We all face challenges – some small and some not-so-small. This morning I was praying through my prayer list and I finally came to my name. I took half a pause and then I guess the cry of my heart came out. “Lord, I’m trying so hard,” was my moaning prayer. Almost immediately, I heard His answer in my spirit – “Quit trying! Today, just be with Me.”

How peaceful that response was. How restful it was – and is. Just hearing it lifts a burden from my shoulders and my heart. Ahhhh.

There are some areas in my life in which I’m trying to be more like Christ than I’ve been in the past. I know that trying to be more like Christ honors and pleases God. I also know that there is a thin line that can be crossed when we are no longer pursuing God with our whole heart but are striving in our own strength. I guess I had crossed that line without realizing it.

God is so gracious and compassionate. The moment I went to Him with a heart-felt plea for help, He reached out and lifted me up. Yes, that’s what my prayer was – “Lord, I’m trying so hard” really meant “I’m tired and I don’t think I can do this. Will You help me?”

Friends, are you in a place like me? A place where life isn’t bad, but there are areas in which you’ve started working too hard to achieve what God has for you? If that describes you, hear the word of the Lord today – “Quit trying! Today, just be with Me.”

Notice that God is not saying “Give up.” I don’t even sense Him saying “Stop all your efforts. I’ll supernaturally transform you so that you don’t have to work at obedience and kindness and righteousness and all those other things I want you to be.” It means quit trying and enter into training – quit striving, enjoy God and persistently pursue those things that He puts before you.

Going into training is a conscious decision to slowly, persistently move toward the goal of winning or overcoming. In several of his letters, the Apostle Paul uses the analogy of running a race. Marathon runners don’t walk out their front door one day and run the marathon. They train, slowly increasing the distance they can run. They try different things to improve their distance and speed. Sometimes they rest between exertions and other times they push beyond what they think they can do.

We often approach spiritual growth more like stepping out the front door and trying to run the marathon. That’s a prescription for failure. That’s just “trying” to do it. The better approach is to enter training. In what area is God wanting you to become more like Christ? Identify that area and then set up a training plan. Try some different things to help you overcome your weak areas. Rest in Him when you don’t make as much progress as you’d like. Make an extra effort sometimes to push through to the next level.

Quit trying. Enjoy God! Enter training.

And while you do those things, stay in the Word and in study and fellowship with other believers. Last Wednesday evening our Bible Study group studied Galatians 5.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
Galatians 5:1 (NIV)

We had a long discussion about how it can be so easy to fall into the wrong pattern of thinking that what we do makes us acceptable to God. It does not. Faith is what pleases God. Trusting in Christ is what makes us acceptable to God. In all honesty, I didn’t feel like our study had any significant impact on me at the time. But God used it to soften my heart and open my hearing so that when He was ready to speak, I would be ready to hear and respond. God’s lesson for me today – “Quit trying!” is directly related to the discussion we had on Wednesday night.

So, friends, make Bible study with friends a part of your training program. It is the vehicle He’ll often use to speak to you and/or prepare your heart to hear His voice.

God wants us to become more like Christ every day, but He doesn’t want us to become a slave again to the demands of religious expectations and traditions. (I’m a big fan of traditions – I’m not suggesting you abandon them – just don’t become enslaved to them. Don’t depend on them to make you acceptable to God. Remember, only faith makes you acceptable to God.)

Quit trying. Just enjoy God and continue your training.

 

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The LORD said to Moses: “Tell your brother Aaron not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die, because I appear in the cloud over the atonement cover.”
Leviticus 16:2

I love being a New Testament Christian living in a time when we have embraced the tremendous love God has for us. I believe we have a greater understanding of intimacy with God than most people of previous generations.

Yet sometimes I wonder if we’ve embraced our freedom to approach His throne too whole-heartedly and abandoned the respect and holiness that the One who sits on the throne deserves and requires. The Lord told Moses that Aaron wasn’t to approach the Most Holy Place in whatever manner He desired. There were specific procedures that were to be followed.

3“This is how Aaron is to enter the sanctuary area: with a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. 4He is to put on the sacred linen tunic, with linen undergarments next to his body; he is to tie the linen sash around him and put on the linen turban. These are sacred garments; so he must bathe himself with water before he puts them on. 5From the Israelite community he is to take two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.”
Leviticus 16:2-5 (NIV)

Aaron was to enter the presence of the Lord cleansed, wearing proper clothing, and with a sin offering and a burnt offering. I can’t help but see a correlation to how we ought to approach the Lord.

