Philippians 4:10-13 (Devotional Thought)

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:10-13 ESV)

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” is perhaps one of the most misquoted verses of all time. I have to confess that as a young athlete I thought this verse was awesome because I thought that quoting it before I tried to make my free-throw shots in basketball would somehow help me become a better player.

The Apostle Paul is actually talking about Continue reading “Philippians 4:10-13 (Devotional Thought)”

Philippians 3:4-8 (Devotional Thought)

though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for 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; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ  (Philippians 3:4-8 ESV)

Yesterday we talked about how some people have replaced Jesus with a set of rules. To them, Christianity is all about how good you can be… they have forgotten that being a Christian is being a follower of JESUS. Paul knows what its like to live for rules. He used to be that way too! He used to think that God would be pleased with him because he had a great upbringing, he did everything right, and he really kept a lot of rules.

Then everything changed when he met JESUS on the road to Damascus. He realized that for all his “good works” he still weren’t good enough for God, not really. He was still a sinner and he had never really addressed the real problem of the sin in his heart.

Imagine that you wake up and you find yourself in your underwear (I don’t know how you sleep so this may be normal for you), but it’s about time for school to start and you realize that you need to put on some clothes. You have a real problem though, you are practically naked and you can’t find clothes anywhere. Finally in a desperation you run to the bathroom to see if maybe you left some dirty clothes there (after all dirty clothes are better than no clothes, maybe). It’s getting really close for time for school to start and you haven’t found any clothes yet, but in the bathroom you find a can of paint. So as you look in the mirror you begin to paint clothes on the mirror so as you stand just right it looks like you have on clothes. The only problem is that you are still practically naked. The mirror is covered, you are not.

Paul saw that all his good deeds, his up bringing, his rule keeping was just like painting on a mirror… it temporarily made him look good on the outside, but God looks at the heart. Like all of us he still had a sin issue. So he challenged the church at Philippi (and now us) through his own personal story to consider these things as secondary to what really matters… JESUS.

In fact, Paul says that these things were loss to him! He called them “rubbish.” The translators were being nice here, another word for rubbish is “Poo.” Yes, you read right. That stuff that you deal with, pull a magic lever and send on its way without a second thought. Paul says that everything he used to count on he now counts as nothing.

Does that mean we’re supposed to be bad… of course not! It means that we look to Jesus, not our deeds or anything else to make us acceptable to God. Since Jesus is the one who brings us to God, then we count him as supremely valuable, not what we have done.

Philippians 3:1-3 (Devotional Thought)

Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh- (Philippians 3:1-3 ESV)

Christians should be good, but being good isn’t what saves us. Jesus is the one who saves us. There are people who think that Christianity is all about seeing who can be the best at being good. They like rules and have made up extra rules along the way. They look at how well you can keep the rules and that determine how good of a Christian you are… Paul has a big problem with that, being a Christian isn’t about keeping rules as much as it is about loving Jesus.

You see the whole point of the gospel is that while you are unable to do anything to save yourself, Jesus willingly went to the cross as a substitute for you, died, and rose again from the dead. To be admitted into the kingdom of God by God’s grace you have to receive what Christ has done. You actively trust in Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. There isn’t anything that you can point back to and say, “I’m saved because I DID THIS, I KEPT THIS RULE.” You can only look back and say, “I’m saved because JESUS died on the cross for my sin, and rose from the dead! I’m trusting HIM!”

Paul writes to remind the church at Philippi that their joy comes from the Lord. We may get a certain sense of joy from knowing that Jesus changes us. After all you can’t follow Jesus and be the same. But the focus, the joy, comes from a real relationship with Jesus, not in being good at being good.

Think of it this way. I love my wife and so I do certain things that I know she likes. I buy her flowers and small gifts from time to time. I wash dishes so she doesn’t have too. I pick her movie to watch instead of the one I want to see, etc. But what if I became obsessed with how good I was at becoming a good husband? so much so that I stopped actually loving my wife! What if I cared more about doing dishes than actually loving my wife! Something would be wrong. I would have replaced a relationship with my own set of rules.

