Sunday, January 30, 2011

Approving What is Excellent

Life being what it has been recently, I haven’t had a lot of brain power left over for blogging. I have been continuing on with memorizing Philippians, however, but I have not been able to write out my reflections in a blog post each week as I had intended. I also have some blogs backing up in my reader because I want to wait until I’ve written out my thoughts before reading what others are saying regarding their study of Philippians as we go along.

So, rather than an in depth post on each section, I’m going to write one post on the past three weeks’ worth of memorizing and meditating on the passages I’ve been working to hide in my heart and try to share what I’m thinking, even before I get it completely fleshed out. And because I’m collapsing three weeks into a rather long post, I’m quite sure I won’t be able to adequately get all my thoughts out, but I don’t want to wait any longer to write this post.

Philippians 1:7-26

7 It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.

8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.

9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment,

10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,

11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

What has really stuck with me the past several weeks of meditation on this section has been Paul’s prayer for the Philippians. As I’ve thought about it, it has just naturally found its way into my own prayers for myself and for others as I seek to become more intense and more intentional in my prayers. I want more than a ‘going through the motions’ kind of faith. I want to recognize my daily, hourly, momentary desperate need for God. I want to see Him move in a way I’ve never seen before. I want to have the courage to surrender to the belief that I am truly His slave. That’s a hard thing for an American to understand and get her mind wrapped around, I think. But I have been purchased with a hefty price, no less than the precious blood of Jesus, and I want to live a life worthy of the gospel. I want to truly be discerning and approve what is excellent: what is sound and true and right and biblical and honoring to my Lord and Savior, to discern truth from error and to flee from error and run to the truth. I don’t want to settle for the world’s wisdom, as I far too often do. I want to truly seek after what is excellent, what is holy, what is righteous.

I’ve done a lot of thinking in recent days about how the righteousness we are called to is not for us. It is for Him. It is to the glory and praise of God. Some time ago I memorized Psalm 23. I have thought about the verse there that says that He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. He does a work in His people who are called by His name, saved by His grace, trusting in His sacrifice on our behalf to lead us to be filled with the fruit of righteousness. And it is so that He will be glorified as His people live lives that are set apart and different from the world and its faulty wisdom. It is His working in us that allows us to even want to be righteous and to surrender to obedience to Him.

I want to love Christ more and more and to love the people He places in my sphere of influence enough to live a life of righteousness that will bring Him honor. May I be a lighthouse in a dark culture and seek after what is excellent, putting aside the things that make it hard to see Him, make it hard to live a life that brings praise and honor to God. I want to live a righteous life, not so that I will look good, but so that He will! It is only by His grace that I can be filled with the fruits of righteousness. May I live a life that will cause others to see that He is worthy of praise and glory.

Philippians 1:12-18

12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel,

13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.

14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will.

16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel.

17 The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment.

18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice,

I struggled a little with this section, wondering what it meant that some were preaching Christ from envy and rivalry and seeking to afflict Paul in his imprisonment. I finally resorted to checking the study notes in my MacArthur study Bible, where it says that these people really were preaching Christ but were jealous of Paul’s apostolic power and authority, his success and immense giftedness, and that his critics began discrediting him, seeking self-advancement, using Paul’s imprisonment to accuse him of being so sinful the Lord had chastened him, and thus advance themselves. That makes sense.

So what I have been thinking about from this passage is how, in the midst of all of that and his imprisonment, Paul’s main concern still is that Christ is preached. He doesn’t get all “woe is me” or complain about being imprisoned, or try to rescue his reputation from those who would seek to afflict him. He is humble and does not seek to right the wrong that others are doing in thinking to afflict him, he doesn’t try to set the record straight, so to speak. No, he is pleased to see Christ proclaimed, that is his main focus, not his own reputation or having others see him in a good light. He sees reason to rejoice in that the brothers are more confident, more bold to speak the word without fear.

This has led to another urgent thing I’m praying for myself. I want to be bold to speak the word without fear. I confess to you all that this is something I have not been. But I want to be. And also it has got me thinking a lot about how to see God moving in all circumstances, and rather than focusing on the circumstance, be seeking how to honor Christ in and among the circumstances and to recognize that God has a purpose in it all. For instance, when I first found that I would have to serve on jury duty for two months, I was griping about it. In the midst of the griping, we reached this passage, and I realize I need to be praying about opportunities to glorify God even as I serve on the jury. I need to obey Him even in that. Stop griping and look for opportunities to speak the word without fear. It has also helped me to begin praying for people I would never have been exposed to otherwise.

Philippians 1:19-26

19 For I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance,

20 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.

21 For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.

22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell.

23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.

24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.

25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith,

26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.