The Old Testament priests were to wash themselves before putting on their sacred garments. As New Testament believers, we are washed in the blood of Christ, which allows us to be clothed in His righteousness. We are cleansed of our sin by the blood of Jesus, the lamb who has already been slain for us. Because the wages of sin is death – that is, the price required to make atonement for the sin is death, the priests went into the sanctuary to shed the blood of the bull as an offering to cover their sin. Jesus shed His blood for our sins – the price has been paid for our sins.

We are no longer required to take a bull into the sanctuary and kill it. But we would do well to enter the sanctuary remembering that it has been done on our behalf. Such an attitude requires that we remember that we are sinners who are saved by grace. It means entering His presence in humility, asking for forgiveness for our sinful thoughts and actions of the previous week. It is only after we have accept God’s forgiveness that we are clothed in the sacred garments of the righteousness of Christ. It is from that position that we can come before His throne with boldness.

The priests also brought a burnt offering. The burnt offering was a complete offering — the entire offering was burned. It represents giving ourselves totally to God. To do less than that is not worthy of the great price He paid and is disrespectful. Yes, I fall far short of giving all I am to God, but I can enter His presence with the attitude in my heart that says “Yes, God. Here I am, send me. Whatever, whenever. Yes, God.” I know the reality is that when He asks me to do something we’re likely to have a conversation about it – which is a kind way of saying I don’t always respond with such enthusiasm and it may take a while for me to come around to the “Yes, God” action that matches the attitude. Nevertheless, I can have the attitude that I want to be fully and quickly obedient. The reality is that without the attitude, the action will never follow.

Entering God’s presence is about a whole lot more than songs that speak to our hearts and make us feel good. In truth, those songs are probably more about us and how we want to worship God than they are about God and how He wants us to worship Him. Don’t get me wrong. I love worship and I believe it pays a key role in preparing us to enter God’s presence. But I’m afraid that sometimes our focus is too centered on the enjoyment of the music than the proper attitude of our hearts.

Yes, let’s enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Let’s also approach His throne with boldness – while simultaneously entering His presence with appropriate reverence and humility and with a recognition of our sinfulness and His holiness. Both are God’s reality. They ought to be ours.

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And I know that I am right to think like this about all of you, because I have you in my heart. All of you share in God’s grace with me while I am in prison and while I am defending and proving the truth of the Good News.
Philippians 1:7 (NCV)

What a relationship Paul had with the Philippians (and the Ephesians and the Colossians and so many others)! He writes in verse 7 that he carries the Philippians in his heart. Another translation reads like this: “You have a special place in my heart.”

Notice that there is a progression in verses 3 through 7. In verse 3, Paul begins by saying that he always remembers the Philippians and prays for them with thanksgiving and joy. Paul first has the Philippians in his remembrance – in his mind; what follows is that they are in his prayers; and he finishes by saying they are in his heart. While there are many reasons for the Philippians to hold a special place in God’s heart, I would suggest that keeping people in our minds and in our prayers leads to them having a special place in our hearts.

Have you ever tried to stay angry at someone you are regularly praying for? It’s pretty hard to do. God changes our hearts as we pray for others. He opens our eyes to what He sees in them, enabling us to pray with faith and confidence as Paul prayed for the Philippians – that God, who began a good work in the Philippians, was bringing it to completion. Seeing God working in someone and seeing the person He is creating them to be increases our appreciation of them and opens our hearts to loving them in a greater way – even when their current behavior isn’t consistent with the person God created them to be.

Is there someone you’re struggling with? Ask God to bring them to your mind frequently. As He does, commit to pray for them. God will change your heart toward them.

Here’s how Paul prayed for the Philippians:

9And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, 11filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.
Philippians 1:9-11 (NIV)

Wow! What a great prayer. Let’s break it down.

Paul prays that their love would “abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.” What an interesting combination of elements – an overabundance and every growing degree of love combined with knowledge and insight. We often think that love is blind. Not the kind of love Paul prays for! Paul isn’t praying for love that sees no faults or dangers. He is praying for love with wisdom, love with discernment.

He is praying for that overabundance of love combined with knowledge and insight “so that [they] may be able to discern what is best.” Paul wants the Philippians to be able to make wise choices. He wants them to be “pure and blameless.” Some commentators suggest that Paul is praying for both their relationship with God – that it be pure – and their relationships with others – that they may be blameless or without offense. Both are the result of making right choices. Both are hallmarks of Christian maturity. Paul is praying that the Philippians become mature in their faith and actions.

