Archive for March, 2014

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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