That’s like what people were doing in Paul’s day. They were going around following the Apostle Paul where ever he went and right after he left they would swoop in and tell the new church he had started that God was all about rules, not a relationship. They insisted that for people to truly follow God that they had to follow their own prescribed set of rules. The problem was that all their talk about rules actually lead people away from JESUS and into trying to live a moral life without Jesus at the center.

Paul reminds the Philippians, “Rejoice in Jesus” (“the Lord” is another way of referring to Jesus). Don’t take your eyes off Jesus. He is where true Joy is found. Don’t be distracted by people who talk about how good they are and how good you can be. Sure when following Jesus you can’t help but become a better person, but its because of the work of God in your life… not because of all the stuff you do.

So here is the deal. You may wrestle with a habitual sin. You think. If I can just quit ____ I’ll be ok. And maybe you do need to quit whatever you struggle with, but don’t let the struggle become your focus and steal your joy. Paul says it’s no trouble for him to remind folks where the real joy is… Jesus.

Philippians 2:5-11 (Devotional Thought)

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11 ESV)

Yesterday we talked about being humble and putting others needs ahead of our own. To be humble we don’t put ourselves down, that is a false kind of humility. True humility takes on the attitude of service. When you are humble you don’t make a stink about who you are or why other people should serve you, you serve others and meet the needs around you.

Think about Jesus for minute. He is God! But when he came to earth he did not demand that others treat him like he was God. He left the comfort of Heaven to be born as a poor peasant, to travel the countryside touching sick people, healing them of their diseases, and telling people about how they can know Him. He could have ascended into heaven at any time. He could have called for an angel army to come to his rescue when he was in trouble, but he chose to face the cross. He chose to serve us by paying a price we couldn’t pay for our sins. He chose obedience to the Father above personal comfort. No one has ever been more humble than Jesus and no one is greater Jesus.

We don’t serve, just to serve. Jesus became a servant for a purpose. He didn’t beat death so he could say he did it. He went to the cross to purchase a people who would embrace Him as their King. He paid the penalty for sin and bought peace with God for all who would trust him as their Lord and Savior. Have you trusted Jesus as your Lord and Savior? The work for you to be saved has been accomplished by Jesus, all that is left is for you to respond to the work that God has done.

So now when we are called to serve others, there is always a purpose. Ultimately the same purpose that Jesus became a servant… so that others might know God! Look around where has God given you the opportunity to serve others so that people might know about God?

Philippians 1:22-26 (Devotional Thought)

If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again. (Philippians 1:22-26 ESV)

The Apostle Paul is in pain. He’s been beaten, shipwrecked, left for dead, and mistreated by people like the jailer in Philippi more than once. For Paul, death means that he’ll get to see Jesus face to face in a good way, and to keep on living means that someone else will punch him, hurt him, and make him suffer. He has a preference. He’d rather be with Jesus.

But you don’t become an Apostle by putting your needs, your wants, your desires at the head of the line. Paul has to ask himself a serious question: What is better for the church? What is better for those people who have heard the gospel and believed because of his testimony? What is better for them?

This is what maturity looks like: It’s when you put the needs of others ahead of your own. I experienced it when I got married. I experienced it when I had children and I’ve experienced it as a leader in the local church. This is how the gospel transforms your life. You no longer live as if you are the most important thing in the universe. You live around the reality that Jesus is the most important thing in the universe and you do your best to bring other people into a right relationship with Him.

I’m a pastor and so I often hear people say things like “I’m not getting fed at my church” or in youth ministry someone younger will say that they feel like they belong with the more “mature” group. This kind of thinking isn’t mature. It’s actually babyish. Sorry to be blunt but adults don’t cry to get fed, babies do. Real maturity is looking out for the needs of those around you not abandoning people because you found a group that meets your intellectual needs. When you shift towards putting what you think your needs are at the center of everything, you’ve lost sight of what’s really important.

One of the dangers of immaturity is that we can think we know what’s best, when we really don’t. One time my son had a pair of scissors he had gotten off the table and he went crazy opening and closing them. I immediately told him to give me the scissors. He insisted that he knew what he was doing and before I could stop him he ended up cutting himself under the eye. His immaturity gave him confidence to do something that ultimately was not good for him.