And that maturity begins with love, not knowledge. It begins in love and is matured as love grows in knowledge and insight. Love is the cornerstone that holds knowledge in its place. Knowledge without love becomes pharisaical. It becomes rules and regulations. It becomes religion. It doesn’t lead to verse 11.

Paul prays for that love that grows in knowledge and insight, “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.” It is only through Jesus that we have any righteousness before God. Our acts of service are as filthy rags if not done in the name and love of Jesus Christ. I can’t be good enough, no matter how much I do or how good I am, without the blood of Jesus. It is through Him that I can be pure and blameless. That abounding love and knowledge and insight takes me through the blood of Jesus in all I do.

“To the glory and praise of God.” When we love more, when we grow in maturity and make right choices – it is to God’s glory and praise. Which is pretty amazing. That we, puny humans that we are, have the awesome opportunity to bring the Creator of the Universe praise and glory! And it all starts in love and wise choices.

Here’s a wonderful secret – you can pray Paul’s prayers for yourself and loved ones, too. When I wake in the middle of the night and Phil is sleeping beside me…or he’s not because he can’t sleep for some reason…I pray Paul’s prayers over his life. I pray that his love would abound more and more in wisdom and depth of insight so that he can discern what is better and may make wise choices so that God would be glorified through his life.

When I’m in trouble, I’ll pray “Lord, I need more and more of your love to flow through me. Lord, may I grow in wisdom and insight. Lord, give me wisdom to make right choices. Lord help me to live a life that glorifies you.”

Sure, I ask for physical healing and help with the every day stuff. But these prayers of Paul go beyond the things of this life into eternity. And I want to live for eternity, not just this life.

Christian maturity starts with prayers like this – prayers for abounding love. To the His praise and glory!

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3I thank my God every time I remember you. 4In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
Philippians 1:3-6 (NIV)

“I thank my God every time I remember you,” the apostle Paul says. You know what? The Philippian Christians weren’t perfect! We’ll see in chapters 2 and 3 that there were some problems in the church. But Paul doesn’t begin his letter praying for those issues. He chooses to be thankful for His friends. He chooses to pray for them with joy. Not frustration. Not defeat. Not discouragement. Thankfulness and joy. I am challenged by this. Sometimes, even with those I love, I pray with some of those other things – frustration, defeat or discouragement. Or I am tempted to pray to “fix” something that is causing me to be frustrated with that person. That’s not how Paul prays. Paul prays for them with thankfulness and joy.

As we’ll see in chapter 2, we’re to do all things without complaining and grumbling…that goes for praying for others, too. There’s no grumbling in praying…or at least there shouldn’t be any grumbling in our prayers for others.

In the natural world, we may not see reason to pray with thanksgiving and joy. But we’re not to be looking with our natural eyes. Paul goes on to say that he is confident – confident – that God – who began a good work in the Philippians would carry it on to completion! Another translation of this verse says that Paul is “fully persuaded.” As I was studying this passage and came upon that translation, the Holy Spirit whispered in my ear – “Are you fully persuaded?” In other words, am I fully persuaded that God will finish the work He’s started in me? Are you?

God’s Word is full of encouragement that He is at work in us. If and when we believe His Word – truly believe it – we can pray with thankfulness and joy – for ourselves and for others. God is at work in us and in those around us. He is working out His eternal plan in our lives and the lives of those around us. That’s exciting stuff! Believing that overcomes fear, uncertainty and doubt about our future.

So, my friend – are you fully persuaded that God is at work in you and will work out His purposes in your life? I hope so. If you have doubts, may I suggest that you write out this verse and put it where you will see it several times a day. Say it out loud – God is at work in me and will bring that work to completion.

Let Him whisper it in your ear…

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Philippians 1:2 (NIV)

I love Paul’s blessings and this is one of my favorites.

One of the blogs I’ve written that has impacted me the most personally was about this verse. Back in July 2007, I wrote one of my shortest blogs. It was about grace Paul’s double-powered prayer. It’s one of those teachings that has stuck with me and comes to mind almost every time I hear the word “grace.” You can read about it here.

In my previous blog in this series on Philippians I focused on our relationship as slaves to Jesus. It is only by His grace that we can have that spirit of immediate obedience I prayed for. And that kind of obedience gives us peace. When I delay in my obedience, my stress level rises quickly. Responding – even when I only know the very next step and there are so many unanswered questions – brings peace. My obedience gives me an assurance that I’m leaving it up to God and He will provide.

While studying another letter of Paul’s during a Bible study last week the discussion turned to the topic of the power of our words and the power of blessings. Unfortunately, we agreed that none of us speak or write blessings as Paul did. Imagine how different our culture would be if we did speak in blessings.

