Sunday, June 21, 2009

How to Stand Firm In the Lord - Philippians 4:1-7

How to Stand Firm In the Lord - Philippians 4:1-7
By Pastor Lee Hemen
June 21, 2009 AM

What is to be the main character quality that Christians are to display to the world around them and to one another? When I have asked that question before I get all kinds of answers. However, if we were to look into the pages of Scripture we would find that the one overriding character quality that believers are to display far above all others that, in truth, all others flow from is: the peace of God. It is from this inner confidence that flows from our faith whereby joy, gentleness, and assurance are found. In fact, when you find a Christian that has difficulty with his fellow believers it is because they have no inner peace. They cannot let go and allow God to work in the lives of others.

My father taught me something I have never forgotten. It was after Ed and I had fought about whatever. All I remember is that I had said some pretty harsh things to Ed, and he had with me as well. My father grabbed me and told Ed, “I will speak to you later.” We both knew what that meant. I protested loudly that the fight had not been my fault and that I had not started it. Imagine my surprise when he said, “Lee, you can be right as rain and still be wrong as dirt.” Perhaps this was the case for Euodia and Syntyche. They evidently needed to be able to find the peace of God in their lives. Let’s discover what Paul related to them about how to stand firm in the Lord.

Paul wrote the Philippians: “Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends! I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:1-7) Standing firm in the Lord for Paul meant several things.

My father had a great sense of humor and he loved to tease us kids. He often laughed and loved a good joke and liked to make up nonsensical rhymes and songs. Have you ever been around someone who is joyful? It can either be irritating or a blessing. It can be irritating when it is phony and a blessing when it is true joy. I hate false joy that is concocted. It is shallow and shows that the person truly does not have the Sprit in their lives but is trying to pretend that they really do. God does not like phoniness either and neither did Paul. This is why…

First, Paul wanted them to know the power of joy in the Lord! Joy is not trying to be nice or even a sense of happiness. Rather, it is an inner quality that bubbles up from the wellspring of God. Why would Paul want them to experience this? The Philippian church meant a lot to the Apostle Paul. We read how he felt about them in almost every line of his letter to them. We discover it in Paul’s main concerns for them. As the RSV translates what Paul writes: “I ask you also, true yokefellow, help these women… .” He desired that the Philippians “help” these two members to discover the peace of God. He wanted their faith to be characterized by joy. This is why he tells them to “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4) He had written the Thessalonians to “Be joyful always!” (1 Thessalonians 5:16) Jesus had taught that His followers to “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:12) And He related to them to “rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:20) Standing firm in the Lord means you know the power of the joy of the Lord in your life!

My Dad was a quiet man. He never cursed, he hardly ever lost his cool, and he usually thought out what he was going to say before he said it. Sometimes, this caused us great anxiety while we waited for his answer! However, for some folks they think that the more softly they speak or the more unassuming they are, then they are being “like Jesus.” This is simply not true. Jesus was the most stand out guy you could be around. He was noticeable. And so should believers be as well. However, Christians are to display a sweet spirit that is punctuated by inner spiritual strength. This is why…

Secondly, Paul wanted their gentleness to be evident with everyone! Gentleness is not limp-wristed weakness or acquiescing your convictions! It is standing firm in true humility with Christ. Paul wanted Euodia’s and Syntyche’s “gentleness” to be “evident to all.” When the Christian does this, he stands as a servant first and foremost. True humility comes from true servanthood. Just as Jesus came to serve, His followers should seek to serve others first as well. Paul would write his pastor friend Titus to “slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.” (Titus 3:2) The attitude that Paul wanted these two Christians to show one another was one whereby they forgave one another even when they were unjustly provoked, to be ready to forgive any slight, be kind in judging others and to judge themselves by a tougher measure thereby showing a sweetness of spirit. It is an outward quality that is readily evident. Kind of like Jesus related when He said that people do not “light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:15-16) And that is what gentleness does. It reflects the light of Jesus and takes no credit and it is more than happy to do so! As Gill wrote: “Blessed are the meek,.... Who are not easily provoked to anger; who patiently bear, and put up with injuries and affronts; carry themselves courteously, and affably to all; have the meanest thoughts of themselves, and the best of others; do not envy the gifts and graces of other men; are willing to be instructed and admonished, by the meanest of the saints; [and] quietly submit to the will of God.” Standing tall in the Lord means allowing gentleness to rule your life.

