Saturday, January 31, 2015

150201 Active Spiritual Growth

Philippians 4:8-9  Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
“Think about these things”, “practice these things”, both phrases indicate an active participation by us in our spiritual life. We have confidence that God, when we come to faith in him, will faithfully do the work that needs to be done in our lives. Many Christians have stunted their growth by becoming too passive with regard to growing in grace. It is true that God is always faithful and he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion. However these promises should not cause us to simply sit back expecting God to make us right in every respect. The New Testament is filled with admonitions to participate in our growth in grace.
Let’s look at a few of the passages that encourage us in our spiritual growth. First of all we need to…
Put some things to death. Turn with me to Romans 8:13-14. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
How we live our lives determines our spiritual growth. Here we are told to put to death the deeds of the flesh. In Romans chapter seven the apostle tells us that nothing good lives in his flesh and that is certainly true of our flesh as well. Paul acknowledges that it is “by the Spirit” that we are able to put to death the deeds of the body. At the same time we have to remember that WE have to do it ourselves! It is not the Holy Spirit who is commanded to put to death the deeds of the flesh, Christians are instructed to take the steps necessary to put down the power of the flesh-life in us. So long as we live in the body our fleshly habits are with us and must be broken. Only as that occurs in our lives are we truly able to be led by the Spirit of God. When we do this we will be able to…
Work it out. Turn with me to Philippians 2:12-13. Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
A key to working it out is obedience. Jesus taught that we have the responsibility to not only hear his words but also do what he says. Everyone who does what Jesus says — “obey him” — is like the person who built his house on a rock. When the winds and rains come, even the floods, that house will stand! But the person who hears his words and does not do them is like a person who built his house on the sand and when the winds and rains come the house will fall! (Matthew 7:26-27)
Working it out is similar to homemade bread. When the bread dough is prepared one of the ingredients will be yeast, or leaven of some kind. The dough must be kneaded enough for the leaven to be spread throughout or else it will not rise properly. This does not mean that we somehow earn our salvation it means that we cause our salvation to infiltrate all of our life. When Paul talks about disciplining his body and keeping it under control (1 Corinthians 9:27) I believe he is talking about suppressing the flesh — the habits and emotions of the past.
When we suppress the flesh and allow ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit we will be able to obey the Lord Jesus Christ and work out our own salvation. As we work out our salvation we will enjoy the realization of the benefits of salvation in our Christian lives. We are to work out this growth in sanctification, and do it solemnly and with reverence, because we are doing it in the presence of God himself. The reason we are to work, and expect that the work will yield positive results, is that “God is at work in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” I can assure you that the result is far less painful than falling back into the old ways of living and resisting the Holy Spirit. We are not to grieve the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30) instead we are to walk by the Spirit. (Galatians 5:16) When we walk by the Spirit we will discover that we do not have time to gratify the desires of the flesh! Many times we tried to be “spiritual” by suppressing the habits of our flesh-life. Battling flesh-life is a waste of time. Instead we are to walk in the Spirit. That gives us the ability to actively grow in grace. We have a responsibility to work it out and to…
Strive for holiness. Turn with me to Hebrews 12:14. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
While we are in the process of working out our salvation we will be blessed by God when we actually work at our salvation by striving for holiness. We do this in a number of ways. We need to guard ourselves against bitterness and sexual immorality in fact a large part of the whole process of active spiritual growth is setting a goal to…
Stay away from wrongdoing. Turn with me to 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.
Many times I’ve had people ask me questions concerning the will of God in their life. Paul’s words to the Thessalonian church are pretty specific. We are to be holy. One aspect of sanctification is staying away from sexual immorality. In the world we live in today this is a pretty formidable task! Advertising, television programming, the Internet and songs on the radio are all saturated with sex! Paul’s warning carries a great deal of weight when we consider that God has called us to purity and when we disregard that we are disregarding God. God is always present for the person who is born again. We don’t just come to visit him on Sunday morning. The Holy Spirit is resident in the body of every Christian. Our spirit is bonded with his Spirit and we should be careful to…
Choose purity. John says that those who hoped to be like Christ when he appears will actively be involved in personal purity while they live. Turn with me to 1 John 3:2-3. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.
We have been adopted into his family. We now live by a new set of rules and new standards. The home I grew up in had a very loving atmosphere and a strong emphasis on “right living”! I can’t imagine how many times, in my growing up years, I heard the words, “This family doesn’t do (fill in the blank)”! Or it could be, “We do go to church.” For instance. I soon learned not to say that some of my friends were doing something and I wanted to as well. I would simply be told that my friends do not live with us and do not have the same set of rules we do. We are part of the family of God and our older brother, the Lord Jesus Christ, is coming again and when he comes we will be like him. Since we have such a hope we will actively pursue purity because he is pure. Don’t expect that one day God will just simply pour purity into our lives. Remember we have the responsibility, with regard to our spiritual growth, to work it out ourselves. And one way we can do that is to…
Avoid uniting with unbelievers. Turn with me to 2 Corinthians 6:14-15. Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?
The Bible tells us that evil communications corrupt good manners. (1 Corinthians 15:33) Who we associate with goes a long way towards setting the pattern for our lives. “Unequally yoked” is usually applied to marriage and certainly fits there. Every effort should be made to link our lives with godly people. At the same time “unequally yoked” should apply to every area of life. I am not saying that we should avoid all contact with unsaved people. If that were true we would hardly be able to witness to anyone. I am saying that we should avoid tangling our lives up with people who don’t know God. Righteousness cannot have partnership with lawlessness! Light does not associate with darkness! Jesus said that a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand. And he was talking about him associating with Satan. The same holds true in human relationships.
If we’re going to make every effort to grow in grace and the knowledge of the Lord we will best do that when we are united in our efforts with godly people. We are to continually build up patterns and habits of holiness, for one measure of maturity is that mature Christians “have their facilities trained by practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14). There are no shortcuts. There is no “holiness for dummies” book. We are encouraged repeatedly to give ourselves the old-fashioned, time-honored means of Bible reading and meditation. As we do that we should…
Physically give ourself to God. Turn with me to the very familiar passage of Romans 12:1-2. I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
We are to actively participate in our spiritual growth by physically giving ourselves to God. We are to present our bodies as living sacrifices. We are to present our bodies as holy and acceptable to God. That is our real worship!
We are to make every effort to avoid being shaped by this world. After all, friendship with the world is enmity to God (James 4:4). Instead of being conformed to the world we are to be transformed by the renewing of our mind. I quote Bill Gillam from his book Lifetime Guarantee. He is referring to becoming a living sacrifice.Only this will bring solid, lasting, consistent satisfaction. Only this will enable a person to build a self-image that will be totally impregnable to anything this world can throw at it.” We must be able to trust Jesus for our day-to-day life. We need to continually be growing in grace. This will give us a self-esteem based on a “righteousness… which comes through faith in Christ.” That kind of righteousness is from God and depends on faith.

