Where’s Your Hope? Philippians 1

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What we call the “book of Philippians” is a letter that the apostle Paul wrote to the churches in Philippi, a city in ancient Macedonia (modern-day northern Greece) while he was in prison for preaching the gospel. These churches had partnered with Paul and supported him throughout his ministry. They sent Epaphroditus to take care of Paul while he was in jail (Phil 2:25). They sent money to keep Paul’s ministry going while he was in jail (Phil 4:18). And on at least three occasions, the Philippians sent money to help pay for his mission trips (Phil 4:15-16; 2 Cor 11:9).

There appear to be several reasons that Paul was moved to write this letter to the Philippians, but the most pressing seems to be to thank them for their generosity in partnering with him financially (what Paul calls “fellowship”) and to give them an update on how he is doing. Paul was worried that news of his prolonged imprisonment might dishearten the Philippians. What were they to think about a God who would torpedo his own mission by allowing his greatest missionary to suffer and to be put in jail? Paul’s report, however, is much to the contrary, and Paul’s message in chapter 1 of Philippians is a message of hope and joy and contentment in Christ even in the midst of these terrible setbacks.

Before reading on, grab your Bible and read Philippians 1.

Philippians 1 is about life. Paul, by answering for himself, forces the Philippians, and us, to answer the questions, “What is your life?” “What do you live for?” and “Where is your hope?” Paul’s answer? “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain!”

How could Paul become the guy who legitimately says, “Live or die, I’m good with either”? Here’s what Paul understood: our hope comes from what we worship, what we ascribe highest value to. And what we worship is what we live for. Paul could have easily despaired. It is easy for us to look at Paul and say, “His ministry is his life.” But his missionary journeys were on hold, because he was in jail. He was suffering abuse at the hands of the people he was trying to share the gospel with. Other Christian preachers were gaining in popularity and running him down to their churches. And without the help of the Philippians and their gifts, Paul didn’t even have enough food to keep from starving. But Paul does not respond with despair. He responds with joy and hope. How? Where does that hope come from?

Paul articulates for the Philippians just where his hope comes from and what he lives for. Paul says clearly, “My freedom is not my life. It is not my hope. So if I don’t ever get my freedom back, I’m good. I’m happy.” Paul says, “Avoiding suffering is not my life. It is not my hope. So if I suffer, I’m good. I’m happy.” Paul says, “Being liked by other preachers and being considered as ‘successful’ as they is not my life. That is not my hope. So as long as they are preaching Christ, even if they hate me and you think, ‘Wow, I wish Paul was as awesome as they are!’, I’m good. I’m happy.” Paul says, “Being wealthy, even having enough food to keep from starving, is not my life. It is not my hope. So if I starve, I’m good. I’m happy.” “For me to live is Christ,” Paul says, “and to die is gain.”

Paul was trying to get the Philippians to see that when we make anything else other than Christ our life, we necessarily lose hope, because nothing but Christ is sufficient to sustain us. The gospel-centered Christian has an amazing resilience to tragedy, because the worst of tragedies never put our ultimate hope in jeopardy. Christ is ours and we are his, and that, all by itself, is victory. The Christian who, in one fell swoop, loses her friends, her ministry, her reputation, and all her earthly possessions (as happened to Paul) does not despair, because those things were not her life. The Christian man who has to stand by the coffin of a dead wife or a dead child does not ultimately despair, because though they were beloved, they were not his life. Paul says, “My life is Christ, and him only, even if they cut off my head” . . . which they did just a few years later. Christ is our only hope for difficult times, and when difficult times come they serve to press us more deeply into our hope.

  1. If a church member came to you and said they didn’t care if they lived or died, how would you respond?
  1. How does Paul evaluate his life in light of the gospel?
  1. What areas of life should the gospel influence? Name them.
  • Material– How does the gospel shape my view of possessions?
  • Relational– How does the gospel shape my view of family, friends, co-workers, neighbors?
  • Psychological– How does the gospel shape my image of myself, my thoughts, and my emotions?
  • External Systems– How does the gospel shape my view of work, government, society?
  1. Take a moment to write down one application for each of the four categories above.
  1. Paul’s suffering helped further the mission of God. If you are suffering and, yet, the gospel is not being advanced in your life, what ought you to do?

One of the great treasures of my ministry was the time I spent serving alongside Ed Gravely. For close to 4 years we wrote small group curriculum for Christ Community Church. This blog series is adapted from my archive of curriculum we wrote concurrently with the pulpit ministry of CCC. If any writing in these posts is pleasant to read I’m sure Ed deserves the credit.