Fathers have a lot to worry about but not when it concerns things they have no control over. Jesus asked His followers if their worrying had added even one inch to their height, and of course it had not. We would like to think that the more we worry about something, shows our true concern for it. This is simply not true. In fact, for the believer it can show a weak faith. This is why…

Third, Paul desired that they not worry needlessly! Personal strife often comes from senseless worrying! Perhaps this is what Euodia and Syntyche suffered from. As believers we are to be concerned in how we live our lives before the Lord; we are to be concerned for how we take care of the bodies God has given us; we are to be concerned how we conduct ourselves in front of others; and we are to be concerned in how we spend our time, talent, and treasure. However, we are not to worry about the things we have no control over in life. God is in control. He knows our beginning and our end and the very number of hairs on our head! (Even though some of us have less for Him to count!) In fact the saints of God should not be anxiously distressed or concerned for the things of this world, but be content with what God provides! The answer for Euodia and Syntyche that Paul would give any believer that becomes obsessive in their worry was: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6) The answer to worry is prayer mixed with thanksgiving, and then you can go before the Lord with just about anything. However, the person who is possessed by the worries of life cannot clearly pray because they cannot hear God as they do. Those who are in an attitude of praise and thanksgiving have the mind of Christ and can hear Him rather than focusing on their worry. Standing firm in the Lord means allowing Him to worry about the things you cannot control.

The outcome of a life that is joyful, gentle, and confident in the Lord has “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding!” It is this peace that would “guard” their “hearts and… minds in Christ Jesus.” It is a life that stands firm in the Lord.
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This article is the copyrighted 2009 © property of Lee Hemen and may not be copied or reproduced in any way shape or form without using the full text of this entire article, and getting the permission of its author.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Whose Side Are You Standing On? - Philippians 3:17-21

Whose Side Are You Standing On? - Philippians 3:17-21
By Pastor Lee Hemen
June 14, 2009 AM

We have many examples throughout our lives that influence us in how we live our lives. People become patterns for us for good or bad. These examples are important. In fact, studies have shown that if parents are abusive, alcoholic, promiscuous, or live other abusive kinds of lifestyles then their children have a far greater chance of growing up to be the same. Good examples therefore are good in life. What happens if the life we used to live was not such a good example? The Bible teaches us that there is hope in such a situation. However, there are also those who use Christians or churches as examples, or rather excuses, as to why they do not believe or do not attend. Folks have many reasons for rejecting the gospel. They will say it is because of something a Christian or a church did or did not do for them at some point in time. “I went to church and no one spoke to me.” “I bought something from someone who said they were a ‘Christian’ and they didn’t treat me very good!”

The examples my own father gave me while growing up have stayed with me. He taught me the good, the bad, and sometimes the ugly. I learned my sense of humor from my father, consistent discipline, to always be a gentleman, and to tell the truth. However, I also learned what it meant not to save a dime and to grow up poor. From that I did learn sacrifice and the value of money. I also learned the importance of getting and keeping a job, which, while my Dad was a hard worker, he did not stay at one job very long. He got easily bored. I learned the value of a getting an education. My father was just shy of one semester of getting his college degree and regretted it his entire life. And, finally, I learned to love God from my father. Sitting on hard wooden pews listening to the droning of the parish priest go on and on in Latin, all the while watching my father’s devotion, I was instilled with a sense of the sacred and what it meant to yearn for the answers of eternity.

Patterns are important whether it is making a bird house or being an example for others to follow. And so we discover that it does matter whose side we stand on in life. Christians are patterns for others as they watch our lives in Christ. Paul teaches us that a life lived for the Lord can be a good example or we can stand as an ungodly example for others to follow. Let’s see what he says.

Paul writes the Philippians, “Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” (Philippians 3:17-21)

First, Paul asks Christians to stand tall with him in the Lord! Standing tall is more than height, it is holiness. Just as Paul had told the Ephesians, “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God,” (Ephesians 5:1-2) he also told the Philippians to “join with others in following my example.” What example did Paul follow? The example Paul followed was that of Jesus. He would bluntly tell others, “Therefore I urge you to imitate me… Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 4:16; 11:1) And this is the encouragement that all believers should follow. Jesus is the perfect example or person to pattern our lives after. Just as young children often want to be like their parents we, as the children of God, should want to be like Jesus. We should, as Paul suggests, “take note of those who live according to the pattern” that he has given us in Jesus. The believer’s life should be an open book, so-to-speak, for others to see and in fact it is whether we want to be or not. Paul asks Christians to stand tall with him in the Lord.