We need to make every effort to focus on things that are honorable, that which is right, that which is pure, and things that are beautiful and commendable. Not only are we to think about these things we also need to practice these things. Our lives should be always reflecting that which can be approved. We should study the Bible to discover the characteristics that reflect the godly life. We need to pattern our lives after the lives of great men and women who have gone before. When we do these things, and do them well, then the God of peace will certainly be with us. None of these good things can happen in us unless we are children of God. Have you received Christ? Has he received you? This could be your day of salvation! Jesus promised that whoever came to him he would receive.
All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

150125 Anxiety Versus Peace

Philippians 4:2-7  I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Paul’s only command for the Philippians that seems to imply any problem is the encouragement of two women to agree in the Lord. Earlier he had said that all of the Philippians should complete his joy by being of the same mind. If these are the only problems the Philippian church had experienced it was indeed a pleasant fellowship. We don’t know who Paul’s “yokefellow”, or true companion, was. He probably was the pastor of the church. Paul had pleasant memories of those who labored side-by-side with him in the gospel. He was encouraged to believe that their names were in the book of life. Paul encourages them to…
Rejoice in the Lord always. Turn with me to James 1:2-4. Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
This is a difficult passage as it talks about rejoicing when we meet trials. We are not naturally taught to be happy with difficulties that come into our lives. In fact most of us were raised to be very upset when we meet trials and difficulties. Paul had written to the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord”. And in that phrase gives us the secret of dealing with anxiety. We need to learn how to trust God! We have placed our faith in him for salvation and yet can’t seem to rest on him for the every day difficulties of life. It is, “in the Lord” that we can rejoice. It is not, “in the trials and troubles” we rejoice. In fact, it is in spite of the conflicts, trials and troubles of life that we are allowed to rejoice. Remember always that everything that comes into our life serves a purpose in God’s plan. So that testing our faith produces steadiness leading to being “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” The difficulties of life, when handled by faith, give us a steadiness and maturity which leads us to hope that does not shame us. Such an attitude of rejoicing in all things allows us to recognize God’s love that has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. (Romans 5:3-5) Not only are we to rejoice in the Lord always we are to also…
Practice gentle patience. Turn with me to Ephesians 4:1-3. I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Letting our reasonableness be known to everyone is a matter of living out the calling to which we have been called. The Christian life should be marked with humility, gentleness, and patience. The kind of patience a child of God has enables us to bear with one another in love. Obviously, the words, “bear with”, implies we may not be completely happy about the situation. However, when we recognize the presence of Holy Spirit in our life we can allow God to take care of every conflict allowing us to practice gentle patience because we are resting on him not ourselves. When we do this we are able to…
Reject anxiety. Turn with me to these words from the sermon on the Mount located in Matthew 6:25-34. “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
Paul’s command to the Philippians to, “not be anxious about anything,” is very hard to obey. Anxiety seems to be written into the script for most people lives. We turn to Jesus’ sermon on the Mount and find him asking some serious questions. Isn’t your life worth more than food? Isn’t your body more than clothing? Are you not more valuable than the birds of the air? Can your anxiety add a single hour to your life? Why should you be anxious about clothing? We should not be saying, “What shall we eat? What shall we drink? Or what shall we wear?” Instead, we are to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. If we will seek first the kingdom of God, we will have all the things that we need provided to us by our God. So long as we have the right attitude of faith God will supply all our needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
When we consider Jesus’ questions they really boil down to: do we really have faith in God? Will he really meet all our needs? Can we trust God to know what our needs really are? And in every case Jesus answers, “Of course you can!” We must remember that the Lord is at hand! He is not out of touch with our lives.