I wrote in my little memory notebook under the reflections section here that even reciting these verses is convicting because I realize that I am still much too worldly minded. I’m not sure I can truly say that I would rather depart and be with Christ yet. Intellectually I know this is far better, but I still am very tied to this world and my loved ones here. I do, however, believe that when my time to depart comes He will grant the grace to be ready. Not sure I’m expressing this well, but what I mean is that I’m not sure I have enough of a heavenly mindset yet. I want to. I want to sincerely and deeply long for Christ’s return in such a way that it colors how I live each day, each moment. I’m not there yet. Far too often I get bogged down in the tyranny of the everyday stuff of life and forget to think about Him purposefully in the midst of all that fills the day. I do long to be with Him, but not yet as deeply and meaningfully as I want to.

Also, Paul’s genuine love for the believers at Philippi is inspiring. Do I have that kind of love for other believers? Am I truly partnering in the gospel with my fellow church family members, or am I just warming a pew? Hard thoughts. Necessary thoughts. Is anyone being given ample cause to glory in Christ because I am here and serving alongside them in the ministry of the gospel? Am I pointing anyone to Christ by my life and my words? How I want to be. I want to be so heavenly minded that I am of much earthly good.

This exercise of memorizing scripture is such a good thing. It is helping me to think more about Jesus throughout each day and to be more aware of approving what is excellent and laying aside the things that aren't throughout the day, because I come back and rehearse these scriptures over and over throughout the day. I’d love to encourage you to join in memorizing Philippians, too. If not Philippians, pick another scripture passage to hide in your heart. It does help to really make it a part of your thinking the more you work through the memorization process. I am really glad I was encouraged to join in this endeavor.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Thankful Thursday

I really need to get back to blogging again. Here it is Thursday and I haven't written anything in a week. Life's been a little.....busy....lately. More on that later, hopefully.

Today I'm thankful for snowplows. And for neighbors who have them. I just realized that the person who was plowing out our street the other day was the neighbor up the street. I don't know if this is a side job for him or if he's just the proud owner of a plow and chose to share the joy with his neighbors, but either way, I'm thankful.

I'm also thankful for my boys and how they have demonstrated several times during my jury duty stint how trustworthy they are when I've unfortunately had to put them in the position of being temporary latch key kids a couple of times. They have handled it so well. I'm proud of them and their showing of responsibility.

I'm thankful my boys do not have to be latch key kids every day, but only because of a temporary and unusual circumstance.

I'm thankful for my husband and will be glad to have him home again after a business trip that's had him gone since Sunday. I've missed him.

I'm thankful for the pondering the Lord has allowed me to be doing for a couple of weeks now based on Philippians 1:9-11. I have got to get that blog post written. Short part of it being that I have begun praying earnestly for myself and for other people in my sphere of influence that our "love may abound more and more with knowledge and all discernment," so that we may approve what is excellent and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God. I've been pondering a lot about what it means to approve what is excellent, and that the righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ is to His glory. Very much need to get that post written.

How about you? For what are you thankful today?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Thankful Thursday

Seeing as the blog has been rather quiet lately, I think I’ll join with other bloggers and try to start posting Thankful Thursday posts. At least I’ll do one today and hope to remember to continue on as weeks progress. It is always a good thing to practice thankfulness.

Today I am thankful:

That I get to be a stay-at-home mom, especially when the school calls at 5:50 AM and announces that we are having yet another snow day, though we had yet to see the first snowflake until just a minute or so ago, and even now it’s just lightly ‘drizzling’. Supposed to have more this afternoon, though.

For a friend who came to play with my oldest boy today - glad he’s making nice friends here.

This will sound a little weird, but I’m even thankful for jury duty. Not so much for the fact that having lived in the great state we now live in for only 6 months and at the express and compulsory invitation of my county that I have to serve on jury duty, exactly, but more that I’m thankful for the opportunity to see God’s grace and mercy as He has worked in the situation and provided a new friend who is willing and able to watch my little girl on the days I have to go in and in granting me His peace as I look to Him when anxiety threatens. Also, I’m thankful for the opportunities serving on the grand jury affords to see a side of life I am very sheltered from normally and to be given the opportunity to grow in my thankfulness for that sheltered aspect of my life and for the heightened awareness of the need to pray specifically for my community. I’m also thankful for the things it has alerted me to be more aware about in my community and for the talking points it’s given me with my kids. All in all, it is not a completely bad experience, and I’ve got a blog post percolating that maybe, just maybe I’ll be able to share once it’s over.

For my church family. So very much good stuff I could say here, but I’ll have to save it and ponder it more when I can write coherently.