He began working as a copy boy at the Detroit Free Press when he was 13. When his father died, the young man dropped out of school at age 17 to work full-time to help support his family. One of his jobs was clipping “filler” articles (often in verse). He soon decided that he might as well write short poems rather than insert the nonsense written by others. His first published poem appeared in 1898. He went on to write over 11,000 poems, many of them syndicated in 300 newspapers and collected in 20 books. He was an Episcopalian with a strong spiritual sensitivity. His name was Edgar Guest and he wrote these familiar words: “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one, any day; I’d rather one would walk with me than merely tell the way; The eye’s a better pupil and more willing than the ear. Fine counsel is confusing, but example’s always clear, And the best of all the preachers are the men who live their creeds, For to see good put in action is what everybody needs. I soon can learn to do it if you’ll let me see it done; I can watch your hands in action, but your tongue too fast may run. And the lecture you deliver may be very wise and true, But I’d rather get my lessons by observing what you do. For I might misunderstand you and the high advice you give. But there’s no misunderstanding how you act and how you live.” (Edgar Albert Guest, 1881-1959) B. B. McKinney wrote the same idea with the following words: “While passing through this world of sin, and others your life shall view, Be clean and pure without, within; let others see Jesus in you. Your life's a book before their eyes, they're reading it through and through; Say, does it point them to the skies, do others see Jesus in you? Then live for Christ both day and night, be faithful, be brave and true, and lead the lost to life and Christ. Let others see Jesus in you. Refrain: Let others see Jesus in you, Let others see Jesus in you. Keep telling the story, be faithful and true; Let others see Jesus in you.” Christians are to stand tall with Paul in Christ.

Second, Paul warns Christians against standing with the world! One foot in the world means you are standing in deep do-do! Notice that Paul was actually broken-hearted, “with tears,” when he saw perhaps fellow believers or others living as “enemies of the cross of Christ.” What a wonderful confessional picture of Paul we have here. He actually wept over those who had wandered away from living their lives for the Lord! Why would this affect Paul so much? Because Paul knew that their “destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.” They would be destroyed by their own sinful passions that controlled their lives. The only thing they would enjoy would be the pleasure of the moment. That was their shameful glory. We discover with Paul that Christians should weep for several reasons for those who are not living for the Lord: 1) Because they are in danger of defeating themselves spiritually and their relationship with God; 2) Because they are going to have to reveal how they lived ungodly lives before the Lord Himself one day; and, 3) Because they harm the cause of Christ! However, Paul reminds his readers, “our citizenship is in heaven.” And, therefore, “we [should] eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ!” Who, when He returns to claim his own, “will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” Believers should never be loyal to the world and its passions because we are to remember that “this world in its present form is passing away.” (1 Corinthians 7:31) All Christians everywhere know this to be true because it is based squarely on “the power that enables [Jesus] to bring everything under his control!” In fact, the beautiful truth is that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) Christians should not stand with the world.

We live in a day and age where 40% of all live births are to single mothers. Sadly, many children will not have the influence of a consistent father figure in their lives. Those that are born into two-parent households, 40% will experience the devastation of divorcing parents. The problem? We are far too selfishly motivated, fond of ourselves, and desire only what is best for us for the moment and do not have our eyes fixed on “the author and perfecter of our faith,” Jesus Christ. Paul teaches us that it is important whose side we are standing on. Paul asks Christians to stand tall with him in the Lord and he related that Christians should not stand with the world.
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This article is the copyrighted 2009 © property of Lee Hemen and may not be copied or reproduced in any way shape or form without using the full text of this entire article, and getting the permission of its author.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Press On Toward the Prize! - Philippians 3:13-16

Press On Toward the Prize! - Philippians 3:13-16
By Pastor Lee Hemen
June 7, 2009 AM

Remember the movie called The Fugitive? “It is about a Dr. Richard Kimble, played by Harrison Ford, who is a successful vascular surgeon in Chicago. He comes home one night to find his wife Helen fatally wounded by a man with a prosthetic arm. He attempts to subdue the killer, but the man escapes. The lack of evidence of a break-in, his fingerprints being found on the gun and the bullets, and Helen's misunderstood 9-11 call lead the Chicago police to charge Kimble with murder; and he is sentenced to death by lethal injection.” (Wikipedia)

On the way to death row, via a prison bus, the other prisoners attempt an escape causing the bus to fall into the path of an oncoming train. Kimble barely escapes the bus' destruction and flees into the night. And then begins his flight from US Marshals and the pursuit of the real killer of his wife.

It is the single-mindedness of both the protagonist and the antagonist that makes this movie the hit it was. It is a great depiction of being in pursuit of a goal. Both Kimble and the US Marshal Samuel Gerard, played by Tommy Lee Jones, that is hunting him have a singular, yet differing, objective in mind. So much so that both are willing to do whatever it takes to obtain the objective they are going all out for. In one great scene that reflects this is when Kimble is cornered by Gerard and proclaims, “I’m innocent.” Gerard retorts, “I don’t care.”