Jesus himself said that he would be with us always even to the end of the age! He also said that wherever two or three are gathered in his name he would be with them. Now that’s an encouragement for prayer meeting!
If we believe that he is always with us, and that he cares for us, we are able to rest in his assurances. No matter what the animal activists say we are more important than the birds of the air and our Father feeds them. Our being clothed is more important than the lilies of the field that God cares for. Knowing that he will take care of us we must simply, in time of need…
Turn to prayer. Turn with me to Paul’s words to Timothy found in 1 Timothy 2:1-2. First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.
The words to the Philippians were not to be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication — with thanksgiving – let our requests be made known to God! Paul writes to Timothy and says that supplication, prayer, intercession, and thanksgiving, are to be made for “all people” beginning with our rulers and continuing through all people. The consequence of such a life of prayer is peace and quiet! A life that is godly and dignified in every way! We are able to be anxious for nothing because we have a God that we can go to in prayer knowing that he hears us and will meet our needs according to his riches not according to our wants.
Remember, the Lord is at hand! Jesus said that he would be with us to the very end of the age! If he is here, and he surely is, we do not have to fear anything. There is a video on YouTube that shows a bear cub being chased by a mountain lion. The lion clearly has the upper hand and the cub hurries along a mountain stream being tracked by the lion. Just as it seems there is no hope for the little cub suddenly the lion stops and is obviously very hesitant then slowly turns away! Then the camera angle changes and there on the edge of the stream is mama grizzly bear moving towards the scene.
In exactly the same way our enemy, who is a roaring lion, chases us with the intention of destroying us. Like the little bear cub we do not have the ability to defend ourselves. But we do have a God who cares about us! Whenever our enemy’s attacks push us towards anxiety our God will protect us. Isaiah assures us that “when the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him.” (Isaiah 59:19 KJV)
We may rejoice in the Lord always and be at peace with everyone because the Lord is at hand and we do not have to be anxious about anything. We can do these things…
And enjoy the peace of God. Turn with me to Colossians 3:12-15. Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.
There is a lot going on in this passage! Those who come to Christ by faith are God’s chosen ones and have the privilege and the ability to change their lives. We are able to put on hearts of compassion. We are able to be humble and meek with patience. We are able to bear with one another! And if we ever do have a complaint against another we are able to forgive just as the Lord forgave us! As God’s chosen people we are able to put on love as a binding around everything else in our lives. And then, above everything else, we have the ability to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts. We must remember that a command to “let” anything in our life affirms our ability to do so. We can allow, by choice, the peace of Christ to rule in our hearts! This is not something that “just happens” it is part of the fruit on the Spirit. The Spirit bears his fruit in our life. That fruit is, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23) This is not a list of things that we produce by our own efforts. This fruit is the result of the life of God in us. If we live in step with the Spirit these qualities will be manifest in our life replacing all our anxiety. The peace that passes understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
We sometimes forget, or never knew, that we really can have control over anxiety. Peace is not just the absence of conflict. Biblical peace is a state of security, safety, prosperity and happiness. The Greek word used here even has a medical meaning. The Greek word for peace might mean, “binding up that which is broken so it can heal”. Many times in our lives we have the opportunity to choose to let things heal. The peace that is given to us by the God of peace allows us to enter into a period of rest in our lives. Anxiety, on the other hand, takes away our rest and robs us of peace. Since we have put our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ we can have the ability to put aside anxiety and wait on the Lord in every situation. We are to be at peace in all parts of our life because we have a God who will care for us in everything. If you have never come to the place where you have fully trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ I encourage you to do so today! Today can be, for you, the day of salvation. Trust in the Lord He will care for you.

All scripture quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.