First, the impact on the one doing the blessing would be tremendous. I am convinced that I would think differently if I were to develop the pattern of speaking blessings more frequently.

Secondly, the person receiving the blessing would…well, I’m not sure how they would feel about it. At the very least they would have had a blessing spoken over them and if you believe that your words have power in the spiritual realm, that blessing is a big thing. Beyond that their experience will vary based on their perspective of spiritual things and their experiences. When someone speaks a blessing to me, I experience an unexpected moment of joy. And it becomes something my mind goes back to throughout the day. Someone who has less experience with blessings may be confused or uncomfortable. That’s OK. A blessing spoken in an upbeat and positive way will work its way through the confusion and discomfort into the person’s spirit. God’s Word does that. If the person is alien to the Gospel, they may be taken aback by it, but it is the rare person who will take offense at it. And if someone takes offense, we can always apologize for offending them (and silently pray for them).

Thirdly, the impact on our society could be pretty exciting. I believe our words have power in the spiritual realm. I believe that speaking blessings change the spiritual atmosphere in a home, a business and a community.

Lord, teach me how to speak and write blessings as a natural part of my day. I want You to be on my mind and on my lips throughout the day. I want to bring You into the lives of those around me.

Will you join me? Let’s start a revolution of blessing. Don’t wait for someone’s birthday to bless them. Do it today!

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The book of Philippians is often called “The Book of Joy!” That sounds like a perfect book to study as we look toward the most joyous event in the Christian calendar – the resurrection of Jesus. So over the next few weeks I’ll be writing blogs that look at Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi.

Just as the path to Jesus’ resurrection lead Him through suffering and even death, we’ll see in Philippians that there is a relationship between joy and suffering. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s start with Paul’s greeting:

This letter is from Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus. I am writing to all of God’s holy people in Philippi who belong to Christ Jesus, including the elders and deacons.
Philippians 1:1 (NLT)

The greetings in the New Testament letters are fly-over country for many people. Not me. The Apostle Paul wrote greetings that were personal, sincere and instructive. Let’s not miss the treasure in this greeting.

If you read the New International Version of the Bible, verse 1 describes Paul and Timothy as “servants of Christ Jesus.” Whether the word in your translation is servants or slaves, in New Testament times, it denoted someone who didn’t have the freedom to obey their owner/master or not to obey him. What the master required, the servant or slave did.

It’s important to understand slavery in New Testament times to get an accurate understanding of Paul’s greeting. Slavery has existed in different forms in many different cultures. In New Testament times, slavery was not based in racism (that is, slaves were not a single race) and slave masters were typically not abusive. Most slaves worked hard but lived at least as well as other lower class citizens. They didn’t have freedom to leave or pursue the trade of their choice, but they were treated with respect. Masters often trained their slaves in their own trade so slaves could be found in jobs at many levels of society. Slaves had the security of having a place to live and food to eat. What they did not have was freedom to spend their days as they might want or to leave their masters. Slaves belonged to their masters.

Paul could have used many different words to describe himself and his relationship with God, but he chose “servant/slave.” The word would have had clear implications to the Philippians – Paul and Timothy were slaves of the Lord. Bound to serve Him.

After defining his relationship with the Lord, Paul goes on to define the relationship of the Philippians to the Lord. He describes them as “God’s holy people…who belong to Christ Jesus.” What an interesting juxtapositioning of phrases:

  • As believers, we are God’s holy people. What an awesome thing – that we (1) are God’s and (2) we are holy people. Knowing that just makes me feel good – because it emphasizes to me that I am God’s in a protective way. I am His and He will take care of me. One of the ways He takes care of me is that He has made me holy – cleansed me by the blood of Jesus.
  • As believers, we belong to Christ Jesus. As I read Paul’s greeting, this phrase carries a different connotation than the previous one. Just as the slaves in New Testament times belonged to their masters, we belong to our master. Just like Paul, we are slaves to Christ.

So we are God’s both in the sense that He treasures us and cares for us and we belong to Him as a slave is bound to his master.

My guess is that you’ve heard lots of sermons about how you are treasured by God and how He promises to care for you. I wonder if you’ve heard any lately that encourage you to reflect on your relationship as a slave to Christ. As I read this greeting, the Holy Spirit whispers a few questions:

“Do you submit to the Lord as a slave to his master?”

Hmmm. If I’m honest, the answer to that is no, not always.

“Do you view yourself (and live your life) as an indentured servant of the Lord?”

