does joy come from? Joy is different than happiness. Joy is supernatural. Happiness is temporal. Joy isn’t dependent on circumstances but happiness is.

Our middle son had some money that he saved ready to buy a particular toy. So the day came and I took him to Toys R Us (R.I.P.). It was some ball that he saw on T.V. that he just had to get. I reminded him of our dog at the time which ate everything. This dog ate my leather shoes, part of my leather Bible, our sprinklers, a plethora of toys, you name it! But my son persisted and said I will watch him. I relented (as this was going to be a teaching moment for both of us) and he was so happy on our ride home. He couldn’t wait to play with this ball.

I am sure you can guess what happened. No more than five minutes goes by and I hear, Daddy! The dog ate his new toy. That happiness he had quickly turned to anger and sadness.

Can you relate? How often have we been happy just to turn around and be sad. Maybe you were happy your team got a touchdown but sad because they lost the game. Happy you received some good news but then sad because something else happened. We are fickle creatures.

Joy is deeper and a gift that is given to the believer.

The Book of Philippians is About Joy

15 different references to joy is found in this book. 9 of those 15 references we find the verb “rejoice.” 4 of the 15 the noun “joy” and 2 references to “rejoice with.”

Commentator Steven Lawson defines joy as Steven Lawson defines joy as, “A spiritual grace that we all need to experience in our Christian lives. We live in a world of stress and anxiety that all too easily and subtly can steal the peace of God from our hearts.”

I am reminded that Paul was in chains when he wrote this letter to the church in Philippi (1:12-18). If he didn’t mention his Roman imprisonment we would not have known based on the focus of this letter being one of joy.

Paul was able to have joy because he understood that joy was something that resulted from salvation. It is from the Holy Spirit as the believer is being transformed, we have fruit of that work.

Joy is a Spiritual Fruit

The fruit of the Spirit is described as, “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Gal. 5:22-23).

This means that the Holy Spirit who is doing a work in and through the believer is working joy in the believer’s life.

Paul was able to have joy even when he was being persecuted for his faith because knew nothing can rob him from the everlasting love that is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:35-39).

Joy and Salvation are Connected

In King David’s song of repentance and restoration he asks the Lord to restore unto him the “joy of your salvation” (Psalm 51:12). The prophet Habakkuk declares, “yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation” (Hab. 3:18). The Apostle Paul understood that God is the one who saves, it is by his grace alone (Eph. 2:8-9).

No matter what happens in this life, for the believer he has eternity to look forward to. No one and nothing can rob the believer of what Jesus has done. The believer thinks about this and understands that they can have joy in what Jesus has done- conquered sin and death, the only way sin can be forgiven, the wrath of God has been absorbed by him, and it is not based on anything we have done. In fact, if it were we would be so far from God because of our sin. So joy stems from an understanding of God’s great grace and how serious our sin is. Joy comes from salvation because the believer understands that this life may be hard and we will suffer at times but their name is written in the Lamb’s book of Life (Luke 11:20).

No Safer Place

Photo by Ramiro Pianarosa on Unsplash

What do you think of as a safe place? It may be described as a child runs to the comfort of his mother or father and the protection of their arms. It could be a shelter in the midst of a storm. Maybe it is having security during a violent uprising. As those serve as a sort of safe place there is no other safe place than being under the mighty hand of God.

Peter writes to the Christians in Asia Minor, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7).

He is pointing out that the safest place to be is under the mighty hand. Here are few points to reflect on.

1) Humble Yourselves

The mighty hand of God can seem like a burden or a shelter. For example take the Exodus event into account. To the Egyptians, God’s mighty hand was one of power and might. They rebelled against God and his mighty hand was heavier. But for the Israelites, the mighty hand of God was safety and a shelter. He protected them and guided them. The psalmist says, “For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock” (Psalm 27:5).

The Egyptians rebelled and his hand was heavy towards them. The Israelites needed to walk in humility and it was a shelter. The same is true for you and I.

2) Access to God

The one who walks humbly (because God opposes the proud) receives grace and can approach his throne of grace boldly because of Jesus, the humble servant, who paved the way for us.

We then can cast our anxieties on him. The word cast means to throw off or like a fisherman casting his lure we cast our anxieties, worries, and stresses and give them to God. This passage doesn’t tell us what God does with them, but all I know is that we can give them to him and he will handle them a lot better than I can.

3) He Cares For You

Notice Peter points out why we can cast our cares and worries to God. He does not just say because he is God and he can handle it which is true. Or, we can cast our cares because God is sovereign and is in charge of it all. No, we can cast our cares on him because he cares for us.

This is amazing that the sovereign God who knows you cares for you. His care is deep and wide. His care was demonstrated as Jesus suffered and died on our behalf on the cross. God’s care was confirmed through his resurrection from the dead three days later. God is the God who cares for you!

The safest place is to be under the mighty hand of God!