Sometimes what WE need most is to put the needs of others ahead of our own and in doing so we fulfill God’s plan for US and we are used by God to minister to others.

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Philippians 1:18-21 (Devotional Thought)

Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as 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. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:18b-21 ESV)

When I was in the 5th grade my class used to take field trips to the local university swimming pool. I don’t remember much, but I do remember that it had a high dive. By high dive I’m not talking about the big diving board at your neighborhood pool, I’m talking about an Olympic size diving platform!

I was thrilled… then I was terrified. I didn’t get scared until I climbed all the way up to the top and stood out looking over the edge. Somehow the pool got a lot smaller. It wasn’t until one of the older students walked out to the edge with me, told me what to expect, and jumped with me that I ever really experienced my first jump off a diving platform… Then I was hooked.

For some people facing death can be terrifying. (I’m sure it’s a lot more scary than a kid looking down at a pool for the first time.) Unlike my dive platform experience… There is no one who has been there before to walk you through it… Or is there?

Paul is in chains and one of the very real outcomes of his situation is death. Yet somehow he finds a way to rejoice. He rejoices because he knows that he doesn’t walk through this dark valley alone. The church at Philippi is praying for him and of course he has the spirit of Jesus. Paul can’t help but know that Jesus has never left him. He remembers that first day when he met Jesus on the road to Damascus. Jesus said, “Saul why do you persecute me?” He learned very quickly that Jesus is very much present with his people. Now that Paul belongs to Jesus, Jesus is present with him and Jesus will see him through this to the end.

This gives Paul hope and courage. He knows that God is not far away but He is right there with him. He can be bold because He’s not alone. He can be brave because Jesus has faced worse and will be with Paul no matter what happens. Paul doesn’t know what will happen, but God does and he can rest in that.

Paul has been on both sides of the coin. It’s ironic that we first hear about him when he is going around Jerusalem looking to throw Christian men and women into prison and now we catch a glimpse of him writing from prison accused of the very same crimes he accused those early believers. The persecutor has become the persecuted.

Pray that you will not be ashamed of Jesus today, and that you will have courage and confidence to tell others about him!

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“Out of the Far Country” A Compelling Story of Hope and Freedom in Christ.

Out of a Far Country: A Gay Son’s Journey to God. A Broken Mother’s Search for Hope. By Christopher Yuan and Angela Yuan is by far one of the most intriguing books I have ever read. From start to finish it was a compelling story of two intertwined spiritual journeys.  This is a candid story of how God brought an over-controlling mother and her resistant homosexual son to repentance and joy in Christ.

I really appreciated the style in which this book was written.  The chapters oscillate between mother and son both sharing their thoughts and feelings at different points along the journey.  This allowed me to sympathize with both sides of the story through their struggles and made the book quite unique.

The story was well told and carried the voice of authenticity all the way through. I really appreciated Christopher’s openness in sharing his thoughts and struggles concerning how he viewed homosexuality as a core part of his identity. Angela was also very open about her struggles for her son.

I highly recommend Out of the Far Country to anyone interested in a great autobiography of a mother and son wrestling to find fulfilment only to be left empty by what they were chasing and to be awakened to new life in Christ. The retail price of Out of A Far Country is $14.99 (Paperback), and is available around the web in places like Amazon.com for $9.25. I gave it five stars (and would give it more if I could).

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a copy of this book free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group as part of their Blogging for Books Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

5 Things I’d Tell my Teenage Daugher after listening to “Teenage Dream” by Katy Perry

Ok before I start its only fair to say that my daughter isn’t a teenager (she’s 4) and I’m really not a fan of Katy Perry at all.  In fact I highly recommend NOT owning a single MP3, CD or whatever. But because Katy is a really talented singer who gets a lot of air time on the radio  and I work with teenagers (and I can imagine my daughter being a teenager one day), I thought I would provide a little dad like perspective.

Here are five things I’d tell my daughter after hearing “Teenage Dream” on the radio…

1. You are beautiful just the way you are and I hope you find a man who accepts you for you… “without your make up on.”

You need to know that you are beautiful.  Anybody can see that you don’t really need make-up… but I can understand you wearing it to make the other girls feel more confident about themselves.  You are beautiful not only in appearance but in ways that really matter beyond how you fix your hair.