Well, I’d rather think of myself as a child of the King, co-heirs with Christ. Or I’m happy to meditate on being the Bride of Christ or a part of the royal priesthood. I’m afraid meditating on being a slave of Christ isn’t something I do regularly.

It’s true that if we know Christ – if we’ve placed our trust in Him – that we are children of the King, co-heirs with Him. We are the Bride of Christ and a part of the royal priesthood. And yes, we are also to be slaves of Christ Jesus – listening for His voice and ready to be immediately obedient.

Ready to be immediately obedient…whatever the task. Perhaps that’s the best description of a slave. At least that’s the description that I’d like to have applied to me. Ready to be immediately obedient to the Lord.

Lord, help me to hear Your voice. Give me a heart that is ready to say “yes!”

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Jerusalem GateDedication of Jerusalem’s Wall – What a Celebration!
Nehemiah 12 describes what I can only imagine as a totally awesome worship, celebration and dedication of  event, but it’s easy to miss it because of all the details and names. So let’s remove some of that and catch a glimpse of the extravagant worship.

27For the dedication of the new wall of Jerusalem, the Levites throughout the land were asked to come to Jerusalem to assist in the ceremonies. They were to take part in the joyous occasion with their songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps, and lyres. 28The singers were brought together from the region around Jerusalem…
Nehemiah 12:27-28 (NLT)

This was no ordinary event. Israelite singers and musicians came together from all the regions. Perhaps you’ve participated in a large worship event. We used to attend a church that had regional retreats and people from a dozen states or so would come together – what a fantastic time of worship that was! A church in our community sometimes holds community-wide worship nights bringing together members of worship teams from several different churches. What a blessing! I attended two Promise Keepers events as a volunteer. I remember going into the stadium as the men gathered for worship at one of them. What an awesome sound as the men filled the stadium with powerful praise to God. I love those events. Better than any concert you’ve ever attended! Yet the worship described in Nehemiah 12 would have out-shined all of those.

The singers and musicians didn’t gather together in a building or stadium. They gathered outside and celebrated around the entire city. The first group celebrated on the east wall of the city, walking toward the Sheep Gate.

31I led the leaders of Judah to the top of the wall and organized two large choirs to give thanks. One of the choirs proceeded southward along the top of the wall to the Dung Gate. 32Hoshaiah and half the leaders of Judah followed them, 33  along with [other leaders]. 35Then came some priests who played trumpets… 36b[Other priests] used the musical instruments prescribed by David, the man of God. Ezra the scribe led this procession. 37At the Fountain Gate they went straight up the steps on the ascent of the city wall toward the City of David. They passed the house of David and then proceeded to the Water Gate on the east.
Nehemiah 12:31-37 (NLT)

Jerusalem Wall during Nehemiah's Time

The second group walked along the west wall of the city worshipping with instruments and songs. Imagine – two large choirs accompanied by instruments walking the perimeter of the city walls as they praised. You’ve undoubtedly seen videos of flash mobs in shopping malls or at hotels. This goes beyond any of those outstanding performances. And I hesitate to use the word performances because the Israelites weren’t performing. They were worshipping. And they ended their worship in the Temple of God:

38The second choir giving thanks went northward around the other way to meet them. I followed them, together with the other half of the people, along the top of the wall past the Tower of the Ovens to the Broad Wall, 39then past the Ephraim Gate to the Old City Gate, past the Fish Gate and the Tower of Hananel, and on to the Tower of the Hundred. Then we continued on to the Sheep Gate and stopped at the Guard Gate [or Muster Gate].

40The two choirs that were giving thanks then proceeded to the Temple of God, where they took their places. So did I, together with the group of leaders who were with me. 41We went together with the trumpet-playing priests… 42and the singers…. They played and sang loudly under the direction of Jezrahiah the choir director.

43Many sacrifices were offered on that joyous day, for God had given the people cause for great joy. The women and children also participated in the celebration, and the joy of the people of Jerusalem could be heard far away.
Nehemiah 12:38-43 (NLT)

I love the juxtapositioning of worship with sacrifice and joy. We don’t often associate worship with sacrifice or sacrifice with joy. God’s like that. He brings together worship and sacrifice and joy. All that we sacrifice to Him is a form of worship. All that we sacrifice to Him both brings Him joy and is an act of joy on our part. Even when it’s hard.

The Israelites gathered in the city and went to the top of the wall they had just completed. From there the broke into two groups. One went in one direction, the other in the other direction. Both groups playing their instruments and singing worshiping God. So loudly that they could be heard far away. Without any modern sound system!

