"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:14

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Ripple Effects

Ripple Effects

Country summers before the electronics age were a little different. Local ponds were a source of amusement whether fishing, catching frogs or crawdads, or skipping stones.  The stones would skip across the water leaving a trail of concentric circles. The ripple effect on a windless afternoon was beautiful to see, as the ripples collided, overlapped ,and eventually reached the shores.

The Apostle Paul was aware of ripple effects as well. In the first chapter of his letter to the Philippians, he has already demonstrated his spiritual and emotional maturity by rejoicing in his prison chains. He was able to do so because he knew the gospel of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ had been strengthened by his incarceration--not to mention he used the time to write a letter we are still studying today! Now he turns to discuss further ripples resulting from his imprisonment:

It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerity, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. (Philippians 1:15-18)

The same Apostle Paul who wrote the poetically eloquent language about agape love in I Corinthians 13 and encouraged the positive perspectives of Philippians 4, had no illusions about the true nature of the hearts of people—even people in the church. Some hearts are filled with goodwill and agape love, indeed. Others, unfortunately, minister to others from a place of selfish ambition, competition, and ill-will. Ultimately, Paul deduces that the motives, in the biggest picture, matter very little. The individual gains nothing without love as a motive (I Corinthians 13:1-3), but the gospel of Christ may still be furthered by their efforts.

The other remarkable thing here is that Paul has apparently risen so far above the petty exchanges that sometimes characterize our human (and church) interactions. His focus is steady: nothing matters but the message of Jesus Christ. He has no time or energy for worrying about what others think about him or do to hurt him. What a man of God!

The applications are endless here, aren’t they? I don’t know about you, but I have a way to go before I can, in total honesty, make the kinds of statements that Paul makes here. We are pretty focused, aren’t we, on our own agendas and preferences? Mistreatment by others can still knock the wind out of me for an embarrassingly long period of time; try as I do to hand it to Jesus. How wonderful will it be when, finally, I can care less about such things and keep my eyes steadily on Jesus, letting the nonsense fall behind me, inconsequential dust.

Let’s press on. Let’s keep our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. Let his message and mission become our own as we go, teaching others to obey all he commanded, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Let's make some waves. After all, he is with us, even to the end of time.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Chains of Glory

I am amused, and a little frightened, by the advertisements for pharmaceuticals on television. In bold clear language, enhanced by images of beautiful people seemingly glowing with health, they proclaim the virtues of said drug. The last 20 seconds of the add, the announcer slips into half volume and very hurriedly lists 30 life-altering and potentially fatal things that might go along with taking the drug. The emphasis is clear; hear the benefits and ignore the warnings.  

These days the Church tends to emphasize the perks of being a Christian. "Come to Jesus for personal reasons and he will meet your needs," might be the slogan of today’s Christian marketing campaign. Certainly, one can find scriptural basis for Christ’s desire to quench our thirsts with living water and to give us rest and peace. However, there is another side of the message of following Jesus. It has to do with taking up our cross on a daily basis, following his example. He taught that we should count the cost, as if building a house or taking a journey. Maybe someone should have told him this is not good marketing. Could it be that Jesus, unlike the Church today, was issuing a call to commitment, not comfort?
The Apostle Paul was not a big fan of comfort. Having just laid a foundation of deep affection and agape love for the church in Philippi, he goes on to talk about something else in glowing terms—his chains! Paul is imprisoned for proclaiming the gospel of Christ. Rather than whining about his situation and questioning the goodness and presence of God, he rejoices! He wears the chains of Christ with the glory of a gold medal winning Olympic athlete on the podium for his country. Because of his chains, the gospel of Jesus has been furthered:
"Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more compassionately and fearlessly." (Philippians 1:12-14)
When you are going through something difficult, do you stop to think that the way you do so may advance the gospel of Christ? When you respond to insult with kindness, when you are ridiculed for your faith, or when life just deals you a lousy hand, do you complain, or do you thank God for the opportunity to show the world a better way? Paul’s perspective was firmly rooted in what was good for the kingdom of Christ, not what was in his own best interest. This is in stark contrast to the teachings of many today that the primary purpose of the gospel is  the individual's personal fulfillment. The time may be coming when the Church will be sorted out. In fact, that may already be happening. The sorting may involve separating those who embrace comfort from those who seek commitment at any and every cost.

I have to admit that Paul’s attitude is not consistently my default mode. Nevertheless, it inspires me to find opportunities in life’s everyday rollercoaster ride. Opportunities to be light—a city on a hill or a lamp on a stand. These shine more brightly in the darkness. So should we.

“Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our current sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory the Lord will reveal in us. The creation waits  in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.” (Romans 8:17-19)

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Righteous Fruit

One of our first memories in Colorado was pulling over to a fruit stand on the Uncompahgre River near Ouray. A western Colorado orchard had set up a little stand, and their fruit was on display. We were impressed at the size and quality of the fruit they had grown. We learned that the hot days and cool nights of the Grand Valley lead to very high quality fruit—that  and a lot of careful guarding and tending on the part of the fruit farmers. Beautiful fruit rarely happens by accident, because it results from a lot of diligent, intentional actions along the way.

In Philippians 1, Paul tells the church  his prayers for them include a petition for their spiritual fruit. He has just expressed a desire that their love might abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that they may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until Jesus comes again. While all of this is happening, he prays that they may be “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Christ Jesus—to the glory and praise of God.”

Fruit is a familiar theme in the New Testament.  In John 15, Jesus used the analogy of himself as the vine, and his followers as the branches, saying that those who abide in him bear much fruit, but apart from him we can do nothing. Paul describes the fruit of the Spirit (who indwells every follower of Christ) as: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, good ness, faithfulness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22). In these teachings we see that we are not the source of these qualities. Rather, intimate relationship with Jesus through the Holy Spirit is the source. Our remaining in relationship with him is what taps us into the supernatural resources we need to bear much fruit. Apart from him, we can do nothing, Jesus states. It is not that humans are incapable of producing good deeds, it is that deeds apart from an abiding relationship with Christ produce only temporary fruit, and tend to glorify the individual in some way (I will look good; I will feel better about myself). In contrast, the fruit that Paul speaks of draws its nectar from the Spirit of God, and nourishes for eternity.

Though we cannot produce eternal, spiritual fruit apart from relationship with Christ, this fruit does require some tending. We need to know and understand what God thinks and how he feels about people and the world. It is a common practice for people to say things like, “I think,” or “I believe,” without scriptural basis for these thoughts and beliefs. To paraphrase Augustine, such a person does not believe the gospel, but himself. Time in God’s Word is the way we can build an internal library; the Spirit can then direct our listening hearts based on what God thinks—not what we decide or the culture tells us to believe. In this way, we can tend the fruit of the Spirit; adopting God’s perspective on things and people changes how we act and feel. It causes us to bear fruit, abundantly.

It is my prayer, as we abound more and more in knowledge of Scripture and depth of insight, that we will be able to discern and remain blameless, looking for his coming. As we do, may we be filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus. And may God receive the glory.

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