Worthy of the Gospel

Philippians 1:18-30 (The Voice) – Regardless of the motives behind the spread of the gospel, the fact that it is being spread is a cause for joy. Paul rejoices also because he expects to be released from prison soon, and plans to continue to speak freely and courageously about Jesus. Paul yearns for Jesus to always be glorified in him, whether in life (which is all about the gospel) or in death (eternity with Jesus). Seeing both sides, Paul debates within himself whether it is better for him to live and continue spreading the gospel or to die and be with Jesus. He decides that for himself it would be better to die, but for the rest of the world it would be better to live and serve, even through all his pains and weaknesses. Plus he wants to be around to witness the growth of the church (in number and in belief).

With his firm commitment to stay and watch them grow, Paul tells the Philippians he expects them to conduct themselves as worthy of the gospel: 1. continuing to stand; 2. united in one spirit; 3. single-minded in purpose as they struggle together for faith in the gospel. They should not be paralyzed by opponents, but have steadfast faith in the midst of opposition which is a sure sign of both salvation and the fact that the enemy is doomed. Paul reminds them it is a privilege to not only believe in Jesus but to suffer for Him, just as Paul has been doing. The Philippians, who’ve been watching Paul from a distance, now understand firsthand what it means to suffer.

Whenever Paul speaks, whatever the subject, he always urges his listeners (or readers) to have joy. Is the gospel being spread? Have joy! Are you suffering? Rejoice! Are you in prison? Be joyful! Paul always strikes me as so forthright and serious, speaking on such heavy subjects. Yet so full of joy! That is not something you see very much of in today’s world, where you can have a serious person or a joyful person, but not usually both.

After telling us how joyful he is, Paul goes on to debate whether he’d rather live or die. And in typical Paul fashion, it is not his own desires that determine his decision. If I get to choose, I want to live in order to see my kids grow up, get married, have children. Paul, understanding death is the ultimate prize, determines to live in order to continue to serve others and spread the gospel.

And then Paul lays out what makes a person a true and worthy citizen of the gospel – standing in unity, unfazed by the opposition, suffering for Christ (getting to know firsthand the pain of battle). All too often I find myself in division with other believers. All too often I forget I’m in the midst of a battle. All too often I fall victim to the enemy’s lies and propoganda.

Jesus, I’m sorry. Open my eyes to reality… real reality. Not earth’s temporal reality, but heaven’s eternal reality.  Even today as I go about cleaning up my very messy house, I want to be grateful for all your gifts, not frustrated by so much stuff.  As I labor to raise my children, I want to keep their eternity in mind, disciplining them to guide them on the path to You, not punishing them in anger but in love. Empower me to stand in unity with other believers against the enemy without fear. Fill me with Your joy when I suffer for Christ’s sake. It is a privilege to not only believe in You, but to suffer for You. You are the ultimate goal, the ultimate prize, the ultimate reason for everything!

Philippians 1:12-17

Observations: Paul wants to share his good news: his imprisonment has helped to spread the gospel to new places, because word spread through the guard and everyone around that he was in prison for his faith. Not only that, but his imprisonment has caused other believers to trust God more and to be bold sharing the gospel without fear; they share the gospel out of love and goodness. But there are some who are sharing the gospel out of jealousy and are driven by greed, rivalry, and personal agenda with impure motives. They are hoping to make it more painful for Paul in prison.

This is a little more about Paul’s prison story, but again because he’s fully surrendered to Christ, it’s not about how it’s affecting him but about how it’s affecting the gospel. Paul is more than willing to go to prison to spread the gospel, and even more than that, he calls his imprisonment “good” because it IS spreading the gospel. It’s also cause for joy because it is motivating other believers: to trust more, to love more, to surrender more, to share more. And to fear less. Which is ironic because you would think the threat of prison would cause others to be fearful, but through Paul’s example and encouragement, and through the Holy Spirit’s work, they are empowered. Paul’s imprisonment has also drawn out those who want to make things harder for him, who preach the gospel with their own agendas. (In the next section Paul makes it clear that wherever the gospel is preached there is joy, thus squelching their plans to cause Paul pain.)

Jesus, I want to trust more, love more, surrender more, share more. And fear less. I want to be like those who are boldly sharing the gospel out of true goodness, motivated by love. I confess that I at times share the gospel out of personal agenda. Please forgive me for ever trying to make your story about me or what I want, or who I want or don’t want, to see in Your kingdom. I surrender myself fully to You, Holy Spirit, to use as You see fit, wherever and whenever You choose. Embolden me and empower me to live out the gospel today in my actions and in my words. I love You and give myself fully to You and Your kingdom.