God is worthy of our extravagant praise! It is offensive to offer less. It is a discipline to put aside the things of the week and the frustration of the day when we step into worship, but it’s a discipline and sacrifice that not only honors Him, it brings us into His presence – which of course, is to our tremendous benefit.

Friends, I challenge you to outdo yourself during worship in the coming month. Don’t just stand or sit and sing the words that appear in the hymnal or on the screen. Worship Him! And make it your lifestyle.

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1Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Colossians 3:1-4 (NIV)

In my last blog, I wrote a tribute to my mom. She is an example to me of a person who lives in difficult circumstances but remains thankful, joyful and positive. I ended by saying that she is God’s living example to me of someone who lives Colossians 3:1-4. I had preached on it a week or so ago but mom had been bedridden and unable to attend. Yet upon receiving sad news she did what the Apostle Paul encouraged – she directed her thoughts to things above. Let’s look at the Colossians passage in more depth.

Paul was writing to the Colossians – a city that had once been a thriving, important city but at the time of Paul’s writing was a dying city. Although it was located on a trade route, cities had grown up to the east and west of it and it somehow became overlooked. The population had declined as people moved away to the larger cities where most of the trade was occurring.

If you’ve ever lived in such a place, you know that they are depressed and depressive places – they have seen glory days but are now in decline. Living in that kind of place has a way of seeping into your psyche and it’s easy to become depressed yourself. At the very least, it’s hard to stay positive and creative and hopeful when living in such a place.

It occurs to me that Colosse is also an analogy for many of our lives. At some point in our lives, our “glory days” seem to be over and our health and prospects for an exciting future dwindle. Don’t get me wrong – I believe that God has purposes for us to fulfill in all stages of our lives. Still, there can be times when we are tempted to succumb to the aches and pains that come with aging and there are times when it is easier to let our culture – which worships youth – to seep in and drag us down.

It’s in those times, when Paul’s words to the Colossians are especially important. Paul is saying “It’s time for you to hit the reset button. Your lifes aren’t working quite the way God intended it work – you’re not living in the Kingdom while still here on earth.” Scripture is clear that eternal life isn’t something that we wait to experience once we’ve gone on to be with the Lord. It says that eternal life has come to all who receive Christ. Eternal life is, or at least ought to be, a part of living on earth. With the Lord beside us and the Holy Spirit in us, we can live lives that are full of peace and joy and purpose no matter what our circumstances are. Here’s how Paul put it:

1Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Colossians 3:1-4 (NIV)

Paul first gives a reason for hitting the reset button – he begins by saying “Since you have been raised with Christ.”

In other words…you are thinking and acting as if you live here in this city that is declining. I’m here to tell you that you have been raised with Christ and seated with Him in the heavenly realms. You are thinking and acting as if the boundaries of your life are related in some way by the limitations of this world. They are not. “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,” Ephesians 2:6 (NIV)

So, even before you hit the reset button, you need to remind yourself that this place is not your home, you are just passing through on your way to your eternal, heavenly, glorious home.

Now with that firmly planted in your mind – since you have been raised with Christ, Paul says, set your hearts on things above.

Set your hearts on things above.

Hit the reset button on your heart – reset the longings of your heart to things above. We long for things from our hearts. Our minds reasons, our hearts long. Our hearts desire. Desire the things of heaven. Let the things you long for be the things of heaven.

What are those things? What does Scripture teach us about heaven? It’s where God lives eternally. It’s where we will be face to face with God. It’s where we’ll sit with Jesus and reason together. It is where we have a mansion – a home created just for us. It is where our loved ones who have trusted Jesus wait for us. It is where there is no more sorry or sadness. It is where there is no sin or pain. It is where we will understand and fully experience the deep richness of God’s love.

Hit the reset button and set your heart on things above instead of things here on earth. Don’t long for the things of this world, long for the realities of heaven. That’s how the New Living Translation renders this verse: “Set your sights on the realities of heaven.”

Now I realize that’s not always so easy, because this world often seems more real than heaven. This world presses in on us and blocks out the realities of heaven.

The Apostle Paul realized that, too, so he continued, saying that there are two reset buttons we have to push to get our life headed in the right direction. The first, is that we need to set our hearts on things above.

The second reset button is found in verse 2:

1Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
Colossians 3:1-2 (NIV)

We are to set our hearts on things above, and we are to set our minds on things above. Our hearts are the center of our longing. Our minds are the center of our thinking. The Apostle Paul is very appropriately telling us to hit the reset button on our thoughts. Set your minds – in other words, center your thoughts – on things above.