In our world there are those who are willing to risk everything just to obtain that which they consider most precious in life. For some it is education, for others it is politics, still others it is fame or fortune. What do you cherish in life so much that you are willing to risk everything to obtain it?

“In the television series The West Wing, fictional President Josiah Bartlet regularly ended staff meetings with two words—‘What’s next?’ It was his way of signaling that he was finished with the issue at hand and ready to move on to other concerns. The pressures and responsibilities of life in the White House demanded that he not focus on what was in the rear-view mirror—he needed to keep his eyes ahead, moving forward to what was next.” (RBC – Bill Crowder) Do you live your life this way? What is your focus in life? Do you dwell so much on the past that you cannot go forward?

We discover in his letter to the Philippians that Paul describes for us two ways we are to view our lives in Jesus Christ. What Paul wanted the Philippians to realize is the spiritual truth that what they once thought as important in life was no longer so and their goal in life had now changed because of their faith in the Lord. This is true for us in our day and age as well. There are many folks who “press on to win the prize,” but few truly realize what that means or what the prize is they should press on toward! Therefore, let’s discover what Paul says about what it means to press on toward the prize.

Paul wrote: “Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.” (Philippians 3:13-16 NIV)

First, we discover that Paul had a singular life goal. This goal affected everything that Paul did in his life. He saw it as an over-riding objective that made everything else in his life subservient to it. Nothing else in Paul’s life took the priority of this goal. What was this goal of Paul’s that took on such importance for him? It was “the goal to win the prize for which God [had] called [Paul] heavenward.” The NASB translates it: “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus,” and the King James states: “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Like the writer of Hebrews, Paul knew all Christians are “partakers of the heavenly calling.” (Hebrews 3:1) Nothing in life is more import for the believer than this “high calling.” Paul would write, “I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” (1 Corinthians 9:23) Therefore, Christians should “Run in such a way as to get the prize.” (1 Corinthians 9:24) Like a prize athlete who wants to win first place, Paul uses language to encourage his fellow Christians to press on to win the prize and he was willing to risk everything to obtain it. It should be the believer’s singular goal in life.

When I was a child my goal in life was to play and I did a good job of it. After becoming a teenager, my priority in life changed to the opposite sex, and few of us want to relive some of those trials and tribulations. Then, as I became an adult, I soon realized that there was more in life. Life’s fulfillment was more than marriage, being a parent, or obtaining things. I realized that life was eternal and its focus should reflect it. Like Paul who reflected on his life in this way: “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” (1 Corinthians 13:11) Paul now had a singular goal in life. All Christians should. We are to press on toward the prize.

Secondly, Paul never looked back. He knew that looking back for the believer was a waste of time. If the believer is fully cleansed by the blood of Christ when they believe there is no reason to look back and rehash old sins. This is why Paul wrote “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead… .” Looking back and rehashing past sins for Paul never entered his mind. Jesus had related that “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62) If we look back we often tend to go back to our old way of life. Jesus would also admonish: “Remember Lot’s wife! Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” (Luke 17:32-33) The Christian has more reason to look forward rather than in the rearview mirror. This is why Paul warned the Ephesians, “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24) Paul knew “that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin… .” (Romans 6:6) Looking back and remembering your old way of life only leads to longing for that old way of life. For the Christian, that way of life is dead: “I have been crucified with Christ,” Paul reminds us, “and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20) Paul never looked back but pressed on to win the prize.

One of the things I loved to do as a child was to sit and listen to my parents and grandparents talk about their childhood. Families often did that sort of thing when I was a boy. They would sit around and talk about their history and their past and what it was like way back when. Today’s society is not so interested in remembering the “good old days,” or if they do, they remember only the good things about the “good old days.” We want to forget about the epidemics of influenza, measles, polo, or typhoid that killed hundreds of thousands, if not millions. We forget that many did not have indoor plumbing, medical or dental like we do now, or even own their own car or home! Some of the good old things about the good old days are not worth remembering. Sin, in the life of someone who has placed their faith in Christ, should not be rehashed in the life of a believer either. Paul never looked back, but pressed on to win the prize. In fact, he retorted, “All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.”

Now, let me ask you a question: ”Are you living your life like a fugitive?” Not one that is single-minded and going for a goal of finding, say a murderer, but rather one that keeps looking back over past sins? Paul did not live his life as a fugitive but as one who had a singular goal in life and one that never looked back. He could live this way because Paul had trusted Jesus Christ with his life. Have you?
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This article is the copyrighted 2009 © property of Lee Hemen and may not be copied or reproduced in any way shape or form without using the full text of this entire article, and getting the permission of its author.