Philippians Chapter 1:1-11

I’m currently going through Philippians, trying to glean how to remain joyful no matter what the circumstance. And since Paul was pretty much an expert in that, I thought I should sit at his feet and just listen to him. (I imagine Paul as a type of Mr. Miyagi, trying to catch flies with a chopstick in a hazy, incense-filled room while I listen and watch amazed. FYI – this might not be a truly biblical picture of him.)

My initial impressions: Paul and Timothy are slaves, and Paul is currently in jail. As Christians, we are set apart for Jesus. It is a gift to know fellow believers. Our spirits obtain lightness and joy when we pray in gratitude for other believers. We should partner with our pastors to spread the gospel. Jesus doesn’t stop mid-design but is constantly perfecting us. Stand with those who are defending the gospel. Love should grow in wisdom and insight, so we can determine the best from everything else.

Well, as Paul always does, he manages to turn the conversation away from him and onto Jesus and other followers. Paul could harbor on the fact that he’s in jail, he could talk about his confinement, his treatment, plead for prayers, but he doesn’t. He mentions it casually. He is so aware that his life and his circumstances are minuscule compared to Jesus, His work in the world, and Paul’s fellow workers. Versus me when I’m struggling with my one of my children (or with one of my parents or with a health issue or with financial issues) and I want to share every detail with someone, not to get actual advice or even to plead for prayers, but just to wallow in self-pity, sometimes to fish for compliments, but mostly just to talk… about myself. (Lest anyone accuse me otherwise, let me say right here that sometimes talking as a form of therapy is not wrong. BUT that is not the case with me, where my speech is not godly or helpful or encouraging, but more along the lines of “misery loves company”.)

The other thing that sticks out to me immediately is Paul’s absolute LOVE for others. He genuinely has heartfelt love for people. He cares about them, he spends time in prayer for them, he is constantly thinking about them and talking about them. Replace the “them” in the last sentence with herself and you’ll get a picture of who I spend the most time obsessing over. I have been convicted over and over again that I am so self-absorbed, but like an addiction, it’s a hard habit to break. (Insert Chicago song here.)

I am truly thankful that Jesus is not going to stop working on me, declaring me a failed project, but that He has His hands all over me molding me into that perfect vision He has in His head of me. And I will get there, because it doesn’t have anything to do with me, the clay, but everything to do with the Potter. And if I can wrap my mind and my heart around that, I think I’ll finally, finally start to realize the overwhelming joy that envelops Paul, Jesus’ slave, in the midst of a prison cell. So I determine and declare that today is NOT about ME, but ALL ABOUT JESUS! I proclaim this truth, with a view to God’s ultimate praise and glory.

Christmas 2015

I love Christmas time. I love decorated houses and Christmas music and parties and friendship and presents and stories and Christmas cards. It’s crazy, and I get overwhelmed because there are so many things to do. There are rehearsals and concerts and parties and cleaning before and cleaning after and family get-togethers. Schedules get out of hand and feelings are sometimes hurt and kids are overtired and parents are overtired and wow do I get tired of wrapping presents. But I still love it. Even through the chaos, I enjoy the joy.

But there’s something so much more important going on behind this season. I see what’s going on in the world, and I read what people are blogging about and facebooking about and tweeting, and I’m saddened. So many are so lost. And I’m guilty. I’m so busy with so much that is so unimportant.

I don’t know how to say this gently. Well, I do know how to but I just don’t want to. I want to shout it and be crazy and hold a sign on the corner and yell. There is a God. And there is a Son. And He’s real. And He’s loving. And forgiving. And He is IN CONTROL and no news events are shocking to Him. And yes He is grieved by events and still in control because He’s allowed us to make our own choices and so many of us are NOT choosing Him but then we’re so far away from the choice we can’t see that that is the real problem. Yes, Virginia, GOD IS FIXING THIS. But in order for you to see it, first you have to invite Him to fix you! It’s not guns or gays or guerillas that are ruining the world. It’s you! It’s me! We are broken! And the one person who will make us un-broken is the one person who we continue to reject. I have seen changed lives. MY life has been changed!!! I have felt supernatural peace in the middle of terrifying circumstances. I have felt His Presence and His love and I want you to feel it, too.