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Preparing for Communion

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This coming Sunday our church will observe one of the two ordinances of the church: Communion, or The Lord’s Supper. Paul tells us about the night that our Lord instituted this ordinance for his church:

23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (ESV)

Our church observes this ordinance 6 times a year. Some of our church members wish we did it more often. I’m sure a few wonder why we do it at all. Because we’re observing it this coming weekend it’s good for us to take a moment and consider it’s meaning in order to receive it with a glad heart on Sunday. In this post consider one aspect of the Lord’s Supper:

This cup is the new covenant in my blood.

In order to understand what Jesus means when he says that the new covenant is contained in his blood we have to go back and read another passage from the Old Testament:

31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” – Jeremiah 31:31-34

The previous covenant that God made with his people through Moses laid conditional blessings and curses upon the people. God had saved them by his grace in delivering them from Egypt, and if they obeyed God they would live in the land of promise, and God would give them peace from their enemies. If they disobeyed the commands of the covenant God would curse the people; driving them from the land.

Now in Jeremiah, having disobeyed and incurred the curses of the mosaic covenant the future of the people of God looked bleak. In their captivity God told of a coming day when he would make a covenant with them and would forgive their sin, he would put the law within their heart (allowing them to obey), and they would know the Lord.

Covenants like this were always ratified with a blood sacrifice. When God met with Abraham and promised to bless him he walked through a bloody stream between cloven animals. At the mosaic covenant Moses sprinkled blood on the people. The meaning is clear: blood will be shed by any party that does not keep its end of the agreement. In order to experience the benefit of the covenant blood is shed.

What’s significant about the Lord’s Supper is that Christ says the new covenant is actually contained in his blood. In order to ratify this covenant, and bring about it’s blessing Christ doesn’t sacrifice an animal. He doesn’t offer a goat or a bull. Why? Because, the blessing of the new covenant is forgiveness of sin. The only way to accomplish this blessing is to make atonement for sin, and the blood of bulls and goats can do no such thing. Only a human can pay for the sins of humanity.

The only way to ratify this covenant is to shed human blood.

Thankfully, it has been the eternal plan of the Father to tear his own Son to pieces to ratify this covenant. It has been the eternal purpose of the will of the Son to submit himself to death out of love for us. It has been the eternal plan of the Spirit of God to communicate to us the forgiveness of God in Christ Jesus.

Further Reading before Sunday: Hebrew 9:11-28

Encouraging Women’s Ministry in the Church

I can’t tell you how excited I am to see God growing a desire in the ladies of Christ Community Church to minister to women. They are planning an event for March 5, 2016 from 10am-12pm and if you’re a lady in the North Meck area, you should definitely attend. They have a guest speaker, a worship group coming in, and best of all, it’s totally free.

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The other day I watched this video of Melissa Kruger, a local Charlottean, talk about how to encourage women’s ministry in the church. It’s a wonderful Q &A, and one that could benefit any church.

RTS Charlotte: Faculty Forum with Melissa Kruger from Reformed Theological Seminary on Vimeo.

Opening Questions

What does Women’s Ministry look like at Uptown Church? (3:21)

How do you encourage women to teach women? (7:55)
What advice do you have for women who would like to go into women’s ministry? (10:10)
What are job prospects for women graduating from seminary?  (This one also provides a little insight into my husband’s first job as a youth pastor…not the ideal job fit!) (12:19)
What advice would you give future pastors as they think about women’s ministry in their churches? (16:00)

Questions from the audience:
How do you set up a mentoring program? (19:45)
How does a Women’s Leadership Team relate to the Session? (22:15)
What are some ministry options for women after graduation? (24:51, see also 12:17)
If you’re the first on staff for women’s ministry, how do you get started? (28:44)
How is the prayer team set up and organized? (31:21)
How do you get involved in women’s ministry while raising a family? (31:51)

5 Scripture Passages I Wish Every Christian Knew: Romans 8:26

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Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. – Romans 8:26

We do not know what to pray for. We never know what to pray for. Paul tells us that the Spirit helps us, not in our weaknesses, but in our weakness, singular. We aren’t people who mostly have it together with a few weaknesses. We are weak. That is a definitive word on our current fallen condition. Part of our weakness is that we do not know what to pray for.

We do not know the will of God. We do not naturally love and desire what he loves and desires. We are weak. Our prayer is weak, small, distracted; a candle blown out by the slightest breeze. Even the deepest prayers offered by the godliest saints are weak.

But, the Spirit helps us. The Spirit knows the will of the Father. He naturally loves and desires what the Father loves and desires. He’s strong, all encompassing, a blazing fire no flood and quench. I hope you can take the same encouragement from this verse that I do.