Our minds are very powerful muscles. You will find that they are very suggestible and whatever we tend to occupy our mind with, our desires quickly follow. So one big way that we reset our hearts is by resetting our minds. Set your minds on thoughts above and your heart will follow. If you want to long for heaven more, think about what is waiting there for you.

Are you at a place in your life where you have something in common with the Colossians – perhaps your life today doesn’t compare well with the life you once had. If that’s the case, let me challenge you to take the Apostle Paul’s words to heart this week and hit the rest button – reset your heart and mind to things above.

This week, when you wake up each morning, do two things:

  • Set your heart on things above
  • Set your mind on things above

And each day at lunch, use your mealtime prayer as a reminder to

  • Set your heart on things above
  • Set your mind on things above

And then again at dinner, before you eat, pray and use it as an opportunity to hit the reset button:

  • Set your heart on things above
  • Set your mind on things above

And finally, when you go to bed at night – be sure to be thankful as you

  • Set your heart on things above
  • Set your mind on things above

Colossions 3 continues:

3For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Colossians 3:1-4 (NIV)

You are hidden – kept safe from the worst this world has to throw at you – with Christ in God. He is your protection. He is your safe place. He is also your ultimate reward – if you know Christ, you will one day appear with Him in glory.

Trusting Christ is the first step in living the Kingdom He has given us here on earth. It is the first step in a journey that takes us through our death into eternal life. That journey is made easier when our hearts and minds stay with the One who loves us more than anyone, who protects us, and who leads us home.

I sign most of my emails with the simply closing “Enjoy!” It is my shorthand for “Enjoy God! Enjoy life!” We do that by keeping our hearts and minds on Him. Friends, enjoy!

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A Tribute to My Mom, Leona Jane Miller Parks Vinck

My mom had a stroke sixteen years ago. Prior to her stroke, she had an active life working, dancing, traveling and organizing bus tours for friends. Many of you may remember the Promise Keepers Stand in the Gap rally in Washington DC in 1997. Phil and I took a busload of men and women to it. (We women in attendance served as volunteers.) It was my mom’s suggestion and planning all the way.

Then she had surgery on her shoulder because the bone was infected. They removed most of her shoulder bone and socket. At some point during that first evening after surgery she had a major stroke that no one in the hospital recognized until the next morning. They attributed the symptoms she was exhibiting to coming out of the anesthesia. I’m sure if we were suing people we would have won the case against the very prominent hospital that missed her stroke for more than twelve hours.

Mom’s world instantly changed, and it changed dramatically. The short version is that from that moment on she never walked again, never drove car, never stood on her own and for many years now has not been able to feed herself. Since that time she has required total care. She has been fully paralyzed on her left side and has limited use of her right arm. Having been in a wheelchair for sixteen years she now has chronic pain and her skin is beginning to break down – which often requires that she cannot even get in her wheelchair but must remain in bed while the sores heal.

Today is her birthday. Today I had to tell her that her baby sister died. I drove to the nursing home where she lives to deliver the news in person. Many, including me, were concerned about how she would take the news. On the way to her room I explained to the nursing home staff that I was about to give mom news of her sister’s death on her birthday.

My mom is my hero. Her first words were “that just leaves me and my brother.” That was quickly followed by “I feel so badly for her children because they have now lost both parents.” She went on to say how my aunt is so much better off because she loved Jesus and she’s sitting at his feet and she’s meeting up with her mom and her sister and her first husband and her baby who died in infancy and their favorite aunt and their favorite cousin, and…so many other saints who have gone before.

This wasn’t the pie-in-the-sky “she’s better off now” comment that so many people make when someone dies. Mom was making a statement of fact and adding specifics.

While I was there several staff members stuck their head in the door to wish her a happy birthday and she would say “It’s a happy birthday but I got bad news on my birthday.” They would say they had heard and they were sorry. She would consistently say “It’s sad for us but she’s much happier now. So we should celebrate how good it is for her.”

As I sat and talked with mom this morning, at one point she said “I have so much to be thankful for. Oh, if you could hear my prayers at night, you’d think I was crazy. They’re almost the same every night. I tell God how thankful I am for my mother and father, my grandparents and my aunts and uncles. They all made me the person I am. I thank him that I’ve always had a place to live and food to eat. I’ve never really been without. I thank Him for you kids and my grandkids.” And she went on and on telling me what she’s thankful for.

I was around for a good part of mom’s life. She went through some pretty hard times and it was a struggle to make ends meet. She and my dad went through a very bitter divorce. “Us kids” didn’t always act lovingly toward her. In fact, we didn’t even always think lovingly toward her. (Lord, forgive me.) And for sixteen years she’s been in a wheelchair. She used to love to do crafts. She cannot. She used to love to dance. She cannot. She used to love to go places. She cannot. She used to love to pick up the phone and call a friend. Even that is a challenge and she can’t always do it.