By the way there is nothing wrong with being beautiful.  Your mom is the most beautiful woman I know. But just like your mom, your beauty goes beyond your appearance.  Your real beauty shines when you are selfless and giving to others (I Timothy 2:9-10, I Peter 3:4).

Something you should know about guys your age is that some of them can talk a good game. Sometimes guys will say something like “your beautiful,” but they don’t always mean beautiful like a flower (that should be protected and put on display)… they mean beautiful like a good cut of meat (that should be cooked and eaten).  My prayer is that God brings you a man who will appreciate your true beauty.

2. Sex is good and you will want to “go all the way.”  But just because he seems like the right guy now, doesn’t mean that he is the right guy or that it is the right time.  Wait for marriage.

God made men and women sexual beings. Adam said of Eve (before the fall), “A man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Being a woman is part of who you are and as a young woman it is only natural that you would have sexual desires. The key is not to ignore this fact, but to manage these new desires in a way that glorifies God. As a young woman who most likely won’t be married for several more years it is important to guard your purity and have control of your body.

Many guys are living life in transition and are mistaken in their feelings or they carry sinister motives and are trying to manipulate you. A young man worth your time will guard his words and will not lead you on.  The woman pursued by Solomon in Song of Songs offers some wise advice here.  She says, “I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or the does of the field, that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases” (Song of Songs 2:7).  Real love is patient and is evident in a young man’s actions long before it appears in his words.

3. Sex is not love.  Inside of marriage it is an expression of love, but outside of marriage its an expression of impatience.

Adam speaks so gently about Eve his wife when he meets here for the first time. The first poem we have recorded is when Adam speaks to Eve and says, “She is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman because she was taken out of Man” (Genesis 2:23).
Marriage is the right place to enjoy the pleasures of sex to the glory of God and without shame. Sex in marriage can fuel intimacy, but sex outside of marriage will fuel frustration.  At this point, after Adam says man shall leave his parents house for his “wife,” the Bible records, “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25).

4. Every Sexual sin is a sin against your body and you will carry scars for you your whole life.

Paul writes in the New Testament to, “Flee Sexual Immorality. Every other sin a person commits outside the body, but the sexual immoral person sins against his own body” (1 Corinthians 6:18). We can do lots of things that will damage our body, but nothing is as personal as sex. When we engage in sexual acts outside of marriage they have a way of robbing us. Even if they are asexual acts (sexual acts that don’t involve physical contact with another person like viewing pornography, masturbation, etc…). We are to flee from even the temptation of these things. Sex was created as a means of intimacy inside of marriage, outside of marriage it tends to destroy. What was fun for a season causes people to become bitter, calloused, and hurt.

5. If you have ever crossed lines sexually (by or against your own will) please know that I love you and you can always come home.

When you were little I used to protect you from things that would hurt you.  Sometimes I even had to make you angry in order to protect you from things you thought you could handle.  Like when you 3 and  wanted to use the meat cleaver to cut vegetables… You totally thought I didn’t get you or appreciate that you were just wanting to help.  I knew you had the best of intentions, but I also knew that you were not ready… yet.

I knew that there would come a day when you would be fully able to chop vegetables on your own.  My long term goal wasn’t to keep you from chopping vegetables, but to prepare you for it. If you had defied me and chosen to cut vegetables with a sharp knife you most likely would have cut yourself.  If you had cut yourself I would have run to your rescue, held you tight in my arms and done my best to stop the damage.

In many ways as your dad I have set out to protect you.  I have given you really unpopular rules not to keep you from an awesome relationship with a guy, but to prepare you for one.  If you find that you have stepped beyond the rules or were forced beyond, and find yourself hurt… please know that as your dad my response will be to run to your rescue, hold you tight in my arms and to do my best to stop the damage.

This isn’t a get out of jail free card or an excuse to try somethings out.  This is an honest plea from your dad to know that this conversation is not about sex, its about you.  Katy Perry has an awesome voice, but the lyrics of her songs promise more than they can afford.  When it comes to relationship advice, please listen to the old man who taught you how to read, tie your shoes, took you out for pancakes every Friday of your life and is still married to your mother… not Katy Perry.