If you want to go back and read other posts in this series just click the following links:

Galatians 3:2-7

Hosea 2:16-23

John 5:18

Link: 50 Ways to Love Your Church

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Megan Hill over at Sunday Women posted a list of 50 ways to love your church. Here are her top 10:

1. Show up for worship.
2. Sing. Heartily.
3. Say “Amen.” (I’m looking at you, fellow-Presbyterians.)
4. Pray for church members.
5. Pray with church members.
6. Let them pray for you.
7. Weep.
8. Rejoice.
9. Learn people’s names.
10. Introduce yourself so they can learn yours.

Growing up as a pastor’s kid one of the best lessons I ever learned from Dad was, “Walk slow in church.” He didn’t mean that it was inappropriate to run. What he was saying was that many times we walk past people who need help. They’ll never approach someone who zooms through the room.

I admit, this is sometime difficult to do as a pastor. I constantly face the balance between ministering to the congregation through the execution of the services we’ve planned and prayed for, and walking slowly enough to make sure I minister to the one person who the Holy Spirit is leading me to. We have to make time to walk slow. Megan gives us many more helpful suggestions.

You can read the rest of Megan’s ways to love your church by visiting her blog post here:

50 Ways to Love Your Church

How about you? What are some ways you’ve learned to love your church?

Equip Notes on Meditation

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Last month I taught at a discipleship event on the topic of meditation. Below is a link to a PDF of my slides from the event. I admitted freely in the talk that I’m indebted to Tim Keller for his thoughts and research on the subject. Consider going to his ministry resource site, gospelinlife.com, and purchasing his series on meditation. Don’t be surprised when you hear anything that sounds familiar.

Meditation

Theological Triage: Which Doctrines Matter Most?

If a man with a broken arm and a woman having a heart attack both walk into the emergency room at the same time which one get’s treated first? Obviously, the person with the life threatening emergency gets preferential treatment. You’d be foolish to admit the broken arm while someone is dying in the lobby. This method for assigning urgency to patients based on their conditions is called triage, and it’s a helpful concept to apply to theology.

All doctrine matters, but not all doctrines matter equally. Each generation of Christians is responsible to defend sound doctrine.

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (1 Timothy 4:1-4, ESV)

You should know which doctrines are of first importance and those which aren’t. A three tiered theological triage can help you clarify which doctrines we must be most urgent to know and defend.

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Primary Doctrines: Doctrines Essential to the Faith

Primary doctrines are those which cannot be denied without eventually jettisoning Christianity altogether. The full deity and humanity of Christ, the Trinity, and the authority of Scripture all occupy the primary tier. To deny any of these is to take away the foundation from the house of the faith leaving the structure unsupported. They are the doctrines that have been defended at church councils and borne out over two millennia.

Secondary Doctrines: Doctrines that Create Space Between Christians

While Christians can disagree about the meaning and mode of baptism and remain faithfully Christian, they likely can’t be apart of the same church. Secondary doctrines create space between believers, typically because they affect the practice of the church. Baptism and communion are the two that I frequently use to illustrate secondary doctrines. Presbyterians believe baptism partly symbolizes God’s claim on individuals before they respond in faith. Baptists argue that baptism is reserved only for professing believers. For this reason, Presbyterians baptize infants and Baptists do not. Both are Christians, yet their different interpretations of baptism causes not just theological space, but denominational and methodological space. Other examples would be views on women in the roles of elder/deacon, or views on the miraculous gifts of the Spirit .

Tertiary Doctrines: Doctrinal Differences within the Congregation

In close to 10 years of pastoral ministry I’ve served at two churches with over ten other pastors. We’ve preached alongside one another. We’ve baptized people together. We’ve buried friends and family together. And, among those ten or so pastors we almost all disagreed on the finer points of the Last Days. Some believed Christ would rapture his church while others didn’t. A few held a pre-trib, pre-mil pre-anything view, others trumpeted amillennial readings of the Bible. Never once did our differences on these doctrines hinder our fellowship in Christ or our service of his church. We all believed in the physical return of Christ to the earth, the judgement, and the final states heaven and hell. I couldn’t serve with a pastor who denied those doctrines.

Albert Mohler first introduced me to this idea in an article he wrote years ago. Read it here. Also, I’d love to hear which doctrines you think belong in which categories in the comments. Are their doctrines you’d like for me to talk about?

Bible Study Basic: Genre in Scripture

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“The nature of the material under investigation determines the rules by which you interpret it.”

It’s been 10 years since I sat in his class but I can still hear Dr. McKenzie hammering that sentence down, down, down into our skulls. In today’s Bible Study Basic post I’ll be explaining the concept of genre (in a rather simplistic way).

You read a love letter differently than you read a textbook, differently than you read a newspaper. That’s because they are each written in a different genre. The love letter is bound to contain flowery symbolic language aimed at tugging your heart strings, but you’d hate to read a textbook full of symbolism. In the same way you’d never profess your love in textbook form with discussion questions at the end of each chapter. Those differences are (basically) the differences of genre and though the discussion on genre can get pretty deep, I don’t have to explain the basics. You instinctively learn the difference between a love letter and a newspaper.