Many would see her life as having no purpose. Those people would be wrong. She lives today to encourage those around her and to build up their hope and faith. When she’s not bedridden, she seeks out residents of the nursing home who are the loneliest and in the most pain and she does anything and everything she can to brighten their day. And every day she teaches me that no matter what your circumstances are, you can experience the joy of the Lord and bring it to those around you. I absolutely love to hear her laugh and every time I am amazed that she does it. In the midst of her constant pain and difficult circumstances, she laughs – big belly laughs – often.

I preach at mom’s nursing home on the first Sunday of every month. Mom wasn’t able to make the church service this month. But she’s living my sermon. The key passage was Colossians 3:1-4.

1Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Colossians 3:1-4 (NIV)

In my next blog, I’ll expand on these verses. Today, just know that Leona Vinck, my mom, lives them every day. And I am a blessed woman because of it.

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Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.
Proverbs 4:7 (NIV)

 If you are following the Treasure Seeking in God’s Word reading schedule with us, you are reading through the Proverbs this month. I have to be honest with you – I’m not a huge fan of the book of Proverbs. Yes, I recognize its value, but I don’t enjoy reading it – largely because of the writing style. The content is good (uh…it is the Word of God, perhaps I should say the content is inspired and holy and awesome – “good” seems a bit pathetic now that I think about it)…but the writing style is off-putting for me. I guess God’s Word has styles for everyone, right? Still, whether it’s my style of preference or not, I recognize the value of reading the whole Word of God, so I’m in Proverbs.

Just in case I didn’t recognize the value of reading Proverbs, the first four verses describe that value:

 1These are the proverbs of Solomon, David’s son, king of Israel.
2Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline,
to help them understand the insights of the wise.
3Their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives,
to help them do what is right, just, and fair.
4These proverbs will give insight to the simple,
knowledge and discernment to the young.
Proverbs 1:1-4 (NLT)

The purpose of the proverbs is to teach us wisdom and discipline. Who wants that? OK, most of us want wisdom, but most rebel at discipline. (Have you eaten healthy and exercised regularly this week?) These verses tell us the consequences of making the Proverbs part of our lives:

  • Gives us insight to the wise
  • Teaches us to live successful lives (yes, we learn that, it’s not a matter of luck)
  • Gives us insight to the simple – in other words, we can understand people, both wise and simple
  • Gives knowledge and discernment to the young – we don’t have to wait until we’re older and more experienced, the Proverbs can give us wisdom while we are still young

Those are pretty valuable benefits of embracing Proverbs – the Solomon, the writer of the Proverbs, says they are a source of wisdom and knowledge. In today’s reading, Solomon takes his discussion of wisdom further. While the first chapter taught the purpose of the proverbs, chapter 4 teaches us about the value of wisdom.

6Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you.
7Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.
8Esteem her, and she will exalt you; embrace her, and she will honor you.
9She will set a garland of grace on your head and present you with a crown of splendor.”
10Listen, my son, accept what I say, and the years of your life will be many.
11I guide you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths.
12When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble.
Proverbs 4:6-12 (NIV)

“Do not forsake wisdom” Solomon writes – because here are some of the benefits:

  • Wisdom watches over us – it protects us and gives us security
  • Wisdom exalts us – it will bring us success
  • Wisdom brings us honor
  • Wisdom will “set a garland of grace on your head” –our lives will be characterized by grace
  • Wisdom crowns our heads with beauty – our lives will be beautiful (to ourselves and others)
  • Wisdom leads to a long life
  • Wisdom keeps us from stumbling over the pitfalls of life

If you want security, success, honor, grace, beauty and a long life that avoids the major pitfalls this world would throw at you, what you really want is wisdom. The book of Proverbs consistently tells us that wisdom is something we must pursue, practice and guard. In other words, it doesn’t come naturally. It also tells us that wisdom is found at the feet of the Lord. “Fear of the Lord is the beginning [or foundation] of wisdom.” (Psalm 111:10, NIV/NLT)

By pursuing God, we are pursuing wisdom. Let’s continue together.

You can download our Treasure Seeking in God’s Word from this blog – it provides a schedule for reading through the Bible in 2014. Starting late? No problem. Start today and read a little more each day and you’ll catch up to us, or use the schedule as is and finish a year from today. Either way, you’re seeking treasure – God’s Word is full of them!

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