You have rejected Him. And I know it’s my fault. It’s the church’s fault. We are not good ambassadors for Him. We are selfish and self-absorbed. We like our own. We have made human ritual far more important that human lives. We are calloused and cynical, and we like security and comfort. I’m so sorry. I’m sorry that you’ve been hurt. That I’ve hurt you either by my indifference or by my silence or by my animosity. But it’s not Jesus. He is reaching out to you. Sometimes supernaturally, but more often through broken messengers. You are so loved. He is calling you and alluring you and wanting desperately to comfort you and fix you. Jesus wept over Jerusalem, wanting to gather it to Him as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. I so want you to be gathered up like that. Not so we can be the same or so I can see you become like me or become like something I approve of. Jesus embraces you exactly as you are right now, with all your issues. I know this is true because He embraced me with all my issues and He continues to love me through all my issues.

The change in my life wasn’t liberal to conservative. That’s not what He cares about. The change in my life was lost to found, blind to seeing, dead to alive. He is teaching me, always teaching me, to see Himself in His creation, and to love it because of His love in it. To see His beauty in every creation, every creature. And to grieve for and care for others because I love Him so much and He is there. I am slow and stupid and I can’t express what I really, truly want to express and I’m sorry for that, too. But I just want you to hear from me now and every time I see you His voice. I want Him to speak through me and I beg for Him to open your ears to hear Him.

That’s my Christmas wish for 2015. And 2016. And 2017…

Falling Up

In the midst of feeling God’s peace and His presence, I recognize His wildness. His comfort comes in the form of His Word, which He Himself describes as a sword. His peace, while perfect, comes at great expense to stability. His own Son was sheltered in a dirty, uncomfortable stable.

When I go to Him for comfort, I find a rock. When I want to be gently held, instead He enters into my storm.

I cry out for His presence. Over and over. I can trust myself with Him, because His tumultuous love allures me. I am never more steady than when I am abandoned completely in His unrestraint. The footprints I see in my life are not found on a gentle beach, but instead on a rocky precipice. When He tells me that He’s holding me, it’s not only in the hard times of my life, but at all times. I see the cavernous canyon below, and at times I feel I’m dangerously close to falling. I feel too close to the edge, too loose in His grasp. I surrender.

This is a poem I wrote about the fine line between my complete trust in Him, and my complete fear of being so out of control. I wrote it for a friend, but it is always for me, too.

Your love is dangerous, Lord
It’s wild and it’s raw
I want comfort but
You offer me a sword

The shelter you give is a stable
Cold and insecure
I just want to feel your peace
But your peace is so unsure

Your kindness harsh
Your ways a mystery to my soul
I am broken pieces that desire
To be whole

I’m overcome and I’m undone
I drink your bitter cup
I know I’m falling Lord so please
Keep me falling up

Repetition

I love this quote from G.K. Chesterton, from his book Orthodoxy:

“A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

We are wrapping up our school year in time to plan for the next one. And as a grown-up, I can face the days ahead with dread or I can face them with excitement. Am I wishing I didn’t have to teach Kindergarten again for the 5th time? Or am I excited to share Kindergarten with my 5th little blessing? Am I dreading teaching our writing program for *gasp* the fourth time? Or am I looking forward to what my energetic, intelligent children will come up with this year?

I can choose to be that grown-up who is bored with learning the same facts again, or I can choose to remember that these facts are new for some of my kids, and for the others, they are still interesting even if they have heard them before. I can find new ways to explain the information, grapple with new questions, and be excited myself for the years ahead. Or I can go through school bored and boring. But if I do that, I am not allowed to complain that my children don’t like school or that they groan about it. I accept that my attitude, my preparation, my outlook all influence my children’s spirits – in regard to school and to life.

And since I don’t want to do anything to dampen their “fierce and free” spirits, I choose to revel in repetition. I choose joy and excitement. For a teacher, there is nothing like the feeling of seeing lightbulb moments in your students. The joy they feel when they learn something new or understand something for the first time or create something unique and beautiful becomes my joy. And my joy in turn inspires them to learn, understand, and create.

So Father, give me new eyes for old information. Give me new excitement for old plans. I want to teach diligently. I want to teach joyfully. I never want to tire of these precious years with young students. Make me young like you, Father. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Pharisees

Never let my heart attitude be like those of the Pharisees. Don’t let me be so comfortable in my religion that I think it’s about rituals and not a relationship. Never let me look down with disdain on others who are struggling in areas that I am not, but let me look on them with compassion and mercy. Let me walk the path to you with humility and childlike faith. May I be an example only in the way I love you and the way I love others. May I always focus on the inward man, and not outward appearance.