When you come to study the Bible you are coming to a book filled with different genre. A few examples include:

  • Historical Narrative: Joshua
  • Gospel (Theological Biography): Matthew
  • Prophetic: Isaiah
  • Apocalyptic: Revelation

Each of these forms must be read differently in order to understand their meaning. Dr. McKenzie taught us that the text itself (the material under investigation) will help you interpret it (determines the rules by which you interpret it.) What does that mean? It means that you should read with an eye towards genre. As you read a book of the Bible you are also teaching yourself (or the text is teaching you) how that book should be read. Reading the Psalter repeatedly over time will make you a better interpreter of the genre of Biblical wisdom literature. As you read the Gospel of John over and over you’ll develop a keener sense of the rules of interpreting a gospel.

5 Scripture Passages I Wish Every Christian Knew: John 5:18

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This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. John 5:18 (ESV)

Jesus understood himself, and indeed proclaimed himself to be God incarnate. Every Christian should know that Jesus, himself, made these kinds of claims. The deity of Christ wasn’t invented by the church after Jesus, the man, died. The deity of Christ was recognized by the church after Jesus emerged from the grave three days after being crucified.

The Jewish authorities didn’t crucify Jesus for working a miracle, teaching in the synagogue, or politically dividing the people. They perpetrated to have Jesus arrested, and sought the death penalty because they rejected his claims to deity.

In the skeptical culture we live in it’s crucial that we establish the fact that Jesus understood himself to be the Son of God incarnate. If Jesus is just a miracle worker you can be thankful for those who received miracles. If he is only a good teacher you can listen and apply his ethic of love. In both of those circumstances you can hear what Jesus has to say and walk away and never feel guilty for forgetting his name.

If, however, Jesus claims to be divine, then you must linger and decide whether or not you believe him. If you look closer and come to the conclusion that he’s a fake, then by all means, go on with your life how you see fit. On the other hand, if Jesus is God in the flesh there is only one appropriate response: submission and obedience. If he’s God, then the words he speaks are absolute.

When you hear someone say, “I like Jesus. He was a good teacher,” you should respond by asking, “What do you think about his claims to being God?” Verses like John 5:18 become an incredible witnessing tool in this inclusive world.

Recommended Resource: Eat This Book by Eugene Peterson

51fBcQ3mCGL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_Yesterday I finished reading Eat This Book by Eugene Peterson (the same pastor who gave us The Message). Just as Tim Keller’s book will be my go-to resource for Christians who want to learn to pray, I highly recommend this book for those wanting to learn to read the Bible for spiritual nourishment.

The title comes from the passage in Revelation when the Apostle John is commanded to eat the scroll which contained God’s Word. As he devoured the Word it was sweet in his mouth and bitter in his stomach. Peterson’s hope was that Christians wouldn’t just read the Word of God, he wanted us to would devour it, taste it’s utter sweetness as well as feel the bitterness of conviction it can bring.

Peterson spent part one of the book explaining what kind of book the Bible is, and how we should approach it. Part two is a method for reading the Bible spiritually (lectio divina), and the end of the book includes Peterson’s commented on textual transmission, translation and his work on The Message.

This book will lead you to a higher observation of God’s Word than you’ve known before, and it will push you headlong as a participant in the world of that Word. Here’s a link to purchase it along with some quotes to mull over:

Peterson, Eugene H. Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading. pbk. ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans Pub Co., 2009, ©2006.

  • Christians don’t simply learn or study or use Scripture; we assimilate it, take it into our lives in such a way that it gets metabolized into acts of love, cups of cold water, missions into all the world, healing and evangelism and justice in Jesus’ name, hands raised in adoration of the Father, feet washed in company with the Son.
  • An interest in souls divorced from and interest in Scripture leaves us without a text that shapes these souls. In the same way, an interest in Scripture divorced from an interest in souls leaves us without any material for the text to work on.
  • This may be the single most important thing to know as we come to read and study and believe these Holy Scriptures: this rich, alive, personally revealing God as experienced in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, personally addressing us in whatever circumstances we find ourselves, at whatever age we are, in whatever state we are- me, you us. Christian reading is participatory reading, receiving the words in such a way that they become interior to our lives, the rhythms and images becoming practices of prayer, acts of obedience, ways of love.
  • It takes the whole Bible to read any part of the Bible.
  • Lovers don’t take a quick look, get a “message” or a “meaning,” and then run off and talk endlessly with their friends about how they feel.
  • Contemplation means living what we read, not wasting any of it or hoarding any of it, but using it up in living.