For the Partnering to Remember Philippians project. Again, I need to get a blog post written - didn’t get to it last week, but there is something very, very special about working to memorize a long passage of scripture, where the context of the text becomes alive as I ponder on it throughout the week.

For winter.....well, I’m trying. I’ve been complaining about it on Facebook, but I know there must be things about winter for which to be thankful, so, I’m trying. In the midst of it, I’m thankful for a warm house and lots of blankets. I am richly blessed, and I’m grateful.

How about you? For what are you thankful today?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

What a Great Morning Today

I love my church. This morning was awesome. Very challenging message from the preacher that I am pondering and praying over this afternoon. And one of the songs we sang was this:

"Great is Your faithfulness oh God

You wrestle with the sinner's heart

You lead us by still waters in to mercy

And nothing can keep us apart

So remember Your people

Remember Your children

Remember Your promise

Oh God

Your grace is enough

Your grace is enough

Your grace is enough for me

Great is Your love and justice God of Jacob

You use the weak to lead the strong

You lead us in the song of Your salvation

And all Your people sing along

So remember Your people

Remember Your children

Remember Your promise

Oh God

Your grace is enough

Your grace is enough

Your grace is enough for me [x2]

So remember Your people

Remember Your children

Remember Your promise

Oh God

Your grace is enough

Your grace is enough

Your grace is enough for me

Your grace is enough

Heaven reaching down to us

Your grace is enough for me

God I see your grace is enough

I'm covered in your love

Your grace is enough for me

For me"

I've been struggling recently with some anxiety and the blues. As we sang that this morning, the tears began flowing as I thought about how God's grace is sufficient on those days I feel so anxious and down that I just don't want to do what needs to be done that day. He is the reason I get up and get it done. He alone is the reason I am able to push through those kinds of days. His grace is enough, and more than enough!

And it is sanctity of human life Sunday. How I pray I can be one who will encourage anyone who will listen to choose life. We saw a very powerful video about the miracle of conception and human life. What an awesome Creator God we serve. I admit I was not even fighting the tears that fell as I pondered the verse, "And in Your book they all were written, The days fashioned for me, When as yet there were none of them." - Psalm 139:16 (b) As we watched the video showing the development of a baby and the weeks were listed, I couldn't help but think about how the four little ones we've lost were only granted 10-11 weeks in my womb each. That is all the days that were written for them. And it is okay. Their lives have a purpose, too, I believe that. And how I want to be sure to teach the 3 living children I have the right fear and love of God. I want them to be absolutely sure what they believe, why they believe it and to be able to give a reason for the hope that is within them. I want to be that kind of person too.

God is so good and kind and merciful, and He is truly the all-sufficient and all-wise Savior. How thankful I am that God remembers His people, remembers His children, remembers His promise. Jesus is the hope upon which my soul is anchored.

John 14:6 "Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.'"

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Pondering and Remembering (1)

Philippians 1:1-6

1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons:

2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you,

4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy,

5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.

6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

As part of my decision to join with the group that is Partnering to Remember Philippians this year, I think I’d like to blog some along the way about what I learn as I focus in on hiding this book of scripture in my heart and thinking about what it means - not just what it means to me, you understand, but what it means. Because it can’t have meaning for me personally apart from having meaning as it was intended in the writing. When we get all caught up in personalized ‘meaning’ we miss context and run a very serious risk of dangerously twisting scripture. Hopefully I can flesh that out a bit in a minute. By the way, I just typed out that passage from memory and then went back and checked myself before publishing the post. Only one error, and it was in punctuation. I love being encouraged to memorize in this way, because I’m quite sure I wouldn’t have ever gotten around to it without the memorization techniques from the download for this exercise. I hope it will spur me on to continue in the future and that I’ll finish this one, too.

I find that one thing I really, really, really like about taking a passage of scripture to memorize is that it forces you to ponder the passage in context rather than as stand-alone verses. Of this first portion we’ve been meditating on and working to memorize this first week, verse 6 is one that I’ve memorized before by itself.

Here’s the thing, in context it takes on a little bit different flavor and meaning than it has by itself. Let me explain what I mean and what I am beginning to glean from this.

I have quoted verse 6 often and it has been an encouragement to me that the work of salvation and sanctification begun in me will be completed at the day of Jesus Christ. For instance, our Sunday School class is beginning a study in Revelation. During some of the discussion we were talking about the significance of ‘birth pangs,’ and I got to thinking about persecution and how in America we don’t really face much of that in comparison with believers around the world. I got to thinking about how difficult it is to be a true Christian in much of the world, and I got to wondering if I would stand strong in the face of the kind of persecution many of our brothers and sisters face around the world. You read stories about believers in the first century and the terrible, torturous kinds of things they faced and stood firm in the faith even as they died for it, and I confess to you that I get squeamish.

While I was struggling along with these thoughts, I began memorizing Philippians 1:1-6, and all of a sudden verse 6 reminded me that it is not me alone in my own strength who will stand strong in the day strength is needed, but it is He who began the good work in me who will bring that good work to completion. Awesome, incredible thought. And true! It is true and glorious that God will bring His work to completion in those of us who believe in Christ Jesus and belong to Him.

But in context, that verse means more than just the personal way I’d always taken it. The assurance is individual and personal, yes, but in context, Paul is also assuring the collective body of believers at Philippi that the work begun in them, specifically their partnership in the gospel, would be brought to completion at the day of Christ Jesus. I’m not sure I’ll be able to convey what a huge shift of thinking this is for me.

In America, at least in my experience, and how it has seemed to me in my growing years, Christianity is largely a personal and independent thing. You are encouraged to have a personal walk with Christ, to make Him your personal savior, and this is all necessary. If I’m not personally walking with Him, no one can do it for me. I, myself, must be surrendered to Him. However, it does not end there. We are not saved to be Lone Ranger Christians. Nor are we free to have some God-to-me view of God and His ways. It seems that we somehow do not adequately convey how important is is that we are called to part of the Body of Christ. I have understood this on some level all my life - I mean, being a part of the local church is very important to me and I know we are exhorted not to forsake the assembling together of believers. But I’m not sure I have adequately understood just how important a concept this really is.

As believers in community with other believers, God is doing a work in our midst. My spiritual health isn’t for me alone and my benefit alone, but so that I can be a functioning, contributing member of the Body of Christ. We in the local church must be grounded in the faith and submitted to the authority of scripture so that we can encourage others to be so as well, so that we can guard the trust we’ve been given in the faith and to pass it to the next generation in a way that is faithful and true to God’s word. Thinking this way means that praying for my church family becomes a higher priority than it has been. It means I need to get over myself, stop whining when and if ‘I didn’t get anything out of this or that thing at church’ or complaining about surface things that really aren’t what we’re to be about, or complaining if my personal preferences about those surface things aren't always met and learn to be loving my brothers and sisters in a real way and encouraging others to worship God truly and deeply. And it means that I need to be remembering that He who began a good work in my own local church family will be faithful to complete that work. I need to be taking an active part in what He is doing in and through my church family, not content to just warm a pew on Sunday morning and be friendly with others, but actively engaged with them.

Our choir director has asked us choir members to commit to pray specifically for our church every day for the rest of 2011. This is a good thing, and I’m glad to be part of it, because I want my church, the people, to be growing and learning to love God and know Him more, to worship Him in spirit and truth, to have the spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that we may know Him better, that the eyes of our hearts may be enlightened in order that we may know the hope to which He has called us and the riches of His glorious inheritance in His holy people, and His incomparably great power for us who believe. (Eph. 1:17-19) What will it look like when, as a church family, we begin to truly have the spirit of wisdom and revelation as we dig deeply into His word and learn to pray for each other? What will it look like as we grow to know Christ better and better and live in the light of His glorious gospel?

So, yes, individually He will complete the work He began in me, and I am ever and eternally grateful and will praise Him through eternity for saving the wretch that I am. And I want, too, to be healthy individually so that I can be a part of the health of the community of believers that make up my local church, too. Because God is working among us corporately, and we need to have eyes to see and ears to hear so that Jesus is glorified and we can be a lighthouse to our community and point people ever to Jesus and His gospel.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Recommended Reading

I'd like to recommend this link from Albert Mohler about why the Creation-Evolution debate is so important.

Earlier this week I read the post from BioLogos to which Dr. Mohler is responding here. The quote at the end that Dr. Mohler says he will let speak for itself was one I noticed with incredulity also. Just wow. I am not a 'follower' of Albert Mohler, John MacArthur, or whoever. I am a follower of Jesus Christ. But I do respect men like Mohler and MacArthur in so far as they are willing to stand on the authority of God's word.

It is not because I've been swayed by men like Mohler and MacArthur that I believe in the biblical creation account. The reverse is true. I respect what they say because they are committed to a worldview that places God's word as the highest authority to which we must answer. 'Science' is not infallible, no matter how much anyone may wish it to be so or no matter how often and loudly anyone may say it is. When you get to the question of origins, you are moving beyond science to faith, because it is not a repeatable, observable thing we can reconstruct. You either believe the Bible, or you don't, and really that's the issue. It all boils down to the starting presuppositions.

At the end of the day, I hardly think that God is displeased or dishonored if I take Him at His word. I do not have a problem believing that God created the world by speaking it into existence and in 6 days as He said in His word, but I am very aware that even being able to have that faith is by His grace alone, and I am eternally grateful.